I’m new to genealogy. I’d always thought it was a discipline that dealt strictly with dead people, with the goal of bringing them back to life. I knew that my particular quest, exploring the lives of the members of a Jewish family in pre-World World II Vienna, would be filled with emotional land mines: the unnatural (to put it mildly) disruption of those lives that would be impossible to ignore.
The transcendence, I believed, would lie in focusing on the quotidian — admittedly a little less quotidian than some family stories, what with Sigmund Freud being in the picture. Or, to put it in terms that I’m far more comfortable with than transcendence, I thought that re-imagining the ordinary lives that had been interrupted, giving my family members back their humanity, would be a form of revenge against those who robbed them of it.
What I didn’t expect to find was an entirely different form of revenge: A passel of living relatives whose families had survived the war.
I’ve mentioned that the idea for this blog was inspired by a friend googling “Freud’s butcher” and discovering the link to the Freud Museum and my great uncle’s butcher shop in December 2011.
Then a Google search of “Austria” and “Kornmehl” in February 2012 led to the review of a book called No Place Called Home. This passage caught my eye:
Meanwhile, in Vienna, the Kornmehl family enjoys a more elegant lifestyle, delighting in the social and cultural life of the city. Daughter Margaret, like Ernst Hess, dreams of attending university. Instead, she enters a disastrous marriage, which is followed by divorce and a year attending culinary school in London. Even as Hitler incorporates Austria into Nazi Germany, and the younger Kornmehls face harassment and threats from the SS, their parents are loath to accept the inevitable. Kristallnacht in 1938 convinces them otherwise.
It seemed like a long shot, but I knew that one of my great uncles had a daughter named Margaret (Grete), so I contacted the book’s author, Gigi Michaels; her email address was on a press release for the book. Sure enough: Her grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. She even had a copy of the family picture that is on the header of this blog (though she had no more clue about the occasion on which it was taken than I did). Odder still, I learned that Gigi’s family had lived in Queens while our family had lived in Brooklyn. Some of the names of these relatives have begun to seem vaguely familiar to me, but why I never met them — at least as far as I can recollect — is one of the many mysteries of my childhood. That’s another topic to explore.
But that’s not all. It turns out there are other people in the world who know how to use Google. One of them also found No Place Called Home online and contacted Gigi. It seems that my great grandfather Chaim Kornmehl had many brothers and sisters, and their descendants live in Amsterdam, Australia, Israel, Boston, New York… Over the past decades, they had discovered each other through a variety of methods. And now my family had been discovered, too.
Within the course of a few months, I went from thinking my sister and I had no living relatives to finding a world wondrous with Kornmehls — writers, bankers, social workers…even genealogists. I’m excited to report that several of them have agreed to introduce themselves here in the future. Jill Kornmehl, one of the most enthusiastic of the family historians, has promised to interview her 96-year-old father-in-law, Nathan Kornmehl, who — wait for it! — had a kosher butcher shop in Buffalo, New York. Leonard Schneider, who wrote A Tarnow Connection, an award-winning genealogical study of the Kornmehl family, went back to the drawing board (well, the Excel program) to add our family’s branch, which is now on the Family Trees section of this blog.
Thank Google I found them before it was too late.
Now I’d love to know: Is finding living relatives unusual in genealogical research or is it par for the course?