Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Returning to the Workhouse.

Genealogy does not feature very regularly on British television. Neither, too, do depictions of the kind of grinding poverty that was a feature of so many lives in the nineteenth century. But this unusual combination was last night featured on prime time television, in the form of ITV's Secrets from the Workhouse.
Ripon Workhouse, as visited by the novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford.
The premise of having celebrities visit, or simply find out about, workhouses associated with their relative, was not altogether a bad one. In the case of Kiera Chaplin, the fact that her antecedent was so famous rather skewed the perspective; evidence coming from Charlie Chaplin's autobiography removed the sense of genuine social history and discovery that the each of the other cases in their own way brought. Similar to Who Do You Think You Are?, to which comparisons by producers and audience must have been obvious, the emotive quality of the past was brought to life. At least in this case, no-one could have expected much else from the title. Again, the success of the programme may depend on how the celebrities are judged to react, but for me the merit of the show (or otherwise) must lie in its historical presentation and interpretation.

The depiction of nineteenth century social history, was, in fact, riveting. The sheer poverty of life outside the workhouse in many cases was not omitted and the particular use by the elderly and mothers of illegitimate
Shoreditch Workhouse today, where Louis Glück's
daughter was born in 1846.
children were rightly highlighted. My own family connection to a workhouse comes through the last of these: in 1846, after the death of his first wife, my ancestor Louis Glück had a daughter by a woman called Sarah Brown, who gave birth in the Shoreditch workhouse on the eighteenth of February. The story of this woman and her daughter ends here, but it is perhaps telling that Louis never allowed his legitimate family to see the inside of one of these institutions in his lifetime. Genealogical connections aside, the shocking modernity of this institution was laid bare. Barbara Taylor Bradford spoke to a woman in Ripon, who had herself been an inmate in the 1940s.

The workhouse, whose shadow was cast over so much of the last two centuries, must also be reflected in genealogical survey of the time. As Brian Cox described it, this "endless assault on human dignity", must not be forgotten.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Jewish Genealogy and the First World War- Some Reflections

My apologies for posting so little in such a long time. I have just completed a blog posting for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (forgive the shameless plug!), to which the link is:

To spruce this up for my personal blog, I thought I might share the following picture, which emphasizes my own familial connection to the War. These portraits depicts Solomon Sidney (Sid) Rosebery, a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps; Henry Lefridge, my great-grandfather, only just 18, a private in the Army Service Corps; and Samuel (Sam) Altman, in the uniform of the Australian Infantry, brother of my great-grandmother Millie Lefridge - Sid was her sister Dorothy's husband. These men all survived the conflict, and in fact Sid Rosebery stayed in the Army and went on to serve in the Second World War. Millie's youngest brother, Lionel (below) was not so fortunate, he died in northern France in 1917, aged only 18; another brother Louis died in the Spanish flu epidemic immediately after the War. These are my family's own connection to the conflict, whose centenary I discuss in the main post.

Lionel Altman, Bedford Regt. signed 1915

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Who Do You Think You Are - Live 2013: Society Saturday

Few events in the genealogical world cause as much excitement, or indeed are as widely noticed by the unitiated, as the annual Who Do You Think You Are?- Live show in National Hall, Olympia, London. Family history societies of varying sorts from all over the UK take part, and use the opportunity to increase membership, as well as field any enquiries in their particular field. As a volunteer on the Jewish Genealogical society of Great Britain stall, this year as in the three before, I've heard all manner of queries, from those who think they might possibly have discovered a Jewish family member, to deeply moving personal stories. I've even discovered a cousin - but that I think is a tale for another time!

There's always a lot going on at WDTYA-L so it's hard to catch it all. I had a fair chance to look around today, and shall be back again tomorrow, and will report back after that too (hopefully). Although the show seemed a little less busy today that Saturdays I've seen in the past - I don't think the freezing cold weather helped! - there was still a great buzz. The large service providers were all very busy, and vendors of everything from genealogy printing materials to silverware seemed to be plying a healthy trade. When you've been to the show, as well as around the genealogy circuit, a few times, February at Olympia is a nice time to catch up with people, some of whom I hadn't seen since the previous year. I always love helping people find out just that little bit more about their family too, so it was great to do a bit of that too.

I hope to give a fuller report of the show- maybe finding some photos and things to go with it- some time after the show tomorrow!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Tombstone Tuesday- Rachel Levy

This is the tombstone of my great-great-great aunt (my grandmother's father's maternal aunt) Rachel Levy née Jacobs (1859-1918). It is to be found near the front of Plashet Cemetery, in East Ham, London, and is in very good condition for its age. I have much affection for this stone, despite it not belonging to one of my direct ancestors; for it was the first I ever discovered in doing genealogy, almost five years ago now!

I had made an appointment to go and see the cemetery (Plashet it open by appointment only as it is no longer used for burials - this is not however an uncontroversial system!), having first ascertained which of my relatives were likely to be buried there, and where they were. I went to go and look for my great-great-great grandfather Adolphus Jacobs (Rachel's father), and was disappointed not to find a legible marker on his grave. Trudging despondently back to the car, the names on this stone caught my eye- I realised I'd found Rachel without even knowing she was there! I subsequently photographed the stone on a later visit.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Surname Saturday- Lefridge

Henry and Sidney Lefridge as teenagers., c.1917
When my grandmother was born in North London in 1932, she automatically joined an exclusive club: the Lefridge family. Only her parents, grandparents, and her uncle and his family shared her surname, in the entire country. But where did this unusual name come from? Her father, as his before him, had been born Henry Lefcovitch on the 26th May 1900, but his father Nathan may already have started to go by Nathan Lefridge. Henry's younger siblings, Sidney and Gladys, known as Galla, had been registered at birth as Lefridge, despite it not being their father's legal name. This was legal in the United Kingdom, where your name is what people called you, not what was written on a document! However, in First World War, xenophobic, and especially anti-German, feeling led many Jewish families to change their names officially by deed poll: Nathan (and Henry) did this in 1915. 

Nat Lefridge and his wife Elsie, on holiday in 1932.

However, the name of Lefridge was destined not to last. Henry and Sidney both had daughters, all of whom married and changed their names. Consequently, when Henry's wife Millie died in 1987, the family name died out, having officially existed only sixty two years. Though they were a small family, my grandmother still remembers her maiden name fondly: owing to its rarity, it is very useful for making dinner reservations!