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09 August 2010

Jewish Research in South Africa

The history of the Jews of South Africa is in many ways the same as the Jewish history of the United States. The numbers may not be the same, but the time frame of settlement is quite similar. The first explorers to sail around Cape Horn, Dias and da Gama, were given assistance by Jewish map makers in Portugal. Their journey, in the late 1400's, comes about the same time as Columbus arriving in America.

While some Jews arrived in both countries up until the mid 1600's, the biggest wave of immigrants came to both countries in 19th century. The arrivals of Jews into Cape Town in the 1820's led to the founding of the first congregation there in 1841. That congregation, known as Gardens Shul, held its first service in the Norden home. These early settlers established themselves in many enterprises, including the fishing industry, diamonds, shipbuilding and the raising of Angora sheep for the mohair industry.

The main immigrants in the late 1800's to mid 1900's were from Eastern Europe and the United Kingdom. Saul Issroff, has edited a wonderful set of books on migration from the UK to South Africa from 1906 to 1930. this collection documents those who left the UK and journeyed to South Africa. This book, Jewish Migration to South Africa, Passenger lists from the UK 1906-1930, can be found in the collections of many libraries and would be a great asset to researchers.

The collection of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, includes this collection, as well as many others beneficial to anyone searching for their own Jewish ancestors in South Africa. Amongst those records are the records of the Jewish Congregation in Cape Town. These records of birth, marriage and death cover the 1851 to 1989 time frame (FHL film#'s1560759-1560775).

In her blog, Tracing the Tribe, Schelly Talalay Dardashti, brings to our attention the first international conference of the International Society for the Study of African Jewry, to be held in London. It is well worth reading her comments as anyone with South African Jewish ancestry would benefit from this.

UK: South African Jews conference, Oct. 30-31

The first international conference of the The International Society for the Study of African Jewry is set for October 30-31, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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