As Family History Month winds down (Yay! I’m 28 for 28 posts!!) I decided to share why I started doing genealogy.
My family is a little bit complicated. My father divorced my mother when I was 7 and remarried three times. I have three full-sisters from his first marriage, a half-sister from his second marriage, and a step-brother and three adopted siblings from his third. He married wife number four late in life, so no children there. My mother remarried a man who had three children and then, together, they created my half-brother. So, essentially, I have 12 people whom I consider my siblings.
Add to that, my marriage to a man whose father married twice, creating a blended family of seven children and you can understand why I use the term “bramble bush” when describing my family instead of “family tree.”
Another characteristic of my family is that we are “semi-hoarders.” My mom always referred to herself as a “museum curator” to explain why she kept all of our various mementos. In her “collection” were family photographs, papers, and objects belonging to her parents, aunt, and uncle and both sets of grandparents. Everything was stored (and I use the term loosely) in cardboard boxes in her attic. I found these objects really interesting and wanted to learn more about the people who had owned them.
In July of 2007, my father held a family reunion in honor of his 75th birthday. I suspected he had a hidden agenda behind his wanting to get the family together. As it turned out, two months after the reunion, we received news that Dad was suffering from pancreatic cancer. Years ago, Dad told me about “Barney the Red” an Irish guy in our family. I always had a love for anything Irish. St. Patrick’s Day was my favorite holiday. I have fair skin and freckles. We named our children Caitlin and Meghan. Now that Dad was getting ill, I thought it best to find out more about his side of the family.
I began searching the websites and found Samuel family going back to 1824 in England. No Irish. The only “Barney” I found was my father’s grandfather, Barnett. He was born in Jamaica, New York in 1882 to John Samuel who had emigrated from Stepney, England in 1857. Not Irish.
In the summer of 2008, I traveled to Toronto to visit my father who, by then, was in hospice. I shared with him the results of my research. He was quite pleased with the work I had accomplished. I asked him about “Barney the Red” and his supposed Irish ancestry. His response? “Oh. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we’re Scottish.”
Ten years later I still have not proven my Irish ancestry. However, I have been able to trace back two more generations of the Samuel family to Moshe Jacob Samuel, the father of Lazarus Samuel (b. 1795 England) and grandfather of John.
Genealogy is the perfect hobby for me. It’s a great match for my personality. I don’t like to go outside. I love possessing little bits of curious information. I get totally invested in finding the solution to a specific problem. I love to write. But most of all, I love that I am making use of my mother’s “museum” and sharing the history of our family.
One thought on “Family History and Me – My Family "Bramblebush"”
Full disclosure: I originally wrote this 4 years ago for an article in the JGSCT newsletter. I woke up at 2:20 this morning (who knows why!) thinking about the article and realized I made a big faux pas. I have, indeed, disproven the theory I am Irish. Since writing the article I have had my DNA tested. 100% Jewish. Not a drop of English Isles or Irish. That's what I get for not writing a new piece tonight! Ok. I feel better. Going back to sleep now. (I hope.)