The Wonderful World of Ancestry.com and Discovering You.
In The Beginning
In 2010, I took the plunge and became a member of Ancestry.com. While I was unsure of what I would discover, I was sure that I wanted to uncover whatever I may find. I had one specific goal in mind though and I was determined to get somewhere with it. Follow me down to the "Discovering You" section and you will read the most incredible story.
Since I was a small child, I was fascinated with knowing where I came from and what countries of origin made up my own personal foundation. I knew that I was pretty evenly divided as far as where my grandparents, parents immigrated from (although the actuality of this changed when I had my DNA tested). My father's side came directly from Romania and the Russian Empire (parts are now modern day Poland). And my mother's side came from Italy and *Ireland*. I use Ireland loosely because although my grandmother's, paternal lineage hails from Ireland. They came to America sometime in the 1700's and are very diluted culturally as they are mixed with other areas throughout the United Kingdom. I found that their roots specifically lied predominantly in Colonial America. I also had a rough idea of immigration times for *some* of my ancestors, though they really were just a jump off point. So equipped with the background knowledge I possessed, as well as some additional clues from family members, I began the most incredible journey of my life.
Ancestry.com has an incredible catalog of archives, passenger lists, census records, citizenship records, pretty much you name it and they have it. I must be honest though, those first few months of this mission were overwhelming and confusing. And truly, it really does not have much to do with the site itself. It is more about deciphering the record you are examining and determining if it definitely is your ancestor...especially if you have an ancestor with a super common name. While you may get a ton of results, it may be very difficult to pin point the person without some other vital information.
My family was incredibly difficult to research because of the language barriers. My great grandparents spoke very little English and what they could speak was very broken, which created enormous issues for accurate name translations and spelling variations noted on ship passenger logs. It was common for me to find absolutely botched spellings of their names, except that the whole family would be listed together and their previous living location would match up. So there really was a lot of detective work for me when it came to sifting through THOUSANDS of manifests.
But you will see, once you get the ball going and you know what you are looking for...it just starts to flow. And after you locate each correct document, it is like winning a prize. Most of these documents contain little glimpses into the lives of our ancestors, whether it is their everyday living or a clue about their past. I have struck gold on several occasions regarding information about an ancestors parent, where as my whole life I had no clue who this great great (etc) parent was and now I have a name. It is incredible and ground breaking when you get to the really good stuff.
Italian Dual Citizenship
If I had never began researching my family history, I would have never discovered that I am eligeble for dual citizenship. I was SHOCKED when I went over the check list from the consulate and found that I qualified. I called my local consulate and inquired about the process, he also confirmed my eligibility and we set a date for myself, my brother and mom to go before the consulate and petition for an Italian passport. While this process is confusing, daunting, and expensive, I personally think it is so important. I think that it is important to give my children and opportunity that most others do not have. Not only does it give my children an opportunity but because Jameson and Luca will automatically become Italian citizens when I do...it will technically give their great grandchildren an opportunity to acknowledge their citizenship. That is tremendous, that is huge, those are kids that I will surely never have the pleasure of meeting but because I took the step to acknowledge my birth right, they will have that chance because of me. What I think is even a notch more important than that, it doesn't even have to mean that they or I have to choose between the United States or Italy. Both countries recognized Dual Citizenship jure sanguinis, this step does not renounce my American citizenship but allows me to live anywhere in the European Union without restrictions. This process is not for the faint of heart though, it is not easy by any means. If you have questions regarding this, please feel free to ask.
* Name changed to protect the privacy of the individual involved.
When I was a little girl, say maybe 5 or 6. I remember sitting with my mother, going through a large box of old family pictures. I can not recall what brought up the following statement made by my mom but she told me that my dad had a brother that no one knew anything about. She told me that no one had been able to locate him and that the only reason they even knew he existed was because my Zeyda (Yiddish Grandfather) left a few little pieces of paper noting the sons birth, as well as child support payments among his things. They were discovered either right before or after he passed away in 1989. After my mom stepped away from the box of pictures, I recall feeling enamored with finding this man. Michael*, she said she thought that was his name. I crept over to the pantry, quietly opened the door, located the phone book and started searching for him. My heart ached for my father at that time, as a child it was hard for me to wrap my brain around what I was just told. It was impossible for a small child to rationalize the existence of a lost uncle or why he had been undiscovered all those years.
