Friday, 29 March 2019

Two stones: daughter of Yonah

This is Sarah Frankenstein's headstone again, discussed in the previous post Two stones: son of Leib. This time we're looking at the first line of the inscription:

Top line: Sarah, daughter of Yonah

Sarah was married to Israel Jacob Frankenstein, and we don't know her maiden name, so it's nice to at least have her father's given name. But there's more to it than that.

Sarah Frankenstein's family
We first see her in the 1891 UK Census, living at 1 Tewkesbury Buildings, Whitechapel in the East End of London:
She's shown as 40 years old here, which suggests she was born around 1850. With her are 2 daughters Rachel 17 and Dolly 20, and a son Barnett aged 21. She is a widow; all 4 of them are born in Poland. I suspect they were recent arrivals, since Barnett is shown with no occupation, which is unusual for an adult male in this Census.

Frankenstein neighbours
There are 3 families living in this house. The third is another Frankenstein:
This is the family of Jacob Frankenstein aged 33, with his wife Leah, and 5 children: Moses 11, Harry 7, Rebecca 6, Aaron 4 and Joseph 2. Jacob, Leah and the first child Moses are shown as born in Poland, the other four children are born in Shoreditch, which is near Whitechapel. 

The two Frankenstein families are listed as separate households, and there is no indication that they are connected. However, there are only a handful of other Frankenstein families from Poland in London at that point, so it is a bit suspicious to find two of them living in the same building.

Jacob and Leah also appear 10 years earlier, in the 1881 Census, with Moses aged 1½. Here Moses is shown as born in Spitalfields, not Poland; and indeed he seems to be a Londoner - we have his birth certificate, b 4 October 1879 in Spitalfields, registered 1 November. So Jacob and Leah are in London at least from 1879, whilst Sarah and family appear to have come some 10 years later, around 1890. 
They moved on to the USA in 1904. 

Various documents later on indicate that Jacob and Barnett are indeed brothers - they both name their father as Israel Jacob, and when Barnett's son Jack emigrated to the USA in 1914, his passenger manifest shows him going to Jacob Frank. Another son, Woolf, followed in 1920. They were going to their uncle.

However, there were two things that worried me, which you may 
already have noticed. 

Sarah's age
First, Sarah's age. In her own 1891 Census entry, she is shown as 40 years old, so born 1851, which is OK for the children living with her, aged 21, 20 and 17. However, Jacob appears as 33, or possibly 38 (the second digit is overwritten) - so born 1853-58. If both their ages are correct, she couldn't be his mother. Jacob's year of birth is pretty consistent through later documents. However Sarah is probably considerably older than appears from the 1891 Census. Her year of birth shows as 1831 in the 1901 Census, and 1842 on her death certificate. These dates would put her in the same age range as the siblings of her husband Israel Jacob (we don't know when he was born himself), and anything up to the late 1830s would make her a feasible age to be the mother of Jacob.

Jacob's father
Second, Jacob's father would be Israel Jacob. This seems to contravene a long-standing and widely-followed East European Jewish naming tradition, according to which sons are never named after their fathers, or daughters after their mothers. The custom, followed almost 100% in Poland in this period, was for children to be named for a recently deceased close family member. For older sons, this usually resulted in names being given for direct ancestors such as a grandfather, or a great-grandfather if the grandfather was still alive.

Exception that proves the rule
I have one case in my own Frankenstein family which at first seemed to be an anomaly. My great-grandfather was Jankel Josek, and his youngest son, born 2 June 1904, appears in the Gombin Book of Residents with the same two given names. How could this be? It was a puzzle, until I noticed a comment against the father's name: died 2 November 1903. My g-g'f Jankel Josek's son was born 7 months later, and was named in his memory. I take this as an exception that proves the rule.

So what about Jacob and his father Israel Jacob? This cannot be the same case as my Jankel Joseks. Jacob cannot have been named after his father, as Israel Jacob was still around 10 years and more later, when his other children, Barnett, Dolly and Rachel, were born. Which leaves the puzzle unresolved.

Barnett's brother
Then two documents came to light. First, Barnett's marriage authorisation from the United Synagogue in 1893, on which he has to name any brothers:
In an entry in Hebrew, he names one brother: Yonah. Not Jacob.

