There are so many joys that come with doing genealogy work: solving family mysteries, learning about your roots, reliving the lives of those who came before you, working with other researchers and learning and teaching each other, and many other benefits. But perhaps the greatest joy for me has been finding and meeting new cousins. My reunion with my Brotman cousins last April was more than I’d ever expected, and the phone conversations, email exchanges, and meetings I’ve had with other cousins have also all been so much fun and so rewarding.
But this cousin connection was particularly special to me. Cousin Marjorie is my father’s first cousin and close to him in age. They knew each other as children, but have not been in contact for over sixty years. In order to contact this cousin, I could not rely on email or Facebook. I had to do it the old-fashioned way, a handwritten letter. Fortunately, I was able to find her address on line and took a chance that she would still be able to respond and that she would want to respond.
When I did not hear back for nearly two weeks, I assumed that she either could not or did not want to respond, and I resigned myself to the fact that I would not hear from her. Then one day last week my cell phone rang, and a number came up that was not familiar. I answered the phone, and a woman who sounded like someone in her 20s said, “Amy? You will never guess who this is.” I said that I had no idea, and she said, “This is your cousin Marjorie.”
What then followed was an hour long conversation, followed up with another hour long conversation the other day. Marjorie’s memory is remarkable; she was able to confirm a number of dates and addresses and stories that I had found online through public documents, but she had them at her fingertips. She also had memories of my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my great-uncles and great-aunts, stories I had not known before. And she had wonderful stories about her own life and her parents’ lives as well. Our conversations ranged from the particular to the universal, discussing everything from Winston Churchill (from whom she has a signed letter), Queen Elizabeth (to whom she sends a birthday card every year and receives a thank you in return), and how she learned to drive, to current politics and social issues like legalizing drugs and sexual mores and her current day-to-day life with her cat Scarlett and her many friends.
Out of respect for her privacy, I do not want to discuss too many of the details of her own life on the blog, but suffice it to say that she is a very bright, articulate, and opinionated woman. She told me that she had graduated from Trinity College (D.C.) and that she had traveled the world as part of her career working for the American Automobile Association. She is still volunteering one day a week for the local historical society in her neighborhood.
As for some of the family memories, Marjorie did not remember her grandfather Emanuel well since she was only about three years old when he died, but she does remember her grandmother, Eva May Seligman Cohen, lovingly and clearly. She said Bebe, as the grandchildren called her, had been a brilliant woman. Her brother, Arthur Seligman, was the governor of New Mexico (more on that when I get to the Seligman line), and he had been invited to speak one year at Valley Forge. When he had to cancel his plans, my great-grandmother Eva May spoke as his replacement. Marjorie had not been able to attend, but wished that she had been there. Marjorie said that not only was Bebe brilliant, she was kind and giving and would do anything for her family. I shared with her the fact that Eva May and Emanuel had opened their home to Emanuel’s brother Isaac and his son when his wife died, and she was not surprised. Like my father, Marjorie remembers exactly when her beloved grandmother passed away in October, 1939.
I also asked Marjorie what she remembers of my grandfather, her Uncle John, and she said that she has no memory of him before he became disabled, but remembers driving with her parents to Coatesville, Pennsylvania, once a month to visit him at the VA hospital there. She described him as very good looking, thin, with black hair.
She also remembered going to occasional Sunday dinners at her grandmother’s house when my father and my aunt were living there and going to the movies with her cousins. She said that somewhere she has a street photograph of the three cousins—my father, my aunt, and Marjorie—walking in Philadelphia. Marjorie also told me that about 25 years ago she got a call out of the blue from her cousin Buddy, Maurice’s son, saying that he was back east from California and wanted to see her. He and his wife (whom she remembered as being Norwegian) came to visit, and she said she and Buddy stayed in touch until he died in 1995.
Marjorie also spoke adoringly of her parents, Stanley and Bessie Cohen. She said that although they were brought up in different faiths—her father a Reform Jew, her mother a High Episcopalian, they were an ideal match and had a wonderful marriage for well over 60 years. She quoted to me several sayings that her mother used to convey her values to her daughter—as Marjorie described them, common sense statements about the value of an education and the importance of good health. She said her mother was a sweet and kind person who always saw the good in other people. Her father, my great-uncle Stanley, she described as a broad-minded man who had a bit of a temper, but who adored his wife and daughter. He lived to be 98 years old and had good health all the way until the very end. Marjorie said her parents had a very large circle of friends and were very well-regarded in their community.
At the end of our conversation, I told Marjorie that I would stay in touch. She said that I had made her day, and I told her that she had made mine as well. And I meant it from the bottom of my heart.
Two of Marjorie’s heroes: