Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An Amazing Journey (Part 1 of 3)

By Donna Erickson

About a year ago, I decided to act on an idea I had for quite awhile. I knew I had cousins living in Canada, but I didn’t have much information. All of the family elders were gone, so I was on my own—other than what my cousin Penelope could offer. I was on the east coast, and she was on the west coast with a three-hour time difference, so we were limited to e-mails and planned, long-distance phone calls. I informed her that I was about to begin searching for our family.

I began browsing around ancestry.com and took advantage of their free trial offer. As I set up my family tree on their site, I was fueled by a sense of excitement. Who knows where it would lead? I began posting requests in the forums, stating that I was searching for Koven relatives in Canada. My mother’s father, Philip, had emigrated from Lithuania. Tragically, he had drowned in a river, following a freak car accident. He had been a traveling salesman during the 1920’s. One icy day in November, while driving through New Hampshire, he skidded over a bridge and plunged into a river. My mother, the oldest of the children, was only four at the time, and my grandmother was expecting her fourth child. The news hit hard, and after that, nothing was quite the same for the Koven family.

A few people responded to my inquiries, and it was fun communicating with other Kovens, but none of them were my relatives. I kept coming upon listings for another deceased Philip Koven who had a living relative named Roger Fleishman. Roger had been at this for quite some time and was an expert at genealogical searching. He was a tremendous help. He located a listing in an old Boston directory that had my grandfather listed as Philip Kowen. This didn’t seem right to me, but I was open to exploring any possibilities. Roger asked if I had my mother’s birth certificate. He gave me the address for Philip Kowen in the directory. I rummaged through old papers and located the birth certificates of my mother and her sister, my Aunt Esther. Sure enough, the handwriting spelled out their last name as Kowen and the home address matched the one in the directory!

This was my first breakthrough, and I was ecstatic. There had been a name change I was unaware of my entire life. Apparently, after Philip died, my grandmother, Sadie, changed the spelling from Kowen to Koven. I wondered if my mother ever knew. She never mentioned it.

Roger Fleishman had “cracked the code,” and I now knew the correct spelling. The only information I had about my Canadian cousins was their names, Olive and Nora. They were Philip’s brother’s daughters. I didn’t know the name of my mother’s uncle, Philip’s brother. I realized if Nora or Olive had married—which was likely—that could be the end of the trail.

In the past, I would find myself Googling Olive Koven and Nora Koven in Canada, just to see what came up. Now I realized I had been using the wrong name. Once I began searching for Kowen (and Kowensky since I knew the family name had been shortened) I discovered something interesting. I located a record of the border passing of Louis Kowensky during the 1930’s. His wife was listed as Lillian, and there, in plain English, it read: daughters Olive and Nora. I couldn’t believe it. I now had validation that these were real people and not just names.

Roger suggested I also look on www.jewishgen.org, which was new to me. I spent hours weeding through the forums and postings but was slowly getting discouraged. I continued to respond to those who e-mailed me from ancestry, as well as those from www.jewishgen.org. This went on for months. I was ready to give up. I really believed it was a lost cause...

To Be Continued

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