It’s My Blogiversary! Time to Reflect

It was two years ago tomorrow that I posted my first blog post.  It is also the 120th anniversary of my grandmother Gussie Brotman Goldschlager’s birth tomorrow.  And tonight is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement and a long fast day for those who observe.  That’s a lot to process in one day!

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing the blog for two years (although I really started doing genealogy about two years before that).  In some ways it feels much longer because it has become such a big part of my daily life—-doing the research, thinking about it, pulling my notes together, writing up the posts, editing them, adding photos and documents, responding to comments and questions, and reading the blogs of so many other wonderful people.  The blog has provided me with so many more benefits than I had imagined back in September 2013 when my cousin Judy got me started by setting up the template on WordPress.  Not only has it helped me organize my thoughts and record my research, it has made me focus on not just collecting names and dates on a family tree but on the larger questions: who were these people and what were their lives like? Where did they live, and what were those places like? What historical and economic conditions affected their lives? What legacy did they pass down to their descendants, and how has that affected the person I am today?

The blog also has been a magnet that has allowed others to find me.  Every time I get a comment from someone who just happened to find the blog while searching for their family history, I am amazed by what the internet can do. Imagine if my cousin Wolfgang had not found my blog?  I would not know even half of what I now know about the Seligmann family.

jeff gussie amy 1955 abt

My grandmother was born 120 years ago, and she died just over forty years ago.  She was the only grandparent I knew very well, and I loved her very much.  She had a hard and sad childhood, which scarred her in many ways for life, but with her grandchildren she was loving and funny and affectionate.  We probably brought out the best in her.  As I continue to write my novel about her life and that of my grandfather, I hope I am doing her justice and honoring her memory while also capturing the sad underside to her life.

Amy Gussie and Isadore

And as for Yom Kippur, it’s a day for me to contemplate the year gone by and the mistakes I’ve made along the way.  Although I try my best to respect and honor all my relatives, living and dead, when writing the blog, I always worry that someone will be offended or upset by something I have written.  If so, please accept my apologies.

Also, I hope I have expressed my appreciation to all those who have helped me with my research, and I hesitate to make a list for fear of forgetting someone who helped me months ago and whose name might slip through my ever-worsening memory (getting older does really stink).  But let me try to remember as best I can and thank some of those who have provided me with so much research support in the past year:

my wondeful cousins Lotte Furst, Wolfgang Seligmann, Bob Cohn, Steven Seligman, Suzanne and Stephen Michel, Pete Scott, Phyllis Rosner, and Angelika Oppenheimer,  all of whom have provided me with photographs, stories, and insights into our extended family in the past year (as well as all those who helped the year before);

my amazing contacts in Germany who helped me find and understand documents and other resources: Dorothee Lottman-Kaeseler, Matthias Steinke, Helmut Schmahl, Beate Goetz, Gerd Braun, as well as Ralph Baer here in the US;

my DNA tutors, Julie Mulroy, Svetlana Hensmann, and Leah Larkin;  the many people in the Tracing the Tribe and the German Genealogy groups on Facebook, and the members of the GerSig listserv on JewishGen. Also, thank you to my friend Rene Reich-Grafe for answering my endless questions about Germany, its history, culture, and geography.

To all of you, if I have not expressed my gratitude before sufficiently, I apologize.  You’ve really made this journey so much more meaningful and so much more interesting.

Finally, to my family, friends, fellow bloggers, and other readers, thank you for being there.  I would do what I am doing even if no one was paying attention, but it is so much better knowing that others are interested in these stories about people who really were strangers to us all.

For all of you who are observing Yom Kippur, may it be an easy fast and a meaningful and thoughtful day.

 

 

Finding the Ruby Slippers and Getting Back Home to Where It Started: The Brotmans

[for my aunt, Elaine Goldschlager Lehrbaum, 1917-1995]

Elaine 1933

Elaine 1933

Many of you who are more recent followers of the Brotmanblog may wonder why the blog is called the Brotmanblog.  In the past several months I have barely mentioned the name Brotman because I have been focused on searching for my grandfather’s family, the Goldschlagers and Rosenzweigs.  But if you go back to the beginning of the blog, you will see that my original search focused on my grandmother’s family, the Brotmans.  That’s where I started my genealogy adventures.  It made sense.  My grandmother Gussie Brotman Goldschlager, my mother’s mother, was the grandparent I knew best, the only grandparent I knew as an adult.  She was the only grandparent my husband ever met, though she died a year before we were married.  It was only natural that I would start my journey trying to learn as much as I could about her and her siblings and her parents.  Once I had found as much as I could find about the Brotmans, I then moved on to my grandfather’s family.  The next chapter will be my father’s family.  But it all started with the Brotmans.

