My long lost family or “Who do I think I am” – Part 2 – 20th December 2017

My long lost family or “Who do I think I am” – part 2.

Here it is… Part 2 of my story about how, at the grand old age of 71, I discovered I had a whole new family.

As I recounted in my last blog, it was in 1968 at the age of 22 that I discovered that my father was not a Canadian (as he had always claimed) but was born in Zhitomir, (which was then part of Russia), in 1900 and was brought to England in 1902.

Even stranger was the fact that he was still an alien in a land he had lived in for most of his life. The documents I had found in his bedroom in 1968 indicated that he was all but deported in the 1950s.

There was no way I was going to interrogate my bully of a father on his past life, so I tried to put it all to the back of my mind and carried on with my own crazy life. I did indeed emigrate to Montreal, via the USA, and after a series of adventures and a broken heart, within a year I found myself in the midst of a civil war in Nigeria. Certainly, there was no time to ruminate on pater’s antecedents.

My brother undertook to track down the records of the court case back in the 1950s when my father was nearly kicked out of Blighty, but met with no success.

Later, when I spent three years in the Middle East during the period of the ‘Yom Kippur War’ of 1973, it did occur to me that if anyone suspected that there was half-Jew in their midst, life might have become a trifle uncomfortable – but I didn’t really care – I was reckless, foolhardy and utterly convinced of my invincibility.

The years passed and I put it the subject to the back of my mind – something that would probably forever remain a mystery.

So it wasn’t until October this year when I attended my brother’s 50th wedding anniversary at his home in Tonbridge, that my curiosity was rekindled by one of his party guests. It was a Jewish Lady who I vaguely knew and who had been to primary school with me, some 62 years ago. This lady told me two things that aroused my interest.

The first was that in my dotage, she claimed that I looked exactly like a Hasidic Jew – a particular religious group of orthodox Jews who that originated in Western Ukraine (where Zhitomir is now located) and spread throughout Eastern Europe.

But it was the second piece of information really did set my heart racing. It turned out that she knew more of my father’s court case in the 1950s than any of us did. She told my brother and me that her family knew of and talked about the court case when it happened as it was in the local newspapers – she knew my father was a Jew from Russia many years before I ever did.

This surprising piece of news aroused my interest, and as I was staying with my brother overnight, the following morning he showed me a box containing a collection of my father’s photos and documents that had come into his possession following the death of both of our parents in the 1980s.

There was all manner of fascinating stuff here, from photos taken of my father during the war when he was in the Canadian air force, to his alien documents, to military train passes and goodness knows what else. There was even a letter from a private investigator in the 1950s who quoted a fee to carry out investigations connected with my father’s defence in the court case. Knowing my father, I am sure he turned him down.

I made photographic copies on my phone of many of the documents and photos and when I returned to Oakham,  I started searching on the internet. It wasn’t long before I discovered Ancestry UK and I paid a small fee which enabled me to look at some documents in more detail.

At first, I drew a complete blank. There was no record – anywhere – of anyone with my father’s surname, even going back to the 18th century. I checked Jewish and Eastern European records and even American records. America, because most of the early Jewish emigrants from Russia in the early 20th Century went to the USA. But nothing – no sign of his surname. I was beginning the think that he had fooled everyone and had, in fact, invented his ‘original’  name, just as he had made up his second ‘English’ name.

I almost gave up at this point, but in a last throw of the dice, I decided to search for names similar to my father’s. The name on my father’s documents was “De Blotz”, so as a long shot, I decided to try searching for “Blotz” omitting the “De”.

[Note that “Blotz” is not the actual name – I have changed it to maintain privacy)

At long last, I found records of a few people bearing this name. There weren’t many, and nearly all of them were born, lived, married and even died in the east end of London. Judging by their first (given) names, such as Solomon, they were all very much of the Jewish persuasion. It all fitted; these people with surnames -similar to my father’s – were born and bred in the same area of East London that my father used to have his friends and contacts.

But I couldn’t  find my father’s full surname anywhere – it was truly puzzling. Maybe he had just used the name of a family he knew at the time and added a “De” to the front of it.

I was also frustrated by Ancestry’s moneymaking software. The fee I had paid enabled me to access the full details of the UK census of 1911 and a few other documents; but much of the detail on other documents I tried to research was unavailable to me unless I paid additional fees. It seemed that full access to most documents would entail multiple fees that I just wasn’t prepared to pay unless I could see some real light at the end of the tunnel. My funds were extremely limited.

So I kept looking at the information I was able to access and ascertained that there were a number of people with the name “Blotz“, minus the “de”. I found details of Blotz twins who were born in 1905, and was able to track their marriages, deaths and even the records of some of their offspring. It seemed reasonable to assume that all these “Blotz” that I found in my research could well be all part of an extended family, but I couldn’t be sure.

I even found records of Blotz in the departure lists from the UK to South Africa on ships’ manifests in the 1950s and 1960s but was unsure if these had any connection with the other “Blotz’s” that I had found in the 1911 census, and in birth, marriage and deaths records.

