When Genealogy & Family History Matters in Current Events

I’m keeping this week’s post shorter.

I wasn’t sure if this is something to be writing about or posting. It’s vulnerable for me. But, the muses of this work in this world as a genealogist, storyteller and human being are telling me to write.

So much hate has been leading up to now in so many communities it hurts every part of me.

This past weekend in Pittsburgh has struck a triggered chord. Yes, “chord” like a musical note. You know when you hear music and the notes don’t sit right within you. It almost hurts your ears.

Right now, it’s that time the notes don’t sit right. It’s a painful dissonance.

I know people from that community. And even if I didn’t, I’d still feel like I’d know people from that community.

I was afraid for many years to say this. But I say this now. Most of my ancestry comes from Eastern European Jews. My ancestors- both collectively and down through my direct lineage- experienced millenia of waves of peace and inclusion and then waves of violent hatred & blame for their communities’ sufferings.

I have felt these traumas throughout my life without knowing that I felt them.

As I wrote in a previous blog post about a pivotal moment in Poland this summer, before going there, I couldn’t even watch 2 minutes of a preview Schindler’s List. I’d run out of Holocaust memorials and museums bawling.

It was in Poland that I realized one of the reasons why I practice genealogy for others and especially for myself. I felt SHAME for who I was without even knowing it. In other words, I didn’t like a piece of who I was. I felt FEAR for being found out about who I was. Because the truth is the stories of many generations are always in the back of your mind and anti-Semitism never goes away: both in passing comments like “I thought she jewed me” or completely false social media posts going around about how it’s “The Jews fault” to white supremacist rallies (which targets anyone who’s not like them with the basis of it all is anti-Semitism) to extreme instances like this past Saturday.

But when I did and do genealogy, when I learned and continue to learn family stories, when I faced my fears in Poland, something in me shifted and continues to shift. I see I am not alone. I see the depth of the community of my ancestors. I see their strength. I feel their light. I feel interconnected and PLUGGED IN to something that wasn’t there before. A shame that I was carrying, perhaps that was carried by even those before be (even without realizing it), came to the light.

Tragedy like this past weekend that rocked many of us would probably have sent me over the edge several years ago. But when I look through my family tree. When I look to my family stories. When I look to my family. When I look to my community. When I see and feel the coming together of people of all ages, genders, beliefs, nationalities, races coming together to support the community, I see the strength in all the lineages and all lines. I feel strength and love now through the fear and the anger.

And because of this, I get to help others through my work as a genealogist & storyteller, no matter their lineage, family history or ancestry, to look to their family, their lineage their past, and to find strength in that in the present.

It shows me that each one of is TRULY is supposed to be here and that we are each TRULY a piece of the tapestry of the history of the world.

There is a gift in genealogy and family stories. It seems like it’s not relevant today. But I think it’s more relevant today than ever.

Right now the notes that are resonating are painful, and yet, as most songs do for me, I can feel a beautiful resolution of the chord that is waiting to be plaid.

#YoureSupposedToBeHere #PartOfTheTapestryOfTheWorld

SEPARATIONS & SCANDALS (Part 2): Are The Rumors True?

This is part 2 of 2 of the story. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, you may want to as it gives background to part 2. You can read it HERE.

In the wake of the genealogy conference, I was buzzing with a surge of energy. Laurie sent me one of David’s passport applications from 1922 to examine. My eyes fell upon the multi-page tome of documents, alternating between Yiddish and English. full of information on his origins his family in the region of Galicia, his travel plans and stern photograph glaring at me.

What happened to you? My mind whispered to the ghost of David, silently.

The wheels were beginning to spin. An internal pull from my heart led my fingertips to press the “tab” button on my computer. What was revealed over the course of several days blew my mind.


“What happened to Rose and David?” This question laid looming after my grandmother revealed the horror of Rose’s reality. The question echoed like eerie voices from the past; like a mystery that was meant to be uncovered from beyond.

My third cousin, Laurie, and I discussed the possibilities for almost a year, dredging up possible theories both out of the air and based on some of the stories my grandmother shared with us.

Maybe David returned to Europe, left Rose and his children behind and never came back.

