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31 December 2010

The Toledano Family of Gibraltar

Throughout the various databases of the Knowles Collection, the family Toledano can be found. In the British Isles, the members of the family will be located being married at Bevis Marks Synagogue in London. In the Caribbean are found the brothers Abraham(b. 1820) and Levy (b.1828)starting their families in the records of the Jewish Congregation of St. Thomas. These are just a few of the many members of a very prominent family, influential throughout the world. Now, the history of the family is being told.
In the Toledano Families Home Page at Ya'acov Tal Toledano, is making that story available to all.

Beginning with the history of the name Toledano, as well as providing the background of the family throughout the world, this website is an incredible journey of a Sephardic Family through many generations. Information on each of the various branches is given and even a beautiful pedigree of one of the families from Gibraltar is provided.

In addition to the website, a book of the family, "The Descendants of Daniel Toledano" has been published. This book detailing 17 generations of the family history, covers 430 years of Rabbi Daniel Toledano's descendants history. For anyone researching this family, both the website and the book would be wonderful resources.

As the email address of Yacov Tal Toledano is provided I would recommend anyone interested in the family contact him so that the history can be told and preserved.

I would also like to express my thanks for his granting of permissions so that the Toledanos of Gibraltar can be added to the Jews of Africa and the Orient database.

28 December 2010

Jews of Kastoria, Greece

As the Knowles Collection continues to grow, I am constantly amazed at how many of the Jewish communities of the world have a lasting effect on distant areas, places that you might not think they would inpact. I have been looking into the histories of a couple of Sephardic Greek Jewish families that have been submitted to the collection. Both families, the Pardo's and Nahmias' were from the city of Kastoria in the northern part of Greece, and like most Jews of the area were involved as furriers.

The city itself is believed to have very ancient origins. Some believe it to be linked to the city of Celetrum, which was captured by the Romans in about 200 B.C. Kastoria, is also an old Jewish Community, dating back to at least the 10th Century, when it was inhabited by Greek Jews. In the 15th and 16th centuries the community was filled with Sephardic Jews, the descendants of those that had fled the Spanish Inquisition. They were drawn to Kastoria bye the expanding fur business.

Located between the cities of Thessaloniki and Ioannina, Kastoria was located on the ancient trade route which made it a very important commercial city. This location and the quality of the work made the city famous for its leather and fur (mink) products.

In the early 1900's, group's of Jewish Immigrants working in the fur business began making their way to North America, most settling in places such as New York and Montreal. When those that settled in Montreal discovered they couldn't get the skilled workers they needed, they simply contacted the most skilled they could find. They went to Kastoria, and recruited workers. Even to this day many of those involved in the fur trade in Montreal are of Greek origin, most from Kastoria.

Today, the Furriers of Kastoria, are known worldwide for their quality of work. In addition to the Montreal community, large populations exist in New York (about 30,000) and Frankfurt, Germany (10,000). The Jewish population of Kastoria, which stood at about 1500 Jews at the turn of the 20th century, today only numbers a handful.

In the near future, the records of the people of Kastoria will begin to be added to the Knowles Collection.

27 December 2010

The Jews of St. Thomas part 2

As mentioned before, the Family History Library has in its collection the Synagogue birth records from the Jewish Congregation of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. These records (FHL intl. film #882930) cover the years from 1786-1954.
As one goes through these records some very interesting details of the Jews of St. Thomas emerge. While the majority of the records are from St. Thomas, other places such as St. Croix, the Dominican Republic, Barcelona and Venezuela are often mentioned. The records show just how close the communities were. As part of that closeness, it appears that no matter how far they were from home, their hearts had never left.
In the birth records we find that Seligman and Zipporah Rothschild had at least 10 children born to them. The first six were born in St. Thomas, while child #7, a son, Herman and child #8, another son, named Charles Ancel were born in Germany, Herman in Hamburg and Charles Ancel in Munich. In both cases the entree states that the birth was communicated back to St. Thomas.
This same communicating of the birth record exists for many families. Hannah, the daughter of Abraham and Sarah M. Baiz was recorded as having been born on the 26th of June in 1844, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Again, their bodies may not have been in St. Thomas, but their hearts were.

