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Finding Debbi's Roots

Paris Oct. 14, 2017

The first thing I felt when I saw Paris was OVERWHELMED. The day we arrived at the airport and then got to the train station and then had to make our way to the apartment via Metro, I was overwhelmed.

So much to see and do, and despite, or maybe because of, the 8 years I had taken French in middle school, high school, and college, I didn’t understand a word anyone was saying.

Inside joke to Leslie and Mindy: no one was calling, “Michel, Ann, vous-travaillez? Les Duponts arrives dans une heure.”

Really good use of education dollars.

I felt like I was having a panic attack. We had seven days in front of us and I didn’t know how we were going to fit everything into those days. There was so much to do and so much to see. I had been learning about France and Paris in particular since I was 12 years old, and I had a lifetime of expectations to fulfill in one week.

It was hard for me to organize my thoughts about how to spend each day and when to do the various things I wanted to do. That first day we walked around the neighborhood where our apartment was. We walked and walked until I was just exhausted.

Friday we took our free tour and then walked into the Marais neighborhood, which is the trendy, Jewish area and had the falafel my friend David said we had to try. (we ended up having an alternative since the one he recommended was closed).

After this second exhausting day of walking, and feeling absolutely overwhelmed, Jay took over. He announced that the next day we were going to go to the Paris City Archives to look for my grandparent’s marriage certificate. And that was it.

So began the most exciting chapter of our journey: Finding Debbi’s roots. Grandma and Grandpa got married in Paris on January 1, 1934 by the Mayor of Paris. This is what my dad knew. My mom had located in her boxes of old photos and documents an address of where my great-grandparents lived before they came to America in 1939 and a photo and address of the furrier company my grandma’s brother owned.

We took a long trip to the north of the city on the metro and found our way to the concrete, nondescript governmental building that housed the city archives.

For three hours Jay and I pored through the digitized census records and marriage licenses and databases of the 19th arrondissement. We found nothing. We couldn’t even find their names or the names of others in my grandmother’s family. Even the archivist could find nothing.

We looked and looked and I kept wanting to give up but Jay kept me on task. And finally, when I really thought we had exhausted all possibilities, I said for the tenth time, Let's leave. No, he insisted, we'll keep looking. But what about the facts, maybe the date is wrong. Let look at 1933. And in two seconds we found both my grandma’s and my grandpa’s names!

There they were, listed in December 1933, alongside a reference number which we very enthusiastically gave to the archive guy. The archivist was just as excited as we were, as he had been helping us though he spoke not a word of English. Thank you Google Translator.

The archivist pulled up the reference number and VOILA! There was the license. With lots of fantastic details, including two addresses we hadn’t seen before: one where my grandmother lived, and one where my grandfather lived. And neither of those addresses were what I had in my hand. It turns out that they had received their license on December 1933. It was a very exciting moment at the Paris City Archives!

With a photocopy of this very important document that no one had seen since 1933, we walked out into the street, ready to cross the city of Paris to find where my grandparents had lived.

In the meantime, some other fascinating facts we saw in this license: Grandma worked at her brother’s store. Her mom and dad were listed as having NO profession. Dad had confirmed this by saying his grandfather studied Talmud all day but he said his Grandmother had run a tavern. Not sure what that was all about.

We walked to find where my grandfather had lived. I’m guessing my grandma lived with him here after they were married. After walking about a mile we reached the street and found the address, and there was the building, looking probably much like it did in the 1930's.

Grandma had told me a story about how she didn’t really want to get married and grandpa locked her in the apartment so she couldn’t go home to her mother. So she hung out the balcony and called to her brother to come and rescue her. But he wouldn’t. Now, my grandma was famous for her stories, so we can’t know if this is in any way true. But as I looked up at the building, I imagined my grandma locked in one of those rooms, hanging out the window.

Grandma also said she used to see the dancers from Folie Bergere come out of the back of the building for a smoking break and she used to love to see them in their costumes. Well, from the address we had from my mom, Uncle Nick’s store, where Grandma worked was just a few blocks down from Folies Bergeres. So we went to see it. Maybe grandma lived closer to there at some point, or maybe it was just another one of her stories. But it was really fun to see this.

The address of where Grandma lived when she got married is now a new building so we didn’t get a chance to see what it was like when she was living there. Plus the neighborhood was a bit sketchy so we didn't spend too much time there.

And Uncle Nick’s store? Well that was also a new building, and is currently something like a museum administration building. So we didn’t get a good feel for that building either. But we did get a feel for the neighborhood. It was pretty awesome.

And so ends my search for my grandma and grandpa’s life in Paris. I was on cloud nine walking back to our apartment. I felt so great about what we had found, and felt like a very hidden piece of our family history had been discovered.

By the end of that day, I felt renewed and I was ready to tackle Paris again the next day.

More on that later.

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