Inspired by my old boss Lisa Kudrow's NBC show "Who Do You Think You Are?" I decided to do some ancestry digging and make a family tree. I learned two big things from this.
1. My Family Tree is WIDE. I have five siblings, my parents have six siblings together and their parents had eight siblings together. And my mother's grandparents had sixteen siblings together so it goes out wide with siblings, spouses and children.
2. My mother has a very impressive brain. Her storage capacity for information and details, like dates, names and places is incredible, and it's something I've inherited but never quite realized the depth of, or appreciated. I just know that I usually win arguments if specific details are involved because I remember EVERYTHING. Unless the argument is with my mother or grandmother :) I asked her about things I couldn't imagine her knowing and she came through for me in a big way. She provided me with detailed information about my uncles, aunt and grandparents on my father's side although she was only married to my father from 1968 to 1972. She knew everyone's birthdate and even my dad's parents' wedding date in 1940.
The great part about this task was that I got the opportunity to reach out to my extended family which was great. My uncle Ulf was incredible. Ulf is just 5 years older than I, so fairly cool, and likes to talk about our family as much as I do. I thought I would get stopped fairly quickly on the Jewish side, on account of the Holocaust, but he had so much. I got moved reading his emails because there were all these really cool names of people who were my family, who I had never heard about. So I got names and dates and other interesting information. For example, my grandmother's two grandmothers were sisters. Uncle Ulf and I agreed that it explains a lot about our family. Not everything, but a lot.
I Facebook messaged with my aunt Ingrid, who also provided me with a lot of good stuff. I never really spent much time thinking about my Swedish heritage until I became an American citizen last year, so it was cool to dive into that. It was actually trickier on my father's side because my grandparents' names were fairly common (Lundin & Nilsson) so it was hard to figure out which ones were the "right ones."
The two main online systems I used were www.ancestry.com and www.jewishgen.org. Talk about a fascinating and worthwhile use of the internet. As you start to type in your family members' names, you get connected to all sorts of sources, like the Census, even the Swedish one.
Having worked on this task for months, I've been very much looking forward to completing it. I imagined getting one of those big trees on a poster and filling it out. I quickly realized that wasn't going to work because my family doesn't fit on one of those pre-printed ones. Then I saw you can order one online through Ancestry.com, as long as you fill in your tree completely. But as my birthday is getting closer, I've come to understand that a family tree is never quite finished, because A) you can always dig deeper and B) someone is always getting pregnant, especially in my family. Between my five siblings, I have four nephews and three nieces, and more on the way.
So, my family tree thus far contains 150 people, with four generations living today. My grandmother Celina (82) is the oldest, and my nephew Bruno (2) is the youngest. Celina came to Sweden in 1945 after the war, making my mother and her brothers first generation Swedes. My father's family seems to have been in Sweden for centuries; perhaps they were even vikings...
I saw everyone on my mother's side, and also my sweet brother Max and his family from my father's side, last week. I was in Sweden for a quick visit and early birthday celebration and had the best time. Ten degrees and snow every day but I couldn't have been happier bundling up and trekking around in the snow. And I got some well needed play time with the little ones. And the big ones too. Here they are, four living generations of Cahns, Blechers and Lundins.
The 2nd Generation: Uncle Bernie Cahn, Mom Elise Blecher and Uncle Ulf Cahn
My family tree will never be complete and I'm just going to have to live with that. Which is hard for me. I hate incompletion. At some point, I'll order the big family tree poster and subsequently get irritated when it gets outdated. Until then I will continue to research my Swedish and Jewish family...because it's fun and because it makes me feel connected to my roots...
Thanks to Lisa for inspiring me to take this on, to Uncle Ulf and Aunt Ingrid for all their invaluable information. And finally, obviously, none of this would have been possible without my being in this world. So the biggest thank you goes to my mother Elise and my father Leif.