MAY I INTRODUCE TO YOU . . . Amy Cohen
When I stumbled onto Amy Cohen’s blog, Brotmanblog: A Family Journey, I was drawn in by her ability to transport readers back to a different time and place. Helping us to see world events through the eyes of her ancestors who were there, Amy helps us gain a new understanding, perspective and appreciation for the trials and triumphs of life in the most difficult of circumstances.
Asked to describe her blog, Amy said, “My blog is focused almost entirely on genealogy, telling the stories of my family history as I research it. That is, I am still in the process of doing the research, and I often write not only about what I found but how I found it. I also ask my readers for feedback and suggestions about my research. But mostly the blog tells the individual stories of my ancestors and their families, dating back as far as the 18th century through the 20th.
It is with pleasure I introduce to you, Amy Cohen, author of Brotmanblog: A Family Journey.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up and what is your current hometown?
“I grew up in the suburbs of New York City and am of the baby boomer generation. I moved to New England for college and law school, and I have lived in western Massachusetts for over 30 years now. I have two grown daughters and two grandsons; they are the reason I started doing genealogy.”
How did you get started in genealogy?
“When my first grandchild was born in 2010, I realized that he was the continuation of a long chain of family members. But I knew almost nothing about my ancestors, and I think, hit by my own mortality and by my grandson’s new life, I wanted to learn and preserve those stories.
“I dabbled a little before becoming fully engaged in 2012 after a brief visit to the Family History Library while on a trip out west. When I got home, I started in earnest, found a wonderful mentor to teach me the ropes, and became passionate and some would say obsessed with learning as much as I could.”
Why did you begin a blog?
“In the summer of 2013 I found a number of second cousins I’d never known about before, and I was sending emails to them all with documents I found. One cousin suggested I use a blog to post my research findings, making it easier for me and for the cousins to share everything. She helped me set up the blog. These were my Brotman cousins, so I named the blog Brotmanblog.
“I never expected it to become what it became: not just a place to post documents and explain my findings, but a place for me to write about all of my ancestors and to contemplate what their lives meant—and what they mean to me. I’ve gone far beyond the Brotmans to all my maternal and paternal lines. So the name is a misnomer at this point, but to honor those wonderful cousins who gave me the boost to keep going, I have kept the name.”
What do you enjoy most about researching and writing about your ancestors?
“I enjoy the brick walls! I love the intellectual challenges and the reward I feel when I solve them.
“Also, I continue to be amazed by the generosity of my fellow genealogists. From the woman who took me under her wing and mentored me (Renee Steinig) to the many people in Facebook groups, on JewishGen, and my fellow bloggers, I have been blessed with the help and good will of so, so many people.
“And writing has always been a joy for me—so to combine the research and the writing is a dream come true.”
Where do you find your inspiration for your blog posts? How do you decide what to write about each time?
“For the most part, my blog follows my research. As I research a person or a family, I start drafting about that person or family, usually long before I post something. Then I edit, add and delete as I go. Some stories tell themselves. Others require more work to bring them to life. I don’t want to merely recite the facts—I want to think about and evoke something about that person’s life—what mattered to them, what did they contribute, who were they?”
What connections have you been able to make as a result of your blog?
“On the family side, I have found so many cousins I never knew about—all over the world. There have been family reunions, dinners, lunches, lots of emails and phone calls with so many amazingly warm and wonderful cousins. These people have enriched my life in many ways and have helped me understand who I am and how I am connected to an incredibly large web of people.
“On the genealogy village side, as I wrote above, the number of generous, kind, helpful, and highly intelligent people I have networked with is continuing to grow. “Genealogy is a hobby you tend to do alone, for the most part, so sharing your discoveries with others who share your passion and helping each other with research is critical and something I never expected when I started down this path.”
How has blogging helped to further your research?
“Two ways—getting help from others, as I said, and by keeping me on track. Before I started blogging, I had lots of documents and information, but hadn’t put the life stories together in any way. By writing the blog, I am forced to think about each family member as a unique person with a life story worth telling. Blogging makes me keep my eyes on that bigger picture.”
What has been your biggest challenge in blogging?
“Trying to make each post interesting. Sometimes I just can’t find anything terribly colorful or compelling, but I still want to record that person’s story in some way.
“On the other hand, sometimes a person has had very “colorful” things happen in his or her life, and then the challenge is being careful not to exploit those stories just to create an interesting post. I try hard not to embarrass anyone, but I also want to tell the full story without sensationalizing anything.”
You have traveled to some of the places your ancestors lived. How has that influenced the way you research and your understanding of your ancestors’ lives?
“In 2013, I went to Amsterdam, where my 3x paternal Cohen great-grandfather was born. Last year (2015) I went to the town where my Brotman great-grandparents lived before immigrating to the US in the 1880s. I’ve also been to Santa Fe where my Seligman great-grandmother and great-great-grandparents lived. And next year I plan to go to Germany where many of my paternal relatives once lived.
“These experiences have been very moving. I make myself stand somewhere that I think my ancestors might have once stood and imagine what they would think to know that in the 21st century, a descendant of theirs would come to stand in that place, thinking of them and being so grateful for their lives.”
How have you used social media to help you in your research?
“Two ways: Facebook groups like Tracing the Tribe, Genealogy Bloggers, and many genealogy groups defined by location have been rich sources of help—in translating documents, helping with research, and providing feedback.
“In addition, I have used Facebook extensively to search for and connect with the living descendants. And then we become Facebook friends and get to know each other better.”
What tips can you share with someone just starting a family history blog?
“Read other blogs to get a sense of what and how to write, but develop your own style. Write for your family and for your children and grandchildren, not to make a splash or to make money. It’s nice to have a ton of hits and views, but in the long run, this is really about your family history, and you have to make it your own and write about what matters most to you.”
Is there a particular ancestor who particularly inspires you and why?
“I am inspired by all of my ancestors who were so brave to leave Europe and come to the US for a better life: my great-grandparents Joseph Brotman and Bessie Brod, my great-great-grandparents Jacob Cohen and Sarah Jacobs, my great-great-grandfather Bernard Seligman, my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal, my 3x-great-grandparents John Nusbaum and Jeanette Dreyfuss, and my great-great-grandparents Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt.
“But truly most of all would be my grandfather Isadore Goldschlager, who at age 15 left his entire family behind and walked out of Romania to seek freedom in the US. He worked hard and eventually he brought his parents and his siblings to the US. He is my hero and my inspiration. It was his passenger manifest I sought when I visited the FHL in 2012, and finding it was one of the happiest days in my genealogy research. He died before my fifth birthday, and I can’t tell you how much I wish I had had a chance to ask him questions and learn about his life from him.”
What is on your genealogy bucket list?
“Just more research and more travels to my ancestral homes. There isn’t one special thing on the list.”
Is there anything else you would like to add or share with us?
“Thank you for your interest in my work and my blog. I hope I can be helpful to others in their work, and I want to express again my gratitude to all those who have helped me.”
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Please take a moment and visit Amy’s blog, Brotmanblog: A Family Journey . Be sure and leave her a comment to let her know you stopped by. Thank you Lisa for sharing your blog and your thoughts with us!
© 2016, copyright Michelle Ganus Taggart, All rights reserved
Michelle Ganus Taggart lives in Kaysville, Utah, where she enjoys the beautiful outdoors, time with family and researching her ancestors. She shares her passion for her southern research in her blog, A Southern Sleuth. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . . “ series? If so, contact Michelle via email firstname.lastname@example.org