Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, Inc.
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August 18, 2020 By: Sheila Wexler
Zooming Family History
Dear Fellow Genealogists,
Over the past several months, every time we think there’s a chance for our immediate world to return to “normal,” it doesn’t. For most of us, that prepandemic state includes visiting elderly parents, hugging grandchildren, or having a meal in an adult child’s home.
 
Yes, there is FaceTime on your phone or Zoom on your computer. . .great ways for sharing news. . .if you want to hear about your son not working, your dad needing laundry detergent, or your grandson missing summer camp. Not to be a “Debbie Downer” by complaining, I reached out to my barely adult grandkids with the suggestion we try a regular weekly Zoom time. After a couple of canceled times due to employment issues, we talked—twice—about their work status.
 
Then it hit me. Although not fascinated by genealogy, they’ve always loved hearing stories about and seeing photos of their dad (my son) when he was little. Having just taken possession of 30+ newly restored—and digitized—16mm films (a genealogy story for another time as the restoration continues), I discovered five of these clips were of the grandkids’ dad as a baby. Would these 50-year-old family movies be of interest, not only to them, but also to my son and his wife? None of them had ever seen these before.
 
I just learned how to “screen share” PowerPoint on Zoom thanks to Mary-Jane Roth, JGSGW VP of Programs. Figured it would also work with moving video. . .and it does. Enticed grandkids Gabby and Ethan, and son Blair, and daughter-in-law Robyn to a Zoom date with the promise of the premier of a short film clip. They agreed.
 
After two weekly sessions and a wide range of emotions (from “that’s creepy” to “so cute”), the grandkids have had the opportunity not only to view their father as a child, but also to see their grandparents as young adults, and to meet our parents (their great-grandparents, whom they never knew) over the many decades. There has been discussion about what we looked like back then, from my cool, flowered bell-bottoms to John’s incredible head of hair with sideburns.
 
I have been receiving the digitized home movies back from the lab in batches and thought I knew what was in them. But some were untitled. Two days before the last set was sent to me, I had just commented to John that I did not remember my paternal grandmother, Celia Barth Wexler. She had lived in another state, died when I was 4, and I do not remember visiting. Even photos of her seemed non-existent.
 
I was pleasantly surprised that the black-and-white footage from approximately 1948 had fairly decent images. There’s my father holding me, and I recognize an aunt, then another. We’re in Erie. . .and there’s Grandma Celia. . .and I was truly astonished.
 
So what’s next for Zooming with my grandkids after we go through the home movies of their dad? What would they say if they met my grandmother—their great-great-grandmother who was born in Kolomyya, Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the late 1880s? It’s just a quick film clip but I hope it will prove to be moving and introduce them to a human-driven, not just fact-driven side of genealogy.
 
Sheila Wexler
President, JGSGW