Years went by and nothing, I always kept him in the back of my mind. My ears were always on alert for his name to be mentioned anywhere, in any public setting. But still nothing, no Michael, no clue, no knowledge of if he was even still living.
As I mentioned above, part of my wanting to research my past was because of this. I needed to find this trail of breadcrumbs, but I really only had a name. A name...what is in a name, right? You will learn later the impact of that statement. I had a few tiny pieces of information regarding this situation, after some detective work, prying and badgering (mainly the later). I knew a name, I knew that my Zeyda was married to a woman named Rose before he married my Bubbie in 1947, I knew that he would have had to been married to her sometime between 1923 and 1946. That was it, I had those tidbits of information and a kiss on the forehead wishing me good luck.
And so I began researching catalogs upon catalogs of marriage indexes from Brooklyn and Manhattan, though doubtful I looked through the other boroughs as well...nothing. Nothing on Sam Kleinman and Rose, I take that back. There were a *few* matches but the dates were too far off, he would have been a baby thus cancelling out those returns. So I put it out there, I made his profile searchable with details regarding his life after Rose. I scanned in pictures, WWII letters, his merchant marine passbook, I made a notation that he has been previously married to a woman named Rose, I listed anything I had relating to him I put up on Ancestry.com hoping that I could figure something out. I had a few emails over the years but they never matched up perfectly. See part of the problem when it came to searching for records for Zeyda was because he was born Sam Larry Kleinman, often he only went by "Larry", sometimes he was mentioned as Samuel or Lawrence, neither of which are his LEGAL name. Couldn't be easy, could it?
Four years passed by with nothing, no trace, no hope. Eventually I moved on to another area that was lacking attention in my research. I had multitudes of old, hand written, Italian, records to sift through. I had tons of bad Russian and Romanian translated documents to look through as well. So my time slowly became occupied, although I had not given up on finding Michael or Rose, my light diminished a little and I became discouraged. Surely this man had a family, surely they knew the circumstances regarding why he gone from our lives, surely they were looking too, right?
November 13, 2013 an email alerted me that I had activity regarding Sam Larry Kleinman. I never have activity regarding Sam Larry Kleinman...ever.
l--------3 Hi! I am the granddaughter of Rose (Larry Kleinmans first wife). My name is L ----------. My father is not listed as Larrys son so I wondered if you knew about him. He was born in 1936. We have tried for many years to track my grandfather with no success. This time with the help of a friend and ancestry today we go lucky. Can you contact me? My father is still alive at 77 years old. my e-mail address is -----@gmail.com
I am not sure who you are but I see you have added all of these photos.
Inbox Nov 13 11:47 PM GMT
And I fell out of my chair. Tears welled up in my eyes and I was trembling as I tried desperately to dial my fathers phone number, the same freaking phone number he has had since cell phones came out and I could barely hold onto the phone. All of these years, dedicated to researching the blocks that built me and here it is, the most important thing of all. The one thing I set out to do some 25 years ago, is here. My father got off of the phone with me and contacted his 3 other siblings immediately. Within minutes I had 3 pictures of Michael as a boy, that were in the possession of my eldest aunt. After quickly emailing L---, we discovered that she had the EXACT same portrait of her father hanging on her wall in her home. Madness. L--- and I emailed for hours, back and forth. We pieced this puzzle together the best we could, but to this day we still lack the "Why?".
See, as it turns out Michael wasn't really Michael at all. He was born Aaron Bernard* but was called "Michael". To complicate things a step further, when he was adopted by his step father he assumed his step fathers last name...he was no longer a Kleinman. What scrambled things up a little more was that about 10 years ago, L--- and Michael contacted the Merchant Marines inquiring about Zeyda. The name given...Larry Kleinman, if you remember earlier his legal name was Sam Larry Kleinman which meant he would have been filed that way. Thus giving them no results. What is in a name? What is its value? And how important is it? This was clearly why we would have never found him and why he was unable to find information about Sam Kleinman.
