Nathan and Sarah Mark
Photo courtesy Sharon Mark Cohen
May 15, 2008
Pinch me. I must be dreaming: I just saw my grandparents.
They passed away before I was born: my paternal grandfather, Nathan Mark, in 1941, my grandmother Sarah in 1949. One reason I delved into my family tree research was my desire to learn about these people. I suppose I have always been trying to “feel them.” There was a feeling of incompleteness in never having known them. I have video tape upon video tape of my children’s grandparents, but none of my own.
Visiting the graves of my grandparents the Sunday between last Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (with armed guards stationed at the Newark Jewish Historic Cemeteries), I met other people who were visiting their ancestors.
On the pillar at the entrance to the Chudnover KUV society section of the Grove Street cemetery, my grandfather’s name is included as a member of the board. One of the people I met that day told me a cousin of hers in Florida had movies of old Chudnover reunions in Newark. I contacted him to see if I could get a copy. I figured if my grandfather was on the board — and I had heard stories of my grandmother working with other Chudnover women to wrap and send packages to the families in Chudnov, Ukraine — there was a good chance they were at those reunions. Recently, I received a DVD of movies dated from 1935, 1940, 1945, and 1955.
That viewing experience was amazing. I immediately spotted my grandfather, looking very distinguished as he walked into the 1935 reunion with my grandmother, dressed beautifully for the event. I put the video on pause and ran to take a photo of my grandparents at my uncle’s wedding in 1937 off my dining room wall, to compare it with the couple on the screen. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t imagining seeing my grandparents. I called in my husband and children to confirm my discovery. Yes, yes they repeated emphatically when they saw the couple. We were mesmerized as we saw my grandparents come to life.
As we all watched, I found myself talking to my grandparents! I laughed at my grandmother schlepping my grandfather over to be spotted by the camera so they would be in the movie; I never learned about that side of her personality. How stoic he appeared in the four scenes in which we saw him, and how they lifted their glasses to toast l’chaim, with my grandmother seeming a bit playful as she raised her glass.
How exciting to see them at this wonderful social event in 1940, just six months before my grandfather passed away so prematurely at age 58, all the while not knowing what the fate of their loved ones in the villages of the Ukraine would be.
I’m so happy that I went on to find those relatives who survived the atrocities. I have found descendants of all but two of Nathan and Sarah’s eleven siblings. Most recently, I found the descendants of the children of my grandfather’s sister living in or around St. Petersburg, Russia. We keep a regular e-mail correspondence with each other, sending photos of various relatives back and forth. Their grandmother passed away in 1938, before they were born. I was able to tell them her maiden name and send them a photo of her with her husband. They replied by sending me photos of all of their families, including a similar snapshot of my grandfather’s brother-in-law. I’ve scanned the new documents and photos into my family tree files as I continue my search for members of the two other branches of my grandfather’s family.
Seeing my grandparents wasn’t just a dream. It was a dream come true.
Sharon Mark Cohen is a genealogist and Jewish educator. She previously wrote about finding long-lost relatives for Real Life in April 2007.
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