Jews and genealogy are not a traditional mix. All that most American Jews can manage about their roots is an elegant shrug and the vague information that a long-forgotten grandfather was a milkman somewhere east of Silesia. Even Alex Haley probably couldn't do much with that.
Dan Rottenberg has taken it upon himself to change this defeatist attitude, and in this surprisingly delightful book, he has. A former Wall Street Journal reporter, Rottneberg has adroitly mixed the story of his own search into the past with enormous amounts of practical information - including what to wear when visiting cemeteries - in a manner both pleasant and decidedly nonpedantic.
One of the best things about Finding Our Fathers is the great amount of odd information we are given along the way. Rottenberg tells us, for instance, that most Eastern European tells us, for instance, that most Eastern European Jews didn't even have family names until Emperor Joseph II of Austria forced them to in 1781, and that the Mormon Genealogical Society, of all places, has perhaps the most comprehensive Jewish ancestor records in America.
As for Rottenberg himself, his search for ancestors who "knew nothing about costs of arms except to run for their lives when they saw one coming" turned up people as diverse as Warren Hardling's stockbroker and a female colonel in the World War II Soviet army. As my ancestor would say, you live and learn. (Random House, $12.95)