29 March 2011

Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB)

I am often asked, "How is the best way to start researching a Jewish family?". My reply is always the same, begin by contacting your local Jewish Genealogical Society, and share in the wealth of information and knowledge that they have available. For those living in the British Isles, or researching families who came from there, they are most fortunate to have one of the best societies available to them. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, or JGSGB is indeed one of those societies that others strive to be. Began in 1992, the JGSGB has 4 very simple objectives, which are:
* To help one another to learn and discover more about genealogy

* To encourage genealogical research

* To promote the preservation of Jewish genealogical records and resources

* To share information amongst members

While it is easy to write down your objectives, what is most impressive is how the Society puts their words into actions. The JGSGB has one of the most incredible websites where everything is available to researchers. That site (shown below) can be found at www.jgsgb.org.uk.

The records available on the site, including the 1851 Anglo-Jewry Database, are worth far more than the cost of a membership, yet they are but a small part of the benefits of belonging to the society. A few of the other benefits, include access to their Library and Resource Center and copies of Shemot, which is the society journal.

Regardless of how long one has been researching his or her family, it is always nice to get together with others with the same interests. The JGSGB is a leader in providing outlets for this to happen. In addition to the annual Manchester Regional Conference, which will be on May 8th of this year, and the annual London Conference, which will be on the 30th of October, the society has a calendar that appears to have something going almost weekly. Included in those events are the Special Interest Group (SIG) and Regional Group meetings.

The society has seven regional groups including; The Chilterns Group, East of London, Leeds, Manchester, Oxford, South Coast and South West London groups. These provide a great opportunity for members to get together and help one another. If your interests are more specific, there are 6 SIG's for research help. They are; Anglo-Jewish, Dutch, Eastern European, German, Sephardic and South African.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain is a great place to begin your research. If you have any questions, visit the website, or contact them directly. If nothing else, you will meet some of the nicest people. If your in London in October, please come to the conference and say hello, it's always nice to meet new genealogists.

22 March 2011

Jamaican Civil Registration of Births

When researching Jewish families in any part of the world, it is always nice to have multiple sources for information. It can not only be useful in verifying current information but may also provide help in adding new family members. One great example of this, are the records of the Civil Registration of Births for Jamaica.
In their wonderful book, The Jews of Jamaica Tombstone Inscriptions 1663-1880 (FHL book #979.92 V3), Richard D. Barnett and Philip Wright, list the burials of 2 sons of Jacob Henry De Pass and his wife Louise Alberga. Those sons, George Cecil and Arthur Rich are buried in Kingston, Jamaica at the Orange Street Cemetery. While it is possible that these are the only 2 children in the family, another record to search would be helpful in finding out if that were true.
Thanks to the Historical Record Collections database located at http://www.familysearch.org/, that is now possible to do from home. On the front page of FamilySearch, the collections can be browsed by location. Simply by clicking on the link for Caribbean, Central and South America, (Shown Below) all of the collections for that region can be shown.

In that list of 75 collections for the region, there are 3 specifically for Jamaica. Included in those are the Jamaica, Civil Birth Registrations with over 1.25 million records. Included with those records are all the images. This makes searching the records quite easy.

In looking for records of the family of Jacob Henry De Pass and his wife Louise Alberga, a simple search using the last name De Pass yields 660 hits. Included amongst those records are the birth registrations of four daughters. They are an unnamed daughter born in 1880, as well as Violet May born in 1882, Dorris Marjorie born in 1889 and Norah Gwendolan born in 1890. According to the records (shown below) all 4 daughters were born in Kingston.

A further search of these records finds many more members of the family. While this example is of Jamaica, there are now hundreds of databases from around the world that may include record of our Jewish ancestors. A few moments to get acquainted with the site could prove to be most beneficial in your research.

16 March 2011

Celebrate St. Patricks Day with Irish Civil Registration

As so many around the world will take the time tomorrow to celebrate their Irish ancestry, now may be a good time to remember that the indexes to Irish Civil Registration are available free of charge at http://www.familysearch.org/. If you have been fortunate enough to find your family in either the 1901 or 1911 Ireland Censuses, such as the Rosenberg family below, the indexes can be a great way to learn more about the family.

To find the indexes, visit http://www.familysearch.org/, where you will see the page at left. Then click on Europe in the browse by location area, and all the collections for Europe will appear in alphabetical order by country. Under Ireland, you will find the Ireland Civil Registration Indexes for 1845-1958 (see Below).

Using the information from the census record, a simple search can be used for the births, marriages or deaths of any of the family members. Although the actual images are not available, some of them are on film in the Family History Library or through one of it's Family History Centers, and can be viewed there. Those that are not available in that way can be ordered from Ireland. A quick search for the Rosenberg family found the index entry for the marriage of Wolf and the birth of son Israel. Those results, found below, provide all the information needed to order the certificates.