[You may also have noticed that on this certificate Barnett is using the surname 'Finkelstein', not 'Frankenstein'. This is not the only time he did this, and not the only time it happened in our family. There will be another post on this ... ]

So is Yonah the same person as Jacob, or could he perhaps be another brother?

Jacob's name
Jacob died in 1940. He's buried in Stone Road Cemetery, Rochester, New York, and here's his headstone, courtesy of the FindaGrave website:

He is named in Hebrew as Yonah, son of Israel Jacob.

So he is Yonah in Hebrew, anglicised to Jacob in England and the USA. There is no conflict of names, and the tradition is not broken.

The question remains, when did Yonah start calling himself Jacob, and why? It could not have been before his father's death. He was Jacob on the birth certificate of his first son, Moses, in London in 1879, so I presume his father must have died before then. Israel Jacob's youngest daughter Rachel - Yonah/Jacob's sister - was born in Poland around 1874, so that narrows the dates down further. As I've mentioned before, we have no documents whatsoever from Poland on this family. As to why he chose to call himself Jacob, and not Jonah - we have no idea.

Why Yonah?
And who was Yonah named after? Our Frankenstein family were using a fairly restricted palette of names throughout the 19C, the same names are repeated across several family groups, and we can identify the naming ancestor for most of their births. But Yonah does not appear at all, and this has been puzzling me for a couple of years.

Then the other day I received the photo of the headstone of Yonah's mother, Sarah (see above). It tells us her father was Yonah. So Yonah was named after his mother's father, not his father's father. Which makes sense, because his paternal grandfather, Lewek (my 3rd great-grandfather), was still alive - he died in 1876. And his father in turn was Jakub, son of Wolf. So no ancestral Yonahs on that side.

It's all beginning to fit together .....

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Two stones: son of Leib

Sometimes the smallest details can pass unnoticed. This stone has stood for 100 years, and it has kept its family secrets only because none of us has ever looked at it closely enough.

The other evening I put in a request for photographs of two headstones, to the Jewish London Genealogy Group site on Facebook. Less than 24 hours later, here they are. There are a few kind people in the Group whose hobby is photographing headstones for others. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude!

The first one (above) is the stone for Sarah Frankenstein, who was born in Gombin in Poland around 1840, and died in London in 1912. She is buried in the Federation Cemetery at Edmonton in North London. She's the mother of Jacob and Barnett Frankenstein, and along with several of their descendants, I've been trying for several years to link our two families together. Sarah was a widow when she first appears in the UK records in the 1891 Census. We assume her husband, Israel Jacob Frankenstein, had died before Sarah and her children left Poland. He's the one I'm trying to connect to my family.

What we knew
You can see where we had got to a while back in these posts from a couple of years ago:

To summarise these posts, we found that there was a significant amount of evidence accumulating to show that our two families are closely linked; however, it was all more or less circumstantial:
i) they all say they came from Gombin; I have found that all Frankensteins in the known records from the Gombin area belong to my family; however Sarah's family do not appear in any of these records 
ii) there is a striking coincidence of male given names in the two families 
iii) Aaron Hyman stayed with Barnett Frankenstein (son of Sarah on the stone) when he got married to Frajda Rajn (my family) in 1916 
iv) my great-grandfather's brother Morris Frankenstein was a witness at the marriage of Fanny Shalinsky (granddaughter of Sarah) in 1912

Then, just the other day, this came up:
v) Frajda Rajn's brother Abram (my family) stayed with Sarah's daughter Rachel when he got married in 1907

All in all, too much to be merely coincidental - but there was no proof, no single document that explicitly shows a connection. The obviously close family links, though, are pretty convincing, and the timescale leads me to surmise that Sarah's husband, Israel Jacob, is probably a brother to my own 2nd-great-grandfather Wolek, born 1839, and that both are sons of my 3g-g'f, Lewek, who was born around 1800. 

We already know Morris (in iv above) to be an uncle to the Rajn siblings, Frajda (iii) and Abram (v) - their mothers are sisters of his, Tauba and Rywka Laja Frankensztajn. If my conjecture is correct, Morris would also be a first cousin to Barnett (iii), and a first cousin once removed to Fanny (iv). And Barnett and his sister Rachel would be 1C1R to Frajda and Abram Rajn. We have a picture building up of a family that had settled in London earlier giving a helping hand to their younger cousins who had recently followed them over.