These records have now been added to the Knowles Collection -Jews of the Caribbean database and will be availble after the next update.

22 December 2010

The Jews of Mexico

The Jewish history of Mexico begins almost 500 years ago when Hernando Cortes conquered the Aztecs. At the time of his arrival in 1521 he was accompanied by some Conversos Jews, who were forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition. Many of these Conversos continued their Jewish practices in secret.

The population of Mexico has had 4 major periods of growth, they are:
  • In the 1860's when Maximillian I invited a large group of German Jews to settle in Mexico.
  • 1880's when Ashkenazic Jews fleeing places such as Russia and Romania arrived in Mexico.
  • After the fall of the Ottoman Empire when Sephardic Jews began arriving from locations such as Turkey, Morocco, and France.
  • Those fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe during World War II.

Today the Jewish population of Mexico is approaching 50,000 people, located mostly in Mexico City, but also places such as Guadalajara, Monterrey and Tijuana. The community in Mexico City is home to over 30 synagogues, most of which are Orthodox.

At this time the first records of the Jews of Mexico are being added to the Knowles Collection and will be available soon.

The Behr-Behrend Family of Germany and the United States

The records of Malcolm Stern have been discussed in this blog on different occasions. It is a wonderful archive of family records. One of the benefits of searching the collection is finding original family trees that were submitted by families looking for his help.

One of these incredible trees belongs to the Behr-Behrend family originally from Germany. In the tree below (FHL film #1013431 item #3) we find that between the fourth and fifth generations the family changed their surname from Behr to Behrend.

In the fifth generation, the oldest child of Itzig Behr (b. 1773) and his wife Rivka is their son Bernhard (Bough "A" on bottom left part of tree). Further in the family papers is listed the family of Bernhard. That tree (shown below) identifies the 14 children of Bernhard and his wife Eliza Heine.

Of the children shown for Bernhard and his wife Eliza in a search of the 1880 United States census shows their son Adajah and his wife Matilda with their 3 children and her mother all living in Washington D.C. In that census (FHL film #1254123, shown below) we also note that Adajah is a physician by occupation.

From the records above one would easily draw the conclusion that this man had a successful life, with few cares or worries. However, while his life may very well have been that way, at one time there were other concerns about him. At one point in his life, before marriage and family he joined the Union Army in the United States Civil War. As an immigrant to America, this could not have been easy but showed a desire to serve his new country.

When he enlisted he was not yet of the majority age, so his father was required to give his permission, which he did. However he still had concerns for his son, mostly that his service in the military would not interfere with his ability to worship in the Jewish faith. To share his concerns, he contacted the one person who he thought could help, President Abraham Lincoln. Parts of that letter are below, it reads;

To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States.
. . . I gave my consent to my son, who was yet a minor, that he should enlist in the United States army; I thought it was his duty, and I gave him my advice to fulfill his duty as a good citizen, and he has done so. At the same time I taught him also to observe the Sabbath on Saturday, when it would not hinder him from fulfilling his duty in the army. Now I do not want that he shall be dragged either to the stake or the church to observe the Sunday as a Sabbath. Your Excellency will observe in this my writing that I am not very well versed in the English language, and if there should be found a word which is not right, pardon it, and never such a word shall be construed so as if I would offend your Excellency or the people; for I love my country, the Constitution, and the Union, and I try to be always a loyal citizen.
I remain, respectfully, your most obedient servant and fellow citizen,

Narrowsburg, Sullivan Co. N.Y. Dec. 4, 1862
From Jewish-American History Foundation online site:

We do not know if a reply was returned, but we do know of a man's love for his son, a family's love for their new country and their devotion to their faith. All of these are the hallmarks America was built upon and a great reminder of the examples our forebears left for us.

The records of this family are in the Knowles Collection - Jews of the Americas database.

