Pirke Avot tells us to know from where we came and while the intended meaning of the text was likely more spiritual in nature, I find great meaning in this statement in a different direction. To whatever extent we can, we are obligated to know our own personal history through familiarity with our family lineage and the stories that go along with it.
This past week has been an extraordinary week for me and my family as we have discovered over the past week some very significant information concerning both sides of our family. The story of the discovery in our father’s family is long, detailed and dramatic and I will cover it in future postings as I am still trying to put all the pieces together. But in this posting, let me tell the story a new discovery we have made in my mother’s family which is extraordinarily significant to me.
My mother used to tell my brother and me that we should be proud that we are 5th generation Americans on one side of the family (her father’s father’s family). But, we were never able to confirm that because she had no idea which of her great grandparents had, in fact, lived here. She only knew that he or she was buried somewhere near Worcester, MA. But, she would tell us the story with pride.
In 2002, my mother left Boston for what turned out to be the last time and came to live near us in Ann Arbor. On the last day we were in Boston, my brother and I went to all the cemeteries to visit the graves of her parents and grandparents in various cemeteries around Massachusetts and New Hampshire. While we were standing at the graves of my great grandparents, Morris and Annie, she told us again about the mystery ancestor buried near Worcester.
Last Sunday, after all the information about my father’s family became clear, my son went to a Jewish genealogical website to see if he could find any other details of the new information we had received. He didn’t find any other information on the Dobrusins but sure enough, he found someone who was trying to find out what several family names, including Dobrusin, was doing in the records of her family’s “association” of the 1950’s. I knew exactly what they were doing there because all of the names were names of my grandfather’s married sisters or daughters and since he had 10 siblings, there were quite a few. I also knew the name of her husband’s family because I had heard that name many times when I was young but I didn’t know how the families were related.
It took a bit of investigation and some back and forth emails but we finally figured it out when we realized that the one fact which we had known but others hadn’t was that my great grandfather Morris had changed his last name. At that point, we all realized that the connection of the families was that Morris’s sister had married into the other family.
So, now it was clear that the husband of the woman who had contacted the website was in fact, my 3rd cousin. That’s nice to know. But, what was more important to me was the fact that she told me that in fact, Morris and his sister Jenny’s mother, Rasha, was buried in a cemetery outside of Worcester, MA. Rasha was my great-great grandmother and that was the person my mother had always told us about without knowing the details.
On my next trip to Boston, I plan to visit my great great grandmother’s grave and for a 56 year old American Jew of East European descent, that is certainly unusual. And, for my brother, who is a grandfather, to bring his granddaughter to the grave of her great-great-great-great grandmother would be truly astounding.
So, that’s the story. A changed name, a distant cousin and a family gravesite. All of this has helped me to understand more about where I came from and the next part of the story, concerning my father’s family is still to come.