What we needed
A key piece of evidence to confirm the relationship would be a document showing the name of Israel Jacob's father - if it's Lewek, we're in business. This information could appear on a birth, marriage or death record for Israel Jacob, or in an entry in a Book of Residents, or on his headstone. However, he lived his whole life in Poland, and very few vital records for the Gombin area have survived. I've seen several Books of Residents, for different districts, and he doesn't appear in those either. And there's no chance of a headstone - most of the Jewish cemeteries in the area, including that of Gombin itself, were totally destroyed by the Nazis during WW2. So we're resigned to the fact that we are most unlikely to ever find any sort of proof. 

What we got
I wanted Sarah's headstone because I thought it might tell us a bit about the family she came from, and indeed it does (see next post). But - and here's the surprise - much more significant is what it tells us about her husband, Israel Jacob - and of course he's the Frankenstein that I'm trying to connect to mine.

Here's what is engraved at the top of Sarah's headstone:
Top line: Sarah daughter of Yonah
Next line: Widow of Israel Yakov son of Leib

This second line is most unusual. The headstones for widows that I have seen here in the UK sometimes do tell us the name of their deceased husband, but they rarely give his patronymic - the name of his father.

This one does. And Israel Jacob's father's name is Leib.

You will recall that I was hoping his father would be Lewek. Well he is. 'Leib' is the Yiddish form, used across Yiddish-speaking Eastern Europe. 'Lewek' is a diminutive, affectionate version of the same name, used by Jews in Poland. The '-ek' ending is commonly used in this way with boys' names, as for instance in Wolek, for Wolf.

So Leib is Lewek, and Israel Jacob is the brother of Wolek. And, as we surmised earlier, Morris is a first cousin to Barnett. We now have the piece of documented evidence that we needed, and thought we would never be able to find.

And Brian, David, Sandy and Linda are my 3C1Rs.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

11 Underwood Street

Ding-dong! 11 Underwood Street? The bells in my head started ringing. Where had I seen this address?

I recently received the Marriage Certificate of my grandfather's cousin Abram Icek Rajn and Bloomah Freedman, who married in the East End of London in 1907. This was the address they gave. I was sure I'd seen it somewhere before. But maybe it was a different number? Maybe it was Underhill, or Underwater, or Under-something-else?

So I checked in my MacFamilyTree software, which knows everything. Well, everything I've ever told it, and since forgotten. This is what I got when I did a search for 'Underwood':

That's 13 people, all associated with Underwood something. So the bells had good reason to ring! Setting aside the two Asofs and the Faigin, who lived at number 10 and who are on my paternal side (more on that later), there are 10 people here, all on my mother's Frankenstein side, and all at number 11. Not all at the same time, though they might just about have fitted in. NB: the dates shown are their dates of birth, not when they lived in the house.

Some of my cousins from the Hyman, Rajn and Frankenstein families will recognise one or two names here. Many will not recognise any. I had never heard of any of them until I started researching my family history. And yet here they are, all at 11 Underwood Street in the Mile End New Town area of the East End over a period of 10 or 12 years at the beginning of the 20th Century.

I'm going to try to follow them in and out of the house, and maybe speculate a bit on what brought them there.

But first I wanted to find the house.

Easier said than done.

There's no such street. It's had its name changed, and it's been Underwood Road for 80, maybe even 100 years. I think it was probably changed because there's another 'Underwood Street' about a mile away, so they changed one of them to 'Road' to avoid confusion.

I was so pleased to find the street that I wasn't thinking straight when I was trying to decide where I thought the house would have been. The whole street has been demolished and rebuilt, and while the even numbers (to the right of this photo) are probably more or less where they stood 100 years ago, the odd-numbered side has been altered completely. I'm standing at the bottom end of the street, on the corner, and I fancied #11 would have been more or less where that first tree is, so that's the photo I took.

I should have turned round.

There's a short continuation of Underwood Street (I still can't get used to calling it "Road") behind me. I had noticed it, but because the even-numbered houses started at #2 parallel to me, I presumed that that was the beginning of the street, and that the little street over the way was something different. I didn't even check.

