The Thrill of Discovery

Genealogy is addictive. Yes there are the constant brick walls, mysteries, and puzzles that often seem to have no solution. But once in awhile, things just fall into place and the thrill of discovery is overwhelming.

Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to experience that thrill, and it all started with this picture.

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My grandmother has had this photograph for years. She knew that her father, Sol, was in it (back row, center), as well as her grandfather, Sam, (seated, third from right). Other than those two people, we had NO idea who anyone else was. I guessed that Sam was probably sitting next to his father and that Sam’s wife, Fannie, was probably the woman standing directly behind him. But there was just no way of knowing for sure.

As for everyone else in the photo, where the photo was taken, when, and why- it was anyone’s guess. The only thing that was certain was that no one in my family knew anything for sure about the picture.

As I’ve researched this branch of the tree, I’ve made small discoveries along the way. We never knew that Sam’s parents had emigrated- I was able to find Sam living with them in the 1900 census- lucky break!! Tracing that couple, Meyer and Chana, I was able to discover Chana’s maiden name from one of their son’s death certificates.

Not too long after I added that name to my tree, I was contacted by a cousin who was related through that line, the Spinners. His 2nd great grandfather was my 3rd great grandmother’s brother. He reached out to me and we talked on the phone and exchanged emails. Gary was of great help- correcting a few mistakes I had made and allowing me to benefit from his research.

A few months ago, Gary had emailed me regarding a cousin and her father’s birth certificate. I emailed this new cousin and hoped that a new connection could be made. I was not disappointed.

Instead, I found that this new cousin, Hillary, had all of the answers to the questions we had regarding the portrait. Not only did she know when the photo was taken (1924), but also where (New York), and why (Meyer and Chana’s 50th wedding anniversary). She was even able to send me a copy of the menu from the event!

And, the proverbial icing on the cake, she had a key, made by another cousin, that not only named every single person in the photo, but also provided a short description of them as well! Her grandfather was my 2nd great grandfather’s brother and is seated, third from left, in the portrait.

What an amazing email to read! Finally, names for all of those faces!!! It was probably the best day in my genealogy journey.

Hillary was able to come to our family reunion and meet everyone- it was truly a great day.

Two weeks later, Hillary and I met in New York to look for the graves of our shared ancestors, Meyer and Chana. They are buried at Mt. Zion Cemetery in Queens. I was hopeful that we would find them, but also anxious that we wouldn’t. Mt. Zion is a massive graveyard, and many parts of the cemetery are not in the best of shape.But, as fate would have it, we were able to find them without too much trouble.

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It was a very emotional moment. For me, it was the culmination of years of research and the chance to meet a piece of my past. We cried as we read the prayer and cleared the overgrowth from their graves. It was an awesome experience.

But the journey is far from over. I recently contacted another cousin, descended from a family member in the portrait.

I’m hoping to establish friendships with the new cousins I’ve met, and will hopefully continue to find.

It all started with that picture, which thankfully no one discarded despite only knowing it was a portrait of family. I feel that Meyer and Chana would be happy to see their descendants forging relationships with their cousins and keeping that family link alive.

We may be separated by distance, but we all have the same origin. Like a tree, we may have our own separate branches, but we all have the same roots. I am so thankful that I’ve been able to find these ancestors, thankful for the help I’ve had along the way, thankful for the people I’ve met.

I can’t wait to continue this journey and meet more family, make more discoveries, and keep the memory of Meyer and Chana alive.

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