Long lost cousin edition
I have a pretty unique family name. It's not hard to spell or even unusual, but I've always been under the impression that pretty much the only people in the United States who have my last name are related to me. The reason for this is because my paternal grandfather, and his two brothers, all changed their name at the same time in the 1930s. They basically "Americanized" their names. So while it's easy to spell and pronounce, it's also unique because it's made-up. I always thought it was curious that you have these three brothers sort of keep the bloodline obvious by all of them changing their names. Ironically however the family last name has pretty much only been passed on by my grandfather and his children. His brothers ended up having girls or boys who died too early to have kids.
I have a first cousin who had a My Space webpage and today she was contacted by another girl who ironically had the exact same last name and first name. The girl was eager to figure out if they were related because, like me, she assumed pretty much the only people with our last names were related to us.
My Aunt Annie figured it all out. The girl's grandfather is my grandfather's first cousin. We're third cousins and our parents (the girl's father and my aunt, plus my father) are second cousins. Apparently, unknown to most of the living members of my family, while my grandfather and his brothers all changed their names in the 1930s, his first cousin also changed his name, albeit not until the 1950s.
I still find that fascinating. Changing a family name is kind of a huge step. Sure we're Jews (and no, our name isn't and wasn't something like Goldberg or Silver) but the last name thing still means something. I find it odd that here's this guy, and he has a last name. Yet for some reason when he was in his 20s or so decided to change his name to the same name as his cousins, who had done this 20 years before.
Unfortunately this girl's grandfather passed away some time ago (the one who changed his name) but her father is around and apparently as interested in this as my aunt and my father are. My aunt gets really into family genealogy because my grandfather/her father passed away when she was 15 years old.
He was the only grandparent I never met, although I'm sad to say I just found out my last grandmother (maternal) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I'm not ready to deal with that yet. But over the years I've thought a bit about this "missing" grandparent a lot. I'm far more like my Dad than my Mom and I've wondered how much he was like his Dad. (I didn't really get along with my paternal grandmother all that much. Kind of your typical old Long Island Jewish woman.) I've often thought about how much I rely on my father still, for advice, for money, for conversation and I'm 30! I can't imagine losing his company when I was 22 or 15.
I've often thought my aunt has a little "daddy-shaped" hole in her heart where she lost hers so young even though she's in her late 50s now. I was even chatting with my Dad on the phone about all these long-dead (or missing) relatives and he started getting emotional (which he rarely does).
So anyway, there's at least one other set of people out there with my last name aside from the the people who are all related through my grandfather. This long-lost cousin--the first cousin of my grandfather-- apparently had two children, a boy and a girl (I think, I know he at least had a boy). That boy, my grandfather's first cousin-once removed, also has two kids. The girl is the one who contacted my cousin with the My Space page and she has an older brother. That guy, along with my brother and my cousin, are the only "males" of the next generation with that same last name (my brother, my uncle's kid, and this new long-lost third cousin). My brother is the only one of those three males who's married. The other two are in their mid-to-early 20s AND my brother does have one child, a 2-month old girl. I think this new niece of mine is the first of the new generation in the same family name in 17 years. But she's a girl so she really can't "pass on" the family name beyond her (of course, she's TWO MONTHS OLD, she can't even hold her head up.)
I was thinking how interesting it would be, one more generation out, and there could be an entirely new branch of the family that is unaware of "the others" with the same last names. I'm sure if my cousin, my uncle's kid, gets married I'll come to his wedding and when he has kids I'll be "aware" of it in that vague way you keep track of first cousins. But I bet before this guy hits 50 I will lose track of him entirely; basically after both our parents are dead. There are cousins I'm closer to, and with e-mail it's a little easier to stay in touch, but as the family spreads across the map if you aren't seeing these cousins regularly. If you aren't "growing up" with them or hanging out together the imperative to stay in touch basically goes away after your parents/aunt/uncle die. They become just people.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Long lost cousin edition