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Digging for Roots

Family tree

While completing the final edits of my soon-to-be-published book A Stone for Benjamin, the editor asked if I had considered including my grandmother’s family tree. I told her there wouldn’t be enough room on the page because there was so much intermarriage in my family; the tree runs sideways long before it begins going down!

Now that I have a little more time on my hands, I’ve started researching my father’s family.  But, before I get too far into my own research, I want to share some of my knowledge with the budding genealogists who are out there. For those of you searching for family in Eastern Europe, primarily Russia, be aware that archives are only just opening up to the public and may not have records in a data base.

1.     The first place to begin your research is with your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. They are a goldmine of information.  Sit with them and chat about the past and either record your conversations or write as they speak.  If photographs aren’t labeled with names, do it now before senior members of your family can no longer remember. Then obtain the names of cemeteries where family members are buried.  I’m Jewish, and headstones are usually inscribed with the names of the deceased parents. But those names are in Hebrew, so if you can’t read it, take photographs of the stone and have someone translate for you. The same will apply to any foreign language that you don’t speak.

2.     Once you have family names, place of birth and last known town of residence, you can undertake a data search.  This of course is where the fun begins.  For those searching for family from English speaking countries, is one of the best places to begin.Also, the Mormon genealogy website has been useful for some people Another place to search for anyone who emigrated to the U.S. is . Ellis Island was the port entry for thousands of immigrants. 

3.     Because I am familiar with Jewish Genealogy I am going to give you some pointers in searching for Polish Jewish family. Firstly, go onto JRI (Jewish Records Indexing) Add the names of each of your family separately, and then add the name of the town.  You can choose the area (gubernia) or you can leave it blank if you don’t know. Then, and this is important, run the search using ‘sounds like’ or ‘phonetically’ only.  Exact names are rarely returned in the data. If you find something of interest the site provides information on how to obtain a copy of it.

4.     Next, contact local archives in Poland.  Archives are located in Warsaw, Radom, Lublin and Krakow along with several other cities and towns and contain the records of every city, and the surrounding villages in each area. Send them an email or letter with the names of your family members that you are researching. They will then tell you how many zloty’s (Polish currency) it will cost to perform the search.  Once they receive the money, archivists may take a few months before they respond with search results and the information will be in Polish, so you will have to translate each one.

There are numerous other genealogy web sites but I hope the above information assists you in getting starting. My advice to everyone is never give up, even though you will hit a dead end occasionally.  I’ve walked away from searches many times, returning a day or two or three weeks later approaching the search from a different angle. One thing is for sure, you will be thrilled to bits when you receive the first piece of information to add to your family tree!




What were you doing on September 11, 2001?

Globe & Mail Septe 11, 2001 front pageI don’t think anyone will forget September 11, 2001. 

I was at my cottage in Northern Ontario with my family.  It was a warm, sunny day and we had just finished breakfast when the phone rang.  It was my daughter’s husband calling from London, England. “Turn on the TV, a plane has crashed into the twin towers in New York,” he said.  All we could see was the raging inferno that had engulfed the first tower of the World Trade Center. One news report after another; a second plane hit the second tower, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington while a fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania.  Our idyllic day at the cottage had been shattered, and like most people around the world we remained glued to the television in disbelief for hours. 

I contacted my American friends, assuring them they had a safe haven should they need to flee north.  Ridiculous really, but in my mind it was a small way of offering support. Then news began to trickle in about the community in Gander, a town of 10,000 people who handled the sudden influx of 6,600 passengers and crew when 38 jets were grounded in the small Newfoundland town on the east coast of Canada.  Residents in nearby towns welcomed strangers into their homes. Schools and church halls became shelters, while local residents provided endless meals for their unexpected guests. Finally, on Friday September 14, an estimated 100,000 people gathered outdoors on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, to remember the  victims and show solidarity with their American neighbours.

Some said the U.S. would never be the same and to some degree they were right.  Like it or not, life has changed for all of us since that terrifying day twelve years ago.  But today, during these uncertain times, I tip my hat to the people of Gander Newfoundland, who showed the world the true meaning of friendship.










Authors profile at Iguana Books

My authors profile at Iguana Books. A Stone for Benjamin is coming this fall…

Now that A Stone for Benjamin is going to be published, there are times I feel giddy and moments  I feel nauseous!

I constantly think about the determination that drove me to tell this story; how I scratched at doors as they closed while doing research, resolute that I would uncover the truth about Benjamin’s disappearance. I never once thought about how I would react when I exposed the truth. There were times that I felt deep sorrow, anger, frustration and exhaustion all rolled into one. Most importantly, I never gave up. But, perhaps that is what life is all about, never giving up.


The Last Mezuzah Traces in Kazimierz Krakow, Poland.

With the intense, commercial refurbishment of Kazimierz in Krakow, the last traces of Mezuzot  are disappearing fast … too fast. The visible recesses on stone door frames are still visible, though some have been filled in. In some cases, two nail holes are barely visible on wooden door frames where a Mezuzah once hung.

A Mezuzah is a piece of parchment (often contained in a decorative case) inscribed with specified Hebrew verses from the Torah.  A mezuzah is affixed to the door frame in Jewish homes. Some interpret Jewish law to require a mezuzah on every doorway in the home apart from bathrooms and closets too small to qualify as rooms.

Mezuzat were sometimes removed from the front door by European Jews during WWII in an effort to avoid being identified and arrested by the Nazis.

(Pictures and story courtesy of Polin Travel-Guide and genealogy services in Poland, Cracow and Auschwitz).

