Our family history. For over three decades, I’ve researched it, written about it, spoken about it, and taught it.
My cousin Donald has branded it my calling. More than a hobby, which some cousins have taken up after all the televised publicity of a few acclaimed researchers, my interest started when I was a young girl listening to what I simply call, “kitchen talk,” thus the name for my manuscript.
My paternal Aunt Fannie never married but she was totally deserving of her nickname “the matriarch.” Each week, she would visit, and the chatter would begin as she sat “parked” at the kitchen table while my mother stood preparing meals, serving and cleaning up. The talk, oftentimes in Yiddish so that the kinderlach wouldn’t understand, was interspersed with enough English to make it possible to keep mental notes of generations of family members and their individual stories.
I heard the same mayses over and over again allowing me to get to “know” lots of extended cousins simply by their colorful depictions, as the fluidly descriptive tales were often repeated by Aunt Fannie. These talks, diligently propelled into and stored in a separate box in my memory bank, brought my unknown relatives to life.
Having recently enjoyed the Yiddish version of a play we’ve seen so many times before, I never tire of Tevya’s notable line randomly interspersed in Fiddler on the Roof, “On the one hand… but on the other hand...” As a matter-of-fact, it was Aunt Fannie who gifted tickets for my brother Stu, Arnee and me to see the film adaptation of the popular Broadway show when it was first at movie houses in New York, in 1971.
On the one hand, Aunt Fannie definitely whetted my appetite for the family history, which was only magnified after giving birth to our first son. On the other hand, surprisingly, while I mentioned my first cousin Donald earlier, we’ve never met. He grew up in Louisiana and I in New Jersey. When he was stationed in Vietnam in the 1960s, Aunt Fannie had me write to her nephew from Louisiana, my first cousin, and include a briefing of our family tree. Based on his reply letters, he really knew nothing about his father’s family in New Jersey, other than maybe Aunt Fannie and the names of some of their brothers; I was the one enlisted to bring him up to snuff.
As noted in the Sharon Met Sally blog post last Tuesday, my cousin Faye cautioned me early on not to just make a paper trail. I took that to heart. More than a researcher filling in the pieces of a puzzle, I am a historian and a storyteller. Just wait until you read Kitchen Talk.
On the one hand, I appreciate others working on filling in pieces of their family tree puzzle. On the other hand, I have already compiled and refreshed thirty years of research on our family history. I have video recordings from the horses’ mouths. Why reinvent the wheel? My advice for the new researchers in the extended family is to, instead, work on other sides of their family.
In the late 1990s, I sent out the family histories I spent a decade compiling, followed by annual newsletters for well over another decade. I took a much-needed break to get my book ready for publishers before resuming my newsletters. My next goal is to update all my family tree records on my new computer and distribute them once again to family members.
On the one hand, I caution the inexperienced not to share my work outside the family with unknown researchers and not to post my information online. With many years of respected documentation, I have learned not to share the information without permission. On the other hand, I welcome new family facts to add to the tree I have worked on for over three decades with all the love in my heart.