Three years ago in this space I asked, “Am I a Galatz from Galați?” Well, since then, I’ve been taken on an unexpected joyride of genealogical learning and been thrilled by the revelations I’ve acquired. Here’s a brief sampling:
First, genealogists are delightful fanatics.
Second, forget about that oft-told nostrum that Jewish ancestral research is impossible because “the Nazis destroyed all the records.” Today, thanks to the dedication of those hard-working fanatics who are scouring Eastern European temples, libraries, family records and even churches, more and more documents are being recovered, translated and posted on the Internet.
Third, genealogists are a generous lot. Within hours of my “Am I a Galatz from Galați?” column being published, I heard from multiple amateur and professional genealogists offering me advice about how to advance my quest for intel about my origin story.
Two had even done preliminary sleuthing — to great results. For instance, on my own, I had tried and repeatedly failed to locate the Ellis Island arrival information for my father’s family. Now suddenly, here it was — date, ship, city of departure. All the particulars. All thrilling.
Fourth, genealogical research is addictive — like potato chips or, in my case, M&M’s.
I craved more.
But how to go about it?
I was not prepared to go all Alice down the genealogy rabbit hole on my own.
I am, in general, a person who has trouble setting limits. If you could see my nightstand, you would know what I mean. I have so many books piled up waiting to be read, it’s dangerous. An avalanche waiting to happen.
If I started doing my genealogical search, I’d be setting myself up for nonstop all-nighters on the internet.
I decided to make life simple. I asked my husband for a birthday gift “coupon” to hire a professional genealogist.
And in the months since that gift request was granted, here are a few family facts I’ve acquired:
1. Before beginning my quest, my accurate information (and for only one relative) went back to only 1890. Now, I have the names of dozens of relatives, including information going back to about 1750 (my great-great-great-grandfather.) In Jewish genealogy circles, finding information as far back as even the mid-1800s is an accomplishment. So, dare I say I’m kvelling?
According to what the genealogist found, my paternal great-great-great grandparents’ names were Moshko and Makhlya. They lived (or at least died) in Beltsi, Bessarabia (now Bălţi, Moldova). This town is 162 miles away from Galați.
2. Jews didn’t use surnames until the early 1800s. The first version of my family name that appears in records is Golotson. When my grandfather Morris arrived on Ellis Island, he spelled it Galatson.
3. The information in my newly expanded family tree isn’t just a bunch of birth, death and marriage dates. It is also rich in details. Many are sad. Some are shocking. Some are both.
For instance, I thought my father had only brothers, but the research revealed the existence briefly of a sister. It’s possible my father never knew about her.
The family came to America in 1906, before my father was born. The girl, Lena, was younger than a year old when the family arrived. She, along with her mother/my grandmother and two siblings, were hospitalized immediately upon arriving at Ellis Island. Lena died and was likely buried in an unmarked grave.
Such a sad start to life in America for my family, and especially for my grandmother Esther, or at least so I imagine.
4. Additionally, I now have done a DNA test, and the results are utterly unsurprising. I’m 99 percent Eastern European and 1 percent Northern Italian. I’m not quite sure where the Italian comes from. The genealogist’s research doesn’t indicate anything, and Grandma didn’t tell any secrets, but based on my dietary predilections, I should have known: A week without spaghetti and meatballs is a week wasted in my book.
Although I have learned a lot, I still don’t know the answer to my initial question: Am I a Galatz from Galați?
So far, it doesn’t appear likely, although clearly, my family came from the general area of Moldova and Romania.
But in the words of the genealogist Jeremy Frankel, “Never say never.” Frankel pointed out we don’t know the meaning and derivation of the name Golotsan, which could help me understand my family’s origin story, and that with more records being discovered and translated all the time, it could lead — one day — to additional revelations.
So, the search continues.
Meanwhile, I already know what I want for my next birthday gift: a trip to Bălţi and, of course, Galați. That way, I can say — at least one time — I’m a Galatz from Galați!