by: Marla Roth
No mystery existed in my family in November 2014, when I finally had the time to search documented records and connect the dots to my infamous relative, David O. Selznick. He was "first cousin" to my grandmother (or so I thought). If the name doesn't sound familiar, perhaps his famed production of "Gone With The Wind" will resonate as more familiar.
It was never my intention to gain any notoriety, just a paper trail to back family story.....plain and simple! I write now to share my continuos journey.
Looking back, I had no idea where this journey would take me, the surprises I would find along the way, the Facebook strangers that were to become friends and the forever growing database of DNA cousins that I would encounter or that it would lead to my present addiction to Ancestry and DNA!!! No mysteries became several mysteries, and as I slowly solve one, another pops up.
Years ago, I acquired the book "Showman The Life of David O. Selznick" by Dave Thomson. Inside was all the proof I ever needed. A family tree that showed David O., son of Lewis, had an Aunt Sarah (sister to Lewis who is my Great Grandmother), and his mutual Grandmother to my Grandmother, named Ida! This all matched the handwritten names I had written many years ago when questioning my Grandmother about family names. Book has sat on my shelf as part of the family library.
Did I forget to mention the family story too? I was told my Grandmother remembered playing with her cousin on the family farm in Russia as a child. In addition, David O. sent his secretary to visit his Philadelphia relatives as he attempted to raise the funds needed for his movie! As I understood it, my immigrant Grandmother, Sonia, was too poor (as were all the family in Philadelphia) to waste what little and hard earned $$$ they had on this uncanny request. (If only I could go back in time and slip him a few dollars....lol!) To boot, he didn't even have the nerve to ask himself! He had to send his secretary! A shunda! (Yiddish word for disgrace!)
So, I go back to the family tree I started on Ancestry all those years ago to find the proof in black and white...Wow! I could not believe the resources available now compared to back then. The tree hints came pouring in and I meticulously checked and rechecked records before adding them. At the same time, I dug for those elusive but all important ship manifests with the Yiddish names of my ancestors. (I already had a copy on a huge sheet of paper of my Grandmother coming to America with her mother and siblings that I had filled out paperwork for and requested via snail mail many years ago ).
The death certificates also became an important tool, as they listed burial places of my Great Grandparents. I finally located my Great Grandmother's Death cert, stating her father's name was Lazar, not Joseph!...the supposed family connection! Took the trip to cemetery to verify that stone does indeed, have her father's name as Lazar (or Eliezar).
It became my mission to visit the cemeteries in Philadelphia (I live at the most an hour from them and had some spare time). I have since became a fan of "grave hunting" for myself and others who put requests on Find A Grave. (It's quiet there and nobody bothers me!)
Now, reality starts to sink in. After combing through family documents I had in my possession, I had a marriage cert of my Grandmother listing her mother's maiden name as Zonan. Written notes from my Grandmother also suggested Zohn on one and Zanner on the other. The hard to read ship manifest appears to say she left a brother behind in Russia with last name spelled Somnic. I also had notes from my grandmother that her mother sometimes went by Zonnick. Not really an issue since Selesnick, Zonnick, Somnic and Zohn could, in reality, be the same family with variations.
Records started to get strange now! Joseph Seleznik, Grandfather to David O., was married 3 times. His first wife, Ida, shows in public family trees with maiden name of Ringer. (I know...DONT TRUST PUBLIC TREES! FIND SOURCES!) To my knowledge, my Ida was never a Ringer. In addition, their daughter, Sarah, appears to have married a Glickman. My Sarah was married to a Spector!
WELL, I was convinced that all those records were wrong and I was going to set the Selznick line straight by finding all the correct documents. I spent sleepless nights searching for documentation in my new addiction to uncover the proof!!!
Then I found it.....uh oh!....huh?
Sarah Selznick, SINGLE, living with sister and brother-in -law in 1900 census with documented Selznick family in Ohio. The sad reality sunk in that this could NOT be my Sarah, who was still in Russia at that time, MARRIED, with my 4 year old Grandmother.
I went to great lengths to contact the cemetery in Ohio where Grandfather to David, Joseph, was buried. The person in charge graciously took (and sent me) a photo of Joseph's gravestone, which he gave me permission to post in Find A Grave. Joseph's father on stone is confirmed to be Shlomo Zalman which shows correctly on public trees. I can't verify Joseph's mother's name, but if those public trees have it right, her name was Shora.
I also concluded that David O, born in the US, may have never even visited Russia, so it may be that his father, Lewis, and my Great Grandmother, Sarah, were the first cousins(vs. siblings)...a generation further back ....and that they were the ones that played together on the family farm.
Utilizing another favorite source of mine, I became a member of Tracing The Tribe - Jewish Geneology on Facebook, and as requested, introduced myself and stated surnames to connect with anyone who might be familiar with these names. A known Selznick by marriage introduced herself to me privately and we became fast friends as she graciously offered to help me find information. We shared some family photos and continue to correspond on occasion. I even shared with her an enlightening news article I found in GeneologyBank about the family from 1894, long before anyone became famous!
On one of my photos, I had noted on the back, long ago, that it was either my Great Uncle Max (who resembled David O. per my mother, or David O.himself). Almost a year after I restarted my research, I found my cousin (my Great Uncle Max's daughter). She confirmed that photo was NOT her father. She also shared with me that she had heard same story in her family about being related to Selznick family and also that her father spoke of family in Pittsburgh, birthplace of David O., and not far from Ohio where many Selznick's resided. So, this photo is either David O. or an unknown relative, bearing a striking resemblance to David O.
In the death record of another Great Aunt of mine, her mother's maiden name is listed as Selznick, so that line also heard same story.
To cover all bases, I continue to look for DNA matches to verify my Selznick family. I did ask my connected Selznick Facebook friend to ask if her Selznick connections would mind "spitting in a tube", but to my knowledge, she hasn't convinced them yet. Even if she did, with the whole Jewish Endogomy thing going on, we are all related! As she is.....on my father's side (not my Selznick side)! So, we now refer to each other as "cuz"! There are Zelesnicks that show as DNA matches to my mom, but they are unaware and can't confirm family connection.
On a side note, if genetics plays a factor (ha!), my brother studied Film at NYU and has had a stint in acting, appearing as an Extra in a handful of movies. I have 2 sons. One studied Animation and Visual Effects, while the other studied Broadcast Jounalism. The Journalism major is now...of all things.....a PRODUCER (not movie, like David O., but News).
In conclusion, the family trail is TEMPORARILY "Gone With The Wind" . I say "Temporarily" because, when all seems lost, another fact usually comes to light! My suspicion now, is that David O.'s grandfather, Joseph, was brother to my Great-Great-Grandmother, Ida (a generation further up as suspected). Both Joseph and Ida had children they named Sarah, after their Grandmother, "Shora". (I have found a record that may support this but cannot say with 100% certainty that it is my family). This would make David O. my 2nd cousin, twice removed. This is my theory and I will stick to it!....until proven otherwise!
P.S. For the sake of it, any known Selznick family out there, please SPIT IN A TUBE! ❤️ Thanks!