Finding my Family

September 17, 2019  •  6 Comments

I was debating with myself if I should do a post like this. A post about grief. Life is what it is and you can’t always choose. Sometimes life chooses for you. You don’t have to like it. But you have to deal with it. 


This is about family, which can be such a strong union. It can be everything. I was missing part of them for over 30 years. It was time . It was time to find my family. 



Things can be so complicated . People move, people speak other languages, people disappear. War happens, disaster, reunions and separations. And maybe just life. Looking for and finding your long lost family can be so rewarding, exciting, heartwarming, maybe surprising and so freaking sad at the same time. 


My father died 33 years ago. My father died 33 years ago ! Saying that sounds absurd. I miss him like I lost him yesterday. It doesn’t get easier and it doesn’t hurt less. It hurts different yes, but the intensity is not weakened by time.


I went the year after he passed back to Bulgaria. It was almost unbearable to walk through the streets of the town he grew up in and see his and my grandfather's face on every street corner, fence, posting pole. The two died a year from each other and in Bulgaria the obituary is printed on flyers that are distributed around the area the people lived in. Fresh flyers if they get rained on were applied almost instantly. Then every year at the anniversary of the death. It’s a choice the family makes and my grandmother was very determined. I saw other flyers for people that died 5, 10 even 12 years ago. I don’t know how long she did that, I didn’t go back after that. That was the last time I saw my family in Bulgaria.




Screen Shot 2019-06-15 at 12.46.41 PMScreen Shot 2019-06-15 at 12.46.41 PM

Mama, grandpa, Dad and me on I believe our last trip together to Bulgaria, Stara Zagora around 1983



I was starting my studies, first Chemistry, then to become a nurse in my hometown Leipzig. The fall of the Berlin Wall interrupted our life's as we knew it and there was some chaos going on for a short while. All the socialist Governments over East Europe dissolved in weeks.There was a beauty to this chaos and a sense of anarchy. Very confusing times for most but also such exciting times at the same time.


I was in my early 20ies and I wanted to see the world. Instead of going to Bulgaria I went to Italy, Austria, Switzerland and America. Many people left East-Germany, many moved away over night and I still don’t know where a big part of my friends are. I moved away as well, a few years later, to Nürnberg first, which was about 3 hours from where I grew up and then further to San Diego, CA . There I started to look for my family again. But it was harder from far away,I could not find anyone and not everyone had Internet. Even later when it was available; not many of my friends or family members are on social media.

To find people is not that easy, even harder when it is in another language that I never was fluent in to begin with. And what I knew I pretty much forgot. I can’t even read proper Cyrillic script anymore. Time to dust that off as well. 

Another hurdle was that the former communist countries named their streets back to what they were before. When I wasn’t lost before; now I was. All the telephone numbers had not enough digits, useless as well. 

Shortly before my father passed, he made us a list with all our relatives, names, telephone numbers and addresses he could remember at that moment. I am sure we missed some of them. So all I had was names and old street names. One thing most all of my relatives had in common ; they were doctors and engineers. Even to communist times, they were well off. Almost all of them own their house or apartment. Knowing that was a big plus even if some of them would have passed, I was hoping that their children or grandchildren would still live there. 


I have a big family. If you would ask me before I would have told you that I have at least 50 uncles and aunts and cousins and great cousins in Bulgaria. Never thinking of how much times had passed and the possibility that maybe some of them are not alive anymore.



me, Dad , Mama, Gabi and uncle Bojtscho , Stara Zagoga



                                                                    me, Mama, Gabi, Dad and my cousin,son of uncle Bojtscho Stephan ✝, Stara Zagora


Over the years things have changed and I found a few of my friends and even family members over 2 DNA tests I did.


After taking this test some more results were rolling in; I found an entire new part of our family in Germany. And then I found an uncle from my fathers fathers side in Bulgaria. I was so nervous, so excited , so afraid.



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My uncle I found via the DNA test(not pictured), his sons Mirko , me, my Mom and Plamen , Stara Zagora


I never wanted to know how it feels to regret something. Regretting something so deeply that it hurts. Such a deep sadness all over. Knowing you are too late. There is no making it up. There is nothing, nothing you can do. I never wanted to know how it feels but I am in the middle of it. And I am dealing poorly with it.


Is it a crisis in my identity? I am begging to know. Years ago I finally found that part in my heart knowing who I am. And then I lost it. I lost it with the death of my beloved father. My best friend, my everything. Why does it feel so essential, like someone ripped part of my heart out?  

Because parts of my heart got ripped out. My cousin Konstantin said I am a tree without roots.






Gabi, my sister, Konstantin, me and his brother Dimitar ( Mitko ) 1975, Batak





                                            my Dads cousin Krilka and Antonia , my mother in the middle 1975, Batak



I hired someone in Bulgaria to find them. I was thinking if I just find one of each part of the family, I found them all. They can connect me with the rest.


I found my aunt, Kirilka my dad grew up with. In pretty much every picture I have of my dad as a child my aunt is in it with him. I can’t even start how to describe how I felt when I saw pictures of her over 30 years later, she is now an old woman 83 years old. My cousin Konstantin, I saw the last time when I was 9 years old, he was 13 right before they left for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to work as doctors there for 5 years. He himself became a doctor as well. That is the first time I have contact to him again. He is now 56 years old. My other auntie Antonia died 5 years ago, she was not very old. And Konstantin’s dad, my uncle died 3 years ago. 






