Found my grandfather's birth family. Now what?
May 20, 2014 8:06 AM Subscribe
In the process of helping post my late grandfather's digitized papers online, I found his adoption paperwork (he made no secret of being adopted, but didn't talk about it much). It gave enough information that I was able to find that my grandfather had a brother, who apparently is still alive. I'm not sure what to do next; it's good to know there's more family out there (my father has few living relatives), but I'm not sure how happy others in my family will be with the reality, and the same may go for my grandfather's newly-discovered relatives. Advice would be helpful; details below.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
OK, here's some of the complications and my real questions:
- Jewish identity was very important to my grandfather, and that's carried through the generations. However, his father converted to Christianity and married a christian woman a year after my grandfather's birth (my grandfather was placed in an orphanage, though his father did admit his paternity in court, according to the records). My great-grandfather tried to pass as non-Jewish (this was in Germany pre-WWII), though he was discovered and lost his job in 1938, and survived the war by the skin of his teeth.
I have to admit it's discomfiting to me to find out my great-grandfather left the faith, and others in the family may feel similarly if they learn about this. I think my grandfather may have known some of this; I was told once that he had worried whether he was really Jewish, because he believed his mother might not have been (he was adopted from a Jewish orphanage, so I'm guessing they would have converted him in some way in childhood, but don't know for sure). My family has been very accepting of intermarriages, though; we are not orthodox. Question 1: Should I let my family know what I've found if it may make them unhappy?
- One thing that makes me pause about contacting my grandfather's relatives in Germany is that it's possible that they were half-brothers; i.e., my grandfather's brother may not know that his father had a child out of wedlock before he was married, and maybe he wouldn't want to know such a thing. I know they share the same father, but have been unable to find out who my great-grandfather married (it may have been my great-grandmother, but may not have been). Question 2: How would such news be received by an octogenarian German pastor? Should I worry about that?
- Question 3: If I were to try to contact our relatives in Germany, should I ask my father and his siblings for permission first?
- Question 4: When should I tell my father and his siblings what I've found, ASAP or only after I've put all the pieces together and can provide a complete story?
- Question 5: As a further complication, my parents will be traveling to Europe for a vacation soon; is it best to let them know before (in case they wanted to make a detour to Germany) or after (to make sure they can enjoy their vacation if this would end up causing my father angst)?
- Question 6: Should I contact my father and his siblings about this and get their opinions before informing anyone in my generation, or try to tell everyone at once? I tend to think I should consult with the elders first, but is that wrong?
All that said, I think contact has the potential to be a very positive thing. I've found a lot of parallelism between my grandfather's life and his brother's (e.g. my grandfather played a whole series of leadership roles in Jewish congregations in the US, while his brother survived the Holocaust with the help of the Lutheran church and eventually became a pastor; and the next generation of both families all went into similar - but not at all common - lines of work). With my father's parents and one of his only surviving cousins having all passed away in the last few years, more family connections might be a good thing.
Needless to say, my grandfather's brother is not young (late 80's), so I don't want to sit on this too long. But I'm not quite sure what to do, and in what order to do it. Delicate social situations are not my forte. Help!