Sunday, February 20, 2011

Prior Research Solves the Mystery: More Scottish Discoveries

Yesterday I wrote about my discovery of a branch of my Belarussian family that settled in London and Glasgow.  That discovery sent me back to my files to see what I may have gathered previously that might now make sense in light of this new information.

A year ago I had access to the records of the Jewish Chronicle.  This UK publication documents many of the important life events within the Jewish community.  When I went through it, I recorded any record that noted a Kodish as well as articles on family ancestral towns.  Now I had some new names to search, Sarah and Barnet, Max and Jack.  My searching proved fruitful as I discovered an obituary for Barnet in 1916 which told me that he had come to the U.K.  It named his three children, Max, Solomon and Jack, but didn't mention his wife who presumably predeceased him.  Then in 1974 I stumbled across the obituary for Max's second wife that names all their children, spouses and grandchildren.

I find that much of the time I put into genealogy research is prospective.  I record all the records for family names in a region or time period where I knew they lived, trusting that at some future point it will all make sense.  It is like laying out all the pieces for the center of a puzzle which just look like a jumble until I get the straight edges into place to anchor them.

In reviewing information I had collected on the Kodish family I found one piece of information that looked intriguing.  In 1938 Jacob Kodish, presumably the brother of Max, immigrated from Glasgow to the US. He noted he was born in Vilna, the district that branch of the family came from and which was the larger area around Dunilowitz.  He was 47 at the time so would have been born in 1891.  He was going to his wife Bloome in Chicago and noted that he had been in the US in 1923 and 1925.  An immigration record for Bloome shows up in 1923 with their children Joe, Sid and Anna going to her brother in Chicago.  So what causes me to think this is the correct record?  Three things aside from the Glasgow linkage...He gives his nearest relative in Glasgow as his brother Solomon. At this point his other brother Max has died as has his father so Solomon would have been the only one left.  The other detail that causes me to think this is a family member is the way he came over.  He worked on the ship as a waiter in exchange for passage, exactly the same way that his nephew Lewis Kodish came over.  The fact that he went to Chicago where Lewis also went seems to indicate family members that both may have accessed. As the 1940 census isn't out yet, I can't check to see if they were still in the US at that date, but I do have a plan of attack to secure more information.

In 1938 he would have needed to have obtained a visa to come to the United States.  In fact he would have needed one in 1925 also.  A visa file can be ordered from the US Citizenship and Immigration Service which will typically include a birth record and other identifying information.  As Jacob was born in Eastern Europe it would provide the link I've been seeking to the original ancestral town.  It may also provide more information on the original name of his mother who is where the relationship to my family resides. 

So one death record opens up the door to 25 new members on a family tree and a likely linkage to the Eastern European community from which they originally came.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Discovery in Scotland

This morning when I checked my e-mails, I had an exciting surprise.   As I’ve been preparing for our upcoming trip to the Ukraine and Poland, I had placed a message on the Ukraine Special Interest Group of  In that I had asked if anyone had been to Kamenetz-Podolsk or Chotin and if so if they could share any information.  One of my responses was from a name that was familiar to me.  Harvey Kaplan, the director of the Scottish Jewish archives, was on my list of people to contact to pursue my British/Scottish roots.  An e-mail exchange followed and this morning I was greeted with an e-mail from Harvey with the death record of a relative who links back to my Belarussian shtetl of Dunilowitz.

A little back story follows, but you can also find more detail in the following blog entries: Finding my British Family and Finding my British Family Take2.  A cousin of my father remembered family in England and receiving a gift of boxing gloves from them.  He remembered their name as Kodish.  Upon his death I found in his photos one signed “from your cousin Louis Kodish” and the search ensued.  Since then I have found immigration records to and from the U.S. of Louis and his wife Katherine.  In 1929 he came to a relative in NY and then moved to Chicago.  In 1934 he returned to Glasgow which was the home of his father Marks Kodish.  I obtained his visa file as a visa was required for immigration in 1929.  Within that was his birth record which gave his mother’s name.  I traced him back to Glasgow in 1934 at which point I lost the trail.

I shared this information with Harvey who checked several sources and while not finding Lewis discovered a death record for Marks/Max Kodish, his father.  The first thing I do when I receive such a record is try to confirm that it is the correct person.  A few things lead me to believe that it is.  Listed by his name is the name of both his first wife and his second.  The first wife’s name is Kate which corresponds with the birth certificate for Lewis Kodish.  The person who submitted the record is Jack Kodish.  When I went back to my notes from almost ten years ago, I discovered that my father’s cousin also had remembered a Jack or Jacob Kodish.  According to the death record this is the brother of Max.  After confirming these details I noted something unusual.  The record gave the names of Max Kodish’s parents.  They were listed as Barnet Kodish and Sarah Kodish with a maiden surname of Rothschild.