I only found this out later, when I got to the local Archives. This is from a Land Registry map from 1914:

Some time in the 1930s, this map had been annotated by the kind people at the Land Registry, and they seem to have randomly pencilled in some of the house numbers. They must have known I was coming. In the short section of Underwood Street, to the left, they've marked #1 and #13, the houses at either end of the block. You might need a magnifying glass to make them out, but the numbers are there.

So #11 must be one house before the end of the block, next door to #13. Opposite the house are the buildings of St Anne's Catholic Church, and no houses, so the even-side numbering did indeed start opposite where I had been standing for the photo, with the block known as the Metropolitan Buildings, dating from the 1860s. Counting along, I reckon #10 must be at the right-hand end of the part shown here, where it says "-olitan". These were tiny apartments, model homes for their day I suppose. The building was 4 or 5 stories high, and very solidly built; I think it was taken down some 40 or 50 years ago..

As well as the church, you can see a couple of other essential ingredients for early 20th Century living in the vicinity - they had a Pub (PH - Public House) just round the corner in Albert Street, with a strategically placed Urinal just outside. 

And according to the Post Office Directory, the corner houses doubled as equally essential shops: #13 was a confectioner's, #15 a dairy, and #2 a tobacconist.

And then I found a photo, on the British History Online site:

Underwood Street, #1-#13

The row of tiny cottages dates from the early 1850s, and it looks like they had two rooms upstairs, probably bedrooms, and two down, one of which opened directly onto the street. Looking at the Land Registry plan again, you can see that each house extended out the back on the right-hand side, creating an irregularly-shaped yard. This would have given room for a kitchen at the back of the building, and possibly a toilet at the end. If the upper storey was also extended, there may even have been a bathroom. 

And at the far end of the row you can see the shop at #13, with #11 just before it.

And now? This is the current Google Street View:

The whole block is now part of a school playground, a lovely open space for children in the heart of the East End. And counting two of these fence panels as more or less the width of each cottage, I reckon #11 would be situated between the larger tree and the yellow street sign.

Ding-dong! In my mind's eye, I rang at the door. Well I knocked actually, they didn't have bells in those days. Someone opened the door, and I explained who I was .....

- = = = = = = = = = -

That's enough for the moment. We'll look in more detail at the people who lived here in another post.

Monday, 18 March 2019

It's Rajning cousins

When I first got in touch a few years back with my Third Cousins in the USA, Fran, Joyce and Dana, they sent me a typewritten Tree, compiled in 1999, that included Abraham Icek Rajn, half-brother of Fran's grandmother Frajda. 

* * Warning: this gets pretty convoluted, but then these things usually do * *

First, a bit of family history. If you're not feeling really fresh, you can skip this bit. I'll understand. Some days I can't get my head round it myself. 
Frajda Rajn's mother was Rywka Laja Frankensztajn; her father was Hersz Ber Rajn. Hersz Ber had previously been married to Rywka Laja's sister Tauba (see the clip from the Tree above), who had 4 children with him, including Abraham Icek, and then sadly died. So, according to custom at the time, Hersz Ber then married his deceased wife's sister (Rywka Laja) with whom he had a further 3 children, including  the afore-mentioned Frajda, and then passed away himself. If you're still with us, Rywka Laja then took a second husband, Herszl Boll, with whom she had a further 6 children. So there's half-siblings on all sides.

Abraham Icek Rajn
Abraham Icek was the only one of Hersz Ber Rajn and Tauba Frankensztajn's 4 children to survive into adulthood; the other 3 had all died in infancy. The Tree also showed 3 children for Abraham, but it didn’t have the name of his wife. Two of his children appear with anglicised names: Ben and Esther, whilst the third has the Yiddish name Tauba. There was a suggestion they might have gone to France. This was all anyone had about them.

I had located Abraham in the Polish records, where he appears as Abram Icek, born 1883. However, I didn't find anything further on him - no reference to a marriage, or to any children that might be his. I wasn’t sure whether the anglicised names of his children in the Tree were an indication that the family had emigrated from Poland to an English-speaking country, or if it was just the way they were referred to in my cousins' family. They didn't know either. I didn’t attempt to follow them up.

Out of the blue
Then, out of the blue, a couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a person with the surname Raine, about a DNA match he had with one of my other Frankenstein cousins whose DNA account I manage. We couldn’t find a Morris link - which is what he was looking for - but I wondered if the Raine name might be significant. We haven’t found a Raine link yet either, but it did set me off looking at our Rajns again.

