Book Review: Every Family Has a Story: Tales from the Pages of Avotaynu, edited by Gary Mokotoff

Avotaynu book.bmpReview by Loretto Dennis Szucs 

We genealogists focus so much on our research, we sometimes forget that our work often affects others, usually in a positive manner. Avotaynu has just published a hardbound book that consists of articles that originally appeared the quarterly journal, Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy. Each story focuses on the human side of genealogy–how genealogists have been personally affected by their research and how the research of genealogists has affected others.

Typical is the lead story of the book. Some of us grew up knowing that we were adopted as infants. If we were taken in by a loving family, we are blessed indeed, but anyone who has traveled this road in life understands that sooner or later there will be a deep yearning to know the circumstances. What happened to my birth parents? Freya Blitstein Maslov who wasn’t motivated to find her birth parents until she was in her forties and became involved in genealogical research. She then discovered that she had seven natural siblings–and she was the only one adopted out. What happened to her and seventy-one other fascinating stories make up the eight sections in Every Family Has a Story.

From the Mokotoff’s “Yes, Virginia, There was a Sean Ferguson,” a light-hearted tale about a poor Jewish immigrant who allegedly wanted to change his name at Ellis Island, to the heart-wrenching stories of men, women, and children who perished in the Holocaust, the book is thought provoking.

While many of the stories have a Jewish slant, I found each of the vignettes to be compelling. It’s impossible to come away from the book without learning some important lessons about history and research – and about what caring people can do when they work together to honor their ancestors.

A complete Table of Contents and a sample story can be found on Avotaynu’s website.

Every Family Has a Story: Tales from the Pages of Avotaynu, edited by Gary Mokotoff. 304 pp. Bergenfield, N.J: Avotaynu, 2008. $37.00.

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