Sally, like me, was named for my paternal grandmother Sarah, her mother’s maternal grandaunt. So why didn’t I know Sally when we were younger? I’m overjoyed that we’re in touch now.
When I recently sent an email to those on our email contact list to announce that my husband was interviewing an astronaut (whom we met) on his weekly radio show, The World of Work on WDVR-FM, Sally replied, “Hi Sharon. I set an alarm for 12:55 and caught Arnee’s broadcast. Very interesting and its a good idea to throw that info (broadcast reminder) out there. Thanks and Shabbot Shalom. Sally Scott”
Just imagine if my grandmother knew that two cousins, five years and 3000 miles apart, both named for her, were in instant communication.
An unpublished article, which I penned, tells the history of how Sharon met Sally. Read the details here.
Yearly Newsletter Reveals Family Matters
by Sharon Mark Cohen
My cousin Sally, like me, is named after my grandmother. I’ve only met her maybe twice, but we have a kinship. When I started my family tree research in 1988, by giving my parents and my husband’s parents each a book titled Reflections A Jewish Grandparents’ Gift of Memories and saw how much they had forgotten or never knew, I wrote to all the cousins I had ever heard mention of. One was Sally’s mother, the daughter of my father’s cousin Jennie from Philadelphia.
Sally’s grandparents trailed their daughter when she went to college out west, eventually relocating with the rest of their family to Venice, California. That was in the early 1950s, just after their son’s bar mitzvah, in Philadelphia (the year before I was born), which our family still talks about to this day.
For my parents’ 1940 honeymoon, they were scheduled to drive to Washington, D.C. My father borrowed a car from his new wife’s brother. The make/model/year are safely stored on one of our voluminous collections of home video recordings taped for posterity and tucked away to be viewed “someday.”
The old jalopy my uncle loaned my father broke down along the way and my parents ended up spending their honeymoon at cousin Jennie’s house in Philadelphia. Sally’s mother was a young girl at the time. Definitely, there was a deep-rooted family history with Sally’s clan.
Photographs from as far back as the 1930s depict pleasurable times with my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, visiting with my grandfather’s brother and his four daughters and their young families. Our branch of the family that settled in Newark simply referred to those kinfolk as “Philly.” Comically, they, in turn, referred to our branch as “Newark.”
When I was 15, sweet, thoughtful Jennie visited from California for her grandnephew’s bar mitzvah in Philadelphia. I remember as if it were yesterday. There we were when that same war-torn story kept swirling around about when Jennie’s father, my granduncle died and “Philly” wouldn’t tell “Newark.” Or was it the other way around and when my grandfather passed away, “Newark” wouldn’t tell “Philly” for fear that his brother with a weakened heart would get wind of it? That discussion consumed the conversation at that event and at many subsequent table-time talks.
To be sure that “Newark” was represented, I flew out to that same “bar mitzvah” cousin’s wedding almost 22 years ago in a small prop plane, which my husband’s colleague allowed me to co-pilot. We flew back home before the reception in order to put our young children to bed. These stories, these connections, these feelings, are too important to lose.
After ten years of collecting family tree facts from relatives far and near, I put the information together in book format and sent copies to relatives in each branch of my husband’s and my families. What followed were yearly family newsletters to each clan to give the relatives updates on family matters gathered from all pertinent branches.
The use of census statistics allowed me to include answers to things such as the “Newark”-“Philly” question that remained vivid in my mind. Eventually, lots of memorabilia, photographs and family happenings were added to the journals. One issue included a recipe for salmon croquettes in the family recipe section, which my mother always said she got from cousin Jennie from Philly.
In time, I went from mailing to emailing the newsletters, even adding color-coding to indicate the various clans and family branches. The past two years, while concentrating on getting my family history book to publishers, the time required to put the newsletters together dwindled. Now that my book is at publishers for review, I can divert my attention by working on the journals again. Anticipating the fun, I found it exciting to get back in the groove, even though it meant resuming the arduous process of collecting updated family information.
When a holiday photo card sent to Sally’s mother was returned after being stamped “undeliverable,” I emailed Sally. She told me that her mother, whom I had a lengthy correspondence with after starting my research in the late 1980s, rekindling family ties and leading to a get-together at her brother’s home in Venice Beach in the 1990s where I first met her family, including her daughter Sally, had suffered a stroke in 2016. Sally went on to inform me that her mother, who cautioned me at the time of our reconnect to establish relationships and not just keep a paper trail, is now living at a Home for the Aged in Reseda, California, where she is well cared for.
My follow-up email to Sally inquired about her children. Determined to have more than a paper trail, my latest ledgers included a recap of the members of Sally’s nuclear family. Highlighted was the fact that Sally’s daughter is a member of the Teamsters Union. Sally deems her daughter’s teamsters membership as, “… a relief as a parent because the union fights for their members and as long as they exist I know she’ll always be okay.” That commentary was music to the ears of an employment lawyer’s wife.
In her thirties, Sally’s daughter is chasing her dreams and now drives a 115’ long tour bus at Universal Studios Hollywood. Who knows, maybe one of the 165 people on board today is her cousin? If my work pays off, they’ll know that they are kin. Now that would make for a great picture to include in the next issue of my family newsletter.
The last paragraph of Sally’s second email response gave me pause and pushed me to get my newsletters out. She wrote: “…On Sunday I visited and for the first time [my mother] did not recognize me or remember that she ever had a daughter which is a turning point I knew was coming but there’s nothing really that can prepare you for that. I look forward to reading your newsletter with the family news in it. It helps me feel connected and thank you for all the energy you put into it. It matters.”
When I started my genealogy research in 1988 it was partly because I wanted to be able to “feel” the grandparents whom I was not privileged to know. I think that I’ve managed to come close.
Sharon Mark Cohen, MPA, is a seasoned genealogist and journalist. A contributing writer at The Jewish Link of New Jersey, Sharon is a people person and born storyteller who feels that everyone is entitled to a legacy. She has taught, lectured, appeared on radio many times, been written about in newspapers and had articles in numerous publications. Sharon was acknowledged by two authors in their recently published books and is looking forward to the publication of her family history book.