A family history

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Friday, June 7, 2013 – Prompt:

Tell us a story from your family history.

Wow. This prompt is leaving me with a blank.
I am not so good at choosing when the choice is too wide.
I chose to follow the prompts for that reason. The topic of “Roots” felt wide and vague enough for me to need the framework and the prompts seem to better offer that framework.

But then telling a story from my family history feels like going back to the ocean of the general topic of “Roots”. What story? Each day is a story, each person is a story. My mother wrote a book about her story, my father, upon my request, did so too, not a real book in his case, because he is a reluctant writer, so he chose to gather facts and piled them in a sort of chronology of how he went through his years before he got married for instance.

Then my mother also prepared fabulous photo albums after she retired. It is very time-consuming, so I am eternally grateful to her that she did so, and every time I visit – which is unfortunately only every other year – I enjoy going to those heavy books of pictures that she organized following some themes that are meaningful to her only in the beginning, but that I am ready to adopt to embrace her memories of her life, especially fascinating that I am in the stories of course! And that my recollections are tainted with another set of memories, or emotions, and that shows how we perceive events or reality through our own prisms always!

These are wonderful stories, sometimes painful stories too, that I participated in for the last parts at least (fifty-five years and counting!). The stories that took place before my birth have another flavor. I grew more fond of learning them as I am getting older: because I am more busy with my memories than when I was busy with my dreams and hopes. Because I have lost so many of the wonderful people who were building the possibilities in these stories also. Because I know better the value of the instant that I have let go so often, without paying enough attention to the story that was underlying and that was meaningful when it was unfolding.

Also, because I know how life can take it all in a split second: and what if no one was left to retell this or that story? I am a very anxious person, and my anxiety is growing with passing years, instead of subsiding into a more serene state of mind. I thought that working on building up memories that can last an eternity was a way to overcome the panic and the feeling that I could suddenly lose things forever.

I have come to believe that my profound anxiety stems in my history. There has been a lot of abusive events, enough to prove that I would be scarred and scared. I remember what a psychiatrist whom I had been in therapy with when I was younger had suggested to me, that being the daughter of holocaust survivor had certainly an impact on my psyche. Research has documented this since (see the footnote).

The thing with Jews, is that if you go back into their history, there is very likely a short period between succeeding traumas. The generations that lived before the Holocaust (or Shoah, as I prefer to call it – but that is another story – ) had gone through pogroms, or displacement, or if you go back again a quarter century, you’ll find persecutions, antisemitism, and destruction again, and again, enough to traumatize one generation over an other. This is one way of looking at the story. And then, there is the other way of looking at it: which is the incredible resilience, the everlasting rebuilding upon ashes that these families, mine, have accomplished in the face of these destructions and evil events. Yes, sometimes, I find a branch that goes dry, that is coming to a tragic end, but very often, another member of the same family has done differently and gone to recreate a burgeoning tribe. Also, some of the members who have been cut off from their roots, for different reasons probably, and lost their belonging to the Jewish family, often surprisingly resurrect their Judaism many years later and seem to go ‘back home’.

This is certainly the story that I would choose preferably to tell. How I feel profoundly and inherently part of a family, a very special family that goes back so far in time that I can’t exactly know when or where it really started. It gives me strength and solace, it gives me support and hope. It certainly depends on my belief system and faith, but even when I doubt and feel like I do not believe that much, it seems to have a way to catch me back, as if I was attached with a rubber band that is not drying.

I know that the best stories are stories with a happy ending. But when you talk about a family history what could be the ending? It is a never-ending story! It certainly is not a fairy tale, when we live happily ever after, after the events that took place dramatically in the tale, because there is so much unknown to what a family can become, but I am proud to be part of it, as little as my role could be in its unfolding, and as humble my words can be in their attempt to leave a trace in the sand for all to know about what we did and how we did it.

Footnote: Links in English on Trauma experienced by Holocaust survivors and their children

See my other posts of the series:

A sweet name

Genealogy and Family Trees

Three generations away

Generations

Random facts about my Judaism

A sweet name

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Thursday, June 6, 2013:

Are you named after someone on your family tree?  Tell us about that person.

Naming children seems to be following different patterns in the United States and in other countries. For instance, I do not have a “middle” name per se, but three different names, and then I also have a Hebrew name. The latter is more of a liturgical name, or religious.

My other names are the usage name, and then those that would qualify for “middle” here. Both of those names are after each of my grandmothers. I like those names a lot, even though I never used them independantly, I mean I would always list them in order after my usage name, it feels like a sing-song, something very melodic, as it gives me a six syllable surname in fact!

