Benicia mans genealogical voyage yields global results

Nine years later, after a genealogical odyssey that has involved letter-writing, thumbing through phone books and poring over historical documents, the 53-year-old Benicia resident has made first-time contact with more than 100 relatives in the United States, Canada, Israel, England, Denmark and Russia.

He has scheduled family reunions that brought together dozens of relatives who had never before met. Four times a year, he pens a family newsletter, Family Descendant, which he mails to 175 households around the world. And he regularly updates the family Web page (www.mayoff.com), billed as a "one stop access" to all things Mayoff.

"Family is everything," says Mayoff.

He is not just spouting idle words. In addition to maintaining an intricate network of family correspondence, he regularly sends money to Russian relatives trying to save enough to immigrate to Germany. Other family members have followed suit, adding their donations to the Russian family's coffers.

"I'm not a rich man," says Mayoff, who owns an electronics business in Concord. "But I'm doing what I can. It's just so exciting to be able to send them 10 or 20 bucks per week. I feel like my need is to bring family together."

One family member Mayoff discovered during the course of his research is distant cousin Betty Rosen of Fremont. Several years ago, she received a letter with a return address marked Mayoff. Remembering that Mayoff was her grandmother's maiden name, she tore the envelope open with excited anticipation.

"I could hardly wait to open it," the 71-year-old Rosen recalls. "I opened it and here was a letter from Art."

The letter stated that Mayoff and Rosen had a common great-grandfather, Zelig Mayov, who emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Montreal in the early part of this century.

Rosen, who was born and raised in Chicago and has no relatives in the Bay Area other than her husband, Irwin, children and grandchildren, was thrilled to learn she had kin nearby.

She invited Mayoff and his wife, Sue, for a glass of wine. The couple reciprocated, and now the cousins speak, exchange e-mail and share such family simchahs as weddings and anniversaries.

Now an active part of the Mayoff family network, Rosen has attended the two family reunions set up by Mayoff — one in Skokie, Ill., in 1994, the other in Montreal in 1995. And she always looks forward to receiving the family newsletter, to which she and her husband have contributed.

"It means a great deal to me," she says of the family publication. "I'm reading about relatives I never knew I had. It's just a thrill to have these threads with all these people."

The newsletters, which are up to 16 pages in length, include everything from family photos and stories on family members' accomplishments to nostalgia pieces and announcements of such life-cycle events as births, b'nai mitzvah and deaths. One recent article by contributor Bernie Mayoff reminds readers about the annual family holiday, Mayoff Day.

The celebration falls on June 1, since that is the day people take "may off" the calendar. On this tongue-in-cheek holiday, Mayoffs are encouraged to revel in being part of their newly reunited extended family.

"For some, the celebration will be modest with a few close friends and family," the author of the newsletter article writes.

"For others, the invitation list is long and the preparation extensive. In every case, this light-hearted holiday is fun for Mayoffs, ex-Mayoffs, future Mayoffs, wannabe Mayoffs and friends, neighbors and co-workers of Mayoffs."

Of course, for Art Mayoff, who spends nearly all his free time working to keep the lines of his family intersecting, every day is Mayoff Day.

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.