In the end, I decided that it wasn’t worth throwing good money after bad, but as the days passed, I kept going back to the stuff I had uncovered and each time I managed to add something to it. I was pretty sure that most – if not all these Blotz belonged to the same extended family, but couldn’t imagine that they had any real connection to my father. His name had a “De” at the front, and furthermore, his given name did not appear anywhere. So I decided to call a stop to what had become something of a dead end.

But the fee I paid was good for one month, and as an afterthought, I decided that I might as well copy all the documents I had found before my ‘access time’ expired. So I did just that, and it was while I was in the process of copying them all into a computer folder, that I happened to come across a couple of references to the name Blotz on other peoples’ family trees.

I could see from the Ancestry UK website that the name Blotz was on two different family trees and if I wanted to obtain further details of these trees which had been compiled by other subscribers, I could contact them through the website.

The enquiry would cost nothing so I had nothing to lose. I duly I sent off two long message explaining who I was and what I was looking for and wondered if the Blotz on their family tree was in any way connected with my father whose surname was De Blotz.

These messages were really the last throw of the dice and I was not expecting any replies, let alone any useful information.

However, the same day I received a message back from one of the family tree compilers. She told me that she was researching on behalf of a friend in the USA and would pass on my enquiry to her friend. Again, I was still doubtful whether I would receive any positive replies.

The next morning, I checked my emails and you can imagine my shock when I received an email from a man in Canada, with the name Blotz,  which commenced:

“Hello, Cousin….”

It transpired that he was the son of one of my father’s brothers and he was now in his 80s. He knew of my father and had even met him when he was very young. He knew my father had 2 sons and a daughter but had not seen him or heard of him for a great many years. He told me that my father was the eldest of 3 brothers and one sister, and my father’s two younger brothers had married and had offspring, but his sister never married.

Guess what? The sister was the twin of the middle brother and my grandparents and my maiden aunt emigrated to South Africa. I could hardly credit it – the family records I had been staring at on my computer for over a week – which I thought may all be from the same family but almost certainly had nothing to do with my father – all turned out to be my father’s real family. Why he added the “De” I will never know.

The family and their offspring had spread out across the oceans and had settled in the USA, Canada, and South Africa. Only one relative, as far as I can determine, is in the UK and even he returned here after spending most of his life in the USA where his children still live.

My daughter and I have now compiled a family tree which spans five generations (starting with my grandparents) and so far includes more than 30 people, not including those my father’s side of the tree, which now numbers 20, with 2 new ones on the way next year.

At the time of writing, there are still many unanswered questions, although the main one – why did my father cut himself off from his family? – has been sort of answered. My cousin – the one who first emailed me – has told me that his parents disowned him as he was a tearaway and was always in trouble with the police. That sort of figures and may provide a clue as to why the police wanted to kick him out of England in the 1950s.

But for some strange reason, I still do not know the names of my grandparents, despite asking several times. I don’t know if there is any reason for this, or is it simply that they have forgotten to tell me?

So far, I have only corresponded with three people. The first is the cousin who lives in Edmonton. Then there is a second cousin who lives in England – he wrote to me, but as yet has not responded to any of my questions.  And there is another second cousin who lives in the USA who kindly sent me some information and some photographs, but even he has remained silent since our last exchange of emails when I asked him some further questions.

So it seems to be a slow, painful process. My first cousin (male) told me that another of my first cousins (female) was anxious to contact me but as yet I haven’t heard from her and as I have no email addresses there is little I can do. Also, although my Edmonton first cousin originally told me I was welcome to call him, he subsequently told me not to call as he was unwell. I am still awaiting the clearance to call him, despite several very polite reminders. I have a feeling he wants to keep me at ‘arm’s length’.

It seems that all these TV programmes about long-lost families give the impression that families reunited like this after a lifetime apart are overjoyed with the news and are anxious to exchange letters, phone calls and meet up.

Well, so far, I all that I can say is that my new family are reacting quite slowly to the news of their English cousins and seem to be in no hurry to move things along – if at all.

So while I am delighted to discover that I have all this family scattered to the far corners of the world, I am not at all sure how much further I will be able to move this event on.

In the New Year I will send out some polite messages to the three email addressees I possess and remind them that they haven’t responded to some of my questions, but beyond that, there is little I can do. Maybe they themselves are not close to each other – I simply do not know.

So who knows what 2018 may bring on the lost family front?  At least I now know much more about my father’s origins – questions that have been bugging me for most of my life. But I would dearly love to know more, such as:

  • What were my grandparent’s names?
  • Why exactly did my grandparents come from Zhitomir to England in 1902?
  • Why did they cut off all contact with their first-born son?
  • What exactly did he get up to in his younger life?
  • Why did the police try to kick him out of England when he was in his fifties?

Maybe… one day…I might meet up with some of my North American relatives… but time – and money – is against me. We shall see.