My mother, Gertrude Dobrusin, was born 97 years ago today on September 2, 1922. She was a rather unique individual in many different ways and I think of her every day and always with a smile.
She always loved to tell stories about her youth and her extended Goldman family and it was quite a large family as her father had 10 siblings. There were great aunts and uncles, and 2nd cousins that we met and those we only had heard of in the complicated tales she would tell.
But, there was always one bit of mystery that my mother would inject into stories. She used to tell us that she thought that one of her great grandparents was buried someplace in Massachusetts. I was fascinated by this since I didn’t know any of my Jewish friends who had visited the graves of a great great grandparent. It was unusual enough that I knew where our great grandparents were buried and had visited the graves many times. While I only knew one grandparent, the idea that a great great grandparent was buried in this country gave me a great sense of family pride.
But one of my mother’s idiosyncrasies was that she would tell us a tantalizing story and then the story would end someplace in the middle. For years, I asked her to find out where her great grandmother was buried and she never did. And, when she died in 2005, the information, we assumed was lost forever.
Then genealogical research was made easier through the Internet and through a complicated set of circumstances, I met a third cousin and he told me that he knew who our common relative, our great great grandmother, was and where she was buried. Her name was Rasha Gershuney and she was buried in Worcester, Massachusetts. And, most importantly, he told me some of the family living in the area knew exactly where the grave was.
So, a few months later, during a trip to the Boston area, we went to visit the grave but we couldn’t find it in the large cemetery. A second trip a few years later yielded the same disappointing result.
Then, two weeks ago, I received an email from my 2nd cousin Tracey, whom I had also met through this research, asking if we ever found her grave. After I told her of our failures, she did some great research and was able to pinpoint the place of Rasha’s grave.
This was the information we needed and I took it from there. I contacted a rabbinic colleague in the area and asked if she knew the caretakers at the cemetery and if so, would they take a picture of the grave and send it to me? My colleague gladly offered her help and a few days ago, the mystery was solved. Here is the picture she sent.
My great grandfather had changed his family name from Gershuney to Goldman and since his death preceded Rasha’s, presumably someone else decided to record her name on the stone as Goldman (spelled incorrectly in English but correctly in Hebrew) and to anglicize her name Rasha to Rose. But, there was no question that this was her grave. The name of her father (my great great great grandfather Mordecai) and the date of her death matched all of our records.
So, there it was. Finally, the end to the story my mother tried to tell me over and over again.
It is ironic that we received this a few days before her birthday, maybe it is not a coincidence.
Maybe it is also not a coincidence that I’m going to be in Boston for a family celebration later this month so I’ll be up in the area to celebrate with cousins on my father’s side of the family. Instead of my original plan to spend Friday afternoon doing what I love to do, wandering through the North Shore looking for a “fish shack” to get some fried haddock and onion rings, I’ll take the Mass Pike out to Worcester to stand at the grave of my great great grandmother and realize once again the long history our family has in this great country.
In 2012, I traveled thousands of miles to stand in a cemetery in Preili, Latvia at a monument to the residents of that town who were slaughtered by Latvian collaborators as the Nazis took over the town. Among those were my great uncle and several of my 2nd cousins.
That visit was horribly sad. This one will be happy. Even if she never did see the story to the conclusion, I’m glad to close this circle on one of my mother’s long stories and to recognize once again how fortunate I and my children are that our ancestors made that long journey to America.
Happy birthday, Mom.