The Critical 'I'

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Sunday, July 27, 2003

LATELY DISCOVERED FAMILY ORIGINS
(blogathon 2003)
Being in my family can drive you crazy. If you grew up in a culture that places a premium on extended family members, you know how you can't make a move without hearing from twelve different people afterward; and the kicker is, you'll hear pretty much the same thing from all of them.

In a unit like that, you tend to treasure the secrets you can keep. I know I did. And that extends up and down the family tree, from youngest to oldest. Often, those secrets are pretty inconsequential, and are the result more of omission than outright lying. Still, they stay hidden for so long, that when they're discovered, it can come as a shock.

Case in point: While chatting with my mother about nothing much a couple of weeks back, she casually mentions that her father, my grandfather, did not arrive in the United States from Greece. Since he was Greek, and was born in Greece, I naturally was puzzled. Where did he come from, then?

Turns out, he came over here from Egypt. He left home when he was 13 to hook up with some connections in Cairo and Alexandria to work there. He was there for about 5 or 6 years before he got on the boat (this was back in the 1920s) and ended up in New York.

Like I said, not terribly earth-shattering. But still something of a jolt to learn this at this stage of the game. It's typical of the kind of stuff that goes on in the insane asylum I call a family.

By the way, I tried to find my grandfather's immigration information through the Ellis Island database. Knowing his country of origin was Egypt instead of Greece helped. Still, no dice. I guess the database isn't 100% complete yet (it may never be).