I have ransacked archives in three countries looking for relations and often have felt that I have no more to find.
And time and again, I am proven wrong again.
In the latest incident, a chance photo I shot in Kaunas, Lithuania in September 2007 turned up some relatives I knew nothing about.
I took the photo on a rainy evening along a pedestrian mall, once the main street in Kaunas, or Kovno. I wanted to walk where my family had once walked. I wasn't looking for relatives or their traces.
I posted my photos at Kodakgallery.com and shared them with my cousins.
My Israeli cousin Avi Lishower was stunned to report I had shot a photo of a place where his mother Dina had lived. Dina, my father's first cousin, a cousin he knew nothing about, had immigrated to Palestine in 1936, a couple years before the German invasion.
Thirty years ago, I connected with branches of the family,through researching the surname Schrogin (our family name from the early 1800s), in phone directories for major cities. I constructed a family tree, which I shared with my newly discovered cousin Maxim Schrogin.
Years later, Maxim shared the tree with Avi. Avi came through Chicago, maybe 10 years ago, and tried to find me. But he didn't have a handle on our phone system and couldn't find me.
When the Internet came along, Avi found my phone number online and cold called me.
After that, we became co-conspirators in family research. I taught him how to do e-mail using the @, which he calls a strudel. Together, we obtained loads of records from the Lithuanian Archives. We even held a family reunion in Boston, a few years back, bringing together in the same room several branches of our family that had not been together since the 1880s.
It turned out Avi had a few surprises. After he looked at my photo, he told me that his 85-year-old aunt Helen Kessler was alive and well in Los Angeles. She had just been a name on a family tree. I called her up and caught up with her story.
Helen told me of how she escaped from Kaunas two days after the Germans arrived and ended up heading to Moscow. She became separated from her young brother, Lova. She went on to Uzbekistan, where she spent the World War II years, unaware of the death of her family in Lithuania. Lova found his way to an adopted family in Moscow. A friend of Lova's went to Israel in the 1970s and found Avi's mother and the family was reunited.
Helen shared a photo with me of family from almost 80 years ago. In it was her grandfather, my grandfather's brother.
Family researchers should never figure their work is done. It never is. You never know what you'll turn up, just walking down a street and shooting photos.