20 December 2010

Changes to FamilySearch - Accessing the Knowles Collection

"Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change"
Stephen Hawking
As many of you have noticed, this past week the website has gone through some major changes. As part of this, the Knowles Collection is not as noticeable as it once was. This situation has caused many people to inquire about how best to access the collection. With that in mind, I would suggest those interested in downloading the collection visit The Knowles Collection page at At the bottom of the page there are links that will direct visitors to the appropriate sites. If there becomes available a better way to access the records, I will update that information as well.
Thank you all for your continued support of the Knowles Collection.

17 December 2010

The family of Henry Lemon

Many times I have been asked how the Knowles Collection can be helpful to researchers. There are many reasons, but I feel the combining of many records in one location is the best answer. I think the study of the Lemon family best shows this.

Many years ago when I began trying to take the Mordy Collection from a microfilmed collection to a fully searchable electronic database, the Lemon family was one of the first families I looked at. It stood out to me for many reasons, but the fact that only one record from the Mordy records dealt with them, I was curious. I must admit, at that time I had no idea who Henry Lemon was, but I wanted to find more about the family.

In the Mordy Collection there was a record of the marriage of Lillian Amy Lemon to Reginald George Davis on 7 Jul 1892 in the West End Synagogue in London. That record, shown below, shows Lilian Amy Lemon to be the daughter of Henry Lemon, an engraver.

To try and find more of the family, if there was anymore, I looked in the 1881 British Census hoping to find Lillian and her father Henry, the engraver. What I found was very surprising. In the record below you will find that Lilian was not an only child, and in fact was one of at least 13 children living at 186 The Grove, in London, with Henry and his wife Harriett (FHL film#1341012).

In an attempt to find more on the children of Henry and Lillian, I turned to the 1911 England Census located at In that record, shown below, I was able to locate Herbert Edward Lemon and his family. His wife is listed as Annie Ida, born in Brazil.

According to the census, Herman Edward and Annie Ida had been married for 13 years. This would put their marriage date in either 1897 or 1898. Wanted to try and find the marriage date for them, I turned to the indexes of birth, marriage and death records located on line at The search yielded the following information;

From this we know that Annie Ida had the surname Brandon. With the information found in the census we know that Herbert Edward married Annie Ida Brandon, who was born in 1872 in Brazil. Using that information a search was done of the 1891 Census looking for her with her family.

From the record above, we now that she is the daughter of Frederick Brandon, a Brazilian merchant and his wife Maria. A check of later census records also helped uncover the marriages of 6 of the children and the nine grandchildren. As the search continues I am sure there will be even more grandchildren.
The records used to find this family have been brought together in the Knowles Collection. Thanks to these records and the pedigrees donated by individual family, people are being able to locate their families. Hopefully the collection will continue to grow.

The records of the Lemon family can be found in The Jews of the British Isles Database.