And once I started looking, I pretty quickly found Abram Icek and his family.

In London.

There they were, in the 1911 UK Census, as Abram and Blooma Rayne with the first two children, Bernard and Debbe. Hetty was born a couple of years later. All three children were born in the East End of London, between 1908 and 1913.

Go back to what my cousins had on their Tree: Bernard is Ben, Debbe is Taube, Esther is Hetty. And Rajn is Rayne. These are their cousins - or at least, they are Fran's mother's half-Second Cousins. Joyce and Dana are a bit more distant - they are the great-grandchildren of Hersz Ber Rajn's second wife, with her second husband. So maybe they're step-half-Second Cousins??

Mystery cousins
There's another family of Fran's cousins - Alan and Evelyn, also grandchildren of Frajda - who live not too far from me. When I went to see them a year or two ago to swap notes, they mentioned some cousins they vaguely remembered hearing about, who lived near them in London when they were young. They couldn't place who they were. I thought perhaps they might have been one or other of our Frankensteins that were in London around that time, including my mother's family - her father was a First Cousin to Frajda, and they came to London at the same time, in 1913. We couldn't place them, though, and we left it there.

Now I think we've found out who these mystery cousins were - they're Abram Icek and his family. Abram is closer to Alan and Evelyn than my Frankensztajns were - he's their grandmother Frajda's half brother - same father, different mother - though the mothers are sisters, of course. Is there a word for that relationship?

What's in a name?
And, of course, there's more. Here's Abram Icek's marriage certificate:

Abraham Isaac Ray marries Bloomah Freedman on 3 March 1907, at Great Alie Street Synagogue in the East End. His father is shown as 'Harris Barnett Ray' - that's Hersz Ber Rajn to you and me. What's interesting about that is that Hersz Ber had died 13 years previously, in 1894, and had never left Poland. Abraham had anglicised his deceased father's Yiddish names, using versions that had been current amongst Jews in England for over a century - Hersz becomes Harris, Ber becomes Barnett, and no-one has to explain how to pronounce or spell them.

I have managed to trace a few records for Bernard, Debbe and Hetty, the children of Abraham and Bloomah. They all married and had children, one each so far as I can ascertain, all born in London just before or just after WW2. These children are my generation, they may still be around. The next challenge is to find them.

And, of course, there's more still. On their marriage certificate, Abraham and Bloomah gave the address 11 Underwood Street. That rang a bell. Hadn't I come across that address somewhere before?

But that story warrants a post of its own.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

And Basia, too


Six years ago I posted about the discovery that my father's Second Cousin (my 2C1R), Aharon Schreibman, had been killed during the Holocaust (May their souls rest in peace). He probably died, along with his wife Sara and all the other remaining Jews of Pinsk, when the Nazis destroyed the town's Ghetto and everybody in it in 1942. They were in their 40s, and there's no mention of any children in the testimonies submitted to the Yad Vashem Holocaust database, so I presume they didn't have any. There are no submissions for Aharon's parents, Leizer and Khasia Braina, so I presume they had died before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941; they were born in the 1850s or 60s.

Yad Vashem is in Jerusalem, and the testimonies were collected from the late 1950s onwards, mostly from people living in Israel. They are mostly written in Hebrew, and sometimes in the witness's native language, maybe English or more likely Russian or Polish. The YV website carries translations into English of all the information submitted.

There are two testimonies for Aharon, one submitted in 1957 by a woman called Rakhel, described as his niece, and one in 1999 by someone called Varda, a 'relative'. Logic suggests that if Rakhel is a niece of Aharon, she is probably the daughter of one of his siblings, but I didn't have any information on his family apart from the names of his parents.

These submissions give basic identifying details, as far as the person submitting can recall them. As you can see, one submission was made 15 years after the events, the other 47 years after. It is quite possible that Varda, submitting in 1999, may not have known Aharon and Sara; she may not even have been born when they perished. Rakhel, Aharon's niece, may have been in a different country in 1942; she is most unlikely to have been in Pinsk at the time, for hardly anyone survived. So the details of ages, places of birth, occupation may vary between submissions, according to the knowledge of the submitter; even names, too. Sometimes the submitters are able to give parents' names, sometimes those of children.

