About the same time that my cousin died in January (same age as me), my older brother showed me a draft of the Halpern family tree that he compiled using family notes and interviews conducted over the years. His daughter asked him for it. There are no elders left unless you consider the two of us along with a few other cousins about the same age. There are a lot of matters unresolved. Who were my grandfather Samuel Halpern’s two siblings? What became of them? Was Samuel from Bukovina, or would we consider it a different territory then since the boundaries have changed over the years? What was the surname of Jenny who married Isaac Goldberg, Bessie’s father, and what was the family doing in England where she was born? What was his profession?
Actually it is not just the Halpern clan that we have in our sights. My mother was a Steinem (a distant cousin of Gloria; I’ll take a bow for my 15 minute of fame). But where in Germany did William Steinem, the cantor live along with his wife Sophie Breitenbach, and where did the Rauhs come from originally? There appear to be directories of rabbis and scholars but are cantors segregated out or lumped in with the others? You get the idea.
Genealogical research is rich, revealing and rewarding; no wonder so many people get hooked on it. It’s personal history but also world history. It’s about birth and death, pastimes, affiliations, vocations and culture too. It’s about war, military service, trade and religion. It’s about the history of everything and anything. It’s privacy, public records, archives and indexes and record keeping and registrations.
Over the last couple of months I’ve learned a little about the fascinating world of genealogical research. Consider there are guidebooks and free resources for German genealogy, and the same for American ancestry. I was able to find birth and death dates of Americans who worked through the free Social Security Death Index (SSDI) supplementing my brother’s work, and discovered there’s a Halpern surname family DNA special interest group (with inky thirty members) but despite repeated attempts to reach its administrator Andrea Ziegelman, I have been unable to learn more. Like Rocky Balboa (no relation, or at least no relation I know of) yelling for “Adrian”, I want to scream “Andrea”! But she doesn’t hear me…..
There’s also a Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz) Germany Geneaology site that explains how to get started with Germany research (because a town in this area is of interest to me on the Steinem side) with links to articles on finding town of origin, duchy or province for your town and German Empire Geneaology (before 1945). Privacy laws change and so do records of births, marriages and deaths. That’s another part of what makes genealogical research both fascinating and frustrating.
Another kind of family history with the more recent years rather than dating back a century or more is describing what it’s like to be part of the family tree. My son asked me to fill out “Grandpa, tell me your memories…”, a memory journal for my grandson describing my origins, my family, their personalities, and incidentals and milestones of my life that a young child would find fascinating. “What did you use to go sledding down a hill in the snow?” “ When you were seven what did you do on a typical Saturday afternoon?”, “Did your parents have a favorite remedy for when you were sick or hurt?” “ What was your best talent growing up?” “Whom were you named after?”
Apparently there are other family surnames that are related to Halpern. Rubinstein, Werthheimer and Guggenheim are a few. Maybe I qualify for another 15 minutes of fame? Perhaps I’m related to the founders of the museum in New York City that bears its name? There are also sub-branches of the Halpern surname too: Heilbronner, Heilbronn, Halperin, Hellman and Hillman. Hellman was the surname of an attorney I had to use some years ago. If I had known then what I know now maybe he would have given me the “friends and family rate”, saving me thousands of dollars.
Always interested in developing creative new interests, I’ve thought of combining geneaology with drawing. I could draw in black or brown ink or graphite a house or portion of a person’s house and add historical commentary from genealogical records to it. I’m particularly interested in drawing houses that show aging or having been lived in. Frame it and it becomes a gift or keepsake. I’m not ready to combine these subjects yet, as I’ve got to become a more accomplished artist and learn more about how to discover personal stories of my subjects. Stay tuned.