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How to Unravel an International Family Mystery in Three Not-So-Easy Steps

Write your own true-life detective story.

Chasing Portraits author Elizabeth Rynecki.

Moshe Rynecki, Curious Children, 1928.

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Rynecki

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Follow the lead of Oakland’s Elizabeth Rynecki and her hotly anticipated nonfiction debut, Chasing Portraits (Penguin Random House), to become a buzzed-about writer yourself.

1. Have a Family Secret: Rynecki’s great-grandfather was a Jewish artist in prewar Poland, but many of his paintings went missing during World War II. That is, until Rynecki set out to track them down.

2. Get Lucky: “It was like a crazy scavenger hunt with not very many clues,” Rynecki says of the search. She lucked out, however, by stumbling upon an unpublished archive of 20th-century Jewish art containing his letters, photographs, and other correspondence.

3. Make Friends: Rynecki connected online with a Polish history buff who was able to give her leads and send her on a globe-trotting expedition. (A documentary film on the project is currently in post-production.) On September 12, she’ll give a presentation on the project at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

Originally published in the September issue of
San Francisco 

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