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

Deb Skolnik


I have had a similar experience with my father's (COHEN/KISSIN) side of the family, in terms of having cousins close by that I never knew about.

After my parents were both gone (1997-98) I inherited letters from my father to my mother during WWII.  In the course of reading them, I discovered that my father had stayed for a while with a cousin (on his mother's side) in a nearby town, but I never heard their names mentioned.  The only cousins I knew about on my father's side were the sons of two of his sisters in New York.

I found out through persistent genealogical explorations (and dumb luck in a couple of cases) that my father's father had family living right next door to them in Brooklyn for a while, yet I was never told anything about this part of the family.  And my grandfather Barnet Cohen had other brothers, one of whom settled in England.  I was lucky enough to connect with that brother's descendants and have visited them a couple of years ago.

A family feud was apparently the cause of the Brooklyn disconnection, and possibly had bearing on why I never heard about the English side of the family, since they were friendly with the Brooklyn brother who was never mentioned.

So interesting, yet *so* frustrating!

Deb Cohen Skolnik

COHEN/KISSIN - Brooklyn/Vitebsk
SOLUTUCZKYN - Jahotyn/Jagotin/Yahotyn/Yagotin
GARBARCZ/GERBER - Mordy/Ostrow/Chicago


I am not sure that is it so unusual not to know distant relatives.  I never heard my grandfather speak of his youth or his family.  He was sent to America when he was 12 or 13 and lived with cousins, marrying one of them eventually.  My other grandparents were deceased, but my father, their son, never talked about his youth.  He knew of no members of his mother's family in this country, though he was partially raised by relatives of his father after both parents died. It was only after he was well past 90 that he shared a few details with me. I conclude that as kids, we don't ask much, because we are busy with our own peer group. 
Barbara Sloan
Conway, SC

Deanna Levinsky <DEANNASMAC@...>

I agree with Mrs. Sloan about not asking questions when we were young
but I'd also like to add that prior generations didn't always feel
easy about speaking about the difficulties they experienced. My
mother's sister committed suicide, Mom never told me, just said she
died. My grandmother wouldn't teach me to sew-memories of the Triangle
Shirtwaist Factory fire. If our ancestors came here for a better/safer
life, why dwell on the past? Obviously this isn't the only answer but
one many of us can relate to.
Deanna Mandel
Long Island, NY
Deanna M. Levinsky, Long Island, NY