The Genealogist’s Time Machine

Published on 3 April 2021 at 08:00

Anna was struggling. She had been worried for weeks, and now it was confirmed- cancer. There was no cure. It was at times like this that she yearned for her husband. When he passed away four years ago, her youngest son was still at home, but now the loneliness was overwhelming.


Four months later, Anna passed away. She had lived through riots and discrimination. Three of her children had died before they were ten years old. She had had a hard life, but come out strong. Her faith was never broken, her children were honest, caring and trustworthy members of the Jewish community. She had always been loving and loyal, gracious and dependable.


At the Shiva, her youngest daughter-in-law discreetly slipped into a side room to nurse her little baby, David. 

That son grew up. He married at 20, a nice Jewish girl his grandmother Anna would have been proud of. He had children – four sons and a daughter. And time passed, and his children grew up, and raised their own children. 


David is struggling. It’s been a hard day. He isn’t young anymore – his memory is going and his legs are stiff. He takes his pills religiously and exercises and eats well, but his wife passed away last year and he is so lonely. So when the doorbell rings and his granddaughter Miriam walks in, he is happy to see her.


Miriam visits often. She loves looking through his old photos and talking to him about when he was young. Today they talk about his grandmother, Bobby Anna. David didn’t know Anna. She passed away when I was only a baby, he tells Miriam. 


Anna lived. But now all her great-great-grandaughter knows about her is her name.


So how do I know Anna? She left no diary,but she left her personal documents. I’ve read her census records, and her marriage records. I know her medical history and what her house looked like. I know what she lived through – the riots and the pogroms, the times her husband lost his job because he was a poor immigrant Jew. I know who was with her when she died.


I am a genealogist, and my job is to invent a Time Machine. I take people back in time, to when supermarkets weren’t taking over the world and people thought that the State of Israel would not require an army. I let you visit people like Anna and hear their stories.


My great-grandmother Kayla had a scare one day. She was standing in the back yard of her home one day, talking to her neighbour, Mrs Kalpus, over the brick wall that divided the two properties. Suddenly, the ground literally opened up beneath them, and a large portion of the dividing wall disappeared into the hole with a tremendous crash. Mrs Kalpus’s chicken’s squawked in fear, and Kayla – now divided from her neighbour by a large sinkhole – went back inside to greet the news reporters.


It’s over 100 years later, and no-one in the family knows that Kayla was one step away from death that afternoon. Kayla didn’t read or write – she couldn’t have kept a diary. She probably didn’t appreciate the journalists on her front step. 


I know Kayla’s story because I have a Time Machine called Newspaper Archives and Government Records. Do you want to join me on a journey into the past? We don’t need to stay close-by – we can go back 100’s of years, discovering stories that have been long forgotten. Pack your lunch – we’re off!


This post is by Rivka Goldblatt with experience in Jewish family research and has been working in the field of Jewish and Immigrant genealogy for over 12 years. Rivka is from Manchester, England in the UK. We want to thank our  guest blogger for sharing their experience with us. We look forward to featuring more guests here on Dividing Ridge Genealogy History and Hertiage blog in the coming months. 

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