Happy Searching and Happy St. Patrick's Day

10 March 2011

Anna Katzen and the Jews of Estonia

On 28 May 1958 Anna Katzen Ace died in Kansas City, Missouri, United States. She had survived her husband, Harry, by almost 40 years since his death in 1918. On her headstone, located in the Mount Carmel Jewish Cemetery it stated that she was born 20 Mar 1872 in Estonia. Earlier records, included the 1910 Census for her in Missouri, and her mother and siblings in Manhattan, New York, all list Russia as the place of birth. So what is Estonia?
Although modern day Estonia didn't regain its Independence until 1991 with the fall of the USSR, it has a long and changing history. Since 1227, when it was conquered by the Danes and the Germans, Estonia has always been a place that others wanted to have. Because of its location other countries found it a desirable trade route between East and West. At various times Estonia has been under the rule of Sweden, Germany and Russia amongst others.
Historians claim that the first Jews into Estonia could have arrived as early as the 14th century, however, the first Jews to create settlements in Estonia, did so in 1865, when Tsar Alexander II granted them permission to do so. There was a synagogue in Tallinn in the 1830's. Following the grant of resettlement a synagogue was built in Tartu, as the first 50 families settled there.
Large synagogues were built in Tallinn in 1883, and in Tartu in 1901. According to the census records, most of the Katzen family arrived in the United States in the 1890's, so they probably never saw the Tartu synagogue.
The last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century saw great growth and freedom for the Jews. They were allowed to enter the University in the later part of the 1800's, and then the Independence of 1918 brought even further improvement. The creation of the Republic of Estonia in 1918, enabled the Jews to flourish. The entire country was enjoying a tolerance toward each other, which gave the Jewish community the ability to organize and grow. By 1925, there were over 3,000 Jews.
All of the peace and growth came to an abrupt halt in 1940 when Estonia was invaded by the Soviet Union. When the Nazi's began to occupy the country in 1941, all those who had not fled earlier were murdered. Following the war, the freedoms did not return, it was a dark time for the Jewish people.
Independence was regained for Estonia in 1991, and the community was reestablished in 1992. Today, there are over 1000 Jews living in Estonia, and they have recently reopened a synagogue in Tallinn. For a place that saw so many killed, both there own and others who had been transported there, maybe the light of freedom has been re lit.

09 March 2011

Belfast City Burial Database

During this past week some of the burial records for the City of Belfast have gone online. Not all records are available at this time, however the records of over 360,000 burials are included. Of the three cemeteries currently available the most useful from Jewish researchers will be the Belfast City Cemetery, which includes it's Jewish section. The records from this cemetery date back to 1869.

The database (http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/burialrecords/search.asp) which is free to access is very easy to use. The database can be searched by both first and last name as well as year of burial. One of the nice features is that if a date is unknown, it can be searched by decade simply by just listing the first 3 numbers, such as 192 for any burial in the 1920's.

A simple search for the surname Rutenburg yielded the following results;

By following the search through and clicking on the details tab, I was able to receive the following information;
This database will be a great source for those researching their Irish Jewish ancestors, and many thanks to the City of Belfast for making it possible.

08 March 2011

The House of Battat of Baghdad, Iraq

To study the House of Battat, is to study the history of Babylonian Jews. They both share a long, rich history. In his work titled "A Genealogy of the House of Battat (FHL Film #1031332 item 1), Ezra M. Battat, documents this incredible family. The Battat family first took a surname in 1750 when Reuben Ezekial Battat and his sons began to use the name. As Mr Battat writes "Among the possessions of Reuben Battat was a farm in whose midst was a pond in which he raised ducks and geese- "bat" in Arabic"
Even though the members of the family are based in Iraq, they are spread over many countries including Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Burma and the United States. Amongst the notables members of the family are:
  • Reuben Ezekiel Battat (1750-1855). Born and died in Baghdad, he was a prosperous landowner and merchant. His son;
  • Abdallah Reuben Ezekiel Battat (1770-1820). Born in Baghdad, he was hanged by the Ottomans in about 1820. A banker, he was hanged for "economic sabotage against the Sultan". His grandson;
  • Mozes Ezra Reuben Bassat (1840-1919). Born in Baghdad and died in Basra. He was an importer of pearls, amber and corals. He was head of the Great Synagogue of Baghdad which he helped build.

This book is a great source for anyone wanting to know more about their own family from this time. The history of this family is truly inspirational. The records of this family have been added to The Knowles Collection- Jews of Africa and the Orient database.

