Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SPOTLIGHT ON GENEALOGISTS - The Ultimate Irish Genealogist


Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
As a means of letting you know about your fellow genealogists, a monthly spotlight will be featured on the JewishGen Blog.  Our first in this series is Stuart Rosenblatt, the ultimate Irish genealogist.  Rather than having to write a feature about him, we are fortunate to have a great article which was featured in the "Irish Independent" newspaper, Sunday, January 31, 2010 edition.  Hope you enjoy it and send us your comments.
SPOTLIGHT ON GENEALOGISTS
Stuart Rosenblatt - The Ultimate Irish Genealogist

 



The following article appeared in the Irish Independent, Sunday, January 31, 2010 By John Burke

Buried deep in the 16-volume record of Irish Jewish genealogy is a school report card for Dubliner Stuart Rosenblatt. It says that the then adolescent was ‘‘thoroughly spoiled’’ by his parents. His educators could see no future in academia for the boy, who was frequently handed spells of detention. Now Rosenblatt, the author of the world’s most comprehensive record of Jewish lineage, can allow himself a laugh at the prediction made a half century ago.

The 65-year-oldTempleogue man’s achievement is remarkable, and a global first. His opus is a labyrinthine database of more than 42,000 Irish Jews, their family histories and their global connections dating back to 1664.

Copies of his research have been deposited with the National Archives and the national library.

Rosenblatt’s archive is unequalled, in that Ireland is the only country to have codified and collated into one source all the records of one religious community over four centuries. Yet the archivist began only with the aim of researching his own family history.

‘‘I started more than 12 years ago to look at my own family tree,” he says. ‘‘I had no greater plan than that.

I went in to the Jewish Museum.

‘‘From there, I expanded out my search. I went to the Jewish graveyard at Dolphin’s Barn. I examined burial records, and was appalled at the awful state of repair of the old ones. It seemed to me that, if something was not done to document these things soon, the records would be lost forever.”

What began as a passing interest has turned into a 16-volume manuscript and computerised database containing the histories and life stories of 42,501Irish Jews.

The stories have been garnered from several hundred thousand documents, including birth records, notes of immigration officers and policemen in memoranda on non-national aliens, school and college records, as well as household and religious practice records and death and burial records.

Rosenblatt began his family investigations upon the deaths of his father, Dublin businessman Martin Sidney Rosenblatt, and mother, Zena Rosenblatt, in 1991.

‘‘I looked into my family history and found there was a huge wealth of information out there in relation to the entire Irish Jewish community but it was all contained in unconnected streams, many of which weren’t really formally recorded at all,” he says. ‘‘At the beginning, I knew nothing about how to look for what I was looking for. I didn’t realise then what I was getting myself into.”

Rosenblatt was frequently nonplussed by gaps in the data, such as children’s birth dates being different to those officially recorded by the General Registrations Office (GRO). ‘‘This is because, towards the latter part of the 1800s,members of the Jewish community were so poor that they could not take the time off work to register a birth immediately. Because the birth was registered a considerable time after the actual birth, the date was not recorded accurately.”

Rosenblatt’s archive lays bare a community which struggled to grab a foothold in Ireland until the late 19th century. In 1871, the Jewish population of Ireland was a mere 258 people. Ten years later, however, after English and German Jews travelled to the island, it stood at 453.

The benign aspect of Ireland in the 19th century made it an attractive haven for Jews fleeing harsher states. Russian Jews travelled here to escape the pogroms after 1881, primarily in Ukraine, and the introduction by Czar Alexander III of the May Laws of 1882,which denied Jews entry into many higher professions and prevented them living in towns and rural areas of certain sizes and restricted access to commercial opportunities.

The Ireland of that time had a history of religious tolerance towards minority faiths.

However, Irish law was soon changed to reflect a concern in Britain that émigrés might form the bedrock for expatriate terrorism aimed at either the British crown or at Russian aristocratic interests in Britain.

The Aliens Act put in place here would, however, prove to be a catalyst for Rosenblatt’s research. Between 1914 and 1922, for example, all non-nationals in Britain and Ireland were required to register their presence with the police. These records, held in the National Archives, are ‘‘spectacularly helpful’’, according to Rosenblatt. They provide first-hand information on the men and women who entered the country from the Russian empire (mainly Lithuania) over that period.