Maybe he died between 1925 and 1930 and everything my grandmother and Laurie’s family shared with her was actually hearsay.

Maybe he ran away with another woman and completely changed his name.

My heart at times ached for Rose, my great-great aunt, Laurie’s great-grandmother, my grandmother’s aunt.

I had to find out. I had to know.

With each document unearthed, the scarcely filled binding of the book of Rose began filling up her stories. Page after page; layer after layer. I felt like as I was researching, as we were researching, Rose was able to tell her story. She had the chance to let go of the pain she carried on her back and in her heart, even in generations passed. I felt the anvil of her life being lifted off.

Part of David’s file for his passport application in 1922*

Multiple Passport Applications and Ship Manifests for David: I could picture Rose, heart heavy waiting at home in absence for her husband who went and returned Europe for months at a time, at times visiting his mother and family, at other times travelling.

Census Records, Draft Registrations, Naturalization Documents, and Passport Applications: Bustling from house to house at least 8 times with David and her children between 1905 and 1925. No real foundation of a home. Again, in 1930 with her children the floors of her home were dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere, but without David in sight.

Family Stories: My mind reeled as I thought about the stories of abuse and neglect added to the mix.

Census Records & Vital Record: By 1930 she was listed as a widow and even on her death certificate in 1948, her own son, Herman, declared on her death certificate that she was a widow to David. But David was nowhere to be found- no more census records, no U.S. Passport, and certainly no death certificate.

For years, there were so many unanswered questions. Where was he? Why did Rose say she was a widow? What did she tell her children about the disappearance of her husband? Did he actually die or did something else happen?

Then, it occured to me, sometimes “widow” in the census records at that time in history did not mean widowed at all.

With the stigma of divorce so rampant during that time, “widow”, for many women, was better than listing divorce.


My eyes couldn’t believe what I found about David. My heart ached for Rose, for her children.

The last time I was able to see David with his children and Rose was 1925 in the census records. It was the first indication that the family rumors were more than rumors.

The rumors were true. The speculation and the story the family had be telling for decades revealed itself.

While Rose was raising 3 of her children alone in Brooklyn, in 1930, David was married to and living with a woman, Anna and their son Joseph, age 4- the four brothers’ half brother.

The only photograph I have of Rose Field née Polay.**

The only photograph I have of Rose Field née Polay.**

And then, by 1940 (and probably by 1935), David, Anna and Joseph packed their belongings and moved over 3,000 miles to Los Angeles while his other four children remained in New York. He disappeared from his first family without a trace.

How did this happen? How did they meet?

After some more research and more digging, I discovered Anna arrived to the United States for the first time on the same boat and on the same day as David when he returned back from Europe in 1922. I discovered her final destination was Los Angeles. While it’s speculatory, David may have met her on the boat over or may have known her from back in Europe (although their hometowns aren’t very close), and they planned to get married upon arrival in the United States. How they met is not clear, but the fact they were on the same boat made me, and still makes me, wonder.

The tragedy of the man who left his family came to a sudden end. David’s lifeless body was found in his Los Angeles home on 3 June 1949, only two years before his Joseph was to marry. His family finding out he killed himself with barbiturates. I can imagine the feeling and look of horror, the shadow that crept into the room, as Anna and their son Joseph discovered the fate of their husband and father.

Why did David leave? Why did he kill himself? What pain must he have been experiencing?

For now we can only speculate. Perhaps down the read we can learn more about the elusive man named David.

Genealogical research, research for the documents isn’t always so dry and boring.

It gives voice to the stories that were not able to be told.

My great-great aunt Rose’s story now has a voice.

NOTE: David is not biologically related to me, he was married to Rose who is my great-grandfather’s sister. 

*”US Passport Applications, 1795-1925,” digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 September 2018), Passport Application, application 164279, 8 May 1922, David Field; citing NARA Microfilm publications M140, roll 1954.

**Rose Field née Polay photograph, ca. 1905; digital image 2018, privately held by Laurie Liberty née Field [Address Held for Privacy]; Laurie shared a digital copy with, genealogist, Jaclyn Wallach. The photograph depicts Rose standing in a black dress and is cropped from the original photograph which includes David Field and her first-born son George (less than 1 year old).