London: Romanian synagogue exhibit opens Feb. 3

London’s Spiro Ark will open a photo exhibition – The Last Jew of Sighisoara and Transylvanian Synagogues – on Wednesday, February 3.

The exhibit will be of interest to those researching Romania or in the restoration of Eastern European Jewish sites in Eastern Europe. The synagogues in the photographs – where Jews are no more – will become Jewish historical and cultural centres.

The exhibit opening will include a talk by Jessica Douglas-Home on the Mihai Eminescu Trust’s restoration work on historic buildings in Romania.

The Trust, chaired by Douglas-Home, was founded in 1987 and works in Saxon Transylvania, where its goals are to conserve and restore the region’s historic built heritage, to revive the economic life of its village communes and to train indigenous craftsmen in new or forgotten skills.

Freelance journalist Petru Clej, with a special interest in Jewish Romanian history and the Holocaust, will speak on “Attitudes towards the Holocaust in Romania – from frank admission to ugly denial.”

The film “Gruber’s Journey,” by Radu Gabrea, will be screened.

Doors open at 6.30pm; the program begins at 7pm. Fee: £5 (+£1 online booking fee)

Spiro Ark is a London-based charitable organisation which organises Jewish cultural events and courses in Jewish history, culture and languages. Its tag line is “inspiration through Jewish history and culture.”

Learn more about Spiro Ark, which aims to teach Jewish history and culture. It believes both are important as it combines Jewish education, history and culture to maintain Jewish identity in the 21st century.

The Spiro Ark also has a blog which covers events, reviews and history. Co-founder Nitza Spiro authored a post on the upcoming exhibit, raising some interesting questions:

The question whether old and dilapidated synagogues, which are no longer in use should be restored and maintained, is in our view a rhetorical one. For us Jews whose life-line to things Jewish is Jewish history, the answer is obvious. The question however remains whose responsibility it is to bear the cost.

Should it be an individual whose ancestors came from the specific area or used that particular synagogue; should a Western community adopt a restoration as their memorial to those who perished leaving us with the obligation to remember, or should it be the responsibility of the State where the synagogues are found?

She includes more information on the Mihai Eminescu Trust’s restoration of the Medias synagogue which will become a national heritage center to teach visitors, including students, about Transylvania’s Jewish history.

Thanks to Saul Issrof of London for this tip.

UK: Portuguese Inquisition lists published

A two-volume work published in the UK will be valuable in the quest for family history information by those with Sephardic, Converso and Bnai Anousim heritage.

It is available through the Jewish Historical Society of England, which was established in 1893.

Tracing the Tribe reader Barbara Barnett sent this information as a comment to Tracing the Tribe’s post, DNA: Portuguese conversos’ genetic identity, but it is too important to leave as only a comment.

The 2008 volume is Lists of the Portuguese Inquisition, transcribed and indexed by Joy L. Oakley

— Volume I Lisbon 1540-1778
— Volume II Evora 1542–1763, and Goa 1650–1653
From Delices de L’Espagne et du Portugal (1707) by Don Juan Alvares de Colmenar.

The Register of Inquisition lists were assembled in 1784 and entitled “A Collecção das Noticias.” It was in the Library of the Dukes of Palmela and is now in the Jewish Theological Seminary Library in New York, which has kindly agreed to its publication.

The great majority of persons sentenced by the Inquisition were New Christians – descendants of the Jews of Portugal baptized in 1497, by order of Manoel I.

The book gives an unrivalled picture of the entire range of the Inquisition’s activities and is a primary source of the first importance for Jewish, Portuguese and Brazilian history and genealogy.

The lists of 16th century Autos da Fé give the numbers of persons sentenced by the Inquisition and the proportion of males and female, but only give the names of those who were burnt at the stake.

However, for the much larger number of cases in the 17th and 18th century, the name of each person is given, together with their nickname, parentage, occupation, place of origin alleged offence and sentence.

There are indices of names, nicknames, occupations and places to guide the reader.

The books – totaling 810 pages in soft-back format- include the register’s original Portuguese text together with an introduction and foreword in English.

The price for both A4 size volumes is £55 or US $110, including postage.

The JHSE site contains much information for readers interested in the Jews of England throughout history, as well as information on Sephardim. Their newsletters may be downloaded (no charge) and contain information about personalities, new publications and more. For additional information on its publications, click here.

The JHSE also sponsors events in London and at other regional branches.

In London, Dr Hilary Pomeroy (Visiting Lecturer, University College London) will speak on “Sephardi History through Sephardi Ballads: Spain, Portugal, Morocco,” on February 18. In London, meetings are held at St John’s Wood Synagogue.

See the Events calendar for more; remember to also click on “External Events” for the activities of other historical and genealogical societies and institutions.

Some material is available to members only; annual membership is £40.00. If you’d like to take a look around, do a search for your specific interests and see if that online material is of use to you, sign-up for a 24-hour pass for £7. Click here to register.

UK: Manchester workshop, Feb. 7

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain’s Manchester regional group will hold a professional workshop on Sunday, February 7.

The event runs from 11am-4pm at the GMP Training College, Prestwich, North Manchester. Alien Registration Books will be on display with an advisor to answer questions.