Very occasionally there's a photo - and here we are lucky. This one was submitted by Varda; the young man is Aharon, the little girl with him is not identified. He looks to me to be about 20; he was born in 1897, so the photo probably dates from around 1918-20, just after the end of WW1. The girl is maybe 8-10 years old, so born around 1910; she is clearly not his child.

There were other Schreibmans in the database, but I did not manage to identify any of them as being from my family.

There things rested, until 5 weeks ago.

Late one evening I was checking something or other on the Ancestry website (as you do), and noticed that Ben, a fellow Schreibman/Pinsk researcher, had added a couple of names to the part of his Tree that covers my family. We have both traced our Schreibman lines back to the mid-18C, but cannot find where, or even whether, they meet. So we may be cousins, but we can't be sure. You can see a discussion of where we'd got to a year ago here: The Schreibmans of Pinsk - Thirteen Families or One?

What Ben had added was a sister for Aharon: Basia.

Where did he get this from?

You've probably guessed - the Yad Vashem database. He'd done what is always recommended, but I had neglected to do - he had followed up other testimonies by these same witnesses, Rakhel and Varda, and what he found, of course, was other members of the same family.

Rakhel had submitted testimonies for her parents, Basia and Mordekhai Wekser. Basia's maiden name is given as Schreibman, and her mother is Khasia Braina. Basia's father - Rakhel's grandfather - is not named, so he may have died before Rakhel was born; but Basia is clearly Aharon's sister. And my 2C1R!

And there was a photo! Varda had also made a submission. She identifies herself as a granddaughter of Basia, and uses the same surname as Rakhel: Ben Aharon. So she is Rakhel's daughter, testifying 40 years later. And she still had a photo of her grandmother.

Also on Yad Vashem, I came across an entry for Basia on a list of Pinsk residents from July 1941. This added a second given name: Basza Henia. The Polish spelling suggests the list was made by Polish authorities, so it must have been compiled before the German invasion. Pinsk was in the area of Belarus allocated to Poland after WW1, so inter-war records are usually in Polish. The Soviet Union seized this part of Poland under the 'Non-Aggression Pact' they agreed with Germany in August 1939, but it looks as though the administration may still nave been carried out in Polish.

The List of Residents also gives a date of birth for Basza: 1886; this makes her about 10 years older than her brother, Aharon. And her father is shown as Lozer, which corresponds to the Leizer we have from elsewhere.

There is also an address for her: Breszka Street, number 16. The list for this address shows that Basza Henia was living there with Aharon and Sara. This list does show children with some of the other families in the building, so I think it is safe to assume that Aharon and Sara did not have any.

Basia's husband Mordekhai Vekser is not in the house at 16 Brzeska with her. This is clarified in the testimony Varda submitted for him - her grandfather - in which she shows him as 'divorced'; whereas strangely, for her grandmother Basia, she puts 'married'.

Who's the little girl?
Let's now return to the photo of Aharon and the little girl. Who is she? I guessed above that she would have been born around 1910.

Well, we have now seen that Basia was born in 1886. I think it's highly likely that the little girl in the photo is Rakhel, Aharon's niece, the daughter of his sister Basia, born around 1910 when her mother Basia would have been 24. I also think the photo provides some negative evidence (no apologies for the pun) that Basia and Mordekhai did not have any other children. Surely they would have been in this photo with their uncle, along with Rakhel?

Rakhel herself does not appear in the wartime records. She would have been about 30 when the Germans took Pinsk. I know that the Soviet authorities managed to evacuate some people to the East of the USSR ahead of the invasion. However they were not many, as Pinsk was fairly close to German territory and was captured almost immediately. There are a couple of other possibilities: escape from the town to join the partisans in the forests, or prior emigration. She was in Israel in the 1950s, so it is possible she emigrated there before the War, though not many were able to emigrate from the USSR during the 1930s. The least likely scenario is that she survived the War in Pinsk.

And what of Varda? I'm guessing that she would have been born around 1945-50, by which time Rakhel would have been in her mid-to-late 30s. This would make her the same generation as me, and hopefully still around. I did try writing to someone with her name a few years back, but got no response.

Maybe I'll try again.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Back to Russia!

