Genealogy: I See Live People

Genealogy: I See Live People

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.

 Great Google!

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.

Kornmehls galore!

Jill and Bernie Kornmehl of New Jersey. Don’t ask precisely how we are related.

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?

25 Responses to Genealogy: I See Live People

  1. KL Lance says:

    Edie, this is so very cool! How wonderful for you! Congratulations on acquiring all these new family members!

  2. Well, when I dipped into my father’s famly, I found that his mother’s family, named Butts had a large and enthusiastic clan. They even have a family reunion once a year in Ohio, and somebody invited us to attend.
    And most rewarding, when I established a family tree on Geni (which I don’t use much any more because they’ve moved from free to paid) my grandchildren got interested and started adding people. So besides meeting new people I’m distantly related to–can you say 3rd cousin twice removed?–I’m seeing ties to the future.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      It’s really fascinating, isn’t it? I guess it makes sense that looking into the past should reveal information about the present. It’s just something I never thought about. I avoided the subject of my family history for most of my life because I thought it would be terribly painful and it’s proved just the opposite.

  3. Karyn Zoldan says:

    I could not imagine what you were going to write about for this blog but so far so very interesting. So glad you have been able to find some many relatives. My Uncle Max Zoldan was a kosher butcher in Youngstown, Ohio.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks for coming by, Karyn. I had no idea you had a kosher butcher in your family, too! It’s fitting that we’re going to Schlomo & Vito’s together next week.

  4. Pup Fan says:

    So cool! I wonder if it’s actually a relatively (no pun intended… or maybe it is?) common occurrence in the days of Google. My personal experience has been similar, but I suppose a sample of two isn’t really helpful! My uncle/dad are into genealogy and it seems like they’re always finding new branches and family members. My dad has been into it for a long time, but I don’t think those kinds of connections were being made when he was just searching through things at the National Archives pre-Internet.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’d bet it is an internet/google related phenomenon and more common than I’d ever imagined. So much for those who say that the internet cuts people off from the world!

      Fascinating that your dad is such a devoted genealogist that he spent time in the National Archives. Did he turn up anything interesting?

      • Pup Fan says:

        He did, actually! He managed to trace back 8 generations, I think, based on the info he found there. Our family has been in the U.S. since the 1700s, but the really hard part has been tracing the family before they came over. I don’t think he and his brother have gotten too far on that front.

        • Edie Jarolim says:

          Fascinating what he did without the internet! I love the idea of poring over archives, but it’s impossible not to concede that the internet is more efficient.

  5. Kristine says:

    For whatever reason, I’ve never been very interested in researching my family history. All of my family is overseas and the only branch to come to Canada was my paternal and maternal grandparents. At least, that I know if. I guess I assumed it would be too difficult to find any information on this side of the ocean. But if you were able to find so much from a simple google search perhaps I should think about doing some digging of my own.

    How wonderful to all of a sudden have a large family!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Wonderful — and strange! I’ve gotten used to thinking of myself in a certain way, without an extended family, and now I have to shift all my perceptions. But that’s a good thing, right…? And hey what do you have to lose by doing a few Google searches. You may be as surprised as I was.

  6. jill kornmehl says:

    Just when we thought we had completed our Kornmehl family tree search…you popped up. Glad you did-we are enjoying seeing our family in your fantastic blog.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      It’s never-ending, isn’t it, but in a good way! It’s a fascinating family — I’m thrilled to be part of it.

  7. Wow. What a journey. I’ve never much thought about pursing my family genealogy and I’m still not. But, I am certainly enjoying your pursing yours! I’m enjoying your new undertaking so much.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thank you, Deborah. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. It’s very nice to have you along on this journey too — a bit different from the last one, eh?

  8. […] Family Goat FarmPosted on August 16, 2012 by Edie Jarolim I recently discovered a slew of relatives I didn’t know I had, members of the extended — and far-flung — Kornmehl clan. […]

  9. […] on August 23, 2012 by Edie Jarolim I’m excited to welcome as my first guest poster one of my newly discovered relatives. Jill Leibman Kormehl is the daughter-in-law of Nathan Kornmehl, at 96 years old the patriarch of […]

  10. […] didn’t talk much about her standard of living in Vienna. I gather now, having read No Place Called Home by one of my newly discovered cousins, that the family must have been fairly well to […]

  11. Leonard Schneider says:

    Hi Edie,

    Very nice letter. So great to meet a family member who is also interested in the family history. Wish I had know you 10 years ago when I wrote Tarnow Connection. By the way you have the same Great-great grandparents as Bernie Kornmehl and the same Great-great-great-great grandparents as me.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Leonard, how nice to see you here, and thank you for your kind words. I hope one day to get a copy of your book — maybe revised to include more on the Viennese branch of the family…. Thanks for clarifying the family connections, too. One genealogical site said you are my 7th cousin once removed!

      I also hope you will consider writing something on the Kornmehl family and Tarnow for me to post here. All photos are welcome too.


  12. […] family trees. A mere sapling of a handwritten chart made by my mother led to the discovery that a cousin had put together a vast tree dating back to 18th century Poland — a venerable […]

  13. […] who weren’t alive during my mother’s lifetime –  were born in Poland. And then I made the virtual acquaintance of Leonard Schneider, a cousin whose award-winning genealogical study traced the Kornmehl family back to 18th century […]

  14. […] then looked at the huge family tree that Leonard Schneider — the premier source of family connection knowledge — created, […]

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