family history and genealogy

Tag: literary nonfiction (Page 1 of 4)

The Animals in Our Midst

God created Adam, perhaps because He needed something to do. Then He created Eve, because Adam needed something to do, or someone to know. They dwelt in the garden, which was fruitful and lush. All was pleasant there, until that unfortunate incident with the apple, which obliged Adam and Eve to leave the garden and make their way in the wilderness. The forest was dark, cold, and forbidding. Strange terrors lurked there. To still his fears, Adam befriended a wolf. Or perhaps the wolf befriended him. It’s not important how this alliance came about; what matters is that it has endured. Ever since then we have had animals in our midst. Continue reading

Her Name Was Toibe Zelde

Harry and Tillie Kubrin

When I last wrote about my great-grandmother Tillie Kopelman, I didn’t expect to write about her again. When Harry Met Tillie included a brief sketch, mostly based on my Uncle Jay’s memories. Origins: Taube Kurdabrin documented her arrival at Ellis Island and rehashed the earlier sketch. I didn’t think I had anything more to say about Tillie. But exchanges with two fellow genealogists taught me that other discoveries awaited, even if I was oblivious to the possibilities. Continue reading

Every Story Is Apocryphal

"Family History" by Robert Kehlmann. Sandblasted hand-blown glass, mixed media. By Rkehlmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“Family History” by Robert Kehlmann. Sandblasted hand-blown glass, mixed media. By Rkehlmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 If you like to write but lack the gift of unbridled imagination, I have just the thing for you. Family history combines the richness of fiction with the veracity of your daily paper.You don’t have to imagine characters. You don’t have to worry about plot. Just write down those family stories and mix in some genealogy or social history. The stuff practically writes itself. Continue reading

The Wooden Synagogue

Wooden synagogue in Volpa, circa 1920. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

My great-grandparents Harry and Tillie Kubrin came from a town called Volpa, which in their day was part of the Russian Empire. Nowadays it is called Voupa, or Woupa, and it is part of Belarus. How you identify this place depends on where you locate it in the long view. Over the centuries, Volpa has belonged to Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, in addition to Belarus, and it has been known by its Russian, Yiddish, Polish, and Belarusian names, which are rendered in English as Volpa, Volp, Wołpa, Voŭpa, and Wolpa. The purser who boarded my great-grandparents on the S.S. Finland entered this name on the manifest as Wolpy. This swirl of place names hints at the area’s history of conquest, and it makes for confusing research. If you like certainty and order, genealogy might not be for you.

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The Grandfather from Central Casting

Samuel Kubrin When my great-grandmother Taube Kurdabrin disembarked from the S.S. Finland on June 25, 1905, she carried her first-born son Schmuel in her arms. He was one year and six months old. Because small children lack agency, they generally make poor subjects for portraiture. I prefer instead to pick up my grandfather’s story in his middle years. We see him above with his third child, my Uncle Jay, who has just caught a fish. The photo is cracked and stained. The world it portrays has vanished. People work miracles now with Photoshop, but I don’t believe in retouching old pictures. Flaws appear in every image and every life, and they are worth noting. The patina tells a story all its own. Continue reading

Origins: Taube Kurdabrin

Sam_Kubrin_arrival_record

I never knew my great-grandmother was originally called Taube. I always thought her name was Tillie, the name she used most of her life, the name by which she is remembered today. But apparently I was wrong. I stand corrected now thanks to the record of her arrival at Ellis Island, which I located through the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation. Taube, or Tillie, arrived on June 24, 1905, sailing on the S.S. Finland out of Antwerp, like her husband Chaim Kurdabrin before her. That’s Taube on line 22 in the image above. Her son Schmuel (later Sam) is on line 23. He became my grandfather. Continue reading

Origins: Chaim Kurdabrin

Chaim Kurdabrin's Arrival Record at Ellis Island

My great-grandfather Chaim Kurdabrin landed at Ellis Island on June 6, 1903, arriving on the S.S. Finland out of Antwerp. I make this statement with reasonable certainty, having located his arrival in records posted online by the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, which also sold me a facsimile of the ship’s manifest. That’s him on the seventh line in the image at the top of this post. Continue reading

My Foot on the Pedal of Progress

Transcription using cylinder phonograph copy. By The drawing is signed, 'Electrical World, N.Y.' [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons I’m celebrating the acquisition of a new piece of electronica—an AltoEdge USB foot pedal. This little gadget connects to my Mac via a USB interface and controls the ExpressScribe software I use to play back my oral history interviews as I transcribe them. The pedal and software combined take the sting out of a difficult job and boost my productivity in a key area of my enterprise. They also provide an object lesson in change, which is the underlying topic of all history. Continue reading

Something Durable and Luminous

Long after my family history is finished, after the writing is done, after my book is published (or not), after all my relatives and I myself are gone, our voices will still be audible in digital recordings. Our words will also be legible, provided anyone takes the trouble to dig through my files. I have no idea how posterity might receive this archive. I’m still grappling with the oddity of this situation in the present. Continue reading

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