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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
The Jews kept meticulous records, were very reluctant to part with them, and were not requested to deposit them by the Registrar General in the mid-19th century, thus they remain with the Jewish community. They may be at synagogues, Jewish institutions, or Jewish cemeteries and burial societies. Some have been deposited into the care of local or county archives and much has been microfilmed, to be found under FamilySearch Catalog - COUNTRY - (COUNTY) - (TOWN) - JEWISH RECORDS, not under CHURCH RECORDS. The Exchequer Court of the Jews contains the early records of taxes for Jews and civil litigation between Jews and Christians. Many of their records have been transcribed and published by the Jewish Historical Society of England and are in the Family History Library, for example the Calendar of the Plea Rolls 1218-1272 in FHL book 942 B4j.
Languages and Dates
The registers make extensive use of the Hebrew and Yiddish languages up until the 1840s and of the Hebrew calendar. The latter is more ancient than the Christian one by 3760 years, thus the Jewish year 5761 commenced at sunset on September 29, 2000.
Chart 20: Jewish Months
Early Jewish Records
Some of the earliest records for the Sephardi are those at the Spanish and Portuguese Bevis Marks Synagogue in London from 1656-1837. The originals are kept at Bevis Marks Hall but are also on microfilm to 1875.
Early London Ashkenazi records include those of the now defunct:
- Great Synagogue, Duke’s Place founded in 1690, records from 1770-1973.
- Hambro Synagogue founded 1707, records from 1770-1938.
- New Synagogue founded 1761, records from 1774-1992.
Most records of these synagogues over 100 years old seem to be filmed and on the IGI, In addition the United Synagogue births, marriages and burials of Ashkenazis 1791-1879 are on 11 films starting at FHL film 0094657.
Jewish Birth, Circumcision and Baptism
The Jews recorded births, although sometimes rather casually and some parents had them entered in Anglican registers for a fee, without ceremonies being performed, just to ensure a legal record, for exampl
All Hallows, Barking-by-the-Tower, City of Londone:
| FHL film 1952113
Born 13 Aug 1775, registered 21 Aug 1775 at the request of the father, a Jew. Lyon Solomon son of Reuben Solomon
Circumcision (brit or bris) of males took place at age eight days as a mark of the covenant Abraham made with God, and at this time the boy’s name was announced. Circumcision records were the property of the community surgeon (mohel) rather than the local synagogue. For a girl, there was just an announcement of her name within a week of her birth. Biblical names were popular for both boys and girls, partly because of the custom of naming after ancestors. A useful note is that Ashkenazim would only do this if the father, grandparent etc. was already dead, but Sephardim also if still living. Rodrigues-Pereira and Loewe, from which the example below is taken, have an introduction describing names and naming practices amongst the Jews, as well as the Sephardim registers themselves. Records of baptism were usually only made for admitting converts.
Chart: Birth and Circumcision Register 1767-1881 of Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, London- FHL book 942.1/l1 K35S
|Child’s name, father, mother, surname, day in the week of the child’s birth, Jewish date, Christian date, circumciser, attester.|
|Benjamin s/o Isaac and Maria D’ISRAELI, Friday, 9 Tevet 5565, 21 Dec 1804, D.A. Lindo, 26 Tevet 5565, D.P.B. Carlo (?)|
|Hanah d/o Jacob and Leah NETTA, Friday, 16 Shevat 5565, 15 Feb 1805, - , D.P.B. Carlo [?]|
Bar and Bat Mitzvahs
These ceremonies of achievement of puberty and responsible behaviour were the Bar Mitzvah for a boy which took place on the Saturday closest to his 13th birthday, and the Bat Mitzvah for a girl at age 12.
Jews did not have to use the record formats provided by Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (1754), and their marriages were subject to different consanguinity laws. Thus an uncle could marry a niece, or an aunt a nephew, and it was considered the duty of a bachelor or widowed man to marry and support his deceased brother’s widow (a levirate marriage). These were illegal under English law until 1921 thus many of those marriages took place in Europe, indeed the bride may have been living in the old homeland because her former husband had not emigrated to England with his brother. Because of the many differences between the two groups, it was unusual before the 19th century for a Sephardim to marry an Ashkenazic Jew.
