This is a topic very near and dear to my heart. Consider your own ancestry research you NEVER knows where life may take you..❤️🔎🔎💻📜🆕👫
July 16, 2010. A month that would change my families life forever. It all started off with a condolence letter from a distant relative, a stranger, Hank, sending his sympathies upon hearing about the death of my moms cousin. 💔Hank, was also writing to let us know that if we had any interest, that we were related. We were busy with our lives and the note kind of got away from us. Weirdly enough, this is not the kind of letter that would typically get away from my family as we take family VERY seriously. I have a small family, but a tight knit family. The usual cast of characters, all my friends know them well, perhaps from Facebook or from my parties. At that time there were about 13 or so main players. Who else was there to know? This was the only family we basically ever knew why would we suspect that there would be more of us crazies out there??😳😳😳
The letter came back up in conversation one day in July and my mom feeling very guilty for not responding earlier answered the letter. 📝👴🏼Ping. An immediate response from Hank. And just like that the rest was history…
Hard to describe what it’s like to read a letter about a family tree that you never knew existed. 🆕🌳I sat there at my doctors appointment sprawled out on the exam table reading this family tree, scrolling scrolling scrolling completely fascinated, obsessed, wide eyed, curious and excited.😳😃😅 It was like reading a thrilling novel. My heart was pounding! WHO WERE THESE PEOPLE??? How did I go 31 years of my life, my mom going 58, my aunt going 47, never knowing that this entire family existed. Turns out my moms dad, who I always knew was a Turkish Jew basically lost contact with his family after he converted and married my Cuban Catholic grandma. 🕍➡️💒They all moved to the West Coast, and he stayed here in NY 🗽and contact kind of fizzled away. My mom heard some stories here and there about these people but not enough to make an impression. When she was a young girl when she had met some of these aunts and uncles. My grandfathers mom and dad were both 1 of 6/7 siblings. So basically all the siblings on each side stayed in contact and raised their families together but we were the missing limb of the family tree! To make matters more interesting they were all JEWISH!🔯 As in really Jewish. Everyday practicing Jews. Bar mitzvahs, and Seders, and Shabbats and Challahs etc…and then there was us…the Good Little Catholics….So overnight I realized that the 1/4 Jewish that I always heard about and was my claim to fame growing up with all the Jews was actually LEGIT and meaningful!
Equipped with the names Hank provided us, this entire missing family tree, my Aunt Suzanne and I set off on the most amazing journey of discovery of my life. One by one we plugged their names into google and Facebook. Little by little we put faces to the names. Faces of our ACTUAL family members that we never knew existed. These weren’t very distant relatives either, I’m talking about 2nd cousins. We sat there staring FASCINATED and OBSESSED trying to find similarities with us and how we looked. It was incredible what we were able to find out from Google and Facebook alone. It turns out that my grandfathers moms side of the long lost family lived in California!
Our next move was to figure out what was the appropriate way to contact these people without freaking them the hell out and having them think we were total crazy weirdo stalkers. We stayed up ALL. NIGHT. LONG. searching. We just couldn’t put down the computer. We searched Geneology sites and plugged in our surnames to see what we came up with. The most interesting information we found was the upcoming Bnai mitzvah of the children of my mom’s supposed “2nd cousin”. I thought to myself. “Wow these people are really really Jewish”. It was so hard to wrap my head around this concept because we grew up strictly Catholic, and this was so exciting and cool to me. My husband was Jewish and now I had my own connection to the religion.
After we had our Facebook fill of browsing delight we made initial contact. And then we waited. Anxiously. Nervously. What if they weren’t interested? What if we were flat out rejected? What if they thought we were creeps?
This was our 1st encounter ever via webcam. My mom’s cousin Eric walked his laptop over to his wall and showed us a picture of his father as a toddler posing with another young boy. All his life the other young boy was a mystery…the mystery was now solved…it was my grandfather…talk about getting the chills and having ultimate affirmation!
