5 minutes with... Deborah Long:
Published: Dec 01, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 01, 2012 05:57 PM
At first, Deborah Long was hesitant to pry too deep into her family history – concerned that she might uncover too much pain and heartache. Now her journey has become more than a life-changing experience. It’s also the inspiration for a new Triangle educational group.
Long, a Chapel Hill real estate instructor, formed the Triangle Jewish Genealogical Society to educate members and the public on the importance of uncovering Jewish family histories.
Membership is open to all, and Long stresses that participants do not have to be Jewish. They just need to share an interest in learning about their family roots.
Long spoke about the society in an interview. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q. Talk about your initial reluctance in embarking on a family history project.
The past is not very pretty for a lot of Jewish people. They don’t want to take a look at the Holocaust on a regular basis.
There’s a lot to despair about. My sister, in particular, didn’t want to be reminded.
I tried to talk to my parents, but like a lot of parents, they were not very comfortable. I could only ask so many questions before I could feel the sadness overwhelm my mother.
I quoted William Faulkner, who wrote “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” You can’t understand where you’re going unless you understand where you come from. Q. What were some of your discoveries?
With the advent of the Internet and all of these translation services, I was able to find my second cousins who wound up in, of all places, Sweden. I found some cousins in Hungary and Canada.
I just did the detective work and started to make some of the connections through documents. It took two years of research to reconstruct the family tree.
More than 150 relatives perished in the Holocaust. When I started, I only knew of my grandparents and aunts and uncles. (Now) I don’t know everyone’s stories, but at least I have their names.
My family came from Poland. They worked with fur and leather and owned a hardware store. Finding out those stores interested other members of my family, not with the same degree of passion, but (now) they’re engaged. Q. What advice would you give to people just getting started?
Start with what you know. If you have older relatives, interview them. Get family names and the towns where they lived.
Be flexible about spelling and pronunciation because names have a way of mutating.
Investigate what would be the best software program for you to invest in. The software makes it so much easier to organize your records, and do all kinds of sorting. Q. Did you relatives gradually warm up to the idea?
My sister could not believe we had any surviving relatives. It got to the point where I was finding so many living cousins, she said, “We’ve got to stop, I can only keep track of so many.”
On my mother’s side, these are bittersweet discoveries. My mom died (in 2008) believing no one in her family survived (the Holocaust), that she was the only one who made it out. There’s tremendous survivor guilt among the people who made it, that feeling of, why was I so lucky?
I wish my parents were here so I could show them what I discovered.