Daniel Margolis’ grandfather, Joseph Sherman, was the inspiration that encouraged Daniel to explore his family history. A World War II vet, his grandfather loved to tell family stories and Daniel, who has two brothers, was the one who not only listened intently, but also internalized his grandfather’s tales about the past.
By the time he was in high school in Bethlehem, Daniel had already collected important oral history and started a family tree. When he went off to college in Binghamton, N.Y, he found himself in a position to open his “Grandpa’s treasure chest” and delve into the personal story that makes him who he is today.
In his own words, Daniel will tell you, “There is no substitute for being in the place where events happened.” Binghamton is where Daniel’s mother, grandfather, and great-grandfather grew up. Equipped with some basic family statistics, like names, dates and places, he began a formal journey in their hometown of Binghamton to find the missing pieces of his family puzzle. And his mother, Carol Ann Margolis, will tell you Daniel’s love of puzzles is at the heart of his drive to find family roots.
When he visited the Registrar of Vital Statistics, he was able to see death certificates of his great-great grandfather and great-great-great grandfather. From the death certificates, he learned where and when they were born, identity of their parents, where they lived, what their livelihood was, their marital status, and the date, cause and location of death. Through this process he discovered the name of his great-great-great-great grandfather! Daniel visited the Westlawn Cemetery in Binghamton where his ancestors were buried and came to the conclusion that the tombstones in a family plot are equivalent to pages of a textbook on family history.
However for every question answered, Daniel was left with three new questions to ponder. There was only one place to get answers. Daniel would call his grandfather and together they analyzed the data until they were able to place another branch on the family tree. Whenever Daniel experienced a particular “Aha moment,” like the shock of discovering both his mother’s and father’s ancestors were recorded on the same census in D’vinsk, Latvia in the 1800’s, he had to share this treasure with his Grandpa. After all, his parents had no idea that they shared a common history long ago.
Before Joseph Sherman passed away a few years ago, it was always his grandson Daniel’s visits that got Joseph out of bed, got him engaged in conversation and put a big smile on his face. Daniel would give his grandfather a gift of information from the past, “Grandpa, did you know that your great-great grandfather was a blacksmith?” His grandfather would be amazed with this new information and it would trigger a memory to share with his grandson, perhaps about how fishing was a favorite past time after a hard day’s work. This intergenerational bond between the two men was particularly poignant because they both craved knowledge of their roots and they both respected the uniqueness of families. His grandfather answered his questions, explained the old family photos kept in a shoe box under the bed, and put human faces on the various characters Daniel calls “kin.”
Daniel’s wife, Elizabeth, can trace her roots in America back to the 1600’s. Daniel’s and Elizabeth’s one year old son, Samuel Erwin Margolis, the newest leaf on their family tree, is the recipient of the now enhanced “Grandpa’s treasure chest.” Ultimately Daniel ended up locating over 1740 people to decorate his family tree and a few hundred are still alive today.
What’s at the Library?
“Who Do You Think You Are? Be a Family Tree Detective” by Dan Waddell
“The Kids’ Family Tree Book” by Caroline Leavitt
“Me and My Family Tree” by Joan Sweeney
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