It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I wrote my first post here, a speculation on whether Freud ate kosher. It’s been quite the wild ride since then — a statement that might surprise those who think that genealogy is boring. But if you use the term family history — emphasis on family — and realize that family historians deal with people who are alive and/or who played an important role in their past, you might begin to understand just how emotional things can get.
Then add Freud, food (butcher shops turned out not to be the only food-related profession in which my family was involved) and the Holocaust, which I somehow thought I could avoid…well, you get the picture.
But along with the stings that I’ve gotten from poking the hornet’s nest of the past, I also had a great deal of fun. And I learned a lot. It’s not easy to encapsulate everything in just five categories, but I’m going to try.
#1. Finding new family, Re-Discovering Old Family
It goes without saying that the most exciting thing about a genealogy blog is finding family (and yet I just said it!) and I don’t want to play favorites. But I have to thank Jill Leibman Kornmehl for her role in connecting me with the far-flung Kornmehl family originally and continuing to create the big picture with her work on the vast Kornmehl family tree. I’ll pat myself on the back for the recent discovery of the living members of the Schmerling family, the cousins to whom my mother was the closest (one of them sent the wonderful picture of my great-grandfather that’s next to the title of this post), and I’m grateful that the writer Manfred Wolf found me (see #2) and contributed a moving guest post about the family.
#2. Discovering the Magnetism of the Kornmehl Name
I was not even aware until last year that my mother’s family name was Kornmehl, much less that pretty much everyone who has it is related to me. But it’s not only people named Kornmehl who have gotten in touch as a result of finding this blog. It’s also people who are related to Kornmehls but no longer have the name; people who knew Kornmehls in their childhood (I’ll get to that in #3)… even a bookseller who owned a book written in the 1930s by a Kornmehl scholar/rabbi and wanted to know if a member of the family might be interested in buying it before he put it on e-Bay.
I can never, ever take this blog down. I would feel guilty about removing what has become, in effect, the Kornmehl family forum and message board.
#3. Reuniting old friends
One result of running the Kornmehl family forum that I particularly liked: Being able to reconnect two sets of childhood friends from Buffalo, New York. I wrote about it in Freud’s Butcher: Reuniting Old Friends Since 2012. I have not written about the reunion of the second set of friends because I never received the promised pictures or details of the reunion (hint, hint) but the invitation remains open.
The other side of the coin: My foray into the past meant reconnecting with old friends — or, in many cases, connecting on a deeper level. Yes, I mean you, Sharon, Marilyn, Martha, Ruth, and Diane, in chronological order from when we first met (Sharon at age 5). Lydia Davis stands alone in her interest in the Kornmehls and genealogy, as well as her research help — starting with a meditation on the Kornmehl name — which proved invaluable.
#4. Learning European Jewish History
Until I started this blog, I had very little sense of the movements of Jews around Europe in general, and the migration of my family members from a small Polish town called Tarnow to Vienna in particular. (I came from a shtetl? Who knew?) My favorite historical discovery, not surprisingly, had to do with food: The Great Gefilte Fish Divide.
#5. Learning about Freud — and the Freud industry
Freudian slippers, a Freud action figure, rock bands named for Freud (yes, Pink Freud among them), a Kickstarter project that replicates Freud’s handwriting electronically… these are just a few examples of Freud-o-bilia I’ve come across and highlighted in Funny Freud Friday, an intermittent feature of this blog.
Freud may not be held in high regard these days by everyone in the psychological community, but he’s a huge retail success.
Of course, my study of Freud has the goal of re-creating the lives of my family members, since one of them, my great uncle Siegmund, had a butcher shop in the building where Freud lived and worked. I now know that a more distant relative visited Freud on his 75th birthday as the head of the Jewish student doctors’ organization, and that another cousin– the one who later put the heads on Pez — lived across the street from him when he was a boy and used to peer through his windows. And I have come to believe Freud was a schmoozer, not a snob — a man who certainly would have shared a few words, and maybe a few jokes, with the tradesman downstairs.
The return of a family member — on a different blog
I’ve also realized something else: That I’ve been ignoring an important family member this past year, just because he isn’t human: My dog Frankie. That’s about to change, with the return of my blog Will My Dog Hate Me.
Freud, who used to get birthday poems from his daughter in the voice of her dog, Wolf — and who later came to love a series of Chows — would not have looked askance at this.