WHEN I TOLD MY FAMILY that I was moving to Texas eight years ago, the news was greeted with sighs around my grandmother’s dining room table. My family saw Texas as alien territory, the opposite of the intellectual New York Jewish world in which I was raised. (“Are there Jews in Texas?” my grandmother asked me, only half joking.) Back then, none of us knew that many of our long-lost relatives, the Samuelsons, had moved to Texas during the Depression and that we had dozens of cousins scattered across the state, from Lubbock to Beaumont. The recent discovery of our Texas family has led to some unlikely revelations. I learned that an old storefront on Austin’s Congress Avenue, one I’ve walked past nearly every day for years, used to be Slax Menswear—the headquarters of a local clothing business that my forgotten cousins ran for more than half a century.
The two sides of my family have been shaped as much by our disparate geography as by the biology that links us. We are all descended from my great-great-great-great-grandfather Samuel Glassivitsky, a Russian peasant whose sons, Morris and Julius, came to America in the 1880’s. The Glassivitskys (Morris’ descendants) and the Samuelsons (Julius’ descendants, who bear his new American name, from “son of Samuel”) were a tight-knit clan until the Samuelsons headed south to Louisiana at the turn of the century. The families remained close through the thirties, when my great-great-grandmother Rachel Glassivitsky Cohn—our sturdy, Yiddish-speaking matriarch, who was known as Bubba—would pack a suitcase of kosher food and take the train to New Orleans. Bubba eventually got too old to make the trip south, and the families drifted apart. By the fifties they had lost