A mixed Jewish/Gentile marriage was anathema to strict Jews until quite recently and would have taken place in a register office and not under Jewish law, and children would take the mother’s religion.
Marriages could be solemnized both in synagogues and other places, and before 1837 were not always recorded in the synagogue registers. However, a copy of the bride’s marriage settlement, the ketuba(h) (plural ket(h)ubot), was kept in the synagogue as evidence. A translation of the wording of a ketuba, known as an abstract, is shown here.
Chart: A Jewish Ketuba (Marriage Settlement)
On the (#) day of the week, the (#) day of the month (Jewish name), in the year (Jewish #) corresponding to the (date) of (month and year)., the holy Covenant of Marriage was entered into, in [town] between the Bridegroom (name) and his bride (name).
The said Bridegroom made the following declaration to his Bride:
Marriage authorizations exist from 1845—there are over 240,000 since 1880- and may indicate the parties’ places of birth. A detailed history of Jewish marriage and divorce in England has been provided by a legal searcher for the London Beth Din (Tucker). According to the new Act, marriages from 1837 had to be properly recorded in conventional marriage registers after a ceremony in the synagogue (shown below ). Harris gives particulars of the ceremony and different records available for his ancestors’ post-1837 Jewish marriages.
Chart: Civil Registration of Marriages of Jews
FHL film 1752194
|At the Princess Street Synagogue, in the Parish of Spitalfields in the County of London, and married according to the usages of the Jews by Certificate|
|16 Jun 1897 Davis POLLIABSHEK 25 bachelor, tailor of 225 Lolesworth Buildings, Whitechapel s/o Lewis Polliabshek, tailor + Milly MACCOBY 21 spinster, no occupation of 99 Lolesworth Buildings, Whitechapel d/o Chaim Zindel Maccoby, minister by H. Adler Chief Rabbi, J. Kaliski secretary. Both signed, witnesses: P. Silverstone, M. Joel.|
|30 Jun 1897 Hyman GOLDBERG 21 bachelor, cabinet maker of 11 Queens Street, Whitechapel s/o Harris Goldberg, publican + Sarah COHEN 21 spinster, no occupation of 18 Princelet Street, Spitalfields d/o Barnet Berkowech, tailor by P. Fassenfeld Minister, J. Kaliski secretary. Both made their mark, witnesses: N. Cohen, Davis Davitsky.|
There was only one Chief Rabbi at this time and he married most Jewish couples in London. However, those who did not pass moral muster were relegated to being married by a mere Minister (see discussion by Tucker). One wonders what Hyman and Sarah had done to deserve this fate—is it possible that Sarah was illegitimate?
Jewish Death and Burial
Jewish burial took place within 72 hours of death, and the week-long period of mourning called shivah was often reported in Jewish newspapers. The report included thanks from the near relatives who held the shivah, with their names and addresses, to those who mourned with them—obviously a rich source of women’s married names and relatives’ census addresses. Some Jewish congregations had their own burial grounds, but many Jews were buried in local cemeteries or occasionally in Anglican churchyards. Over 350,000 burial authorizations exist from 1896 onwards and may indicate the parties’ places of birth, facts may not be available elsewhere.
The Great Synagogue in London had portions of two cemeteries, now closed, whose records are at the United Synagogue:
- Brady Street cemetery in Stepney 1796-1858.
- West Ham cemetery 1858-1872, which also has a New Synagogue portion for the same period.
There is only one burial in each Jewish grave, but there may be several relatives close by, with details of relationships on the headstones. Jewish monumental inscriptions are typically very informative for genealogists, giving dates and places of birth. Wenzerul (A Beginner’s Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Great Britain. Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, 2001) interprets some of the Jewish symbols on gravestones.
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