Thursday, 16 February 2017

Is this the Missing Link?

You know that moment when you're looking for something, and you find something else? Well, this is one of those moments.

Last week I met my Frankenstein 3rd Cousins Eve and Alan for the first time. We're 3rd Cousins because my great-grandfather Jankel Josek and their great-grandmother Rifka Laja were brother and sister, born around 150 years ago in little villages near Gombin in Poland. It turns out they both live about 15 miles away from me, but we had completely lost touch - I don't think our families had had any contact since my grandfather died over 60 years ago.

In the 1900s and 1910s, several members of our Frankenstein family emigrated to England. Jankel and Rifka's younger brother Moszek (Morris) came around 1905, and then 3 of his nieces and nephews came a few years later, all in their teens or early 20s. These were my grandfather Lajb (Louis) Frankenstein, Eve and Alan's grandmother Frajda (Frieda) Rajn, and Jankel Lajb (Jack) Szwarc, son of Bajla, who in turn was a sister of Jankel, Rifka and Moszek. So basically, it looks like each of these four siblings sent one member of their family to start a new life in London.

I know that Louis and Jack arrived in 1913. Whether they came together or separately I don't know. At the moment we don't know when Frieda came, but she must have come before the outbreak of the First World War in July 1914, because travel across Europe would have been impossible after that. In any case, by 1916 all three of them were getting married, all in the same place, at the Philpot Street Synagogue in Mile End in the East End of London, the area that most recent Jewish immigrants headed to on arrival.

When Jack first arrived, he stayed with Uncle Morris, and worked with him in his tailoring workshop, run from his home in Mile End. Jack got married in March 1916 from an address nearby, in Bethnal Green, and at that point he was no longer living with Morris. I know nothing of Louis until his marriage in November 1916, when he was living not in the East End, but across town in the West End. But then his bride was a West End girl, living just round the corner, in the shadow of the Post Office Tower (which of course wasn't there at the time).

I was interested to know more about how the 3 young cousins came to end up in London. Did they come together? Did they stay together? Did Uncle Morris offer lodging and work to Louis and Frieda, as he did to Jack? And why did Louis end up in a different part of town?

Eve and Alan didn't have any details on Frieda's arrival in London and her first few years there. They weren't even sure whether she and Aaron had married in London, or in Poland, before they left. So after our meeting I checked online, and found they had indeed married in London, in 1916. I ordered their Marriage Certificate. I was hoping the certificate would throw some light on where they were living at the time, and maybe help answer some of my questions.

Well it did throw light, but from a most unexpected quarter.

This is from the marriage certificate, shown above. They were both living in Blyth Street, Bethnal Green, but at different addresses. Maybe that's how they met? Who knows.

Wait a minute. I've seen Blyth Street before. Didn't someone else live there at some point .... ?

This is from the 1911 Census for Barnett Frankenstein and his family. It's the same house. Not just the same street, but the same house.

It's only 2 years ago that I first came across Barnett and his family in the records, and I've managed to make contact with a number of his descendants. Together we've been trying ever since to establish whether our two families are connected, and if so, how. There are a couple of circumstantial clues that suggest we probably are:

  • Firstly, Barnett gives his birthplace as Gombin, which is our Frankenstein town, and so far all Frankensteins found in the records for that area are members of our family. There are none that aren't.
  • Secondly, the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition was to name children after deceased relatives. The effect of this is that names are not repeated from father to son, but usually skip a generation, and are passed down from a grandfather or great-grandfather. Barnett uses exactly the same names for his sons as are repeated throughout the 19th Century - and longer - in my family: Jack, Woolf, Lewis, Isaac. Notice that in this same generation, my grandfather is Louis, and his cousin is Jack Szwarc.

Neither of these on their own would be convincing; together they make a stronger case, but it's still not quite definitive. The coincidence of address looks like a third clue, albeit from 5 years earlier. The case is building.

Well, next up, this is from the Post Office Trade Directory for 1916:

They're still there in 1916, at 28 Blyth Street. So when Frieda got married in March 1916, her fiancé Aaron Hyman was staying with Barnett Frankenstein. Of all the households in London - alright, of all the households in the East End - he was staying with Barnett.

Barnett is family. We still don't know exactly where the link is, but I think there's sufficiently convincing evidence here to meet the Michael Shade Genealogical Proof Standard. 

So this is one of those moments. Hello to a whole new branch of the family. Hello to new cousins. Dozens of new cousins!