10 December 2010

The Family Papers of Rosalie Meyer Stern

In a prior post on this blog, some of the records held at the Judah L. Magnes Museum were discussed. Many of the records are family papers preserved within the collection. One of these, the papers of Rosalie Meyer Stern gives an incredible account of life in San Francisco, during the earthquake of 1906.
Rosalie was born on 21 Apr 1869 in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Eugene Meyer and his wife Harriet Newmark. The Meyer's were an old established Jewish family. Eugene's sister Ernastine was married to Zadok- Kahn, Grand Rabbi of France. In 1892, Rosalie married Sigmund Stern. They had a daughter, Elise Fanny who married Walter Haas, who became Chairman of his families business, Levi Strauss.
In her papers she begins by relating her experiences of the leading up to the earthquake, she writes; "On the evening of April 17, 1906, Mr. Stern and I had been attending the opera. It was the second night of a season of two or three weeks of opera to be given by the Metropolitan Opera Company, and they were presenting Carmen. Since we had been to the opera on the night before and were rather tired, we left before the end of the performance.I have a vivid recollection of Caruso on the stage. At 5:14 in the morning when we were so suddenly awakened by the earthquake, my opera clothes were still strewn on the chairs in my room."
In further pages, she talks about the fears of her home being on fire and of not being able to contact family and friends, she also describes moments which bring humor to an otherwise scary time. She talks about she and her waitress Katherine, finding her maid Delia in her room. She writes; "Delia was a good catholic, as also was Katherine. Katherine opened the door and found Delia on her knees in the hall, industriously sprinkling herself with holy water, she was crying I'm gone, I'm gone."
She tells the stories of the people of San Fransico, how they managed to survive. She tells of the ladies wearing their finest furs and jewels even in the heat of the day. One story though shows the greatness of people. She recounts how people kept stopping by the home, to give updates on damages and fires. Some were updated them on the condition of their businesses when word was received that one building they owned was burning down. At this time the family chauffeur, Swain, asked for permission to borrow the limousine so he could go to his apartment and retrieve his clothes, gain she writes; " We allowed him to do so, and consequently he saved his belongings and the $150 he had in his room. This last sum he handed to Mr. Stern to use as was needed." It just shows that in time of need there are always those who are willing to help.
The most telling item about the family papers to me is the fact that after telling her account of everything going on, of the losses to property, and the concerns about life itself, she then tells the stories of her and her husbands own families. She documents to anyone who may read it in the future, who she was and where she came from. Families are what is most important.
The family papers of Rosalie Meyer Stern are available on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL film #1031330 item 1).
The records of the Stern family are now being added to the Knowles Collection- Jews of the Americas.

07 December 2010

Naar Family of St. Thomas and New Jersey.

In the last few blog entries much as been written of the influence of the Dutch Jews in the Caribbean. These Jews were some of the earliest settlers in places such as Suriname, Curacao, Barbados and St. Thomas. The question has been asked, why is this so important if you are researching your early American families? The answer is very simple, because so many of our early American Jewish communities were started by or influenced by people who had ties to these Caribbean nations.
A great example of one of these early influential Jews with Caribbean ties is David Naar. David Naar was very established in Elizabeth, New Jersey.In New Jersey he was active in politics and the publishing business. In 1843, he was appointed Mayor of Elizabeth an well as a judge in Essex County. He was very much a partisan democrat.
Ten years later, in 1853, he purchased the Trenton True American newspaper and became the editor. He was never afraid to voice his opinion, and during the civil war he spoke out against Abraham Lincoln. This led to threats of mob violence. Because of this he was forced to shut down his publication for 3 months, during the height of the war, in 1861.
A search of the 1870 United States census shows his family. David, his wife Sarah ( D'Azevedo) and some of their children. Four years after this census was taken, David retired from his position of editor. During his career, he was also the State Treasurer as well as a member of the Common Council for Trenton.

From the 1870 census, we find that David his wife Sarah and some of the children were born in St. Thomas. As we know from the earlier post about the history of St. Thomas, there were only about 9 Jewish families in St. Thomas at the turn of the 19th century. In the collection of the Family History Library,are the birth records of the Jewish Congregation from 1786 - 1954 (FHL Film # 882, 930). From these records we can piece together some of the family, including 2 brothers for David and four siblings for Sarah.

While there may be more possibly siblings for David and Sarah, these were the only ones found in the records in St. Thomas. As with many of the families who made homes through the Caribbean, the Naar family appears to be an old established Sephardic family. In the collections that were left by Malcolm Stern, is found a beautiful hand drawn pedigree of the Naar family. Although time has not been kind to it, the tree is still a wonderful resource for anyone researching the Naar family. David, son of Joshua is located at the top center of this tree, with his children going upwards to the right from him. That part of the tree has been blown up below (click on either for a larger view)

As with many of these early families it will now become very important to try and take the records back Into the Dutch records and then further on to the records of Spain and Portugal.

Some of the records of the Naar family are already in the Knowles Collection -Jews of The Americas database and others are now being added to the Knowles Collection - Jews of the Caribbean database.

06 December 2010

The Jews of Venice

Venice is one of the worlds most beautiful cities, well documented throughout the centuries for its canals, art and culture. However to the Jews of the area, it has not always been a beautiful place.