So after the wave of emotions and countless phone calls and emails between L---, myself, my dad, my aunts, my uncle, my mom, my brothers. We weren't sure how to approach Michael with this discovery. While we were all booming and ready to drive to Long Island and knock on his door, we were hesitant to what his reaction would be. His daughter eased him with information over those first few days, he never knew he had siblings or what happened to his father. So gentleness was in order when it came time to explain that his father raised 4 other children.
It wasn't until December 18, 2013 that I received my first email from him. I couldn't believe it, my uncle...this is my dads oldest brother, this is the man I scanned through phone books trying to find as a little girl. This is the guy that MATTERED to me at such a young age and I couldn't figure out why I was drawn to him.
I could feel Michael's resistance and uneasiness through the few emails he sent. While he was not unkind in any way, he was nervous and dealing with emotions that I could never know because I did not experience the abandonment that he did. And I understood.
In March, he made the decision to not continue talking to us. He had been through so much growing up and dealt with so much regarding the absence of his father, that he was reluctant to continue a relationship with his fathers other family and that his life was full. I hated it, I loathed his emailed, I literally lost sleep over his email. I wanted to write him and tell him not to make this mistake! Please reconsider.
I wanted to scream that we are here, a LARGE family, waving our flag, welcoming him to finally join us. Join us...please. Join us for Thanksgiving, for Hanukkah, for birthday parties and graduations. Come over, let me cook for you, let me examine your ears for the "ear" that us Kleinmans have. Let me look at you because your face reminds me so much of the man you bear a striking resemblance to. Let me send you annoying holiday cards plastered with pictures of my kids and cat, because I can and there is nothing you can do about it because I am your niece. Join us. We want you, no matter your flaws or hang ups. No matter your problems, vices, issues, we all have them...we are human. We want you because you are part of us. We want you because you look like the rest of us. Join me because you have my eyes. We want you because you are the missing piece to our family. You, just you, if for nothing else, because you are *you* and you are my family. The laws of nature do not allow me to change that fact, nor do they allow me to change our DNA...you are tied to me somehow and you matter to me. Although we did not start out as a family, let us finish out this life as one. Let us be together and work through the yuck. Let us heal and have each other, we are not getting any younger. Join us...that offer has no expiration date and it never will, that is a promise.
I did not write the email, I did not reach out or lash out the way I intended. I cowered like a scared dog, afraid of pushing him too far or not far enough. So instead, I did nothing. Which is exactly what he wanted, he did not want us...but is it? Isn't that what his father did? Isn't that what happened during his childhood? Nothing, no one did a thing at that time. History surely has a way of repeating itself and I am saddened that I allowed myself to not speak my piece. I am disappointed in myself for not telling him that he matters and that I've been searching for him my whole life. I let him down because I just let him slip through my fingertips without even a word.
However, my cousin did not share the same feelings as her father. I continue to interact with her on a VERY frequent basis, as well as my dad, aunts and uncle. Her and her lovely husband came down to meet us all a few weeks ago. What an amazing experience, you couldn't imagine what it felt like to hug her after almost a year. How in that moment the 12 months, the last 5 years, the last 25 years, the last 80 years, came full circle. Right there it was all worth it. Every single page of every single dead end document, every countless hour of nowhere-ness, became worth its weight in gold. There is no way to describe or put into words without sounding cheesy, how everything just fit into place in those moments.
I am well aware that not every Ancestry.com membership or genealogy research, ends up this way. In fact, its rare, obviously. Not every single person has missing family members or be blessed enough to find them. But I URGE you, if you feel a pull to start this journey...do it. Do it because you have nothing to lose. Do it, because how do you go forward if you don't know where you came from? I am in no way paid by Ancestry.com to support them. I have said before that I will support that website until my last days because of what it has done for me. If you have questions regarding your own genealogy journey or my story, I would be happy to help. I learned A LOT over the years. There are so many vital tools available online that make it possible to do research from home. So thank you Ancestry.com for doing what you do, thank you for being wonderful. Good Journeys.
© 2014 Samantha Cole