For years, the Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential hopeful sought the true story of his paternal grandfather, Frederick A. Kerry. He searched the Internet and asked cousins, but he was only able to learn fragments of the family's history.
Felix Gundacker, an Austrian genealogy specialist hired by The Boston Globe, located birth records located that show that Frederick A. Kerry was born Fritz Kohn, in 1873 in the town of Bennisch in what was then the Austrian empire, now part of the Czech Republic.
Gundacker said he is "1,000 percent certain" that Kerry was born to a Jewish family. The birth of a son to Benedikt Kohn, a "master brewer," and his wife, Mathilde, was listed in church records on an addendum page listing Jewish families. "This is incredible stuff," Kerry said in a story published in Sunday's Globe. "I think it is more than interesting; it is a revelation."
The record in Bennisch notes that 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 Roman Catholic, as is his grandson. Frederick Kerry emigrated to the U.S. in 1905, eventually settling in Boston and becoming a shoe merchant. On Nov. 21, 1921, he walked into the Copley Plaza Hotel, went into a washroom and shot himself in the head.
"How many times have I walked into that hotel ..." an emotional Kerry told the Globe, his voice trailing off. He had known his grandfather killed himself but not the details.
The suicide made front-page news in several Boston newspapers, which speculated it may have stemmed from health or financial difficulties. "Oh, God, that's awful," Kerry said when shown a copy of a 1921 Globe article. He recalled that his own father, diplomat Richard Kerry, "was sort of painfully remote and shut off and angry" about the loss of his father.
Numerous publications have incorrectly stated that Kerry is Irish-American; there's a county in Ireland called Kerry. But Kerry said he has always been quick to correct any such misstatement. On his mother's side, the senator is related to the Forbes and Winthrop families, two of New England's most prominent clans.