Family Ties

Friday, March 18, 2011

Two and a half pounds, one hundred eighty pages, 1,607 entries. No, it's not the Congressional budget; it's my genealogy report, compliments of Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Service. Never heard of him? Neither had I, nor the vast majority of the other 1,606 people who managed to worm their way into my DNA.

When Ed saw my name on Facebook, he googled me and read about my checkered career. Because he's in the predicting business, he assumed a guy like me who never knew where he was going would like to know where he came from. Ed's great-grandmother and my great-grandfather, it turns out, were married 150 years ago. Mazel tov!

Concerted effort to complete this family tree has been in the works for about 40 years, much of it prior to the computer, of course. Ed and other family members have compiled personal recollections and dug up old records and newspaper clippings to reveal thousands of relatives. Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, my great-grandfather came from a tiny town in Russia. Yes, there was a lot of fiddling during the day, but apparently there was a lot of begatting going on at night. I've got the names to prove it.

In the document, there are branches all the way out to my fifth cousins. Many of them were several times removed. I'm not sure why they were removed, but in New York, anyway, a Wolfsie can be reinstated in the family for a couple of Knicks tickets. I have always been dense about family connections. When my sister had a baby about 30 years ago, I was relieved it was a little boy. I wanted to be an uncle, not an aunt.

By the way, my brother, who is single, received the same document from Ed. As he leafed through the pages, he noticed photos of some very eye-catching ladies--a few of whom are still alive. "How many times do you have to be 'removed' to make dating legal?" he asked. "It's a family tree, not a wreath," I told him.

One page lists the birth and death of every Wolfsie descendant. According to the research, the first recorded birth in our family was my 4x great-grandfather Avrum Oboler, back in 1780. For the next century no records exist of anyone in the family actually dying. It's that kind of Wolfsie procrastination that will make me, I hope, a future star on this ancestral tree. Why does Prevention Magazine make such a big deal about consuming grains and legumes, when Avrum probably spent most nights with a bowl of borsht and a fifth of vodka? He'd have lived to 103 if he hadn't fallen off the roof.

I'm excited to know I have some famous relatives, like Arch Oboler, who was an American playwright in the '40s and '50s. Uncle Arch once penned a TV episode detailing the horror of a giant, undulating chicken heart. He also wrote for Mae West and Edgar Bergen. My cousin Ed told me there is no evidence that any other family member ever became a good writer. Hmmm.

So, if your name is Pemberton, Oboler, Fishoff, Mankin, Rappaport, or Zisser,

we may be related. In fact, I probably have hundreds of relatives right here in the Indianapolis area. Funny, because I still can't ever find anyone to drive me to the airport.