My third name is after my mother’s mother, whom I was very fond of. I was nearly thirteen when she died, and I have many memories, as we spent a lot of time together. I used to go to sleep over at her place once a week, then when I grew up twice a week, on Wednesday nights and Saturday nights. She seemed pretty old to me at the time, but we enjoyed spending peaceful time together, it was very structured, a regular simple meal, watching television, the news, in black and white on a heavy set with only one channel. She was reading a different newspaper than the one my parents would read at home, and seemed to have more conservative opinions than my parents, but we never really argued. I remember her as very softspoken, very delicate and neat.

She tried to teach me how to do embroidery but I was really not very gifted with my fingers, and the hoop was not helping me produce much more than a poor flower here and there.

She was very proud of her family, and she spoke about it a lot, telling me memories of her childhood. She was the eldest of many brothers and one sister, her little sister whom she had mostly raised. Three of her brothers were killed during WWI and a fourth one perished in WWII leaving her with only one brother and one sister. They all lived in the same area and were very close.

She loved music. She spoke a lot about classical musicians and she also attended my piano lessons sometimes, encouraging me, when once again, I had limited talent, but I persevered, and really loved music too.

In the end of her life, she had a yellow canari, who was singing very joyfully. She told me he was keeping her company and she liked him a lot. When her appartment got robbed, and a little later her bird died, this made her really very disturbed and sad, I remember she died shortly after. I thought she died because she was finally overcome with too much grief.

Picture 2

Her name was Cécile.

This is my third surname, and I like it very much.

 

See my other posts of the series:

Genealogy and Family Trees

Three generations away

Generations

Random facts about my judaism

Genealogy and family trees

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 – Prompt:

Are you interested in genealogy?  Do you have a family tree constructed?

I have always found family trees fascinating.

I have several trees from different branches of our family available. They are not consolidated, and I realize that it is a passionate work if you want to dedicate yourself to it. It has certainly become easier thanks to modern technology and swift access to online database. Also contacting those who dedicate themselves to researching and collecting data is much easier now. But it is still awfully time consuming, so you need to set aside some time if you want to do it properly and seriously.

What I am mostly passionate about is relationships. I believe in connections. I believe in networks. I realize that our way of thinking is largely influenced by who we are connected to and how we connect. There are connections in our ancestry that we are absolutely not aware of, but they are still there, they are in our DNA and they do have an effect on us, mostly in physical traits of course, but they may have more than that as an influence to who we are and how we relate to our environment.

When I started a family of my own, little did I know about the family I was going to give my children and I gathered lots of documents because I felt it was important for them to know the history of their paternal family. Since their father left us when they were very little (in 2002) and we were divorced in 2004, I am glad I still have those documents with me, at least, it gives me a little bit of solace that I can pass them information if they ever want to learn about that side of their heritage, even though it will never make it up for having built a relationship with their father as they grow up.

Now, I am not an historian, and I simply stored those informations, as well as the other information scattered from the other branches of my family. I believe it would be time for me to sort all this out and put something together neatly and try to see if I can build a tree for myself, that does not go only one way. For the moment, if I follow what I got, I can go back to circa 1700 on my paternal lineage, because a historian did a fabulous work and published the result of his research in a 95 page document retelling the influence and destiny of a Jewish family from the Eastern part of France (Lorraine), mine. I learned a lot thanks to this document.

I watched Who Do You Think You Are? A NBC series that aired in 2010 and followed a celebrity on a journey to their family tree and heritage. The obvious partnership of the production with Ancestry.com made it a little constrained at times, – and annoying in my personal taste – but otherwise I enjoyed the concept and found it pleasant to follow, even if at times I found it too shallow: I learned histories that I was not familiar with and enjoyed seeing how they were portrayed in a very vivid, if not dramatic way. The fact that it was celebrities was not that useful for me, and I felt like some of the connections were fabricated for the sake of the production, but all in all, the stories were real, from real people who went through these amazing dramas in their lives, and it was such an interesting way to understand how history and geography have an impact on our ways of seeing our destiny.

I understand that the series, that was cancelled by NBC, will start over on TLC end of July this year. Ancestry.com is still sponsoring, so I don’t believe it will be as exciting as the concept promised in the first instances (don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Ancestry.com, but their marketing is appalling, if you want my honest opinion, and I like sponsors when they are more subtle in their call to actions). Also my interest in celebrities is extremely limited, but hopefully their ancestry has diverse backgrounds enough that it will keep me fascinated enough!

Family Tree of my children s  paternal lineage
A handmade Family Tree of my children’s paternal lineage as scribbled by their paternal grandmother on a kitchen table in 1999

On the topic of online genealogy sites, besides Ancestry.com which I cited already, you have Geni.com that is now part of MyHeritage.com and also Tribal Pages! Free accounts are limited, and paying accounts go from $2.00/month to 10 times that fee, so the range of service is pretty wide!

See my other posts of the series:

Three generations away

Generations

Random facts about my judaism

Three Generations Away

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 – Prompt:

Go back three generations and tell us about where your family lived.

