I feel so legitimate. Growing up, I falsely believed there were no records from Eastern Europe to verify any Jewish existence. For 33 years, I’ve been tracking our family history.
On December 2, 2021, I got one of the biggest shocks of my life. It caused me to give my husband a scare. As we sat watching TV, I got a message on my iPhone and saw that someone had found my father’s birth records from 1911 in Chudnov, Ukraine. I jolted. The information came from Igor Lekhtman about an hour before my eldest brother turned 80. It was the perfect birthday gift. He surely wouldn’t be getting the same present from anyone else.
Having “met” Igor in a Facebook group, learning of his interest in his Chudnov, Ukraine roots, I suggested he join the Facebook group Chudnov Children, started by my friend/landsman Marvin Kaleky. That’s where Igor found the link to the birth records for various years of the early 1900s in Chudnov. First, he sent my father’s birth records and, next, those of my uncle. The birth records of my cousins followed in rapid fire until he wrote: “... It’s almost midnight! This is very engulfing!! But I need to clock out for tonight. Have a good night!”
The next day, another member of the Facebook group, Tanya Gilman, joined in the fun. Her replies with records and translations from my list of 22 cousins known to be born in the years the birth records are available shot in like rocket fire all day. Trying to keep up with the results from Igor the night before, coupled with more from Tanya, and interpretations and documents of additional family members from my cousin Alexey proved difficult.
Curiously, a duplicate of my father’s birth records from Tanya came with a different name for my grandfather Nachman. I forwarded her translation to my cousin Alexey living in Germany. Having grown up in Ukraine close to his grandmother, Alexey explained: “Yes. Nachman. Definitely. Handwritten. If you do not know—could be read as Pachmon.” Alexey knew, since my grandfather Nachman was his grandmother’s revered uncle.
Having cousins in various parts of the world who have my passion for our family history and the knowledge to work with me to complete my life’s mission has proven invaluable. In my commitment to getting all the information documented correctly, I sent the notes from Alexey to Tanya, not to criticize but to inform. Tanya explained further: “N and P are somewhat similar in Russian cursive. Sorry for the mistake. If you find other inconsistencies like that, let me know and I’ll double check.” That’s just what I want, no insults taken, just double-checking to make sure I have everything correct.
My cousin living in Russia responded from her home across the world after receiving my emails, which included birth records of members of her branch of our family. She wrote, “Sharon, I received. I’m excited and can’t sleep.” It’s funny that when signing off at midnight in New Jersey writing, “Now, it’s my turn to try and sleep,” my newly found cousin living on the other side of the globe bid me goodnight. The link to our connection is clear. The corresponding information on the birth records of her ancestors matches the names on my father’s birth records, which I included in the correspondence. We have tremendous family and emotional ties.
The next day, my new friend/landsman Tanya wrote, “I finished going through ‘Birth records from years 1903, 1906, 1907, 1909-1911’ and sent you everything that I could find on your (potential) ancestors.
“I don’t have time now to go through the 1912-1917 births in the same detail, but I did look through it and wrote down the page numbers where I saw ‘your’ last names.” With that, she added a list of over a dozen names and suggested that I send it to my cousins to translate. Of course, I did that right away. I also sent the link she gave to the records.
Who could ask for more? The information traveled straight across the internet to my Russian-speaking cousins.
As an artist rendering a painting, I am steadfast in my resolve to leave my descendants with a complete family picture. In Bamidbar (Exodus 30:11-16), God commanded Moses to conduct a census of the Israelites. My family can fill a chapter.
How apropos that after 33 years of research, I was the first in our family to come upon the newly released records. That allowed me the privilege to instantly distribute the findings posted in Russian and Yiddish to cousins around the globe.
The documents confirm the dates and places of birth of our closest relatives. They remarkably include the names of our ancestors back to our great-grandfathers. There is a thrill from learning the namesakes of our parents, aunts and uncles. The continuation of given names in whatever variations our parents chose for us, plus those we selected for our children, extended with the English matched with Hebrew names carried from our ancestors by our grandchildren, are awe-inspiring.
Those records affirm our Judaism when, all along the years, I believed that this day would never come. I can hear my mother of blessed memory saying, “This is one for the books.” With pleasure, I update mine.
The light of Chanukah shone brightly. This miracle happened during Chanukah 5782/2021.