A couple nights after discovering I was the direct descendant of Australian convicts, I woke up at 3:30 am with a thought in my head. Search for my Great-Grandmother and the last name “Cohen” in Australia. The scientific side of me thinks that my subconscious must have been working on the mystery in my sleep and that’s probably what happened. The spiritual side of me thinks that maybe something else happened. Maybe something a little supernatural?
Whatever the cause, I got out of bed and did a search on Ancestry.com for “Ethel Margaret Cross” + Spouse = “Cohen” + Location = “Australia”. What came up? A marriage record from the Australia Marriage Index for Ethel Margt Cross and Hyman Dvoretsky Cohen in Victoria, Australia in 1900! I had discovered the first link between my Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandfather. After adding this record to my family tree and adding my Grandfather’s first and middle names to his record, a leaf appeared in the tree. That leaf was a burial record from the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry for Hyman Cohen in the Brooke Street Cemetery in Durban South Africa on December 28, 1901. I added this record to our tree then went online to the National Archives of South Africa and found what I believe to be a death record, though I still don’t have confirmation of that. I then contacted the University of Cape Town to see if they had any records of my GreatGrandfather. This morning Janine Blumberg from the University of Cape Town’s Kaplan Centre sent me a photo of Hyman Cohen’s tombstone! Parts of the tombstone are illegible but this is what we can read so far (thanks to Shmuly Tennenhaus for the Hebrew translation!):
IN LOVING MEMORY OF HYMAN
Dearly Beloved Husband of Ethel Cohen
Who Met His Death In The Umgeni Railway Explosion
Died on The 28th of Dec 1901
Aged 28 Years
Deeply Mourned by his Sorrowful Wife & Child
God Rest His Soul in Peace
I’ve got to admit that I might have cried some tears of joy when I got this photo. Finally after all these years I had the connection I was looking for. The tombstone mentioned my Great-Grandmother and my Grandfather! I now have a marriage certificate, a burial record and a tombstone that connect my Great-Grandparents to each other and to their son, my Grandfather.
So what I have learned from all of this. I learned that I am the direct descendant of Australian Convicts and I come from a large Australian family that has over 30,000 members. I learned that I am the direct descendant of a Polish Jewish Baker (not a soldier), who married my Great-Grandmother in Australia, emigrated to South Africa with her, had a child and then died when my Grandfather was only 9 months old. I learned that my family is so much more diverse (and large!) than I ever could have imagined.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions. How did a Gentile girl from a rural town in New South Wales and a Jewish boy meet and marry in early 20th century Australia. Did my Great-Grandmother convert to Judaism before they got married. What is the Umgeni Railway Explosion that killed my Great-Grandfather? Why did my Great Aunt Edith and the rest of the family try to hide all of this? Was it the fact that we were descended from Australian convicts? Was it because we were of Jewish descent? (My guess is that there weren’t a lot of either group living in early 20th century Truro, Nova Scotia, so they probably thought they had to keep it a secret.)
I know I’ll never know the reason for the lie. Everyone who participated in it is now dead. So where do I go from here? Well I’ve got yet another line of my family to research (the Cohens). I’ve got a Cross/Flood Family Reunion to attend in Windsor NSW Australia in 2015! But the most important thing I want to do now is fly to Durban South Africa and place a stone on my Great-Grandfather’s grave. I’m not really a religious person, I tend to favor science over religion, but I feel that I have to do this to let him know that he has been found by his family. That he hasn’t been forgotten. This journey has reminded me just how connected all of humanity is to each other. Over the last 250 years tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of people have lived who are related to me. If that doesn’t make you realize how connected we all are to each other, nothing will.
Prologue: In the Summer of 1967 I met my Great-Grandmother for the first and last time. Since I was only 2 I obviously don’t remember too much about the event. I do have a vague recollection of being knocked down the back stairs of her house by her dog, which my Dad always claimed really happened. The other piece of family folklore that came out of this event was that my Great-Grandma looked at me and noticed that I had a ring of light brown/dark blond hair on top of my head in the shape of a halo. She said that the halo meant I would always have good luck in my life. Now I don’t know how true that’s been, but part of me believes that maybe she saw that one day I would be lucky enough to bring our family back together, 111 years after it was broken apart.
P.S. I wanted to list all of the surnames of my direct family line (that I know of) from my 2nd Great-Grandparents to my parents. Their surnames are:
Cross, Douglass, Wile (Weil), Ernst, Hirtle, Conrad, Cohen, Panizza, Neggia, Peci, Martini
I’m actively researching all of these lines. If you think you might be related to me you can contact me at fxmartini at gmail.com and I’ll give you access to my Ancestry.com family tree.