‘‘They give a compelling account of when the non-Irish citizens arrived; where they lived at the time they registered; the number of children they had and any other information you could want in terms of plotting who they were and tracing where they went afterwards,” Rosenblatt says.

‘‘In fact, if you moved more than eight miles from where you had initially registered, you were obliged to re-register with the local police office in the new place of residence .Unfortunately, it has not been possible to locate any such records for registrations under the Aliens Act outside of the Dublin area.”

Numbers rose rapidly, and communities of Irish Jews sprang up in many cities outside Dublin. By 1901, the number of Jews resident in Ireland was 3,771.Of these, some 2,200 lived in Dublin. A further thousand entered Ireland within the following three years.

‘‘The immigration records show that quite a lot of those who arrived here were peddlers, drapers; essentially industrious small business people. There were tailors, an expert in wire-fencing, even pencil-makers and feather-buyers. The list is extensive,” says Rosenblatt.

Their route to these shores was not direct from Lithuania. Many went elsewhere first but travelled onwards, perhaps finding London or Liverpool to be overcrowded or less accepting of new arrivals.

‘‘Quite a lot of these people would have come to Britain first. They would have heard that there was a small green island just off the coast which had no history of racial intolerance towards the Jews, and where opportunities were plentiful,” says Rosenblatt.

The archive also points to the genesis of what became known as Dublin’s Jewish quarter at the start of the 20th century.

Here, one of the richest veins of information has come from the maternity attendance book of Ada Shillman, a midwife who delivered hundreds of newborns to mothers in the Dublin Jewish community from April 9,1896 up to April 29,1908, around the Portobello district of the South Circular Road.

The earlier Jewish population had lived largely on Dublin’s northside and were scattered without any focal point. Rosenblatt came across pockets of Jewish family homes in Clontarf, Capel Street and Amiens Street in the north of the city. However, after the increase in the numbers of Jewish people coming into Dublin, there was a noticeable shift in location, from the northside over to south of the Liffey. A distinct community had developed on the South Circular Road and its environs by 1900.

‘‘There was a successful social mix something which doesn’t even happen today and Jewish people of different backgrounds and incomes lived side by side, trading and living in what seems to have been a vibrant community,” Rosenblatt says.

Rosenblatt’s work has become of great interest to Jewish people of Irish descent.

According to Yvonne Altman O’Connor, one of a committee of volunteers which oversees the running of the Irish Jewish Museum, he deals with the many family history requests the museum receives. ‘‘He is known in the community for his amazing work. Many people have contributed to his research,” she says.

The museum’s treasures include paintings by famous artist Estella Solomons, including a striking image of Reverend Gudansky, the minister of Ireland’s Hebrew congregation from 1901.Visitors can see the Torah and the synagogue’s Holy Arc, as well as portraits of former curator Raphael Siev, who died this day last year on Holocaust Memorial Day, when Jews around the globe mark the murder of millions of their faith by the forces of Nazi Germany’s Third Reich.

The memorial is marked this year with a private service today in Dublin’s Mansion House.

The Irish Jewish Museum also maintains a separate archive of genealogical records.

Now open on Saturdays only, it provides an essential service to visiting Jews. For some people, both the museum’s and Rosenblatt’s information is invaluable, as it allows them to successfully apply for a European passport on the basis of their antecedents’ link to Ireland. For most, it provides an answer to who their forebears were and where they came from.

Included in Rosenblatt’s archive are the birth records of babies who were never formally recorded as being born here.

‘‘I have found instances of children who were travelling with their parents from Ireland, on ships bound for the Americas or to South Africa, for example, and in which the ship’s manifest lists the child’s name, recorded prior to departure. When I went to check out this family, all the other family members would be recorded in birth records, but not the infant.

‘‘In some cases, the parents existed either on the Alien File or in some other record as having come here, but there is not a record of the infant’s birth. But, by checking the ship’s manifest, I was able to establish that, yes, this family did have another Irish-born child before setting sail for a new country,” he says.

Acts of legislation have had a profound effect on the quality of information available to the archivist. Since 1844, for instance, all non-Catholic marriages were allowed in Ireland under licence, and so from 1845 the records of Jewish marriages are available.

The registrars from the Jewish synagogues had recorded the Jewish element of the wedding and the records from Mary’s Abbey, Camden Street and Adelaide Road synagogues.

Other records were held in Belfast and Cork covering the entire island.

