Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I Am My Family

This post probably belongs on my genealogy blog but I thought more people would see it here--so here it is!

My husband is adopted. He had amazing adoptive parents. I am a genealogy nut. My daughter wanted to know her roots and where she got her nose. Also, where did Mr. Snowbird get his ears. So the search began.

I had done extensive research on my family so decided to do Mr. Snowbird's adoptive family. Adoptive family went back to Lithuania and England. This was all well and good but didn't explain where Karen got her nose and he got his ears. Luckily he had a copy of his adoption history which gave his natural mother's full name, her parents names, her grandparent's names, places etc. So, tracing that part was easy. We received pictures of his birth mom and a half sister. We found out where Karen got her nose and Mr. Snowbird got his ears.

Not so easy when it came to the natural father. We had his first name, his sibling's first names, his parent's first names (you get the picture.) We knew they lived in Detroit and were Jewish. Still not an easy task. But, then we had a stroke of luck. I wrote to Michigan for his birth certificate which had his adoptive name on it but said he was born in Ohio not Michigan. So, I wrote to the state of Ohio and lo and behold got his real birth certificate and lo and behold it had his natural father's full name. From there everything fell into place. We corresponded with and met relatives he never knew he had. One relative was a second cousin by the name of Rafael Goldchain. I corresponded with him a couple of times but my daughter took up the challenge and pursued this side of the family even more than me--and in doing so, traded information with Rafael on the family.

While Karen and Rafael were corresponding, she discovered that he was working on a book of photographs. But not just any photographs. The book is a family album of photographs with a twist: Rafael is the only subject. After extensive research and planning, he transformed himself into some of his ancestors (and Mr. Snowbird's)and then took pictures of himself as that ancestor. The outcome was amazing. He also included parts of his sketchbook which he wrote for each character in his book. On the page he wrote about his great grandmother, (Mr. Snowbird's great aunt) he included my first letter to him. Also, in the acknowledgement page, he thanks my daughter. We were really surprised by this.

Anyway, with permission from Rafael, I am reprinting the pictures here of Rafael as some of Mr. Snowbird's ancestors. Enjoy.

Self-Portrait as Sarah Getl Ryten (nee Goldberg) b. Lublin, Poland, circa 1860 d. Poland, early 1940's.

Sarah was Mr. Snowbird's great grandmother and Rafael's great great grandmother. This was taken from a real portrait of Sarah of which I have a copy.

Self-Portrait as David Ryten. b. Ustilug, Ukraine, 1845 d. Poland, early 1900's.

David was the husband of Sarah above and Mr. Snowbird's great grandfather. There is no known picture of David so Rafael did considerable research on what he might have looked like.

Self-Portrait as Chaja Golda Precelman (nee Ryten) b. Poland, 1880's d. Poland, early 1940's.

This is Rafael's great grandmother and the sister of Mr. Snowbird's grandfather, Julius. This was taken from a real portrait of Chaja with her mother, Sarah.

Self-Portrait as Malka Ryten. b. Lublin, Poland 1884 d. Tel Aviv, Israel, 1974

This is a sister of Chaja and Julius. Malka was an actress in the Yiddish Theatre. I have a copy of the picture that Rafael used for his portrait. It is amazing how close he comes to looking like her.

Self-Portrait as Dona Aida Precelman Ryten de Goldchain. b. Warsaw, Poland, 1902 d. Southfield, Michigan, United States, 1986

Aida was Rafael's grandmother. She immigrated from Poland to South America in the 1920's with her husband and then moved to Chile in the 1930's. After the death of her husband, she moved back to Buenos Aires then to Israel where she remarried. After her second husband's death, she moved several more times finally moving to the US where she met and married Manuel "Manny" Ritten, her first cousin. They were in their 80's when they married. Manny was the brother of Mr. Snowbird's birth father, Don David Ritten.

So, there you have it. If you want to learn more about this book, all you have to do is google Rafael Goldchain or I Am My Family. It is really a fascinating book and one our family will treasure.


gail said...

(Have I mentioned this?) I have (paternal) Lithuanian ancestors and there is some unconfirmed evidence of a Jewish connection in my family, too -- how cool that you were able to track it all down!

Jess said...

This whole thing is very interesting and very creative.

Gayle said...

Wow, what an amazing idea for a book, and a fantastic way to document the family.

Tootie said...

That's an amazing story. If I hadn't known the photos were of the same person, I doubt I would have guessed.

The Farmer Files said...

What a story...you are so blessed. We have gaping holes on my husband's paternal side. We are missing names. We all wonder and will probably forever wonder...

MariBy said...

Oh how absolutely fascinating Snowbird...I'm off to read Part 2!

sheila said...

What an incredibly beautiful post with awesome pics! I do a lot of genealogy research too on my family (and my hubbys of course). I've taken a break though because it started consuming my entire life! lol

Shama-Lama Mama said...

Oooh, thanks for writing this post! Now I don't have to! lol. Good job. Off to read the second one...