The second talk I did at the IAJGS Conference in Warsaw last month was Back to Russia!, about the experiences of my grandfather Louis Frankenstein and his cousin Jack Schwartz during the First World War. They had both emigrated from Gombin in Poland to London in 1913, Louis was around 20 years old, Jack a couple of years younger.

During the War they were both caught up in an episode about which little appears to be known, even by historians of the period. This was an agreement between the British and Russian governments for a reciprocal exchange of conscripts, so that Russian subjects living in Britain, and British subjects living in Russia, would be liable for military service in the country they were living in. This agreement was known as the Anglo-Russian Military Service Convention, 1917.

I have only been able to find one book which deals with this episode, War or Revolution: Russian Jews and Conscription in Britain, 1917written by Harold Shukman, a historian whose father went "back to Russia" under the Convention. Apart from Shukman's book - which is excellent - and a couple of unpublished PhDs, which were also very helpful, I found just a chapter here, a few quotations there, and nothing else. I have even drawn a blank with a number of historians whose main focus is the contribution of British Jews to the First World War, and the effects of the War on the Jewish community - even the specialists were not able to provide any useful leads.

So the story told in this talk is based on what I have been able to glean from these sources (listed at the end of the Handout, which you can read or download), and on documents found as part of my own research into the lives of my grandfather Louis and his cousin Jack. This involved, amonsgt other things, pursuing Freedom of Information requests with the National Archives, and with West Yorkshire Police.

I must say at this point that neither my family nor the Schwartz family had the faintest idea what our respective grandfathers "did during the War". We have a photo of my grandfather in some sort of military uniform, but I couldn't find any record of his military service; he doesn't appear in the British Jewry Book of Honour, which is a thoroughly researched roll-call of thousands of Jews who served in the British Forces in WW1. There is a Jack Schwartz listed in the Book of Honour, indeed there are several, and his family thought he fought in France. He didn't.
Here's the Presentation I used for the talk. Click on the image below, and you will be taken to the Presentation page. You'll be asked to give yourself a name - it doesn't matter what name you use. Then you just click on the 'Slideshow' icon - it's the blue triangle, just left of centre above the slide.  This gives you the Slideshow in all its full-screen majesty. 
You can play through it using the Spacebar, the Return/Enter key, or the right-arrow key. Most of the slides have two or three components that appear in sequence, one at a time. You'll just have to imagine the commentary that goes with them. Jan did an audio recording, but we haven't got round to processing it yet, let alone matching it up to the slides. 
When you get to the end, or feel you can't take any more, just press the Esc key.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Fields of Glass

The Annual Conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies was held in Warsaw last month, and I was lucky enough to have two talks accepted.

This is the Presentation that went with one of them, Fields of Glass. It grew out of my research into the family of my great-grandfather, Hersz Ber Waksman, who died in London in 1945, shortly after I was born. I found that his mother was Gitla Laja Glasman, and that she had died young leaving two infant sons. We'd never heard of the Glasmans, so I started looking into them.

They came from a village called Gniewoszow, on the Vistula River in central Poland, and there were loads of them. There are around 150 individual Glasmans listed in the village in the birth, marriage and death indexes on the JRI-Poland website, over a period of some 50 years in the mid-19th Century.

I thought that might be enough to do a little social study. I'm not a social scientist, or a statistician, and I know I can't draw any grand conclusions about 19th Century Jewish village life from this small survey, but I think there are some interesting pointers here. And they're my Glasmans, these are my ancestors.

Here's the Presentation I used for the talk. Click on the image, and you will be taken to the Presentation page. You'll be asked to give yourself a name - it doesn't matter what name you use. Then you just click on the 'Slideshow' icon - it's the blue triangle, just left of centre above the slide.  This gives you the Slideshow in all its full-screen majesty.

You can play through it using the Spacebar, the Return/Enter key, or the right-arrow key. Most of the slides have two or three components that appear in sequence, one at a time. You'll just have to imagine the commentary that goes with them. Jan did an audio recording, but we haven't got round to processing it yet, let alone matching it up to the slides.

When you get to the end, or feel you can't take any more, just press the Esc key.

You can also read or download the Handout for the talk.

[NB: I haven't tried it on mobile or iPad yet.]

Jan and I paid a brief visit to Gniewoszow last year, I'll post a few photos later.