By Todd Knowles
For generations the British Isles have been a melting pot for Jewish people. Whether they were cigar makers from Amsterdam, tailors from Russia or merchants from Spain, they have always found a home in the British Isles. Concluding with her death in the 1980’s the late Isobel Mordy spent her life documenting the Jewish people of England. Her work, called the “Mordy Collection” was and is a great source for British Jewish research.
The work done by Isobel Mordy, the documenting of the Jewish people was second to none, yet there are a couple of drawbacks with the collection. First, the family codes can be quite complex and in larger pedigrees there can be over 50 people per generation. This can lead to a lot of time spent in compiling family pedigrees. As other pedigrees merge into your own pedigree the time commitment can cause some researchers to become frustrated.
The second problem for those using the “Mordy Collection” is that Ms. Mordy passed away before the beginning of the modern computer era. Today, computers are a part of our daily life, so it’s hard to imagine doing genealogy without them. Ms. Mordy on the other hand didn’t have that luxury. Therefore her incredible work is available only on microfilm and not available in any searchable electronic format.
It is because of these two issues that the “Knowles Collection” came to be. As a staff member in the British Unit of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, I have a great interest in the records of the British Isles. As the great grandson of Polish Jews I also have a great interest in Jewish records. For many years, people have used the Mordy Collection and have found their ancestors. In fact since the records were kept until her death, well into the 1980’s, many researchers have found themselves in her collection. The “Knowles Collection” has taken all of the individual records compiled by Isobel Mordy and linked them electronically by families. This has created a totally searchable database for those searching for their Jewish Ancestors in the records of the British Isles. All of her original records have been saved and are truly now the foundation of the “Knowles Collection”.
The Knowles Collection, starting with her original 6000 names, was updated in Jan of 2010, to well over 75000 names. The next update sometime in the summer of 2010 will take the collection to over 100,000 names. Updated 3 or 4 times a year, it truly has become a living database, growing and expanding almost daily. What once began as a record of the Jews of The British Isles, has now grown to include references to over 30 different countries. While the “Mordy Collection” was the first source added to the database, the next update will include almost 175 individual sources. The additions include census records, synagogue records, cemetery records, probate, civil registration records, and an incredible number of individual family records, donated by people throughout the world. However, whereas the “Mordy Collection” included people well into the 1980’s, for privacy reasons, the “Knowles Collection” has very few records more recent than the early 1920’s. All of these records available for free in one database.
Now, 25 years after her passing, the records that she cared so deeply for, are now available for anyone to search, free of charge at www.familysearch.org. The collection can be downloaded as either a PAF program or as a GEDCOM for viewing in any genealogical software program.