News drives genealogy, and vice-versa

When I read the news and see the name of someone who sounds Jewish, my first instinct is to wonder whether I can work out his or her family tree on  Yesterday there were two stories that caught my attention. First, there were reports that National Security aide Ezra Cohen-Watnick was the White House staffer who supposedly showed information to House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes related to the probe of Russian influence on the Presidential election. Later, there was the report by Ashley Feinberg of Gizmodo that she had managed, in an inspiring bit of internet sleuthing, to find FBI Director James Comey’s Twitter account.  Feinberg, Cohen-Watnick, how could I resist? Before going to bed, I tried to see what I could find.

It didn’t take much time to work out Ashley’s tree, which I did first. Her family has had more than its fair share of tragedy in recent years and so there was plenty of information for me to start her tree, which then matched up with her brother’s tree on MyHeritage. Easy peasy.

It was very late, but I decided to see if Ezra’s tree would be as easy. It wasn’t. He obviously has been trying to have a zero presence on the Web. But you really cannot hide. Still, although Nathan Guttman at the Forward had already reported what he could find, there wasn’t a lot to go on. Fortunately, his synagogue Ohr Kodesh had published an announcement of his engagement celebration with Rebecca Miller late last year. The kiddush was sponsored by Jonathan & Martha Cohen (who turned out to be his paternal grandparents) and  Deborah Levine & Marc Cohen (his father and step-mother).  Some more Googling led to his mother, the nephrologist Terry Watnick. When I discovered Terry Watnick’s Facebook page, I guessed she probably wasn’t a Trump supporter.

At that point, I wrote my good genealogy friend Renee Steinig, who is probably the best genealogist I know for Jews in the United States. For some reason, Renee was awake, so she started building out the tree with me on Geni. I won’t bore you with all the tricks we use, but there’s pretty much nothing Renee and I cannot find. I went to bed very late last night, satisfied that we had connected Ezra and his family to the World Family Tree.

Renee kept working on the tree today, and then sent me something that I think might be newsworthy, or at least creepily coincidental. She had found information on Ezra’s wife, Rebecca Miller.  In 2014, Rebecca’s mother Vicki Fraser did an oral history for the State Historical Society of Missouri International Women’s Forum, where she described what her daughter was doing:

Well, we have 24-year-old twins, Jake Miller . . . [and] Becky Miller, who works for Ketchum, a PR and marketing firm in Washington, D.C. and her big challenges right now are Ketchum is responsible for providing PR and marketing to try to make Russia look better which is particularly difficult when they’re invading other countries and when Putin is somewhat out of control.

So Ezra’s wife Rebecca used to do PR for Putin.  Hmmm.  Googling, you can find stories from 2015, when Ketchum and Putin sort of parted company. Rebecca’s LinkedIn account shows her still at Ketchum.

Maybe it’s just me, but that all seems a bit too coincidental.

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