Who Are You?

I never knew my maternal grandparents.  They died before I was born.  My paternal grandparents were around for a long time, but they weren’t the type to tell stories about their lives.   I was curious but they weren’t forthcoming.

I tried to get my dad to talk about his growing up years, but he was too busy being silly and making jokes.  My mother would never talk about her childhood.  She found it painful for numerous reasons.  I did learn about her summer camp experience and she would sing the songs.  “Green Lane girls are high-minded, Bless their souls they’re double-jointed….”

Maybe it just wasn’t in style back then to think about where you came from and how you got here.  After all, the book Roots didn’t come out until 1976.  Whatever the reason, I knew some names but not much else.

When the ancestor-finding websites started popping up, I found copies of the 1930 census, each name handwritten, and could find my parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles.  That was quite cool.  But that was pretty much it – the end of the road.


1930 census Tobie

I’m not sure what made me pick up the search again, but I have discovered those websites have become a lot more sophisticated and detailed.  I have spent the last few weeks getting to know my extended extended EXTENDED family, electronically that is.


So my grandmother Rebecca Gordon Rubin, for whom I am named, came to America in 1896 from Latvia as a little girl, in the steerage compartment of a ship called the Veendam.  What are the chances she would survive such a trip?  If she hadn’t survived, there would be no me!  What made her family, which was quite large, decide to pack up and leave home?  How did they get from Latvia to Rotterdam, where the ship was?  Where are the descendants of her siblings?  My journey through the records is just starting, so I don’t know the answers, but I intend to find out more.

But there is no substitute for the actual tales, told by the actual people.   My children are not curious, so they know only the stories I have kind of forced them to hear, such as the one about when I was leaving for my freshman year of college, and my parents bought a kitchen set with chairs for only 4 people (we were a family of five).  They don’t know that I participated in the first Earth Day.  They don’t know that I saw Derek and the Dominos LIVE at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia (and if they did know, they would scoff, because they have contempt for Eric Clapton).  They don’t know I went to art school, or that I worked for a summer in London, England.  I suppose I should start writing this stuff down for some curious Randi-like descendant – maybe that trait will occur in future generations.


But my point here is to implore YOU, all you young moms, to start asking your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and anyone else you can find, to tell those stories to you so you can write them down or record them.  It’s not so much for you as it is for your kids.  Your children need to know what they are made of, from whence they came, and all the unbelievable things you and your family have experienced.

It would have been so interesting for me to sit down with Bubbie Rebecca and her siblings and talk about that trip from Latvia to Rotterdam to Philadelphia.  It would have been fun to find out how she learned to read and speak English (the census says she knew how).  There are so many questions I have for her and for the extended family.  It’s too late for me to ask them, but not too late for you to find out about your family!  I hope you take the time to do it.


2 thoughts on “Who Are You?

  1. Family histories can be so exciting and rich, and also full of such trial. I know pieces of mine, and find it deep, powerful, sad and heroic all at the same time. Enjoy your searching!


    1. You know, I did feel an all-consuming sadness as I searched. Sort of free-floating sadness, for all the people I never met, and also from thinking about their difficult journeys. It also overwhelmed me in a way I don’t yet have the words to describe. I have had to take serious breaks to get my mind working again. It is VERY powerful.


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