Monday, 31 December 2012

Mystery Monday- Nameless Faces

I've written before on how wonderful a resource old photographs can be, and just how lucky I am to have quite a lot in my family. If there's on thing that really can drive me wild, it's unnamed, and unidentifiable photographs. Here is a fine example. With the exception of the very small child in the broad hat at the front, my great grandfather Henry Lefcovitch, I have no idea who these people are. Given the poses, it seems probable that they are all family of one sort or another, but, of what one can make out of their features, I do not recognise any of them from the other photographs in the family collection. None of these people here are his grandparents, on either side, nor do can I make out his parents.

A rather more glamorous example from the same collection is depicted below. I can make more of an educated guess as to who she may be, but still not be certain. While this young lady certainly has the colouring and bearing of a Jacobs, and the address of the studio at the bottom indicates a member of the New York branches, I can think of at least four girls (young Henry's first cousins on his mother's side); sadly, unlike others in the collection, this photograph has not been labelled on the back. One can but wonder if that fabulous muff was hers.

Finally, another magnificently, if somewhat unconventionally dressed young woman. Once again, she is probably a Jacobs girl, though more likely a London one. She appears to be wearing a wedding ring, but alas, this does not really help identify her specifically. These photos are still fascinating glimpses into my ancestors' past but goodness, if you recognize anyone, please let me know!

The Much Married Mr Bennet

It is a truth universally acknowledged  that a man in possession of five wives must have been something unusual. So I begin this description of a Bennett quite unlike one to be found in Pride and Prejudice.

A traditional Jewish wedding. Did Louis really put his
family through this every time he married?
My sixth cousin thrice removed, Louis Bennet was born in New York City to Jewish parents, David and Augusta (née Weber) in 1863. The confusion over his surname is understandable- his father was Behrend when he married, in 1855; he was referred to both as Bennet and Bennett in numerous US censuses. His parents both   Eastern European born Jews, their life was common to many immigrants of a similar time. David was a shoemaker, and Augusta (or Gusta) raised their increasingly large family. Louis remained part of this until his marriage in 1883, to Barbara Rennert. Yet unlike his siblings, most of whom married, and some of whom also raised large broods of children, Louis neither had large numbers of children, nor was married to anyone woman, at least in New York, for long. In 1886 he remarried, this time to Rachel Stolz. She died in January 1888, and in July of the same year he married Carrie Ehrlich. She must have been more resilient than her predecessors, as she lasted the better part of six years, dying in January of 1894. At the end of that year, Louis married for the fourth and final time in New York, to Rose Berman.

This union, at last, bore signs of greater success. On the fourteenth of September 1895 a son, Berthold was born. Yet despite the birth of his son, and her relative sturdiness (she was still alive in 1920), theirs seems eventually to have been an ill-fated match. By the Federal Census of 1900, Louis was living as a boarder, described as single. While Rose and Louis are nowhere to be found in this census, it is interesting that they appear arriving as passengers into New York in 1904- they had come from Germany, where Rose was born. In the next federal census of 1910, Rose, while still describing as 'married', is living alone with a teenage Berthold; our man Louis has relocated, supposedly divorced to Massachusetts.

The final piece of busy Mr Bennett's puzzle comes in a marriage, performed by Rabbi Jacob Slavritsky in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 18th of February 1914. This is somewhat described as Louis' second marriage, following a divorce. The full names of parents are given, so we can be quite sure that this is him, but his age, given as 44 (he should been at least 50) seems about fishy as his marital status. He mercifully does not appear to have remarried, though I may well still be proved wrong, as I have not found a record yet of his death. Whilst there are still so many questions remaining about Louis remaining, it is fascinating to conclude that, minus one divorcee, he had the same number of wives with fates as King Henry VIII of England: three died, one divorced, and one survived!

Saturday, 15 December 2012


Just a quick note to apologize for having written so little recently. I've been rather busy with my university studies, but the good news is that I have come across some interesting bits and pieces which I hope to convert into posts soon - watch this space!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Who Do You Think You Are? A review...

Last night's edition of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? was in my opinion a return to form for the programme, now in its eighth series.It featured celebrated gourmand Gregg Wallace [spoiler alert!] and his rather tragic family history. I still greatly enjoy the series overall, and yet I find this merits further exploration; what is it that the viewer, and in so many cases, genealogically minded viewer, enjoys?

One of the chief reasons for the programme's success is its emotional appeal. In the case of last night's epsiode, it was the tragic nature of Wallace's ancestors culminating in his emotionally charged recreation of a fatal accident. It was not, evidently, genealogy, but it was tangible and important family history. Similarly, the visit to the former Lunatic Asylum in Exminster was atmospheric, and given the boom in popularity of converted homes from large Victorian structures, a fascinating reminder of their sometimes melancholy past. This is particulary of interest to me, as my local Reform Synagogue was once the Chapel of a lunatic asylum. Such institutions, with their sad stories, are part of Britain's architectural fabric and whether or not they can be maintained for public use, or are converted into residential dwellings, they are considerably better than their modern replacements should they demolished.

There is something too be said for the attraction of the "star" in the programme. It must be difficult for the producers to find someone who has antecedents neither too famous (Nigella Lawson and Lyons' Tea Houses, anyone?) nor indeed too dull- infamously, the TV personality Michael Parkinson was rejected by the show's makers for his supposedly limited family background. Tastes vary amongst the show's audience, but anecdotally I've noticed that some find certain actors overly theatrical in their reactions to every revelation, though many are genuinely moved by the unexpected responses from certain quarters- one of WDYTYA's delights is that it reveals not only a new genealogical, but sometimes deeper side to a well known personality.

Now for the appeal to that niche, genealogical audience. Genealogists must (though I myself refrained yesterday) be shouting at their television sets: "You're making it look too easy!", "How convenient, just opening up the ledger and finding the right record", or even "I could do all this too if the BBC paid for my numerous and extensive research costs!" These are all reasonable points and, while they might cause much frustration, shouldn't distract from what can sometimes be gleaned from the show. Actually, not much of genealogical interest was shown- the material dealt with a few generations only, the certificates were straightforward, and the relations uncomplicated. I did find it useful in that, as in the previous week's episode, it reminded us of the value of local libraries and their newspaper resources, as well as the occasional kindliness of the librarians. Contrived as such situations are it is important to remember that such places can often hold useful if unhighlighted resources.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

What's in a photo? I am fascinated by the collection (or, to use
the technical term, mish mash) of family photos that exists in my family.
Here is a good example in numerous respects; though small,
it is still in fairly good condition; the date taken is recorded as 26th June 1932 on the back by one of the sitters (the lady on the far left)- Clara Robinson née Saffer (1894-1962); the location is given as Beech Hill, a house on Singleton Road in North Manchester, which I fortunate enough to visit in Summer of 2009.
There is no indication, however, as to who these people are: so it is,
that I, and my immediate family can only safely identify two: Clara,
far left, and rather brilliantly nonchalant in the chair, her father Harry, or Harris Saffer (1869-1959) leading light of the North Manchester Jewish community, and one of the founders of the Brodyer Synagogue in 1891, which later became part of the North Manchester Synagogue. So much for those two; and the others? Clara had seven siblings surviving at the time this photo was taken. I'd like to think that it shows Clara and her father with two of her sisters and their husbands- but unfortunately I've know way of knowing. Such is life, and, more to the point, genealogy.


Despite (or perhaps because) of the multitude of genealogy themed blogs out there, I've felt inspired to create my own. As I have quite a wide range of interests, I hope it shall cover any number of interesting things- some related to my own family, research I've done for others, or just things I manage to stumble upon. With any luck, this may interest someone other than me!