Family connection found #poland

Lee Jaffe

I know this list is usually used to ask for help or announce new programs or resources.  But I've just had a such a remarkable experience where a rapid series of coincidences resulted in an unexpected find and wanted to share it.

I'm not that familiar with JewishGen's resources and haven't made much use of them.  For that reason, I took their introduction class earlier this week.  I do have an account and I'm registered with Family Finder as a researcher for two branches of my family tree.  I haven't had much luck locating other's searching my families – there being only one other, who passed away in 2002.  During last week's class I was rechecking these entries and made a note of his name to follow up in case there was a tree remaining on Ancestry. 

I also learned that it was possible to search Family Finder by location without a family name.  When I tried that, I browsed the resulting list and noticed an unusual family name that happened to belong to my old high school friend David.  I sent David a note, telling him about my discovery and asking if his family had come from Suchowola.  He responded that, yes, they had ... and, in fact, two other high school classmates, Debbie and Kerry, also had family from that town.   Sadly, Debbie had died last April, but Kerry and David had both done research into Suchowola and Kerry had toured the town with a video camera a few years back.  In my high school days, not only was I not interested in my family history, but our family connection to Suchowola wasn't discovered until I i was in graduate school, when I taped my grandfather recounting his family's story.  Still it was a bit of a blow to realize now, 50 years after-the-fact, that I'd missed the opportunity to connect with my school friends over shared family history, especially now that one had passed away.

That same day, I followed up the lead using the name of researcher who'd passed away.  He was the husband of one of my father's cousins, and it turned out that their youngest daughter had recently launched a family tree on Ancestry using her father's notes.  I sent her a message explaining our relationship and asking if we could exchange information.  Our grandfathers were brothers, two of eight children, who dispersed between Memphis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the next generation was even more far-flung.  The cousin I contacted was part of the Pittsburgh branch, none of whom I'd ever met.   I received a very enthusiastic answer from her and her two older sisters and we've shared each others trees and begun to exchange notes about more opaque parts of our family trees.  The following morning I received a long note from one of the older sisters who had more firsthand experience of the family.  Among  the memories she shared, such as having dinner with my grandfather and visiting with family in Israel, she mentioned that our cousin Debbie had died in April.  Yes, the same Debbie from my high school class, the same one whose connection to Suchowola I'd learned of the only day before, was my second cousin.  Debbie was the granddaughter of my grandfather's youngest sister Freda.  And I had no idea until these two threads same together, coincidentally, within a period of 24 hours.  

You may be asking, "What the hell is wrong with this family?  How could cousins living in the same town and going to the same school not know they were related?"  Well. I'm asking that same question.  For reasons I've yet to uncover, I never met my grandfather's sister Freda or any of her family.  In fact, I met only one of my grandfather's siblings, and then only once and only by accident, even though it would have been quite possible.  And I haven't met anyone from the following generations.  My genealogical research didn't help.   I'd reached as far as Debbie's mother, that she had married and had two daughters, but not filled in their names.  (Ancestry still can't locate any vital records for Debbie, even after I manually entered her name into the record.). But it wasn't just me.  When I first heard about the classmates connected to Suchowola (before the more surprising revelation), I sent a note to two of my older first cousins with David, Kerry, and Debbie's names, asking if they were aware of any family connection.  None.  It's one of the most baffling and frustrating aspects of my family's story, that the connections turned out to be so fragile: that my grandfather would constantly recite the family tree – "my brother..."  "my sister's kids ..." – but never brought us together;  that I could go to school for four years with a cousin and never know we were related.  Here I am poring over Polish records from the 19th century looking for links to people I can never know, and yet I have living family, some quite nearby, I may never know.  

Lee Jaffe
JAFFE - Suchowola
JOROFF - KOSHKIN - Shchors/Snovks
SCHWARTZ - Perth Amboy

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