I would like to relate one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had in all my seventy-three years on this good earth. It involves family genealogy – always an intriguing topic.
Just a bit of family background will set the stage. Our young family of four moved from Chicago, Illinois, to California in 1948 – when I was eight years old. Virtually all our relatives lived and remained in Chicago, except for two of my dad’s three brothers. One, my Uncle Gil, had settled in the Los Angeles area by the late nineteen-forties. In those days of infrequent travel and poor communications, Gil and his young family were the only relatives we saw to any extent after moving to California – and that occurred on only a few occasions over the decades. I, sadly, never saw my grandparents after 1951 when we made a short vacation visit.
Unlike my wife’s extended family and so many others that we know, I have only vague memories of my family roots in Chicago, and virtually no keepsakes in the form of letters, mementos, diaries, etc. from my distant past. I have done some sleuthing on Ancestry.com and was able to pull up immigration papers and old Chicago addresses concerning my forebears. Otherwise, much of my family history has remained an intriguing mystery to me; the personalities who comprise that history, live only in the shadows of my mind and memory.
I was long aware that there was one other distant relation living in Los Angeles in the early part of the last century, and that was the brother of my paternal grandfather – my Dad’s uncle who happened also to be named Gil(bert). He and his wife Louise had settled in the Los Angeles area by the nineteen-twenties. Chicago was his birthplace.
“Gil and Louise” were, to me, only names, having never seen them before even in photographs. Little did I know about a year ago, that I was about to meet them up-close-and-personal. How would I even know that I had met them? That is where the fun begins!
Last year, I was on our living room floor doing stretching exercises (yoga) in front of our television. One of Lawrence Welk’s many old, weekly, live television shows was playing on our DVR (digital video recorder). Being a big band fan, I enjoy much of his music; where else can one see and hear a top-flight big band performance these days? Of course, the many Welk shows I have recorded from recent PBS re-broadcasts date way back from the mid-fifties to the early- eighties. Lawrence Welk loved his music, pretty ladies, and dancing, in that approximate order; accordingly, his live studio audiences were periodically caught on camera as they happily danced to Welk’s trademark “Champagne Music.”
The particular show I was watching was called “From Polkas to Classics.” The band was playing a somewhat mundane, but bouncy dance number, and the camera was panning the dancers, couple by couple, quite close-up.
All of a sudden the face of an older gentleman dances into the picture with his lady partner in-tow. In mid-stretch, I took one glance and sat up with a start! I blurted out, “That is a Kubitz!” I did not know who it was, but I knew it had to be a “Kubitz” based on body-type and, especially, the facial characteristics and expressions.
Immediately, using that wonderful feature called “electronic rewind,” I went over and over the fifteen or twenty seconds of footage, even stopping at certain points to “freeze the frame.”
Who is that person? I knew almost immediately that, despite the strong facial resemblance, it could not be my Uncle Gil because this gentleman was too old, in the nineteen-sixties, to be him. After some thought, I settled on a possibility: My dad’s Uncle Gil…and his wife, Louise! These kinds of identity questions are often fraught with uncertainty: “Looks a lot like so-and-so, but…maybe not.” No, I was absolutely convinced – at first glance – that I was seeing a family ancestor for the first time – based solely on looks. It was truly startling.
I needed to do some detective work, so I set to it. To begin with, the Welk show in question was taped in Hollwood, in 1967. Further sleuthing revealed the fact that Gilbert Irving Kubitz died in 1969, in the Los Angeles area, at the age of seventy-nine. Age, location, and circumstances all support my belief that I had just met my Great-Uncle Gil through the magic of television and the subsequent technology which allows such images to be preserved and reproduced at will.
The facial features and expressions, in all respects, eerily called to mind my father – now gone since 1992. When that face danced into the camera range, I knew immediately that the message I was receiving was not merely electronic in nature, but genetic, as well. Along with my dad, the images ring true with my uncle Gil and my grandfather, Elmer Kubitz – even though I saw little of them both. Gil and his wife, Virgie, who are now both gone, were here for my mother’s funeral service in 1989. My vivid recollections of Gil, at that time, lend so much additional credence to my contention that the television images are those of Great-Uncle Gil Kubitz. The similarities to my dad, my grandfather, and my uncle are striking.
After viewing the pictures, my cousin Nancy – originally from Chicago, also – said she is convinced that the images are, indeed, of Great-Uncle Gil and Louise. Nancy spent many of her young years around Grandpa Elmer and verifies the uncanny resemblance that certainly would identify them as brothers.
If I have made a mistake in identity, I sincerely apologize to the person(s) in the images – but I do not think so! I could not be more certain. Genetics is a powerful force.
Note: I posted earlier on my Chicago and family background in Chicago Roots, July 14, 2013, available in my blog archives.