past faces


botanical gardens, ice cream, and family photos.
rebeccafm has written 77 posts for a sense of face

rose and charlotte, ca 1925?

My great grandmother Charlotte had two older sisters with whom she was not particularly close. So not close that my grandfather forgot that they existed until I asked him point-blank about them by name (and he remembered nearly everything). When pressed, he recalled that one of them lived in Florida, had been married to the … Continue reading


I will miss your tremendous heart, your tremendous brain, your tremendous spirit.  I’ll never tell a better story, know more things, be as tan.  Though we had moments that were uncomfortable (when I found out your actual birthday, all the times you told me that the part in my hair wasn’t straight), those pale beside the … Continue reading

franzl, ca 1928

My grandfather died 22 years ago today. This summer, I visited Vienna, his hometown.  I thought a lot about him and about whether he had walked the same routes, seen the same buildings, gone to the same cafes.  I stood outside his childhood home, wandered around his neighborhood, loitered in front of his father’s store … Continue reading

rybky, 1885/2012

More than any other ancestral hometown, Rybky, Slovakia has always had the strongest pull on my heart. Maybe that’s because it was the first ancestral hometown that I learned about when I was young, or maybe because it seemed to be a place that others were committed to remembering — or perhaps both. My grandfather … Continue reading

hanni, david, me, 1885/2012

Yesterday, I found my great-great-great-grandparents’ grave in a plum orchard in Slovakia.

frank, 1897

My great-great-grandfather Frank was a dapper little man who was thrifty, hard-working and good at suing people, and  the more I learn about him the more colorful he becomes.  Reconstituting the facts of someone’s life — the dates, names, and places — is one thing, but rediscovering and reconstituting the stories that fill out that life is quite … Continue reading

202 west end avenue, 1903/2012

When I was in New York a few weeks ago, eating some amazingly good gelato on the Upper West Side, I realized we were only blocks away from where my great-grandmother Charlotte grew up at 202 West End Avenue. Her building doesn’t exist anymore – this high rise has taken the place of 202 and … Continue reading

the jacob goldman family, 1899-1900

I never realized how colorful my family was – or how colorful the times they lived in were – until I made a survey of the Goldman family in the Cleveland, Ohio newspapers digitized by various commercial entities. I knew that some of my relatives were litigious and I knew that others were maybe a little scandalous, … Continue reading

chaje and michael, 1889

In late summer 1889, my great-great-great grandfather Michael Pfenig and his youngest daughter Chaje made the trip from their small shtetl of Zmigrod (in what is now Poland) to New York City. They sailed via Hamburg on a ship called the SS Hammonia and arrived at Castle Garden (in what is now Battery Park) on … Continue reading

frank and ethel, 1990

Sometime right around when this photo was taken (I think this must have been Thanksgiving or sometime around then), my grandparents gave me an aquamarine ring as a Christmas/Hanukkah present.  They died not that long after and for the last 21 years, I have spent almost every minute wearing that ring. It has become almost … Continue reading