That Time I Posed as Eight of My Relatives

Topaz ?
Author Topaz ?
Collection Family Resemblance

It all started with my #grandfather, Sidney Goldstein, and his #Korean War #memoir. I found it several years ago while helping clean out my grandparents’ garage. I was 26 when I read it for the first time, and he was 27 when he wrote the letters his memoir was based on.

I knew he’d written a book, but I didn’t expected to be that interested in it. It was about a war I knew little about, and people around my age generally have another 20 or 30 years to go until they develop an interest in their #family history.

But my grandfather’s memoir was more about his life than it was about the war. It was about missing my #grandmother, being away from home and out of the country, and the people he served with. I found myself identifying with him and the way he looked at life. Because of this memoir I got to know him as a young man, something most people never have the chance to do.

My interest in #family history only grew from there. I transitioned from #journalism to ghostwriting/personal history, so I could help other people save their family histories. I tracked down the descendants of the #relatives my #grandparents used to correspond with. I learned I had family all over the U.S. Some lived only 20 miles away from me.

Last year I discovered another way to explore my family’s #history. I was given a picture of my great-grandmother, Fannie, my grandfather Sidney’s mother. It was a large, #beautiful photo that I’d never seen before. We don’t have many pictures of her as a young woman and this one really shows her character. Her eyes are warm and knowing, a small smile lighting up her face.

Her image felt just as familiar as my grandfather’s writing voice had. I took the picture with me to the mirror to confirm, rearranging my expression to match hers. The #resemblance was obvious.

I never thought I looked like my #great-grandmother before. In general, I hadn’t really thought about #family resemblance beyond my #parents (who I resemble both physically and personality-wise). Suddenly I wanted to know if I looked like anyone else.

I went through more family photos — pictures that I’d seen many times throughout the years looked new again. Once again, the similarities stood out: a shared smile here, an inherited nose there.

I wondered just how close I could get to resembling them. I’d definitely need makeup, hair, costume and photography help. The idea for a photo shoot began to form.

I picked out eight photos of my relatives — both women and men — and in November 2014 filmmaker/photographer Angela Park, graphic designer Tara Nitz, costume designer/makeup artist Kathryn Wilson, hairdresser Tammy Rupe, and I gathered together to recreate them.

It was a pretty amazing experience. Seeing myself in the mirror was surreal. Sometimes I felt like my relatives’ eyes were looking back at me. I looked so much like one or two of my relatives that I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed the resemblance before.

As the makeup, hair and clothes transformed me into various members of my family, I began to imagine what it would have been like to live their lives. To be born when they were, to have their family lives, jobs, and personalities. Each of them a little part of me, each of their lives a life I could have led.

I hope this project gets people thinking about their own family histories. I hope it encourages them to look at old family pictures and ask questions. Because the more we know about our families, the more we know about ourselves and our possible life trajectories.

Great-grandmother Fannie

Fannie immigrated to New York from Poland. She was married to a grocer who died at the age of 48, had three kids, and was a big worrier.

Similarities: Eyes, cheekbones, hair, and chins. I am also a champion worrier.

Cousin Ibolia

Hermina was my great-grandmother Charlotte’s sister. She stayed in Hungary when the rest of her family immigrated to the U.S. because she felt she couldn’t leave her clothing design business. According to a family tree, Hermina died of cancer in 1934 and her daughter, Ibolia, died at Auschwitz in 1944. I think the picture is from sometime in the 1930s. I posed as Ibolia, who looks about 10 in this picture.

Similarities: I’d seen this picture plenty of times, but had no idea we looked that alike until I dressed up as her. We share smiles, cheekbones, noses and hair. I wish I knew what else we had in common.

For fun, here’s an overlay of our pictures.

Great-great Grandfather Shmeryahu (Sidney)

In a letter, my grandfather Sidney asked his #aunt Mildred what his grandfather was like. Mildred said that he used to sell lottery tickets for Irish Sweepstakes and once ran a concession stand at a bathhouse with my great-great grandmother. He was also a religious man who went to the synagogue everyday. He died in Poland at the age of 53. “He didn’t live to see one child married.” The picture was probably taken sometime between 1900 and 1910.

Similarities: The resemblance is kind of eerie. Our face shapes, eyebrows, ears and foreheads all look pretty alike. I was surprised by this one. Of all the pictures, I thought I would look the least like my great-great grandfather. I’m not sure what else we have in common. Mildred’s description didn’t give me a lot to go on.

Grandfather Sidney

My grandfather was an internist, psychiatrist, writer and voracious #reader. He was a quiet man with a good sense of humor who almost exclusively took care of my grandmother after she developed #multiple sclerosis. This picture was taken in 1952, on my grandfather’s way home from Korea.

Similarities: I thought the family resemblance would be more obvious. We kind of have similar chins, ears and cheeks. Otherwise, we have our writing styles, love of travel, and senses of humor in common.

Cousin Thelma

My #grandmother Ruthie said she and her first #cousin Thelma fought a lot. Apparently they were very competitive with each other. Drama seemed to follow Thelma throughout her life. #Her husband wasn’t very nice, her daughter was a handful, and she died at an early age. This picture is from the late 1940s.

Similarities: Noses, eyes, and hair. Sadly I couldn’t quite capture her saucy look. We share a mischievous streak.

Mom

Sensitive and caring, my mom Rosalie was a #stay-at-home mom with a background in therapy. She loved her family, nature, animals, mystery novels, crossword puzzles and Boggle. Was a big worrier like her father (Sidney) and grandmother (Fannie). The picture is from the mid-70s.

Similarities: Way too many! Faces, height, temperaments, a love of books and words, anxiety, and silliness.

Dad

My dad Steve is a runner, vegetarian, devoted family man and retired engineer. He has a good sense of humor and likes #science fiction. He was 5 in this picture.

Similarities: Big cheeks, smiles, dimples, lips, ears, senses of humor, predilection for the absurd.

Cousin Tiffany

Tiffany is from a side of the family that I’m just getting to know. I haven’t actually met her in person yet because she lives in #Michigan and I live in #California, but we’ve talked. She’s about 10 years younger than me, enjoys #anime and #cosplay, and is an overall fun, open person.

Similarities: Noses, chins, cheekbones, dark senses of humor, and large imaginations.

Find out what you have in common with your own family in the printable below.

This article was originally published at the Huffington Post.

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