So while I’m in Australia, I’ve been trying to nut through a few things with my folks.
A lot of genealogy.
A couple of years ago, I started doing some familial research.
My mum’s family has known their origin story for a long time.
I grew up with that history.
So I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about my dad’s family.
He knows very little.
So, I knew even less.
I find this wave of social obsession utterly enthralling – and I wanted to get involved.
Early on in my research, I cracked a whole branch of my tree wide open and it was intoxicating!
And then, as things were getting a little trickier, I had other projects to work on, so I let it all fall to the wayside.
But now, I’m back and with renewed excitement!
You see, there’s something about knowing who you have come from…
It helps put everyone in your family into perspective.
At least, that’s how I feel about it.
Also, I love a good story.
And a good mystery.
And genealogy is the perfect mix of both.
My father was an only child.
He still is, for that matter…
He lost both parents by the time he was 22 (careless, I know) and so, he never really knew much of his family history because he hadn’t cared to ask when they were alive.
A number of years ago I asked him to write down all that he knew/remembered since that was all the precious information available to me, and it’s taken off from there.
In Tash Tells Tales, I talked about the part of my personality that is easily obsessed by things – and this hunt for familial knowledge is definitely an adult obsession.
I want to find answers to so many different questions – the frustrating part about this particular endeavour, is in knowing that no matter how much I discover, there will always be things that I cannot know.
I have been thinking about why I’m so obsessed with knowing who and where I come from.
Why I’m so caught up in knowing all the stories I can of these people.
Why I want to know where they lived and when.
And it’s because the story of my people – and by that, I mean the J-tribe as a whole – has been so documented.
We are the wanderers.
We have forefathers and foremothers whose names we still use.
We have spread the diaspora throughout the world.
And now, the global community is closer than ever – despite its geographical distance.
The internet is at our fingertips.
Census records can be found.
DNA mapping can be done.
The stories though?
The human stories of the people who went before us?
They have been lost.
They are a puzzle waiting to be solved.
Or a hypothesis now waiting to be made.
There are clues along the way, particularly within my father’s family that could be leading me down dead ends or could be bringing me toward the answers I need.
I joked with Big Al today that although I had no proof that one man I had discovered was his ancestor of that name, the fact that there was a legal dispute between him and another Jew within his congregation about “The Observance of Shabbat” felt like a very us thing to do.
If my dad lived 100-150 years ago, I can imagine he’d very easily get himself into that kind of situation!
And so, these characters I find, they lead me back to my imagination.
They are the stories I seek.
They are the inspiration for my storytelling.
Some people are inspired by famous characters in history.
Some are inspired by imagined characters.
I’m inspired by those who existed, but whose trace is all but lost.
They were real people.
They struggled as we do.
They felt as we do.
They lived as we do.
Just because they weren’t law makers or sports heroes or infamous criminals, doesn’t mean that their lives were invisible.
And thinking about them – and their “dime a dozen” names that are infuriating to sort through! – reminds me of this.
We all make an impact on someone.
And we are all linked to someone else – even if it’s just by DNA.
It is their blood that still runs through my body, these centuries later.
And I want to thank them.
And those whose blood they pumped.
And so on.
The Jews are a people of long history.
The world is filled with peoples of long histories.
As the world shrinks and our cultures blend (which is a wonderful and beautiful thing), it’s nice to know the stories of those who came before us.
And if we don’t know them?
To imagine them.
I guess, if I were to go religious with today’s lesson (as inspired by my paternal grandmother – whom I never met but who was determined that my father should become a Rabbi), it would be to think about the old “Man was created in G-d’s image” line.
I had an unexpected chat on this topic on a date a couple of years ago – which challenged my thinking slightly.
But, today, I think this:
If we were all created in G-d’s image (assuming, for the purposes of this, that a tangible G-d does exist) then I have seen my ancestors faces in the faces around me.
I have known them in the people around me.
I am looking for them and the comfort of knowing them through research only to put to rest this desire I have to be sure I know them.
I have my father’s face to look at.
And my own.
And I’m thankful to all of them.
For the lives they led, the struggles they overcame, and the places they left.