The First REAL Connection!

by Cheri Scheff Levitan (Atlanta, GA)

Filling in bits and pieces of the Sheff Family Tree has become a daily activity. I easily spend an average of 2 hours each weeknight — and goodness knows how much time on the weekends – searching for information and clues about family members.

Late one Friday afternoon, when I should have been preparing Shabbat dinner, I was doing some last minute sleuthing and uncovered the name of another cousin, a Deanne Ruth Sheff. I added her to the tree and, lo and behold, learned that her name appeared in someone else’s family tree, too! Could it be? Is someone else somehow connected to my tree? Is this real live family? I quickly sent an email to “Tree Owner”:

Hi! I think we’re related. Deanna Ruth Sheff’s grandfather was Barnet (Barney) Sheff. He was my great-grandfather’s (Abraham) brother. Deanna and my dad, Stan Scheff, were 2nd cousins. Who are you? Do you know any of the Sheff family history?

Hope to hear from you,

Nervously, I waited for a reply. Mercifully, it came only a few hours later:

I am Kenneth Howard Platter. My mother was Deanna Ruth Sheff. I can provide you with plenty of family history as I am close with my cousin Debra Goodman who knows quite a bit. Our families all grew up together on Lotten Street in Brookline. You can call or e-mail me. So what is your name and where do you live?

I let out a loud “woo hoo!” David, my husband, thought I was crazy. I couldn’t help it. I had finally made a real connection. After months of sifting through records of deceased family members, I would talk to someone who was alive. I was elated! Now I could get somewhere with this project. A cousin of my very own who has information about the family. It was too late to call Ken that very second, but I was thrilled by the thought that we’d speak before the weekend was out.

I had to get it all straight in my mind: Abraham and Barnet were brothers; Grandpa Bill and Samuel were first cousins; Deanna Ruth and Stan (my dad) were second cousins; Ken and I are third cousins. Got it. Crystal clear. But was there anything to learn about Ken before I called him?

I snooped around on the computer looking for birth dates, names of siblings, etc. All of a sudden, a city directory entry showed me a past residence for the Platters. Could this be true? Had the Platter family really lived at 29 Michelle Lane in Randolph? My family had lived at 31 Michelle Lane, directly next door, until the summer of 1968. What are the odds of that? Was I imagining things? Had we been friends? Had we known that we were cousins?

It was time to call my parents to tell them what I’d been up to and get Ken Platter on the phone!


Cheri Scheff Levitan started researching the Sheff Family tree in January 2010. She shares her tale on her blog, Finding Me…a personal journey (, where this excerpt first appeared in slightly different form. It’s reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.


Filed under American Jewry, Family history

2 responses to “The First REAL Connection!

  1. Great story, Cheri! I have a similar story, which I have been working on committing to paper. The short version is that–about one year ago–I was found by a long-lost cousin, by way of my father’s cousin’s husband in Israel, who spends a lot of his retirement on a Jewish genealogy site. Meanwhile, thanks to 21st century technology, my father reconnected with one his first cousins whom he had not seen in 50 years. I will be meeting them both for dinner later this month. What a Hanukkah treat!

  2. Hi, Pamela, and thank you. This process has been fun, amazing, and rewarding. It reconnected my dad with family he hadn’t seen in over 50 years, but also introduced him to cousins he never knew he had. It also has caused people to meet and stay in touch. It’s been a true mitzvah to many!

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