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Jewish Journal

Family History at the Holiday Table

by Schelly Talalay Dardashti

October 6, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Reconnecting long-lost family often begins with a relative's random comment during a holiday gathering as generations gather around a dinner table. The holiday season is an ideal time to share roots and traditions, and to begin a family history project, adding lasting links to the chain of Jewish identity and continuity.

At a family gathering in Israel, Ingrid Rockberger heard a relative say that an American cousin had visited family in Sweden. Something clicked, as she vaguely recalled meeting some Swedish cousins in London, as a young child, some 50 years ago. This was the catalyst for a family reunion reuniting the Israeli, British and Swedish branches.

Decades ago, my aunt in Florida said, quite offhandedly, that her grandfather repeatedly claimed that "Talalay was our name when we left Spain." She added that no one believed it, and most laughed at the idea of our Ashkenazi, Yiddish-speaking family having such origins.

Decades went by before I began to search, but I never forgot her comment.

Mogilev, Belarus, has been the focus of my search -- from there we immigrated to America and elsewhere. I've located far-flung branches in several countries.

However, my quest for a Sephardi connection continued, and I discovered a number of Sephardi-named families in the city, adding to the possibility.

In 2004, a Spanish researcher discovered a 1353 archival document, signed by a kosher winemaker with our rare name. In October, I'll return to Barcelona to continue the search in several archives.

While memories fade and older generations pass, writings and images survive, preserving family lore. Make sure to share these with extended family, and include copies as gifts for new babies, bar/bat mitzvah and weddings.

In June 2005, genealogy sites received 11 million hits, and that marketing survey didn't even include JewishGen.

According to www.ancestry.com, the world's largest genealogy Web site, a recent poll indicated that 73 percent of Americans are interested in their roots. Susan King, head of www.jewishgen.org, the largest Jewish genealogical Web site, recently announced the Web site, which receives millions of hits, counts some 160,000 subscribers from around the world, and is joined by some 5,000 new people monthly.

A proliferation of specialized books, online Jewish genealogy classes and special projects have inspired and assisted researchers in preserving family history.

Even without spending a lot of time on the Web, there's a lot you can do during the holiday season to pique interest in genealogy during the High Holidays:

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