To make a long story even longer, (which you know I always have to do sorrrry😝) not only did they chat over webcam but get this…you will not even believe the plot twist. THEY INVITED OUR WHOLE FAMILY TO CALIFORNIA TO BE A PART OF THE BNAI CEREMONY FOR THE FOLLOWING MONTH!!!!! So what did my family do? They packed up and headed to LA literally 3 weeks later!!! Extremely coincidentally and very disappointingly I was already booked on a cruise to none other than our country of origin TURKEY!
So I missed all the festivities and to this day it’s a sore subject. But my entire family flew across the country and not only met the entire new family for the first time AT the ceremony, but these beautiful and amazing people added a page about our discovery connection with the now “famous” pic of the 2 little boys in their sailor suits, the month before into their Bnai program book AND included my Mom and Aunt to be part of the ceremony and stand on the Bima (stage).
This was my mom and aunt meeting hank for the first time…he reminded them so much of their dad, his 1st cousin.
The best way to describe this was- we hit the ancestry.com Geneology motherload!!!! Our families mixed right from the start, they were just like us, lovers of life and lovers of anything family, they take lots of pictures and love family gatherings, they are always all together and love volunteering their time to help out others. I had the pleasure and honor of meeting them a few months later in October of 2010.
The following April for Passover the Cali family flew to NY and taught us how to cook a traditional Turkish Sephardic Jewish Seder.
Since then we keep in touch and visit each other as often as we can, traveling to California and them to NY! We were so lucky to have this 🆕🆒 extended family!
In early 2011, I was telling my friend Estee, the only other Turkish person I know about my ancestry story. I was telling her about the surnames I was searching on ancestry.com and the Turkish towns we were from and she shouts “SHUT UP ALETHEA THATS MY MAIDEN NAME AND THOSE WERE ALSO OUR TOWNS”. I think I literally, like seriously. passed. out. Baaaaaack to the drawing board. 💻📜📃📖📝 I had to wait several hours to get back to my computer because no stalking, I mean researching, could be done from my Razor phone. 📟❌My new goal was linking our 2 families trees together 🌳🌳 and proclaiming Estee to be my new long lost cousin who get this LIVED ON MY BLOCK!👭 Over the next few days I uncovered all the missing documents, ancestry data and family trees from my grandfathers DADS side🆕🔎🔎.
On ancestry.com I was able to see with my own 2 eyes 👀 the pictures of the actual ships my family traveled on from Turkey to Ellis Island,🚢 and see the documents they personally signed📝 . I was able to see the Census data from where they lived, their marriage, birth and death records, naturalization records, and the list goes on and on…while I was able to trace my lineage back to the late 1880s, Estee could not go back as far, so we were unable to find the actual piece of Geneology info that would link us on paper, but we didn’t need that, it feels right in our ♥️. But what we did discover was moooore family in Cali again! But this time we discovered my 3rd cousin was a freshmen IN COLLEGE here in NY living just 18 miles away, and she was homesick! We ended up taking her under our wing and the rest was history. We had a huge family reunion at a Turkish restaurant in NYC.
Her mom and my mom were 2nd cousins and looked LIKE SISTERS! They had an immediate sisterly bond right from the start! 👭
2010/2011 were interestingly the years I could not get pregnant with a 3rd and since both of my girls had started preschool I had some more free time. Funny how God works. I completely immersed myself into Geneology research, sitting obsessively for HOURS on end, months at a time gathering documents and pictures and learning more and more about my family tree. 💻📜📃📖📝
I would never take back those months of infertility because I was blessed in other ways with learning about my ancestors. Once Shane arrived in 2012, I knew every ancestor there was to know at the time that I could find (except for a few siblings for my great grandfather) and then my free time ran out…so now not only could I fill in a huge extended family tree but now I added another leaf to my branch. 🆕🌳🍃
It’s been 6 years since our family tripled and it was one of the biggest influences and highlights of my life. The reason I decided to write this post today is because it’s 1 year that Hank passed away. His legacy and his note will live on forever in the hearts of so many people. He changed so many of our lives for the better and he brought us all together. RIP HANK WE LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU AND THANK GOD THAT YOU CAME INTO OUR LIVES EXACTLY WHEN YOU DID! He was our key to the past and our link to our future together. ❤️💛💚💙💖