Until 1896, all Jewish people who died in Ireland were transported to the consecrated cemetery in Dublin’s Ballybough, the only one of its type on the island at that time.

On the face of it, this should have made it easier for a genealogist to locate and record the deaths and burials of the Irish Jewish community. In reality, however, the place was poorly maintained, and the weighty tombstones were pilfered by people who used them as hearths for their fireplaces, Rosenblatt says.

Those tombstones held information that was vital to Rosenblatt’s research. The ones still standing, and others in the consecrated cemetery at Dolphin’s Barn (which succeeded Ballybough cemetery), contain a unique Hebrew inscription at the top which denotes the family name and the extended family from which the interred body is derived.

The research has cost Rosenblatt thousands of euro over the years; in the time spent and in the production and copying of records. ‘‘It has nearly cost me my marriage as well,” he quips.

‘‘In 2001, I enrolled on a three-year certificate course at UCD with Sean Murphy at the family history centre. The genealogical research skills I gathered there were excellent if I had done the course at the start, I could have saved myself some of the problems I originally encountered when trying to locate records.”

A software program was created to search extracts from the 16-volume archive at the touch of a button. Requests to access the records are usually granted for free, Rosenblatt says. He simply finds the work too enjoyable to charge, and is always trying to increase the information on the system.

‘‘I have considered setting up a system whereby the retrieval from the software could be done online, maybe using PayPal.

But, at present, I need to speak to someone person-to-person when they want some information.

I need to ask them a range of questions to get it, so I obtain the information which makes the search possible. To be honest, I enjoy that aspect of it too.”

The letters of enquiry received by Rosenblatt in the last couple of days include one from a person adopted by a doctor and his wife in New York. The correspondent believes that his natural family were Irish Jews. One click and Rosenblatt can say, definitively, that the surname is not recorded here among his 42,000-plus entries. The forename is not distinctly Jewish either. ‘‘They are, unfortunately, mistaken,” he says.

Others correspondents are from Canada, Britain, the US and further afield. In some cases, the information they have is scant. In others, Rosenblatt is surprised at the level of data people have distant dates and names which, although seemingly obscure, can offer a kernel of information from which Rosenblatt can reconstruct major gaps in their family tree.

The volumes record the key events in the lives of many famous Irish Jews, among them Chaim Herzog, the sixth president of Israel, who was born at Clifton Park Avenue in Belfast and reared in his parents’ home at 33 Bloomfield Avenue in Dublin’s Portobello.

Herzog’s Polish-born father was Chief Rabbi of Ireland from1919 to 1937, and later became Chief Rabbi of Palestine and Israel. The future president studied at Wesley College, Dublin, and was involved with the Federation of Zionist Youth during his teenage years before joining the British Army. He had a distinguished military career in the Israeli Defence Forces before entering politics and assuming the presidential office in 1983, a position he held for a decade.

There are tantalising pieces of information which Rosenblatt has uncovered along the way. For instance, the records of Mountjoy Prison which are contained in the 1901 and 1911 censuses reveal inmates’ religion, but their names are recorded by initials only.

Otherwise, the digitisation of the census records up to 1911 have been a major boon for Rosenblatt’s research. The online search tools allowed him to search each record under the entry for ‘Jewish’. What he found was a cadre of young Jewish labouring men who lived in non-Jewish lodgings, and who now form part of his own digital record.

He says his family have been remarkably understanding, if sometimes put out, about the long periods he has spent compiling his archive. ‘‘This has been a dreadfully antisocial initiative,” he says.

To illustrate the point, he quotes from a letter which he received in December 2002 from his daughter, Sonia, who was living in Canada at the time. ‘‘It opened with the endearing lines: ‘Can you help me find my daddy; long lost daddy, last seen behind a computer screen. A loving man but spends more time looking for dead people?’ “ In 1999,Rosenblatt formed the Irish Jewish Genealogical Society which was originally a subdivision of the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin’s Portobello. ‘‘This has been pretty much a solo effort,” he says. ‘‘If one more person joined the Irish Jewish Genealogical Society, then there would be a 100 per cent increase in the membership.”

In hindsight, he says, the task has been massive. ‘‘It really has been too much for one person. But I started and, quite simply, I never stopped, and the 16 volumes of bound records is the result of that.”

Along the way, he has received no funding.