The first Jews settled in Venice in the late 1200's, although there were Jews who worked there as early as the middle of the 10th century. Most of those early Jews were moneylenders and merchants. In the year 1252, the Jews who were not allowed to settle in Venice, settled instead on the island of Spinaulunga, which later became known as Giudecca. Even though they couldn't live in Venice, by 1290, Jewish merchants and moneylenders were allowed to work in the city, along as they paid a 5% tax on all of their transactions. Finally in 1385, the moneylenders were granted permission to settle in the city, and a year later were given land to be used as a cemetery.

In 1394, acting on fears that the Jews were starting to conduct business in areas that affected non -Jews, the Senate expelled the moneylenders from Venice. Non -moneylenders were allowed to remain in Venice, however it was with the condition that they lived with restrictions. Some of those restrictions included:

  • They were forced to wear certain clothing items, such as a yellow badge or a red hat.

  • They were not allowed to own land.

  • The Jews were not permitted to build a synagogue.

  • Jews were also forced to attend Christan services or be baptised.

This time of restrictions was also a time of great growth in the Jewish community. Following the expulsion of 1492, a large amount of Jews immigrated from Spain and Portugal.

In 1516, the ruling council debated if the Jews should be allowed to remain in the city. They decided to let them stay, however they would now live in Ghetto Nuova, the world's first ghetto. The first groups in the ghetto were the Jews from Germany and Rome, both having come to avoid persecution. Over time many groups came to the ghetto, and again they had restrictions placed upon them, such as not being allowed outside at night.

Despite the fact that the living conditions were very poor, the Jewish community continued to grow. Synagogues began to be built, the Ashkenazic Jews built two synagogues, one in 1528, and the other in 1531. The Levantine Jews built one in 1575 and the Spanish Jews added theirs in 1584. The Synagogue, pictured at right is one of the Ashkenazic synagogues.

Today, this ghetto, still stands, home to most of the Jewish buildings. Venice, today has five synagogues, and a Jewish population of about 500. During the Holocaust, the Jews of Venice were transported to Auschwitz. The community today remembers them. The memorials below remember those Jews who were transported, including one with boards with names and ages of every person taken.

The Knowles Collection- Jews of Europe has some records of the Jews of Venice.

03 December 2010

The Jews of St. Thomas

Like so many of it's Caribbean neighbors, the history of the Jews of St. Thomas dates back to the 1600's. The first Jews to arrive were traders who came when the island was under the control of Denmark. These people, whom started arriving in 1655 were involved in the trade of items such as rum, molasses and sugarcane. The Jews began to settle on the Island after 1685, the year they were given religious freedom.

In 1796 the first synagogue was established on St. Thomas. As of 1801 there were only 9 Jewish families who belonged to the congregation, but as new arrivals came from France and England and also the Caribbean islands of Curacao and St. Eustatius, the population had grown to 22 families in just a few years. In 1804 that first synagogue was destroyed by fire and replaced in 1812. The Congregation grew so large that in 1823 it was dismantled and a third, larger building erected in the same location. It was named the Congregation of "Blessing and Peace and Loving Deeds."

By the year 1831, the congregation had grown to over 60 families, when a fire destroyed the building. It was rebuilt 2 years later. Today it is the second oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere and the longest in continuous service under the American flag.
Many of the congregations that were established in the United States before 1850, have representatives from the various Caribbean islands and St. Thomas was no exception. One of the most famous Jews to leave for the United States from the US Virgin Islands was Judah Philip Benjamin.

More will be written about Judah Philip Benjamin in an upcoming article, however he was one of the most distinguished men of the south during the United States Civil War. Not only was he a U.S. Senator and lawyer, but also served as attorney general, secretary of war and secretary of state under Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.

The Family History Library has in its collection some of the records of the Jewish congregation of St. Thomas. Those records, which date back to 1786 are now being added to the Knowles Collection- Jews of the Caribbean database and will be available after the next update.