I was born, and have lived, in New York my entire life. My original training was in special education. I was a teacher for many years and then lucky enough to stay home when our children were born. Once they got to junior high school I began worrying that my brain was starting to atrophy. I placed an ad in the Book Review of the Sunday New York Times stating that I would do research for people. I didn’t know there was a field called genealogy nor did I have any notion what people would ask me to research. This was long before there was an Internet to make research easy.
One of the people who called was Robert K. Straus of Santa Barbara, CA. He told me his family had owned R. H. Macy’s and Company for 100 years but that there was a bitter leveraged buyout in 1986. The family’s personal papers were locked within the store. He wanted to know if I could get them out. To make a very long story very short, I wound up with more than 100,000 pieces of paper that had to be read, translated, transcribed and organized. This began the Straus Family Project.
I started writing a family newsletter with articles about the history of the family, about living members of the family and about events being planned for them such as family reunions. The newsletter has become one of my most important research tools. And it is one of the very best means to bring these people to life. Past issues of the newsletter can be found on our website www.straushistoricalsociety.org.
I have come to think of my work as “social history.” By this I mean, placing the details of people's lives into context: learning about the times in which they lived, the political, social and economic conditions that affected their daily interactions, and how they chose to deal with these factors.
My other jobs include doing oral histories, publishing books about Straus family history, writing a book about the relationship between Nathan Straus Jr and Otto Frank (father of Anne Frank), interfacing with historians, scholars, movie producers, Broadway play producers, government agencies, arranging family reunions, organizing trips to the places where the Straus family originated in Germany and in the US and, best of all, speaking with people about the Straus family’s history.
I am the luckiest of people because I get to work at something I love.