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“The Red Tambourine” is my blog, which I created as a vehicle for people to share stories about their heritage. Welcome.

I have always been interested in genealogy and our unique history as Americans. As early as grade school, I began asking questions about what countries my ancestors had come from and how I happened to land in Detroit. There were lots of hints along the way, but very little hard information because everyone in my family seemed to want to leave “the old ways” behind and re-invent themselves as ‘Americans’.

Some of the hints about my own heritage insinuated themselves into my childhood: we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, ‘babushka’ (a headscarf knotted under the chin) was part of my vocabulary, and occasionally I would visit the Finnish milk bar with my grandfather who could still speak Finnish with the barmaid – although I cannot guarantee his beverage of choice was actually the stuff that grows good bones and teeth.

My family names are all unpronounceable. That fact is not so unusual for a Detroit native: my hometown was a giant melting pot of Eastern and Northern Europeans who immigrated during the Golden Years of Immigration (1890-1914) to work in the factories and mills. These immigrant laborers also settled in Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and New York. Monikers such as ours – Jakust, Paavola, and Wisatzki – were commonplace tongue-twisters among the many odd names in our community.

One part of my heritage, however, was Top Secret. The little red tambourine given to me by my grandmother turned out to be big clue, but it was years before I discovered its true meaning. And I stumbled upon the story by accident…. once the secret was out of the box, however, I discovered an artistic and creative branch of my family that boasts authors, photographers, circus performers and dance instructors, none of whom I had known about before I started my investigation. My new-found cousins all remember the aura of ‘secrets’ too – no one would talk much about the family and as a result, no one knows much about them. Cousins that remember my great-grandparents were children at the time, and can only recollect child-like details. I am now credited with knowing the most about them, as I persevered to put their story together.

Imagine calling up a relative who has been a perfect stranger and saying: “You don’t know me, but I am related to your family.” I am happy to say no one blinked: I received a warm reception from each newly discovered member of my family and I have made several trips to visit the small towns east of Pittsburgh where many family members still live.

I was able to bring my “shadow” family into the light through comments passed down by word-of-mouth, combined with the historical facts I greedily researched, and, most convincingly, the contribution of hard scientific evidence from DNA testing. Whenever I have shared the details of how I unraveled my past with friends and acquaintances, the response across the board is their desire to do the same sort of sleuthing.

The DNA testing company enables you to connect with your matches if and when you elect to share your information. I saw no reason not to, and so during the process of discovering my own heritage through DNA, I met quite a number of people eager to tell spellbinding stories of their ancestry and immigration. Those narratives are what spawned “The Red Tambourine.” If you want to join the party, simply post what you know about your past on this new site. It’s all about sharing our stories of immigration and assimilation, making us the ‘Americans’ that we are today.

Everyone’s story is fascinating, and I can’t wait to read YOURS!

9 Responses to “About Red Tambourine”

  1. Julie Faber says:

    This is intriguing!

  2. Kurt says:

    Hopefully the Gypsies didn’t cover their tracks so well that we can’t hear more!

  3. You always had a certain je ne sais quoi- and now I know why. I look forward to watching (and reading!) how you put all that smoldering, feisty creativity to use in this new adventure.

  4. Sarah Nyman says:

    Wow! What a great resource! I love hearing about your history – very interesting stuff!

  5. deb says:

    Yours is a great tale and a testement to others to look in the attic, basement or any old box they might not think important. Your tambourine was presented to you, but it is how you deciphered it’s worth that is your true gift. Thank you!!

  6. Su Hilty says:

    Finally getting to get to the Red Tambourine! Can’t wait to read more about your Armenian trip. Keep the wonderful commentary coming.

  7. crystal baird says:

    i was intrigued by your story. there are many things that stand out to me. my family is also from the blairsville area. at least my great great grandfather and his family were. many worked in the coke mines and lived in cokeville. but it also is shrouded in mystery and the trail stops there. i have no idea of where they come from and the family bible has a name scratched out of it. the name of a mother. i can’t find my family in records of cokeville in either the indiana county side or westmoreland county side. my great great grandfather’s name was james casper parker black and hes burried in blairsville. death was 1943. his wife was laura alice mikesell black. her step father was a mcadoo. and my trail has run cold. and there is nobody alive in my family to ask. there are stories told to me by my grandmother but i havnt found any info to confirm. at least 2 possible murders. have u run across these names in your research? id appreciate any thing u might have found.

  8. Luba Tabolova says:

    Just discovered your blog and I like it.
    The main reason I am writing because your mentioned your mitochondrial haplogroup U3b1. I received a result from 23andme yesterday and my son has the same DNA as you. I was trying to find more information on this subgroup but not much. What surprised me, that a high percentage of gypsies have it. I am from North Ossetia, which neighboring Georgia. But I live in CA for sixteen years. I have no any knowledge about any gypsies in my family. What else do you know about this haplogroup? Who else can carry this U31b? Sorry, but I little bit confused. Thank you?

  9. Margo Darretta says:

    Hi! I am so very much enjoying your blog! You may not remember me, but I worked for you for a few years in Greenwich, CT. Perhaps you will enjoy this little bit of genealogy… about four years ago, I finally found and met my birth parents (I was adopted at birth). Only looking for my mother for starters, I was delighted to find that she did eventually marry my birth father and went on to have two more children, my full sisters. Never having known where I came from or what my heritage truly was, this was an incredible event for me. Luckily, I was welcomed into their lives with open arms and have had a loving relationship with them as well as learning “who” I am. My father’s family is from Germany and my mother’s family were Welsh and Australian. My maternal grandfather, born in Australia, was a textile merchant and traveled all over the world in his career. Living on Long Island, he was away from the family often, so they moved to Hawaii when my mother was about 8 years old because that was a good “jumping” point for his travels. Though not Hawaiian by birth, my family practices many Hawaiian traditions now because of so many years spent there. They eventually returned to Centerport, NY where they now reside. My paternal grandfather was a sailor, also from Centerport, who went on to found one of the largest oil companies in New York state. Much to my surprise, I learned that Bette Davis was my cousin! Can you imagine? Remarkably, my parents would often sail into Greenwich from Long Island and frequent a lovely shop called Cadeaux… I wonder how many times I may have crossed their paths and not even known who they were! My heritage is still unfolding before my eyes… my birth mother was kind enough to put together an album of four generations of relatives who were actors, vaudeville performers, business men and women, sailors, merchants and a judge. I visit that album on a regular basis, still shaking my head and marveling at who I am! It took me 48 years to find my family and finally it has come to a wonderful end. One interesting tidbit… before I found my family, in my research (mostly on the internet and libraries) I came across a photo that, at the time, I thought had possibilities of containing my family members, even though I didn’t know for sure. But the one thing that made me hang on to that notion was the fact that in that photo was a child of about a year old that looked EXACTLY like me. It was haunting and I couldn’t dismiss that this might be someone in my family. A few months later, when I found my family, I asked about the photo. My birth mother pulled out a photo album containing the SAME picture I saw on the internet…. the child that looked like me was my maternal grandfather. Can you imagine? Genetics are amazing. Kudos to your site and all my best to you!

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