How to Find the Warmth & Light of Your Ancestors' Stories

In many cultures across the world, our ancestors did the actual OPPOSITE of what much of the Western World does this time of year. Instead of trying to do more than ever, at this time of year actually slowed down, spent more time inside and connected more with themselves, spent more time in “dream space” and told stories about their ancestors.

I’ve noticed that lately I’ve been returning to doing more research and wanting to learn stories about my family as I spend less time outdoors and more time with my family between holidays and birthday parties. I’ve also been able to share more about my findings with my family. There’s this sense of commonality and give and take in this arena. And there’s something about these stories and these new findings that actually brings some LIGHT and WARMTH into my life.

You may have heard me say it before, but genealogy and family history is SO MUCH MORE than just names and dates. It’s something that I have found to resonate and live within us. Even just someone’s NAME can trigger something deep within you.

Maybe you’re curiosity during this time of year is piqued to learn more about this part of yourself.

But, if you don’t know where to start or you think all the stories of your ancestors are gone, think again. Here are some of the places and the ways you can learn more about your ancestry and your story:

(1) Ask your living relatives to share some of their story.

You may have heard me talk about this before, but this is such a powerful place to connect to family. What we all have in common is ancestry. You don’t have to go to anyone you don’t feel comfortable going to, but start with someone you know. If you can, try to go to the oldest generation first.

If you’re not sure where to start, grab a free copy of my CONNECTING CONVERSATIONS GUIDE. I know these conversations can feel weird to even start, so that’s why I created this for it. You’ll also receive some great tips on how to PRESERVE these stories for yourself and for future generations.

(2) Family member’s or ancestor’s autobiography.

Whether it was written or recorded, these stories are a incredible. You get to hear the voice of someone you may have never met, or someone you miss dearly. In my family, on all different sides of the family, as I went deeper into my genealogical research, family members happened to “remember” that an ancestor wrote a story or recorded their life’s story.

I have a copy of my great-grandfather’s autobiography, a “Cousins Club” newsletter that featured newspaper articles and 20 pages of a transcribed interview with a great-great Uncle. Some distant relatives of recordings of my great-grandparents and I have a few of my own late-grandparents.

(3) Do Some Research.

Maybe you’re like me and you love getting your hands dirty and finding your history on your own time! There are so many online resources out there like FamilySearch, Ancestry, Find My Past, DNA testing. But also local archives and historical societies that could greatly help you!

Plus, as you do your research, you can find new family members. I’ve learned so much more about my family simply because I’ve met “new” relatives.

Note: When it comes to uncovering a possible ancestor in your research, MAKE SURE YOU’RE NOT JUST FINDING SOMEONE WHO SEEMS TO HAVE YOUR ANCESTORS NAME! I can’t tell you how many family trees I see with incorrect information because it’s assumed this is the right person.

(4) Join or go to meetings of a local genealogical society

There have been stories where people have actually found distant relatives at genealogical society meetings. Not yet myself, but I do know several others who have! They’re also incredible resources for learning new tips on how to learn more about your family history.

Historical societies are amazing! First of all, not everything is online. Let me repeat this, not everything is online! Many local historical societies have documents and records that could be incredible clues and stories to your ancestral past. You may have deep roots in an area or a state, or perhaps your family immigrated to your current country within the last century, you’d be surprised that there are many museums and historical societies for most cultures and countries.

Do some research on what’s around!

(5) Hire a genealogist

Hiring a genealogist can be such an incredible investment to learn your family stories or family history. This doesn’t just stop with you, it can impact so many people in your family and for generations to come. Even when I’ve worked with other genealogists, it creates such a world of difference in my own research. Maybe you’ve hit a brick wall or you just want a partner to help you to extend the branches of a line in your tree. Maybe you want to do some deep research or someone on your line. Or perhaps you want to find a biological relative.

If this is something you’ve been thinking about doing or are curious about, please, DO get curious. You can go to the Association of Professional Genealogist website or you can reach out to me with ANY questions you may have. I have 3 spaces available starting January for any one who wants to Discover {Y}our Story. Please don’t hesitate to email me.

My wish for you is you take the time to learn about your ancestry and your own history.

There is such a powerful time to do this. If you have any questions about anything I shared about, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

In 2 weeks, after next week’s {Y}our Stories: The Series episode, I’ll share part of a story my great-great Uncle told about his family in a 1983 Cousins Club Newsletter. See you then!

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 ( : 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).

Why Family History Is Healthy For You (And Children)

Myself with my third cousin, Laurie.

Myself with my third cousin, Laurie.

Cherie Bush giving a presentation at the NYG&B Conference about FamilySearch and the “Do You Know..” study.

Cherie Bush giving a presentation at the NYG&B Conference about FamilySearch and the “Do You Know..” study.

You may or may not know, but the other weekend, I went to the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society's biannual conference in Tarrytown, NY. Not only did I meet some wonderful people, but I also went with a THIRD COUSIN that I met doing my own genealogical research. It was a great way to get to know each other and learn more about our family from our own perspectives. 

I met some wonderful family historians, genealogists, archivists, authors, reps for genetic genealogy companies and some people that I highly look up to. I got to browse old books and newspapers and meet artists. We went to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (I mean as a genealogist, you gotta love a good cemetery, let alone where the Headless Horseman legend took place!) We spent 3 days going to back to back lectures on such a diverse variety of topics, and while for you this may seem boring, I felt like the 3 days went by too quickly. 

But as you know, I see genealogy and storytelling, oh so much more than just names and dates. It can go DEEP. 

One of the things that really touched me during the 3 days was something that was brought up in one of the lectures. FamilySearch International presenter, Cherie Bush, shared an incredible study done by Drs. Marshall and Sara Duke:

They used something called the "Do You Know..." scale in their study with children with disabilities. This scale asks children 20 questions that taps into different kinds of family stories, but also where the children learned these pieces of family history. 

Using the "Do You Know..." scale, their studies showed that when children know more about their family history, the more self-control & sense of self they have, and the higher-self esteem they have. The "Do You Know..." scale was one of the best predictors of children's emotional health and happiness!

Of course, as the researcher I am, I wanted to learn more. :) 

There are many reasons for this. One that really stuck out to me was that when a child knows more about their family, they have a sense of being part of a larger family. They have a "strong intergenerational self," as Dr. Duke says in the New York Times article "The Stories that Bind Us." 

And it's not just the "feel good stories" that bind these generations. It's the narratives that also show a sense of family descension (such as, "we used to have it all, but then we lost everything) or the narrative of both the ups and downs (although this last one is seen is the the most healthful). 

According to this same article, there are other studies done in other fields that show similar results to intergenerational family narratives correlating to a higher sense of self-worth, pride, happiness, etc.

(If you want to learn more, I thought I'd share the article by Bruce Feiler from the New York Time and another article by Dr. Marshall Duke from the HuffingtonPost).

For me, doing genealogical work for myself, asking my family questions, even as an adult, has had some really profound healing for me. It's helped me to let go of collective shame. It's helped me to see I am part of a bigger network of people. Learning stories from my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins has been surprisingly incredible.

To me, this study is another reason why genealogy and storytelling isn't just about names and dates. It's also about deep intergenerational healing at a profoundly deep level. 

If you haven't grabbed my own version of 20-Questions called {Y}our Connecting Conversations to learn about your own family history, you can grab them here!

Keep learning about your ancestors.

Find out why You're SUPPOSED to be here!

PS- Starting Tuesday, October 9, I will be rolling out {Y}our Stories: The Series. Think Humans of NY, but for stories of family, ancestry, lineage and genealogy. If you want to contribute and record your story with me, CLICK HERE.