My great-grandfather’s original name was Raichel, but upon coming to the United States he followed the lead of another cousin and changed it to Rothschild.  Did this happen in England as well?  It is quite possible that Barnet and Sarah did not immigrate, but their names were Anglicized by the person providing information in the death record.  My great-great grandfather Pesach Mordechai, who never left Dunilowicz,was listed as Peter and Max in the death records of his children.  As there was contact between the family in Great Britain and the US they would have known of the name change to Rothschild and may have updated the maiden name in their family retrospectively.

The record contains additional information which may prove useful in the future.  It tells me that Max Kodish was a furniture manufacturer and his father was a “restauratent”.  At first I assumed that he ran a restaurant, but in combination with his son’s profession, I wonder if he might have restored furniture.  While Max died in Glasgow it lists both his address in Glasgow as well as his usual residence which is an address in London.  Given that his son was born in London, he appears to have lived in both Glasgow and London at different times.  It also provides the address that he died at in Glasgow which could well be that of his brother Jack.  He died at age 58 in 1936 so would have been born in 1878.

So now I turn to the question of how I’m related.  To figure that out I had to map out the relationships and group them by age, not always foolproof in a time when families were large and childbearing often an extended period.  To counter that I listed ages of siblings when possible to capture the broad range for comparison.  By working my way backwards I concluded that Sarah Rothschild Kodish was a sibling to my great-great grandfather, Pesach Mordechai.  Max was a cousin to my great-grandfather and Louis a cousin to my grandmother.  And so a mystery is solved about that mysterious British connection.  Still many puzzles to explore, but the relationships are now explained.

In 1997 my parents went to London for their 50th wedding anniversary and copied down Kodishes from the phone book.  Fourteen years later we've identified relationships.  Answers unfold over many years.

Puzzles that I will continue to explore are whether Barnet and Sarah immigrated to the UK.  With their names identifed, I can now begin to explore that question. I also can explore the history of Max's brother Jack and any family he may have had in the UK.  The puzzle of what happened to Louis and Katherine also remains an open question.  New answers raise new questions and no dearth of puzzles to explore.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Preparing for Poland and a Question of Identity

With my return from London, I've quickly plunged into my next two projects.  The first is my upcoming show in Radom, Poland, the town of my grandfather's birth.  The show will be of artwork based on the former Jewish community and derived from a 1937 film created by a visiting former resident.  My artwork will represent one part of the exhibition.  The other with which I am also deeply involved is telling the story of my friend Dora, a former Radom resident.  vora, a survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen settled in my community after the war.  She has shared her stories with me through many hours of interviews as well as her scrapbooks of photos that capture a time before the war and during the ghetto. My task has been to complete, edit and link our hours of interviews to the photos that best tell her story.  I share this in turn with the arts & culture center in Radom to translate the interviews to Polish for their audience for this portion of the exhibit.  In between I try to complete the paintings I plan to bring with me to Radom.  I’ve been working on a few images of the elder religious Jews.  While Dora has spent much of her life working with Holocaust education and done many visits to Radom, this will be the first where she speaks to Poles about her memories and experiences.  She said to me that she is going with me because she hopes it will prove to be “meaningful”.  That is my hope as well although for me personally it has already proven to be that.  Sharing the story in Poland will add yet another layer of meaning.

The second project with which I am working is also oral history within my own community, yet closely linked to the cultural heritage that I have been exploring in Eastern Europe.  Together with a partner, I am interviewing residents at a Jewish elder care facility.  In recent weeks we have done two interviews, both with women in their 90s and I am energized and delighted with our results.  Firstly because they represent a positive model for me of how one can age. Secondly because of the richness of their stories and the way they evoke Jewish cultural history and give me a view into local history.  I feel like I’ve been entrusted with something of value and hope that I can do justice to it.  The project is called the Jewish Identity and Legacy project and focuses on both how a Jewish identity is formed and how that in turn feeds legacy.  I plan to develop a series of artwork around the stories at a later date and am pleased at the rich visual imagery that is emerging.

I think we often focus on topics that address our own questions and the topic of Jewish identity is one I often contemplate.  I am convinced that while it may relate to religion, it doesn’t have to.  There is more to it than that and I am interested in understanding that question. The women we interviewed grew up in strong Jewish communities with deep ties to both religion and culture, environments that don’t exist in the same form today.  We live in a world of greater assimilation that presumably will affect the sense of Jewish identity in the future.  And yet…As a non-religious Jew married to a non-Jew, I have a strong Jewish identity that has only deepened through my research into cultural history.  So what is that all about?  I look forward to examining that question as I delve into this project.