Tombstone of Hyman Cohen20 years ago I discovered that my Grandfather had been adopted when he was 4 years old by his Mother’s new husband. This revelation made me realize that I really knew nothing about my Grandfather’s parents, particularly his true Father. In the years since I’ve discovered:

  • His Mother’s nationality (Australian), heritage (Irish, Welsh, Scottish, English), and hometown (Windsor, NSW)
  • His Father’s name (Hyman Dvoretsky Cohen), nationality (Belarusian/Polish), heritage (Ashkenazi Jew), and occupation (baker and then a stoker on a steam locomotive)
  • Where he met and married my Great-Grandmother (Melbourne, Australia)
  • Where he died and was buried (Durban, South Africa)

And now with the help of Ashley Peter and Andy Kirkland of the Natal Newsletter in South Africa, I know how he died.

The microfiche scans below are from the December 30, 1901 edition of The Natal Mercury. The article describes how Hyman was a stoker in charge of a steam train whose boiler blew up and mortally injured him. He died at the age of 28 leaving behind my Great-Grandmother (Ethel) and my 9 month old Grandfather (Harold).

The Natal Mercury – December 30, 1901


Why This Mattered to Me

I started this search because I wanted to know more about my Grandfather’s family and my family’s heritage. Through Ancestry DNA and FTDNA I have found two 3rd cousins from the Cohen side of my family, one in Perth, Australia and the other in Ohio. I have also found nearly a thousand distant Cohen cousins spread throughout the world. Our family has survived into the 21st century, which is amazing considering that 90% of Belarusian and Polish Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

Over the last 20 years I have tracked Hyman’s journey from Poland to London to New Zealand to Australia to South Africa. In him I see myself and my desire to leave home and see the world. Of course I have no way of knowing what he was really like. From his tombstone and the photos of my Great-Grandmother in mourning, I can safely say that he was loved by her. Because he fathered one of the best people I have ever known, who was one of the biggest role models in my life, I presume he was a good man who dreamed of a better life for his family. And even though he died before that dream became a reality, his child and his descendents did prosper and were/are good people that I hope he would be proud of.

I hope someday to find a photograph of Hyman, though I know that’s unlikely. I hope one day to place a stone on his tombstone in remembrance of him. Lastly I hope I have honored him by trying to be the best person I can be in my life.

We Remember Them

by Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer

At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.

More Posts About My Search:

Solving a 111 Year Old Mystery Part 1: Who are we?
Solving a 111 Year Old Mystery Part 2: Shaking the Family Tree

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