‘‘I didn’t ask because I didn’t like being told no. The most I have done was to ask the GRO [General Register Office] to waive a charge on some 1,500 items of information on Jews living in Ireland for which they invoiced me for €6,000 but they said no, pay up or get lost, and so that was that.”

When asked why he didn’t simply stop, given the personal cost in time and finances, he says that his inspiration was to leave behind a record which would stand the test of time. ‘‘It is a legacy, in a manner of speaking,” he replies.

And what of the Rosenblatts themselves the family and the whole reason for the existence of the archive? A cursory search of the Rosenblatt surname shows that Stuart Rosenblatt is the sole remaining Irish-born Rosenblatt male living in Ireland. He lives with his wife on Dublin’s southside, within walking distance of the family business.

There are separate entries for the couple’s children who live in Canada and Britain. There is a further link to his mother and his father, and his mother’s ten brothers and sisters each have a separate link revealing the path to another of Rosenblatt’s genealogical interests.

The archivist now bids to delve further into the family tree on his mother’s side. For this quest, he will have to bone up on his Slavic. ‘‘The records are in Poland and Lithuania on my grandmother’s side. I am interested in looking into these, but it is not easy; if anyone has records on Zarnow in central Poland, I would be interested to hear from them.” Another aspect of the research shows that a prospering Jewish community in the 1800s declined rapidly in Ireland in the second half of the 20th century. As a genealogist, Rosenblatt is reluctant to offer sociologicalor geopolitical perspectives which might explain why the Irish Jewish community’s numbers went into freefall.

‘‘Why did the numbers decline?” he asks.

‘‘Well, the Jewish people who left Ireland after the 1950s were essentially Irish people they were not distinct because of their religion, for reasons of emigration, and they faced the same dilemma as other people on this island. It would seem that they left for the same reason that scores of Irish people left; to get work, to do something further to their education which, at the time, they could not do in Ireland.”

Despite being larger than ever before, the Irish Jewish community could not withstand the emigration of scores of its young adults. ‘‘They made lives abroad. Coming from their relatively small base and a slightly lower birthrate, the number of Irish Jews was destined to fall dramatically. It was a natural phenomenon,” says Rosenblatt.

‘‘To put it in context, you’re talking about the number of Jewish people rising from, I believe, a few hundred in the late 1800s to just under 5,000 in the 1950s.That,of course, is also in the context of an Irish government policy to disallow the entry of Jewish people in the 1930s and 1940s.”

Rosenblatt believes that contemporary data is inexact on the number of Jews presently in the Irish republic.

‘‘The 2002 census recorded that there was in the region of 1,700 Jews in Ireland at the time. What it did not mention was that this figure included two planeloads of Israelis visiting Ireland on the days over which the census was conducted.”

Anecdotally, Rosenblatt believes that the Jewish community here has been decimated even since the 1990s. ‘‘It is possible that, at the present time, the number of Irish Jews is as few as between 700 and 800.That is a generous estimate, I believe. ‘‘What we are seeing now is a further decline. Many older people are deciding to move to live abroad to be near their children and their grandchildren, in the US, Britain and Canada. It is a significant number of people.”

The community which Rosenblatt has archived has all but disappeared, he admits. Yet he is stoic about the matter, referring to it as ‘‘just something which happened’’.

He even finds room for humour, referring to fellow member of the Dublin Jewish community Alan Shatter, a Fine Gael TD and the party’s spokesman on children:

‘‘Fewer than 1,000 Jews in the country, and we still get one into the Dáil. That’s punching above one’s weight, for sure.”

Stuart Rosenblatt is interested in hearing from anyone with Irish-Jewish connections, and can be contacted at 01-6773808 or masterc@medianet.

4 comments:

  1. does anyone have a link to the original article?

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  2. The Irish Independent Archive search is for issues 1905-2002. The Irish Newspaper Archives can be searched http://www.irishnewsarchive.com/Default/Skins/INDSearch/Client.asp?Skin=INDSearch&enter=true&AppName=2&AW=1269300923199, but it costs to access the actual article. Therefore, I don't have a direct link to the article which is copied exactly on the Blog.

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  3. Thank you for posting this article about Stuart. He has done a remarkable amount of research and it is nice that people will now know Jews exist in Ireland, as my grandfather was one of them!

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  4. This is something new and rare kind of information.Thanks for sharing the post.

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