The disappearing Mezuzah's in Krakow



Father’s Day


It’s Father’s Day and even though my Dad is no longer here I remember him with great pride. Dad was the first man in my life and he loved me unconditionally. In later years, he would prepare a tiny drop of wine for the two of us while waiting patiently for me to “drop by” at the end of each day. I will never forget his warm smile, his hug and kiss as I came through the door. I got to watch my Dad grow old and will be forever grateful to have shared with him more than two-thirds of his almost eighty-eight years. My Dad became an orphan at ten, survived WWII, brought his family to Canada, and remained married to my mother for almost sixty-five years before leaving this world ten months after her; that’s some life! So, cherish every moment with your Dad; he’s one special man!

One day it’s SPRING…one day it’s not!

Well, I’m still working on getting my right hand functioning again. The surgeon removed the pins two weeks ago while my husband had surgery at exactly the same time at a different location.Thank goodness for our children who drove us that day! Once home, we sat in bed each of us popping anti-biotic and pain killers while nursing our wounds with ice-packs…not a pretty sight! We’re both doing better but tendonitis has made the physio part of my hand rehabilitation difficult and painful.That said, I’ve started to notice some improvement in flexibility over the past few days. One way or the other, getting full use of my hand again is going to be a slow process, and I have to be patient…not an easy task!

Much has happened with A Stone for Benjamin. I signed a contract two weeks ago with Iguana Books and publication is planned for  September of this year. I’ve had to stop myself from tweaking passages for the umpteenth time! Old photographs and documents will be included in the book; some are close to one hundred years old and I’m working on improving the quality when reproduced. Stay tuned for more info closer to September.

LOTS more writing in the works…I’ll keep you posted!


0I’m in week two after hand surgery. Now that I can use one hand and four fingers, I’m acutely aware of how much we need our thumbs, from writing to eating, grasping, to practically everything we do with our hands!  However my own physical problems became greatly diminished on Monday.

I like most people have been deeply touched by the terrorist attack in Boston this week. I’m more interested in the mindset of the extremists than who the perpetrators are. I cannot comprehend what drives human beings to willfully want to maim others, to harbor such wicked desires.

But this week also brought to the forefront acts of human behavior that appear to indicate the moral deterioration of mankind. Bullying has become commonplace particularly amongst children and youth sometimes leading to suicide. In Canada last week distraught by gossip and social media postings, Rehtaeh Parsons 17 hung herself and died. Where is bullying being learned? We need not look any further than our own political parties. This week the Conservative Party of Canada aired on public television personal attack ads against Justin Trudeau, newly elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. I found the ads distasteful to say the least and they clearly fell within the scope of bullying. Is this the kind of behavior we want to teach our children?

I hope for the sake of humanity, we will take a step back, look at ourselves and ask how we can do a better job of respecting one another in words and actions.

One Handed Typing!

With hand surgeBenjamin Albaumy less than a week ago, I’m restricted to one handed typing.That said I’m able write, all be it slowly! On the other hand (pardon the pun) my physical self is a bit of a wreck! I look like a crazed lady with a mass of curly hair and a hand resembling a boxing glove. Putting on make-up is fun and I feel like a kid again. After outlining my lips with liner I fill in with lipstick making sure I stay within the lines. All of this being completed with my left hand; of course I’m right handed! Ultimately, after healing and eventual therapy I’ll have use of my hand again, pain free and that is a good thing!

On a more serious subject, today is the 70 anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto Uprising and appropriately named, Yom HaShoah from the phrase Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה; “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day”). Not only observed in Israel but around the world in commemoration of the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, Yom HaShoah also memorializes Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII. I lit a candle last night in memory of Benjamin and all the victims of the Holocaust. A candle or a momentary thought are all we need do to keep their existence alive.

Food for Thought…

The sun keeps peeking out through the clouds intermittently today – although the strong northerly wind blows the occasional snow flake past the window. We had buds on the trees this time last year, sigh. I keep hoping that Spring is on its way. I know, I promised to stop talking about the weather!

I just got back from walking the dog. She bounded up the driveway a happy muddy mess! A bit like a child, she had to walk through every sludge filled puddle. I rinsed her feet with warm water – incredibly intuitive, she lifts her front paws one by one for me to wash and dry. One bucket of dirty water and several towels later she is contented, flaked out on the floor beside me. Perhaps I’ll come back as dog in my next life.

I’ve been working on the final editing of A Stone for Benjamin. Each time I think it’s finished I have to tweak the manuscript a little more. But, I think it’s almost ready to move to the next stage of publishing. I did come across a perfect quotation yesterday which is now included at the beginning of the book. It’s coming together, bit by bit.

Time to grab some lunch and some food for thought!

Chloe (2)


The butterfly effect 001

It’s freezing out there or is it just me? I can’t remember the last time temperatures were this chilly in Toronto during the third week of March and the ground completely snow covered. I could have sworn I heard the forest moaning this morning when I walked the dog. It was that eerie sound of dried limbs rubbing together, desperately waiting for the sap to run. Obviously, Mother Nature has different plans.

OK,I’ll stop moaning!

From a publishing standpoint, February and March were absolutely fantastic months for me. I finally finished my memoir, A Stone for Benjamin, a few weeks later the Globe & Mail published my essay, The Butterfly effect. Now there is the inevitable anti-climax until A Stone for Benjamin is published. The memoir has left an indelible mark on me; I think about Benjamin daily.

My thanks go out to Ruth Frankel who led a creative writing course that I took last year. Under her tutelage and encouragement I found my voice.

In the meantime, my brain has been in constant overdrive. I’m working on five new narratives, three of which have definite promise. There is no telling where all of these ideas will lead. I make a point of writing each day—except when my husband and family are around, even they deserve some undivided attention. I also keep a moleskin and pen tucked away in my bag, just in case a brilliant idea pops into my head while I’m out.

Come back and visit frequently. There will be plenty of tantalizing titbits about upcoming story-lines along with publication updates on A Stone for Benjamin.