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a tree grows in brooklyn a Family Tree of the Jewish People grows in boston

Posted to Poetry and Politics

Search for John Kerry's ancestors unearths surprising roots

By Associated Press

BOSTON- On his mother's side, the roots of Democratic Sen. John Kerry are pure Boston Brahmin, but the origin of his paternal ancestry has always been more shadowy.

For years, the Massachusetts senator and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination sought the true story of his paternal grandfather, Frederick A. Kerry, who immigrated to the United States and then mysteriously took his own life. He searched the Internet and asked cousins, but he was only able to learn fragments of the family's history.

Now, an Austrian genealogy specialist hired by The Boston Globe has unearthed new details about Kerry's ancestry.

Birth records located by Felix Gundacker, director of the Institute for Historical Family Research in Vienna, show that Frederick A. Kerry was born Fritz Kohn, to Jewish parents in the town of Bennisch in what was then the Austrian empire, now part of the Czech Republic.

The birth record states: ''In the year 1873, on May 10th, a legal son of Benedikt Kohn, master brewer in Bennisch, House 224, and his wife, Mathilde, daughter of Jakob Frankel, royal dealer in Oberlogau in Prussia.''

''This is amazing; that is fascinating to me,'' Kerry said of the genealogical records. ''This is incredible stuff. I think it is more than interesting; it is a revelation.''

The record notes that Fritz Kohn changed his name to Frederick Kerry on March 17, 1902. The document does not mention a baptism, but the family says Frederick Kerry was a Catholic and is buried at a Catholic cemetery in Brookline, a suburb of Boston.

Gundacker, who was hired by The Globe, said he is ''1,000 percent certain'' that Kerry was born to a Jewish family because of where the birth was listed in the church records on an addendum page listing Jewish families.

Robert Friedman, of the Center for Jewish History's Genealogical Institute in New York, confirmed that it was common for Jewish births to be recorded in such a way at the time.

Frederick Kerry emigrated to the U.S. in 1905, eventually settling in Boston and becoming a shoe merchant. On November 21, 1921, he walked into the Copley Plaza Hotel, went into a washroom and shot himself in the head, killing himself with a single bullet.

''How many times have I walked into that hotel ...'' an emotional Kerry told The Globe, his voice trailing off.

Unbeknowst to Kerry, the suicide made front-page news in several Boston newspapers, which speculated about the reasons Kerry's grandfather may have taken his life. They noted that he suffered from severe asthma, and one article suggested the possibility of financial difficulties.

Whatever the cause, Frederick Kerry wrote his will six days before committing suicide. A probate court record notes that he left behind a Cadillac, some clothes, two stock shares worth $200 from the Boston Chamber of Commerce, $25 in cash, and shares of stock in two companies which the record assesses as worthless.

''Oh, God, that's awful,'' Kerry said when shown a copy of a Globe article noting his grandfather's death. ''That is kind of heavy.

''That explains a lot. It connects the dots. My dad was sort of painfully remote and shut off and angry about the loss of his sister and the lack of a father,'' he said.

Kerry's father, the diplomat Richard Kerry, lost his sister to polio and cancer. His brother, Boston attorney Cameron Kerry, converted to Judaism in 1983 after marrying a Jewish woman, but he was not aware of the family's roots in the faith.

Kerry, a practicing Catholic who disagrees with the church on some issues, such as abortion rights, said he knew his run for president would spawn intense interest in his life. In the past, the public's curiosity has centered on his mother's Boston Brahmin roots in the Forbes and Withrop families, two of New England's most prominent clans.

Numerous publications have incorrectly stated that Kerry is Irish-American, considered a political advantage in Massachusetts, the nation's most Irish state. But Kerry said he has always been quick to correct any such misstatement.

''I'm sure some people see the name and say, 'Hey, I think it's this or that.' but I've always been clear as a bell,'' Kerry said. ''I've always been absolutely straight up front about it.''

Kerry ''has never indicated that he was Irish and corrected people over the years who assumed he was,'' said his spokeswoman, Kelley Benander.

Friedman, of the Center for Jewish History in New York, said he hopes the new information about Kerry's family history will help other Americans to see their heritage ''as multicultural, a mosaic, to appreciate diversity.''

''It has a big emotional impact, because it obviously raises (questions),'' Kerry said. ''I want to know what happened, why did they do this, what were they thinking, what was the thought process, and why, once they got over here, why they never talked about it.''

Main Entry: im·ag·ery
Pronunciation: 'i-mij-rE, -mi-j&-
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -er·ies
1 a : the product of image makers : IMAGES; also : the art of making images b : pictures produced by an imaging system
2 : figurative language
3 : mental images; especially : the products of imagination