This blog is about my Jewish-born father, Dr. Otto Bruck (1907-1994) (Figure 1), known as Gary Otto Brook after his arrival in America in 1948, and his extended family. The search for my ancestors began many years ago when I was still working and a friend introduced me to the genealogical records at the Mormon Library in Salt Lake City while on a business trip to Utah. At the time I learned the library housed three rolls of microfilm records from the former Jewish community in the town in Upper Silesia where my father was born, Ratibor, Germany (today: Raciborz, Poland), covering births, marriages, and deaths from roughly 1817 through 1874. I would not reexamine these records again until after 2008, by which time I was retired and my father, regrettably, was no longer alive.
My retirement coincided with the time that my mother gave me seven albums of my father’s photos covering the period in his life from the late 1910’s until he immigrated to America. It was primarily these photos that fueled my interest in learning more about my father, his circle of family, friends and acquaintances, their eventual fate in some instances, and, generally, uncovering other distant relatives. Given the ultimate fate that many Jews suffered at the hands of the National Socialists, I consider myself particularly fortunate that my father’s photos survived the war and serve as the basis of much of what I learned and will relate in coming months and years.
One of the first tasks I undertook in trying to uncover more of my father’s story, and that of his extended family, was scanning and labelling my father’s seven albums of photos. Obviously, the information my father recorded on the back of pictures or on the album pages on which photos were mounted was most useful. While most captions were written in the “Latinized” longhand, I later learned others were written in Sütterlin, a bizarre saw-tooth script created using wide curves and very sharp angles, taught in Prussian schools from roughly 1915 until 1941; these were indecipherable to me, although I am fortunate in having a relative who can read and translate them for me.
The stories I will relate over the course of time will include not only those based on the historic photographs that were left to me by my father but will on occasion derive from his papers, documents and artifacts. These items often corroborate what the photographs only hint at. Two things, I think, set my blog apart from possibly similar ones — my father’s historic photos and the travels and investigations my wife, Ann Finan-Bruck, and I undertook to visit many of the places associated with the Jewish diaspora as reflected in my own family.
In this blog, I will talk about how I fleshed out portions of my father’s life, the countless findings I made along the way, and the “luck” that accompanied some of these discoveries. While some may appear beyond belief to the reader, I’m reminded of a quote by Branch Rickey, a brainy former Major League Baseball executive, who said “Luck is the residue of design.” That’s to say, you create the conditions to be successful.
Still, for all the findings and major discoveries I’ve made along the way, there have been setbacks and dead-ends, and on occasion I will relate these stories, as well. Who knows, perhaps with a reader’s assistance, I may yet solve some of the mysteries that still haunt my research. That said, there are certain riddles I sincerely believe I’ll never solve in spite of my dogged efforts.
On occasion, I will post stories that relate to a family other than my own, either because I was approached by someone with a question and answering it involved following an approach similar to the one I used in researching my own family, or, because the question overlapped my own family research.
Assembling my family’s story did not adhere to a linear approach, but rather involved an iterative process. I was constantly evaluating and re-evaluating what I knew or what I thought I knew in light of new information I obtained. In telling these stories, I will often let the reader into the process of how I’ve come to my conclusions, while readily acknowledging they may change.
Periodically, I will upload historic documents I’ve uncovered that relate to my Blog posts. These documents are typically written in Gothic German Script, and were indecipherable to me. Fortunately, I have German cousins who read not only the Gothic Script but also Sutterlin and graciously translated many of these documents.
It is only fair to tell you, the reader, that in my working days I was an archaeologist, although primarily in an administrative position. Nonetheless, the skill set I acquired in my formal training as a field archaeologist serves me particularly well in doing forensic genealogy.
My hopes in developing this blog are, ideally, to entertain and educate the reader; perhaps, to impart some historical facts I learned along the way that informs where elusive family records may unexpectedly be found; and, possibly, to ferret out previously unknown ancestors or, perhaps, learn more about forebears the reader and I have in common. I look forward to engaging with readers, learning from them, and discovering more about our mutual ancestors. The stories I will relate do not follow any chronological order in my father’s life, but more closely conform with the incremental steps I followed in learning things about my family.