I was born in Paris, France.
My father was born in Paris, France.
His mother too.
My mother was born in Algiers, which at the time of her birth was a French department.
Her mother was born in Toulouse, France and her father was born in Algeria.

Algeria is more mysterious to me because I never visited, and also because the country changed so much after it became independant, in 1962.
My family had already left the land, earlier, already in 1953 or 1954 before the war there started. The land they owned was seized, and certainly all the hard work my grandfather labored there got lost, but certainly not his kindness, his patience and all the memories he left me, even if he passed on when I was very little.

Alger Pointe Pescade

My grandfather was a tanner, and I still have a satchel that I used when I went to grade school that I was told he made (I supposed he prepared the leather for it, but had it made by a maker). I am very fond of leather, its smell, its feel. I also have my grandfather’s desk. Actually, I am writing on it right now. I don’t know how old this desk is, but it must have been built more than a century ago…

On the contrary, my father’s family lived in a place that I am very familiar with.
I have walked the street they lived many times, and passed it driving even more.
I have looked at the door, a typical heavy Parisian black door, but I have never passed its threshold.

My grandmother was arrested by the Gestapo and deported as a Jew in 1943. She never returned home.
certif  arrestation  Thérèse

On April 27, 1946 the building caretaker, wrote this note to certify that my grandmother had been arrested on July 30, 1943 at her place of work and never reappeared nor gave any news until that day.

This piece of paper probably entitled my father to some rights. Eventually, my grandmother was declared “dead for the motherland”.

I wear her wedding band. Because she was divorced at the time, she was not wearing it, and this is the only memory I have left from her, that I carry all the time with me. Inside the wedding ring there are her initials and her estranged husband. LH TG: the first two initials happen to be also mine. There is the date May 17, 1925. I can hardly take it off my finger now.

The desk and the ring are part of my surroundings, and they keep reminding me of those who are not here anymore, and places and stories I barely knew, and certainly never lived. They have a lot of power though, and they do shape who I am.

See the other posts of the series:

Generations

Random facts about my judaism

Generations

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Monday, June 3, 2013 – Prompt:

How many generations can you go back in your family?  What do you know about your oldest ancestors?

On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a Sephardic Jew and his name can be found in Chronicles (Chr I, 23-11) which kind of makes me pretty vain about it (being able to say that you trace my Yiddishkeit back to the Tanach, who would not feel a little proud about that anyway?). My maternal grandmother was coming from a prominent Lorraine family (ashkenaz) and they were already settled in Paris, France when citizenship was granted to the Jews right after the French Revolution(9/28/1791), so you can trace her family in the civil official registars back in 1792.

Random facts about my judaism

These are facts that I seem to have known always.
They are part of my family’s folklore, and being aware of the “mixed” origin (part sefardic, part ashkenaz) came later in my knowledge, when I became really interested in what my Jewish heritage was. Because it was not something that I remember being important when I grew up.

Obviously, generations before WWII did not mix up as much as they did after.

It feels like many generations lived in the same place for a very long time.
For instance in Paris.
And often in the very same area of the city, too.

Then, some of my ancestors, who were from Russia at the time of the czar, were probably forced to leave, as antisemitism was fierce and often deadly, but what transpired from the family folklore was never stories of pogroms, but rather the fact that this particular ancestor was a peddler, a very typical activity for an askenaz Jew of that time. I wonder what language he spoke when he made it to Eastern France, and if this is where he founded a family, or had left one behind.

Captain Dreyfus at the time of his rehabilitation
I know more about my great-grand-father from my maternal side, who had been a Colonel in the French army at the time of the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1906). For those not familiar with French history, there had been a war between France and Prussia (at the time) prior to that period, and my family (that part of the family) was already established as Parisians, where the war had created a famine. The family folklore says that they had to eat rats for protein. I do not know if it was true or a myth. What I remember is my grandmother boasting about it for her father like if it was heroic. Seems pretty intense rather. But I am sure it was also a way not to speak about politics, which had been such a painful and sensitive topic. It definitely shaped a lot of our political sensitivities and outrage.

On the paternal side, I know of the ancestors who had to opt for the French citizenship: there was a time when residents of Alsace and Lorraine where caught up in territories claimed back and forth between Germany and France. They chose the French citizenship, because the Jews could have it. And they seemed to feel happier in France: there even was a saying “As happy as God in France”, because Napoleon was favorable to the Israelites, and obviously they were supporting him back.

Folkloric stories seem to stop at the beginning of the XIXth century for me.
My imagination goes back much further though, and I sometimes have very vivid visions of the village my ancestors would have lived in back in the XIth or XIIth centuries! These memories were created by my readings, of course, and a propension to invent or believe that it comes from memories passed in the genes, who knows after all?