                                                                             Dad , Gabi, Aunt Antonia  and my Mother , Sofia 1975



One of my favorite uncles, uncle Bojtscho and my dear cousin Stephan, dead. Gone. Never can talk to them again. Stephan was just 3 years older than me. I found his sons, with one of them Alan, I talk weekly on facebook. I will meet him. 



I did find 2 more aunts, 2 uncles, 2 cousins that are alive, maybe more.Some of them are over 80 years old now. Some lost their kids and spouses. We were a big family and I am really hoping that there some people left .



                                                                                       Dad ✝ and aunt Kirilka, Bulgaria around 1939



                                          Aunt Kirilka left to the right my dad   


I planned a trip to see my mother in Germany. I added a few days and now before I see her I am flying into Sofia. A friend from Germany is coming along with me and I am very grateful for that.


Because now I am terrified. What started as a trip to find my family is becoming a nightmare. I am finding more dead people then I expected. I was hoping for so much more.

Just this week I got more terrible news, My beloved aunt Kristina, uncle Schorro( Georgi), their son Stefko, my cousin, are not alive anymore. I don't even know how this is possible. Stefko was not that old.

How do you deal with death, how do you deal with 3 people dying on the same day? Because for me, they all died today. 




Stefko with Steffi, Gabi's daughter on his shoulders and my dad , around 1984 , Germany




                                                               Aunt Kristina  with my Mom in Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria






                                                           Uncle Schorro (Georgi)  and me in Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria






                                                                        Uncle Schorro (Georgi) and me in Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria




I am flying in a bit over a week. I will meet Alan in Sofia, we will go to Stara Zagora and visit with his grandmother, my aunt which was uncle Bojtscho’s wife. He said she knows about everyone in the family and we can ask her all the questions. He will translate for me. My uncle Ivan will also be there . Those are all from my fathers fathers side of the family. 

I found out that my cousin Stefko had a daughter. Her name is Kristina ( like her grandmother) and we are in contact since yesterday. We will meet. Also Kristina's sister Maria is still alive and we will meet in Stara Zagora or in Sofia.


The next day we will drive to Plovdiv, about an hour away and visit my aunt Kirilka and Konstantin, with a bit luck I get to meet his 2 sons and maybe I also see my cousin Demitar (Mitko) his brother. That is family from my fathers mothers side. And I believe the last ones left. 


After that we will go back to Sofia, a 4 hour drive and on the fourth day I will fly to Berlin to see my mother. I don’t know how much good news I have for her. I don’t know what I can actually expect. It’s been such a long time and the family members I knew are just old now and many didn’t get old. Scary thoughts. But I really needed to do it. I am late, I am too late for many people. But I have to root my tree. 






top row: third woman is one of the sisters, and the woman on the right is Svetka , Kirilka's Mama, bottom row left is my dad ✝, kid I don't know, Kirilka and to left another sister. One of those sisters is my grandmother.


67210940_352943692068463_812938069618458624_n67210940_352943692068463_812938069618458624_n                               All of the sisters. My grandmother and my great aunts. I don't know who is who , I believe the left one is Aunt Zvetka ✝, Kirilka's Mama


                                                  my grandparents Milka  and Atanasov Kurtew 


img002img002                                     my grandparents Milka  and Atanasov Kurtew 



                                grandma Milka ✝, my dad Bojtscho ✝ an my grandfather Atanasov ✝


PapaPapa                                                                                     My dad Bojtscho Atanasov Kurtew ✝



                               My dad Bojtscho Atanasov Kurtew ✝ , Stara Zagora at my Grandfather's house



                                             My dad Bojtscho Atanasov Kurtew ✝ , Bulgaria



second woman on the left is my grandmother Milka , next to her is her sister,Kirilka's mother Zvetka  , my dad in front next to my grandfather  and Kirilka next to him , don't know yet who the other people are



                              my grandfather Atanasov ✝ in back row 4th from left, Kirilka and my dad ✝ in front row, not sure about the others



                      3 of the sisters, Zvetka ✝, Kirilka's Mom and next is I believe my grandmother Milka ✝ with another sister to the right



                                                                                        I believe that is my grandmother Milka



                                      Mama , grandpa Atanasov  , me and my sister Gabi, Germany around 1970


img115img115                                                                         My dad ✝ , my granddad ✝ , Gabi and me, Germany around 1970


Such a lovely and beautiful memory. This is very true that photos create the best memory of everyone's life.
Beautifully written. Loved looking at all these pictures and seeing shimmers of you in their faces. Root your tree
Thank you for sharing this, Connie. Love that you have so many photos (must have been photographers in your family?) Several of my family did DNA tests and the results have been surprising and, some, very unsettling. I haven't had the time to dig very deep yet, but I'm sure there are many joys and sadnesses to unearth. Best wishes on your trip.
Kathleen S(non-registered)
Sorry for your sadness, but also happy that you are able to find some family and start rooting your tree again! Stay strong my friend xo
Rebecca Crickard Rosen(non-registered)
Wow Connie . Thank you for sharing your story . It sound remarkable. Even with that sadness of losing something you never had , I understand the grief of never being able to have the chance now to capture just a bit of what was lost . How lucky for you to have photos of your family and even be able to share them with us .
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