Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Genealogy Success Story: A sister discovered for my cousin Jessica 

My second cousin Jessica was 2 years old when her parents, Brenda and John, had a second child, Richard. Sadly, the day Richard was born was also the day Richard died. It wasn’t long after that Jessica’s father left her mother. He was pretty much never heard from again. Her father wasn’t very responsible in the first place, so it is unknown if he left because of his baby boy’s death or just because he was who he was. Jessica was heartbroken that her father had left, and she spent a good part of her life thinking it was her fault.

Jessica remained close to her mother until her mother’s recent passing. Sadly, her mother, Brenda, suffered from Alzheimer’s, so her later years were not kind to her. But, Jessica was kind to her mother as she took her in and cared for her until the end. It’s also unfortunate Brenda got sick when she did because that was around the time I discovered Jessica through my genealogical research. While Brenda attended my bar mitzvah, I never even knew of Jessica until a few years ago. Sadly, our family was fractured and distant, as I’m sure many families are. The good news is that the current generations of the family are thrilled to be part of the ongoing project to figure out our family tree. I had a lot of family questions, which Brenda could easily have answered before her sickness, but I never got the opportunity.

Jessica told me that she really wanted to connect with her father. She wasn’t even sure if he was alive. So, I took on the responsibility of finding him. The little she knew of him was that he frequently moved around because he worked for the circus. I thought I had a couple of leads on him but each one led to a dead end. I didn’t give up, but I also wasn’t actively pursuing him. This search and disappointment routine went on for nearly five years.

The majority of my research is done through ancestry.com. I also maintain my family tree there. The deceased people listed on the tree can be seen by all. I deliberately selected that option so that people or family researching now and in the future can find my ancestors, if they are interested. Also, there is an option for anyone to send me a message through Ancestry. I have heard many people say that ancestry.com is too expensive, so they choose not to use it. Here is an instance when it truly paid off.

Early last year, I received a communication through Ancestry.com’s internal mail system inquiring about Jessica’s father’s father, her paternal grandfather. “Tina” wanted to know if I either knew her grandfather, or had any pictures of him. After some back and forth emails, it was obvious that Tina and Jessica actually shared the same father! This was the same man I was looking for! Tina’s reaction was beyond shock when I informed her that her father had another family before hers. It was something he neglected to tell her.

I gave Tina the option of either me going away, or me putting her in touch with her half-sister. There was no hesitation when she told me she wanted to talk to her sister. Yes, she referred to her not as half-sister, but “sister”! She told me she had always dreamed of having an older sister and was thrilled beyond words to find she actually had one.

Then I had to go back to Jessica and tell her who and what I found to see if she was interested in talking to Tina. Fortunately, she was.

Jessica and Tina now talk regularly. They plan on meeting in person, but that has not yet occurred. Tina was furious that her father not only had a previous family and didn’t tell her, but also that he had abandoned that family, divorcing her mother. Tina wanted to discuss with Jessica as to how they would proceed with revealing their discovery about the truth of their father, who is “alive and well.” I don’t know what was decided.

Had I not made the investment in ancestry.com, this story would not have had the happy and successful ending that it did. To me, whatever the subscription cost, it was more than worth it.

Anyone can learn how to discover their Jewish ancestors and find living cousins. Here’s how:

Register for the upcoming 37th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, July 23-28 at the Disney Swan Resort. More than 300 lectures and workshops and one-on-one consultations will be available. Ancestry.com, Ancestry DNA, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, JewishGen, and FamilyTreeDNA will be there to help you and answer questions. Henry Louis Gates Jr., host of the PBS hit series, “Finding Your Roots,” will be a featured speaker. More than 1,000 attendees are expected. The conference is well known for helping thousands of individuals discover their ancestors. For more information visit http://www.iajgs2017.org and “like” us at https://www.facebook.com/IAJGSConference/. Questions? Email info@iajgs2017.org.

Not quite sure? Attend the free upcoming JGSGO Workshop “Jewish Names,” presented by Warren Blatt, Managing Director of JewishGen, Tuesday, May 2 at 7 pm at the Roth JCC in Maitland. Mavens will be available to help you get started. Pre-register for the Workshop at http://www.jgsgo.org/MyJewishRoots.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Orlando (JGSGO) is a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing genealogical information, techniques and research tools with anyone interested in Jewish genealogy and family history. Attend JGSGO’s free monthly workshops. Bring your laptop. Mavens are available to assist your search. For more information visit http://www.jgsgo.org and “like” us at http://www.facebook.com/jgsgreaterorlando. Questions? Email info@jgsgo.org.


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