The Mystery of Where We Come From

My husband and I do genealogy as a hobby. My husband more than me because his relatives are much more organized. He got a head start with a cousin who’d explored that particular branch of the family in great detail. Then there’s the fact that there are so many cousins that make it easy to stumble across a Sandler or other relation in the census or birth records.

My ancestors are much more evasive. There’s my father’s father’s family, the Stiers, who were Austrian (Hungarian?) Jews. They came here sometime in the mid to late 1800s, had a few children, which might have involved more than one marriage. They then conveniently scooted off to Britain for a few years in such a way that they avoided the census, so I have no idea where they were when. My grandfather was born in the UK (supposedly in Greenwich–no idea for sure since I can’t find the records), then the whole family returned to the U.S.

Problem #1 with the Stiers is that this seems to be a common name among German Christians. While I do have another relation of German ancestry (don’t get me started on the Satenburgs), I know my Stiers were not German, nor Christian. But was Samuel married to another wife before Fanny? Is that why his oldest daughter is so much older than her brothers? No clue.

Ida (Chave), Louis & Harry (Aaron) Beckenstein

The Beckensteins, my father’s mother’s side, are much more orderly. That’s them to the left. Because of their somewhat unusual names, I found them fairly easily in a ship manifest. The person transcribing the manifest had made a bit of a hash of their names, but still, my Ellis Island search led me to a record with Aaron and Chave Beckenstein. Aaron later changed his name to Harry and Chave to Ida.

What’s kind of cool is that there is a definite family resemblence between Ida and my niece (my niece would be Ida’s great-great-granddaughter). Aaron even looks quite a bit like my niece’s brother.

A few others who are hanging out in my family tree–the great-grandfather who was a stowaway coming over from Italy, the grandfather who changed his name from the unusual (Fratantonio) to the common (Russo), perhaps because he was into some shady dealings and wanted to stay on the down-low. That grandfather, Domenic Russo, died in prison when I was an infant.

Then there’s this mystery man who’s not even related to me. He was apparently the friend of my great-uncle Sam Beckenstein. Uncle Sam saved a ton of pictures from the 40s, mostly photos of his girlfriends of which there were many (he never married). I came across the photo to the left amongst his other pictures, which I’m guessing was taken during WW2. Uncle Sam had written on the back Lew Gill standing in front of our tent.

Since I have no idea who Lew Gill is, I posted the photo on Facebook and Twitter in hopes someone would jump out of the blue and e-mail me to say, “That’s my dad/grandfather/uncle!” It would be very cool if that happened, but so far, no luck.

As a writer, I can’t resist wondering. Where exactly was the picture taken? Here in the States, or overseas? Did Lew survive the war? Was he married before he headed off to the army, or did he marry when he got home? What kind of life did he have? Did he raise a family? Could his children/grandchildren be out there somewhere?

It would be lovely to have those questions answered, to solve the mystery. In the meantime, my imagination will just have to fill in the blanks.

About karensandler

Lover of chocolate. A couple felines short of full-fledged Cat Lady. Author of the YA Tankborn Trilogy (TANKBORN, AWAKENING, and REBELLION), from Tu Books. Founding team member of We Need Diverse Books. Opinions expressed here are my own.
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2 Responses to The Mystery of Where We Come From

  1. CJ says:

    Hi Karen,
    I read about your uncle Sam Beckenstein, was he born in 1910 ?
    Was he in the 110th Infantry Reg. ?
    Was his Army Serial Nr. 39240450?

    Carsten Jensen

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