Saturday, November 28, 2009

Finding My British Family

I am often as fascinated with the process of solving a puzzle as the resolution itself. I love the way it evolves over time and the way each new piece of information moves me along a path of discovery.

For many years I have been exploring a link to British relatives. A cousin of my father’s spoke of family by the name of Kodish and recalled receiving boxing gloves from them for a holiday gift. My parents went to England many years ago and copied down the Kodish names from the phonebook. Not quite sure what to do with the list, they held onto it until I started my genealogy research years later.

A few years ago my father’s cousin died. Without children or a spouse, there was no one to take responsibility for his photos so I was “bequeathed” them in my role as family historian. I went through them with my mother and identified many. Others remain a mystery, fodder for future artworks as they are interesting photos even if unknown subjects. One photo stood out however, for on the back of it was signed, “Your cousin, Louis Kodish”.

I still wasn’t sure if the Kodish family was related to my side of the family, but decided to see what I could find. Over time I stumbled across an immigration record for Louis Kodish and his wife Katherine. They immigrated in 1929 to Louis’s cousin Abraham Singer in New York. Through my research in Dunilovichi, Belarus, I now knew that Abraham Singer was related to me. In genealogy speak he is a first cousin twice removed which means my grandparents were cousins to him and I’m two generations removed.

My father recalled his cousin saying something about Louis working on a ship and in fact he immigrated before Katherine and worked as a waiter on the ship. He was born in London, but lived in Glasgow prior to immigrating. His father’s name was given as Marks Kodish, along with his address in Glasgow. One other detail that may prove helpful; Louis had a visa issued in Glasgow, for which I can try to find the file from the US Citizen and Immigration Services. I had previously gotten a copy of the visa file for my great-grandmother and it was quite extensive including a birth record with parents’ names. My longer-term objective is to tie Louis back to Dunilovichi through his parents’ records so this may help me do so.

Katherine followed Louis to his cousin’s address in Brooklyn. By 1930 they had made their way to Chicago where I found them in the US Census. Louis' parents were noted as being from Russia although he was born in England. Here he worked as an insurance salesman, but I would guess that the Depression didn’t treat them kindly as they returned to Glasgow in 1934.

On a recent visit to the Family History Library I was able to access the 1911 British Census which was newly released. The library offers access to many pay databases for free so I made use of Here I found a Marks and Chai Kaddish from Russia who would have been born around 1866, but no son listed named Louis. A few Kodishes were listed as being from Vilna which sounded promising as my grandmother referred to being from Vilna even though she was actually from the nearby shtetl of Dunilovichi. The larger area was known as Vilna so these families likely came from the same region. Unfortunately there was no tidy solution to my puzzle. My hoped for discovery of a listing for a son named Louis and a father named Marks from Vilna didn’t prove out….yet.

I decided to check one more avenue called the B-M-D index. This references birth, marriage and death records by each quarter of a year. Here I enlarged my search to include another mystery traveler from England. Annie Singer, niece to Abraham Singer, came over from London via Palestine in early 1929 to stay with him. I was never quite sure what happened to her after immigration, possibly she married and without her new name I lost the trail, the perennial difficulty in tracing women. In looking at birth records, I found one Lewis Kodish in 1903 and several Annie Singers in the expected timeframe. For a small cost I can order the birth records from which I will likely identify the parents’ names.

While I was in the B-M-D Index, I decided to take a look at the Kodishes who might have immigrated from Russia. As I wanted to locate an earlier generation, I pulled up the death records for each year from 1904 to 2005. From these records, I also have the birth date and in some cases the mother’s name. Just as with my Radom database, I don’t know what they tell me yet, but as I get more information they may click into sharper focus.

So what was my process? It began with oral histories which revealed the existence of a Louis Kodish as well as his experience working on a ship. It further solidified with a photo. Immigration records for both Louis and Annie tied them to relatives of mine who originated in Dunilovichi and gave me an estimated birth date. It then lead me to my next step of ordering visa records which should tie to their parents and hopefully back to Dunilovichi. Along the way I had some dead ends and collected information which may prove meaningful as I learn more. I also had to wait several years before I could seek the visa for Annie Singer. The Office of US Citizen and Immigration Services will only release records if the person's birth date is over 100 years ago. An appreciation for the process is what keeps me on the trail.

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