In my blog, “All Because Of Irving”, published on April 17, 2018, I alluded to a family rumor told to me by my maternal cousin, Stephen Winnick. Just what was this rumor and why did Stephen decide to tell me about the rumor after all of this time?
He knew I was always interested in my family’s history and learning more about their past. When I started emailing him with questions during the winter of 2017, he thought I had discovered some new information online, and thus was curious if I had stumbled upon what he had been told.
He suggested we meet for brunch. I thought he had old family photos and documents to share with me since both his mother and his aunt had passed away the year before. We met at Rein’s Deli in Manchester, CT, which was half way for both of us. Was I in for a surprise!
After lunch, Stephen, visibly nervous to impart he news, told me what he had been told over 40 years ago by another family cousin. It involved a 2-part rumor about my mother:
- Part 1: He was told that my mother was part adopted. The rumor said Irving Wosnitzer, her father, had an affair that resulted in a little girl being born and that Irving brought home the baby to his wife, my Grandmother Minnie, to raise
- Part 2: He was also told that the birth mother of the baby was not Jewish
Wow, that was a lot to take in. Stephen said my faced turned all red and I looked like I was in shock. My first response was my grandmother, whom I adored, was not really my grandmother. I was in disbelief. Then I blurted out “Stephen, then you’re not really my cousin”. That made Stephen dejected since he said in the 40 years since he had learned about the rumor that thought had never occurred to him.
As soon as we got home, I emailed my siblings and told them to call me ASAP as we had a family mystery on our hands which effected our ancestry.
Over the next few months, as I shared this information with my siblings, I had so many emotions to deal with. My grandmother wanted everyone to think that May was her baby. Would I be disloyal to her by questioning this and trying to learn the truth? Also, I was always proud of my Jewish heritage and now I was told I was not even totally Jewish. What were we? I was afraid to mention this to others and definitely did not want to put this story down in writing. It took months to convince myself that my grandma would always be my grandma, and that by constantly talking about her more people would get to know her. In that way, I would be keeping her memory alive. It also took months to reassure Stephen that I would always think of him as my cousin, and that he did the correct thing by telling me.
So what was our nationality? I convinced my siblings that we must be part Irish. Why? One of my best friends in high school was Irish. People always thought my friend, Sharon, was Jewish, and that I was the Irish one. So Irish seemed like as good a guess as any! My sisters were excited because both of their husbands are Irish.
I decided we needed to do a DNA test, but which one? I researched and compared the pros and cons of the four major companies and finally decided that 23andme.com gave us the best information for the price. One of their included reports gave the maternal haplogroup tracing the mother’s lineage and that piece of information I felt would be important in learning about our ancestry.
Ira, Avra and I ordered the kits. Mine arrived and I did my spitting and mailed it back. Now I had to wait patiently for the results.
In May of 2017, I got my results back. First of all, it said I was 98% Ashkenazi Jewish. Wow! Ok, so the part of the rumor about my mother’s birth mother was not true. Now I had to convince my siblings that we were really Jewish and not Irish! More confusing emotions ran through me.
What about the part of our mother being adopted? Was that true or false? In looking at the list of DNA relatives, I saw a first cousin, Arthur Cronson, listed. First cousin? I knew all my first cousins. But wait a minute, if my mother had been adopted, I might have first cousins I did not know about.
I messaged Arthur and asked if he would like to explore how he were related. I did not want to mention the adoption right away, afraid of scaring him away. However, I got an almost immediate response from his daughter, Carolyn, who was monitoring her father’s account. She introduced herself as a “human geneticist” which I later learned she has a Master’s Degree in. That excited me since I knew I had someone who could interpret these results accurately. I messaged her back and told her about the rumor of my mother’s “part” adoption. She said it did appear that we were related and she would know more when her grandmother’s test and my siblings’ tests came back.
To make a long story short, a few days later, her grandmother showed up as my Aunt, my COMPELTE Aunt. Carolyn then said that my mother was NOT half adopted. She was COMPLETELY adopted and Carolyn’s great-grandparents were my grandparents. She and Arthur welcomed us to the family and we exchanged many emails.
Learning about my mother’s birth family has been incredible and finding out about the physical traits, mental abilities, and emotional similarities has been rewarding. For the first few months, my emotions ran the gamut from sadness for my mother and my grandmother, and disbelief as to why we never knew about this secret, to utter amazement. Over the last year, I have been in contact with new and old cousins trying to piece together this mystery and to learn as much as I can about 6 different ancestral families. Because of the kindness extended to us by most of the cousins, from the adopted family to the new birth family, and also my father’s family, I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by many wonderful, caring people.
I will talk about meeting Arthur and other new cousins in other blogs, but as for the 2-part rumor:
- Part 1: Was my mother half- adopted: False. She was completely adopted!
- Part 2: Was the birth mother of our mother not Jewish: False. Her birth parents were Ashkenazi Jewish.
So, although the rumor was technically false, it changed our family’s life story story in a way we never could have envisioned.