Why do I bring that up now? Because this weekend I will finally get to meet a number of the Brotman cousins I only learned about through doing this research.  There will be over thirty of us gathering in NYC to meet and eat and to visit the Lower East Side, where our grandparents and great-grandparents (and for some, great-great grandparents or parents) lived in New York.  We will walk to 81/85 Ridge Street where the Brotmans first lived, now a public school, once a tenement building, and then we will tour the Tenement Museum to learn more about what life was like for all of them.

If you have not read any of my posts about the Brotmans, I have provided links here and below to some that will capture the essence of their lives.  Even if you once did read them, you may want to re-read them if you are joining us this weekend and want to remember some of the details and themes I wrote about months ago.  The Brotman story is the classic Jewish American immigration story, a story of poverty and heartbreak as a family moved from Galicia to NYC in the late 1880s to a story of assimilation and success as the future generations built businesses, moved beyond the Lower East Side, became professionals, and moved to the suburbs after World War II.  My Brotman great-grandparents were hard-working realists who did what they needed to do to survive.

Although I was able to piece together a fair amount about their lives through census reports and other documents and through some stories my mother remembered about her grandparents, aunts, uncles and mother, at first there was no one else besides my mother and my brother to whom I could turn for information.  My cousins shared stories about their grandparents, but they also knew little about the early lives of their grandparents and had no one left to ask either.  So mostly I relied on documentation to learn what I could.  I was able to put together a fairly complete history of the Brotman family in America and decided to move on to my grandfather’s family.

Then, like a gift of manna from heaven, about a month ago my cousin Jody sent me some notes that her husband Joel had taken from a conversation he’d had with my Aunt Elaine years ago about her family.  I’ve referred to one part of those notes before—the story of how my grandmother Gussie met my grandfather Isadore on Pacific Street in Brooklyn, where my grandmother was living and where my grandfather’s cousins the Rosenzweigs were living in 1915.  In the next day or two I’d like to share a few more tidbits from Aunt Elaine, via Joel’s notes.

But before I do, I want to point out that these notes are incredibly accurate.  Although the conversation Joel had with my aunt must have taken place in the early 1980s, my aunt’s memory for details was astonishing.  For example, she refers to the fact that Hyman’s son Emanuel worked for Kislack Realty.  I checked with Manny’s children, and they confirmed that in fact  Manny was President of J.I.Kislak Mortgage Corporation in Newark, NJ., which was a subsidiary of J.I.Kislak, Inc., a large residential and commercial Realtor based in Jersey City.kislack realty Also, my aunt knew that David Brotman worked in the coat industry, that Max was in the cigar business, and that Abraham worked for a deli in Coney Island.

All of these are facts that are backed up by my research.Brotman brothers trades

On the Goldschlager side as well, my aunt’s facts are corroborated by the information I found in my research.  David Goldschlager lived in Scranton, PA, for some time and was in the hat business.  Betty married a man in the dry goods business and moved to Arizona. goldschlager siblings I point out how accurate this information is to demonstrate how remarkable my aunt’s memory was and also so that you will trust the other statements she made and their accuracy when I report on those in upcoming posts.

In some ways finding these notes was frustrating.  If I had found them last summer, much of the time I spent trying to figure out who Max was or whether Abraham was related to us or whether there were any other children would have been unnecessary.  My aunt knew it all, and it is in these notes.

But as Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz (the movie) when she reveals to Dorothy that the ruby slippers could take her home and the Scarecrow asks  why Glinda had not told Dorothy that from the beginning:

Glinda : Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
Tin Man: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I – I think that it – that it wasn’t enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. And that it’s that – if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?
Glinda: That’s all it is!

And then when the Tin Man, Lion and Scarecrow all say that they should have helped Dorothy figure it out, Glinda replies:

She had to find it out for herself.

And so I did as well.  If I had started with Aunt Elaine’s notes, I never would have worked as hard to learn how to research and find these things for myself.  I would never have felt the amazing sense of satisfaction I’ve gotten from putting pieces together and from finding cousins who could help me put those pieces together.

Having my aunt confirm through these notes what I have learned and what I have done is a real gift. She was someone I adored and miss dearly.  It’s like having her here with me again, hearing her say, “You see, Amy Kugel, I always knew you could do anything you wanted.  And I knew some day you would want to know more about your history, your family.”  But, as Glinda told Dorothy, she knew I had to find it out for myself.

 

Elaine 1926

Elaine 1926

Elaine Gussie Florence 1933

Elaine Gussie Florence 1933

Elaine high school graduation

Elaine high school graduation

Elaine and Phil 1941

Elaine and Phil 1941

Sam with Gussie and Elaine 1945

Sam with Gussie and Elaine 1945

Elaine and Jeff 1949

Elaine and Jeff 1949

Elaine Jeff and Amy 1953

Aunt Elaine with Jeff and me

Phil and Elaine

Phil and Elaine

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