My New Year’s resolution for genealogy was to learn more about my maternal grandfather’s family. My grandfather, Nathaniel Gardner, died when my mother was a teenager so I never met him and never had a chance to hear him tell stories about his life. Nathaniel married an Irish Catholic, Helen Coyle, and she told me many tales of her life as a young girl. Even though Nathaniel’s stories are gone I wanted to learn more about this part of my history.
Knowing nothing about Jewish genealogy or how to search the Austria/Hungary area, I hired a professional to research for me. I hired Robert J. Friedman from ‘Steps to the Past’. He has started sending me data about this branch of my family tree.
First I found out that the Gartners were from Hungary [rather than Austria as my mother had thought] and before that they were from Poland. I have roots in various countries & now that extends in new directions.
Then Robert uncovered a long list of aunts & uncles for my grandfather. Wonderful! Nathaniel Gardner’s parents were Leopold Gartner [notice the earlier spelling of the surname] & Fannie Edelstein. Robert found Leopold’s parents and siblings in the 1869 Hungary Census. The slim branch with Nathaniel; his father, Leopold; and Leopold’s father Markus has begun to sprout leaves in many directions.
I found myself reading about Leib, Hani, Hirsch, Hermina, Izrael, Jakob and Roza and finding a place for them in my heart. As I read the preliminary findings about their marriages, their children and their lives they became more than just names and dates. They became alive. However, just as suddenly, some of them were violently and inhumanely murdered. Hermina Gartner Farkas and her daughter, Rezi, were killed in 1944 in Auschwitz. Roza Gartner Katz and her husband Kalman were murdered in the Holocaust. I’d read about those horrible times; seen documentaries and movies. But these were my people, my family who I was rejoicing at finding, imagining the music and dancing at their weddings and the thrill of their children’s births to be replaced by dark thoughts of fear, cruelty and death. As I went to JewishGen and read the Yizkor Book & Necrology Database & lists of Hungarian Deaths I felt an awful sorrow that I had not expected. I did a Google search for Auschwitz but found I had to immediately close the page. It all seemed changed. My new link to my Gartner family made it personal.
Fortunately, Robert Friedman wrote this to me: “A little advice: Reading these kinds of materials can be sobering and upsetting. It's great that you have a baby to celebrate--the opposite of the destruction you may read about.” He knows we are visiting our new grandson and he is right that the baby brings us something to be happy about, a ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.