The main speaker is attorney Richard Pearlman of London, whom I met when I spoke at the JGSGB’s conference in London a few years ago. The JGSGB was established in 1992, and Richard was a founding member.

He’ll be speaking about how to get going and how to make progress, and will answer questions.

The workshop includes help and one-on-one opportunities for family historians of all skill levels. Beginners will learn where and how to start; intermediates will learn how to make progress, and experienced researchers to get beyond brick walls. It will also be useful to researchers of mixed backgrounds who have just discovered a Jewish ancestor and don’t know how to learn more.

To register (£10.00) and view complete details, click here.

Planning ahead? The regional group’s next annual conference is set for Sunday, May 9, and will feature speakers Michael Tobias (of JewishGen) and David Lewis (Hull Jewish Archives and migrants who passed through Hull).

UK: Pedigreed properties

If the walls of your house could talk, what would they say?

Did you know that UK genealogist professional Dr. Nick Barratt – of Who Do You Think You Are? fame – will investigate the history of your house?

He spends three days researching the house and provides a report and CD. He’s been doing this type of genealogy for 15 years, and says there’s a growing interest with the past, whether it is family or real estate.

The Independent (UK) detailed “properties with pedigrees” in this story by James Boardman.

This takes family history a step further. Not just bodies and names, but stones, bricks and real estate. A house with a documented past may also be more valuable.

Resource sites include old maps, census records, architectural surveys.

The story quotes professional house historian Dr. Ian Friel, who said that family history programs spark interest. People who often asked about a building’s history – more than about their ancestors – were the inspiration for his new line of work.

But like researching family trees, digging up dirt on a house can be a time-consuming task: be prepared to spend hours trawling through old records, books and websites. While some amateur historians will enjoy nothing more than poring over parish registers, for those who don’t have the time or inclination, paying someone else to do the research is becoming an increasingly popular choice. While Friel says that he’d “never want to take away the fun of people doing it for themselves”, he does warn that researching your own home’s history could take many months.

Barratt said “We’re re-engaging with the past to tell us something about the present. It’s a bottom-up approach to history.”

He found one house built by a government customs officer who was also a smuggler. The home was built over a cave system where he stored goods from the smugglers he was supposed to be catching. He also thinks another property once held Jack the Ripper.

Another researcher in the story, Sue Austen, said that “Houses are full of stories; my job is to find the story.” Her company produces hardcover house histories including professional photography resulting in coffee-table books.

She got into it by doing a book on her own home as a surprise for her husband.

“I managed to find early plans, discovering what rooms were first used for, which staircases and doors had been moved around – how the house was used at different times in its life story,” she says. The book details not only the history and many occupants of her seafront house, but also includes details of the town’s development as a holiday resort, the terrible storms that struck in 1897 and 1948, and the fluctuating reputation of the terrace’s sometime watering hole, the Dolphin Hotel.

The story also provided some good UK-based resources as well:

The National Archives

— Nick Barratt’s Hidden House History’s step-by-step guide.

Bricks and Brass with hints on how to date a house by design and style.

Old Maps has Ordnance Survey maps back to the 1800s.

Read the complete article and check out the resource links above.

UK: 41 generations from Mt. Everest

Tracing the Tribe knows that genealogists are very focused people. We know what we want and try to find it. Some might even say there are a few who have a touch of OCD.

According to the Oxford Times (UK), there are others who pass even that line, such as a British explorer who brought 45 containers – via yak (see below right) – to a Mount Everest base camp so he could continue tracking his 41 generations of ancestors.

Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes did just that as he missed a deadline for his new book, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen: An Expedition Round My Family.” He’s well-known for 30 international expeditions such as climbing Mt. Everest, crossing the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps, and was the first to complete a polar circumnavigation of the Earth.

“The papers came boxed up in 45 containers and were transported by yak to the base camp. I was able to complete the book by writing in between acclimatisation exercises on the mountain. The pages were handwritten and a senior BBC producer who was with us kindly allowed a BBC photographer to photograph the pages. They were then emailed to my home on Exmoor to be typed up and sent on to my publisher,” he said.

The resulting book is a remarkable record of the extensive Fiennes family going back 41 generations to the family’s French roots to Charles Martel (715-741), who was grandfather to Charlemagne.

It helps to have a family castle where your people have lived for 20 of those 41 generations and which also contains a huge family archive.

In the article, Fiennes says many documents were found in sections of the Castle. He was somewhat shocked – and never suspected – that the family history would go back to his ancestor, Eustace of Boulogne, in 1066.

If you like nursery rhymes or have recently read them to a younger descendant of yours, you might have read “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross.” The family received the title Baronet of Banbury after an ancestor rescued the town. A line in the rhyme has come down as “Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross to see a fine lady upon a white horse,” although Fiennes’ mother told him in the 1940s that it should be “to see a Fiennes lady upon a white horse.”

The Fiennes lady was Celia Fiennes (1662-1741). Her father, Gen. Nathaniel Fiennes, was almost hanged by Cromwell for losing Bristol to the Royalists. The adventurous woman did something women of that day did not do – she explored the countryside, riding sidesaddle to every English county. “The Diaries of Celia Fiennes” was published in 1887.

Read the complete story at the link above.