Quite some time has passed since that evening my mother asked me to find her first cousin who she had not seen for years. I had never known him and hadn’t even realized he existed until we immigrated to the USA. When my mother first asked me to find him, we were fresh off the boat and I didn’t want anyone to think that we were reaching out for help, so I didn’t look thoroughly for Aaron. Years later, she asked again. By the time I actually put some effort into finding the guy, it was too late. They lived close to one another, both in Brooklyn, but did not get the chance to meet and I still feel guilty for that.
But, sometimes as you lose something, you gain something. While I was looking for Aaron Dekhtyar, I found his information in a family tree that was built on ancestry.com. Ancestry suggested that I build my tree and since I got free temporary access to the ancestry database, I was able to save Aaron’s information from that tree into my own. Little did I know back then what it would lead to.
The next day I got a message.
— You saved my relative in your tree.
—No, this is my relative, I replied.
A few responses later, I realized that I was talking to my second cousin once removed. It turned out that my maternal grandfather who perished in WWII had a sister—a sister that nobody in my family knew about. The newly found cousin, Julia, shared all the information she was able to find about our Dekhtyars. Nobody in her family knew about us, but both families knew Aaron and his father Mayer. A DNA test through 23andme a few months later confirmed that we are cousins.
Since then, I’ve researched other branches of my family and learned about my ancestors and relatives who perished in Holocaust. I got to meet new family members and started enjoying new relationships. They helped me learn about my own history and my own family by providing books, stories, and photos. I cherish every bit of new information I collect as it gives a new meaning to my life.
I started helping friends and acquaintances learn their family histories. I’ve been not only a witness to multiple family reunions of cousins who lost each other at some point in life, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give the gift of family connections and reunite families around the world, in Russia, Israel, Germany, Canada, United States, Argentina, and Italy. These families had been torn apart by the atrocities of the World War II and the Holocaust, not seeing and not knowing of each other for years. Their reunions felt like a restoration of justice to me—not Hitler nor the Nazis could keep apart those who were meant to be together.
The genealogy bug lead me to become very active in the genealogical world. I started volunteering at JewishGen as a translator and a coordinator of one of the JewishGen.org SIGs. I’m an admin of a few genealogical groups on the Facebook as well, and I started a genealogical business with my friends a few years back. Now I feel that it’s about time for a new venture — my own business.