05 March 2011

The Herzenberg's of Latvia

In The Knowles Collection- Jews of Europe Database, there are many records of the Herzenberg family of Courland, Latvia. The descendants of Joseph Herzenberg (1750-1815) are well documented. The majority of his descendants lived in Courland until the time they immigrated to places such as Israel and the United States. Those that stayed in Latvia were lost in the Holocaust.

In learning as much as possible about this family, I have found myself learning more about the Jewish community of Courland. The first Jews in Courland were in the early 1570's, however Jews didn't become permanent inhabitants until the 1700's. These first settlers were skilled workers who came from Germany. In 1795 Courland became part of Russia and in 1799 the first law was passed which gave the Jews legal status, even though they were being double taxed.

The Jewish population of Courland has always been quite large in numbers. In 1850, that population was over 50,000 and by the start of World War I, there were almost 70,000 Jews living in Courland. Sadly, this area was one of many that saw much suffering during the Holocaust. Many thousands of lives were lost. These records of the Herzenberg family cover family who lived during the entire history of Jews in Courland.

03 March 2011

Vilna Gaon and his Descendants

Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna (23 Apr 1720- 9 Oct 1797) was born in Vilnius, capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He was one of the most influential Rabbinic authorities since the time of the middle ages, and is often referred to as "the saintly genius from Vilnius."

His training began early, it is said that by the age of seven he was being taught the Talmud by Rabbi Moses Margalit of Kedainiai, a noted author and well respected Rabbi himself. At the age of ten he began to study alone and by the age of eleven had memorized the entire Talmud. With all this learning he even found time to study astronomy in his free time.

Included in his early training, were his wanderings around Europe, a common practice of the time. With his great knowledge and understanding he became well known in many countries, by his early twenties he was answering questions about Jewish law that were submitted by Rabbis from around the world. He was sought out by Jews and non-Jews for help with mathematics and astronomy. By the time he returned to Vilnius in the late 1740's he had become quite well known.

Much has been written about the Gaon of Vilna, and a study of his life would benefit anyone. It is the purpose of this article, however to point out some great books that are available about him and his family. His descendants can be found throughout the world, spreading his great influence as they live their own lives.
The headstone at right, located at Willesden Jewish Cemetery in London, is of Therese Gollancz, wife of Sir Hermann Gollancz, who for many years was the minister of Bayswater Synagogue, London. As it is stated on her headstone, she was "worthy of her ancestry -the Great-Great-Granddaughter of the "Vilna Gaon".
Two books that researchers will find most beneficial are; "Rabbi Elijah (1720-1797), the Gaon of Vilna and his Cousinhood" by Neil Rosenstein (FHL book #929.273 K86) and "Eliyahu's branches the descendants of the Vilna Gaon (of blessed and saintly memory) and his family" by Chaim Freedman (FHL book #947.93/V1 D2). Both of these sources would be wonderful for families members to read and a study of his life would be of great
benefit to all.

01 March 2011

The Jews of Iraq and the Sassoon Family

The Jewish history of the country of Iraq is one of the longest, most historically significant of all countries. It's documented history dates back to the time of Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE. Over the centuries the Jews in Iraq have come under the control of various countries and peoples, some favorable to the Jews, some not.
In the early 1530's, Mesopotamia and Iraq came under the control of the Ottoman Turks, who took Tabriz and Baghdad from the Persians, which led to a better life for the Jews. In 1623, The Persians regained control of which caused the situation to deteriorate. Finally, in 1638, the Turks regained control of the area.

That army that regained control included a large group of Jews. That event, the reconquest is known as "Yom Nes" or the Day of Miracle. This time was a period when the Jewish population began to grow. After some time, the area fell under Turkish control, which did not hinder the growth of the population but did create a situation that saw the condition of the Jews worsen. By the early 1880's the Jewish population in Baghdad was 30,000, and in 1900, it had climbed to over 50,000, which was more than a quarter of the population of Baghdad.

This time of growth was also a time when some Jewish families became well established. One of those was the Sassoon's. David Sassoon was born in October of 1792 in Baghdad. His father who was a wealthy merchant, was for many years the State Treasurer to the Turkish Governor of Baghdad. While in Baghdad he married Hannah Joseph, daughter of Abdullah Joseph and had 4 children, 2 sons and 2 daughters. David, fearing the persecutions that were happening in Baghdad took his family and moved to Persia. Finally in 1832, he left Persia and moved to what would become his home, Bombay. In Bombay, he became head of David Sassoon and Co., a house of banking and mercantile. Through this company the Sassoon would obtain great wealth and power throughout the world.

In modern times, Iraq saw it's Jewish population grow to over 120,000 people prior to the 1948 Arab-Israel war. After the war as persecution grew most Jews left, many for Israel. Just as before with David Sassoon, the conditions in Iraq, forced so much of the strength of the community to move elsewhere. Today, very few Jews live in Iraq.