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31 May 2011

The Jews of Zimbabwe and related databases at Familysearch.org


The Jewish history of Zimbabwe begins at the end of the 1800's. The country, then known as Rhodesia, was a British colony, with a Jewish community made up mostly of Jews from Eastern Europe, mostly Russia and Lithuania. These early Jews in Rhodesia moved quickly to establish themselves in their new homeland.

In 1894, they formed their first synagogue, which was a tent in the city of Bulawayo. This synagogue was home to about 20 Jews. The following year, 1895, a second community established a synagogue in Salisbury (Harare). Finally in 1901, a third was established in Gwelo. These first Jews, mostly Ashkenazic, numbered about 400 at the turn of the century.
In the 1920's and 30's Sephardic Jews began arriving in Rhodesia from Rhodes, later joined before World War II by German refugees fleeing the Nazis. After the end of the war, Jews arrived from places such as South Africa and the British Isles, hoping to benefit from the prosperity that was being felt in Rhodesia. The Jewish population peaked at around 7500 people by the 1960's.
The years from 1964 to 1980, saw a great deal of unrest within Rhodesia, which eventually led to the Civil War that resulted in the country becoming the independent Republic of Zimbabwe on 18 Apr, 1980.

One of the amazing things about the records of the Jews of the area, is that many of them survive. One example of this is Zimbabwe, Death Registers, 1890-1977, which have now been added to the free databases at http://www.familysearch.org/. This database includes all you were recorded, not just the Jewish citizens.

In order to find the records, visit http://www.familysearch.org/ and find the world map on the main page.


Once there, click on the map of Africa or the word Africa. This will bring up a listing of all the databases for the continent of Africa. Included in those, will be the following,


While the databases are not searchable by name they can be browsed by date, the second database has over 328,000 images, which if one is patient, can yield a great deal of information. The record below is the record of Harry Rosenberg also known as Harry Rose, who died on 27 Oct 1918. The record includes the names of his parents, Harris and Muriel, as well as his wife Mabel Frances. Also, further down can be found the name of his son, Geoffrey Gabriel Samuel Rosenberg.
What a great source these free databases are for anyone looking for family in the records of Zimbabwe.

24 May 2011

Slovakia Church Books


One of the benefits of the many new wonderful databases available at www.familysearch.org is the records that are becoming available for those researching their ancestry in locations where records are less available. A very good example of these type records are the Slovakia Church Books, 1592-1910.

While at first look this may not seem like a source where many would find their Jewish ancestors, since a synagogue is not a church, a deeper look into the collection finds the following description. It states that this collection includes "images of baptisms/births, marriages, and burials that occurred in the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Reformed Church parishes, as well as Jewish congregations in Slovakia. Includes records from archives in Presov and Bratislava."



The database is easy to use and includes many wonderful images. The first step is to visit http://www.familysearch.org/ and find the world map.

Clicking on the heading for Europe will then direct you to all the databases for countries within the European community. That list will include the record collections for the country of Slovakia. That list (below) shows 2 different collections, both with images included.






Clicking on the link for Slovakia Church books, 1592-1910, will provide a list of the communities within certain counties. By following the link on a county above, the birth, marriage and death records become available. Those shown below are for the area of Senec.

The records of Jews from Slovakia will be found in the Knowles Collection - Jews of Europe.

18 May 2011

The far reaching influence of the Fordon Jews - part 5

Searching through records from around the world, sooner or later leads to the names of more Jews from Fordon, Poland. Today is no different. While reviewing the burial records from the Hebrew Cemetery located at Garfield and Joseph Streets in New Orleans, Louisiana the following marker is found:


In memory of Hermann Aaronshohn,

born in Fordon, Germany

July12, 1839

died June 17, 1899



Rest in Peace


The search for more remnants of the Fordon Jewish community continues.

17 May 2011

Jews of Kazakhstan

The history of the Jewish people of Kazakhstan is a long difficult history. Beginning in the 17th century the majority of the Jews of Kazakh were Russian. At that time there were probably no synagogues so most services would have taken place in private homes. These early Jews were mostly Ashkenazic.
Many Jews also arrived in Kazakhstan as exiles from the Pale of Settlement under the Communist rule of Joseph Stalin. During World War II almost 10,000 Jews fled the Holocaust and made their homes their as well.
Today, the Jews of Kazakhstan are for
the most part Russian speaking people who live a life that is very similar to the culture of their Russian neighbors. There are about 25,000 Jews in the country with the largest group, numbering about 10,000 living in the city of Almaty. The country of Kazakhstan is very large, about four times the size of the state of Texas in the United States.
There are Jewish communities spread throughout the country, including some Jews who have made their way into the country from the neighboring countries of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.



16 May 2011

Lithuania Jewish Cemetery Project


One of the major problems that we face as we look for our Jewish ancestors is overcoming the loss of those records or artifacts that have disappeared over time. Included in this list would be items such as records of birth, marriage and death, family knowledge from those who have passed on, and the destruction or neglect of monuments, such as cemetery headstones. It is a problem faced by all, but especially important in those areas hard hit by the World War II.
One such area is Lithuania. The good people of the Lithuanian Jewish Cemetery Project are trying to correct this problem. According to their website (litvak-cemetery.info) there were once more that 200 Jewish Cemeteries in pre-war Lithuania. They hope to record, document and preserve all of the information from the cemeteries that still exist so that the information these monuments provides will not be lost to future generations.
As the work goes forth, the website lists those Cemeteries which have been included and those that are coming. By clicking on a link for a cemetery it is possible to see the monuments of your ancestors and what translation has been done.
From this list (at left) it is easy to see that the records included are from many locations throughout the country, a truly valuable source for anyone with family from Lithuania, and an incredible project for anyone interested in preserving the past, and making sure future generations never forget the great sacrifice of our ancestors. I would encourage all to visit the web page and see how they can be of help.
A special thanks to Marla Raucher Osborn for bringing this to my attention.

07 May 2011

Jewish families of Costa Rica



This past week the Knowles Collection - Jews of the Caribbean was updated. While it is still the smallest of the databases which comprise the collection, it more than any other shows the influence families can have around the world. A good example of this is the country of Costa Rica.


The first Jews to settle in Costa Rica did so in the early 1800's. These early Sephardic Jews came from other Caribbean locations, such as, Curacao, Jamaica and Panama. Later in the 1930's Jews from Turkey and Germany made the move to their new homeland.At the end of the 1800's two families immigrated into Costa Rica. The records left behind by these two families, the Sasso's and the Athias Robles, illustrates how families can have a great influence.



Mordecay Athias Robles, is descended from a family from Curacao. He himself was born in St. Thomas, where he married his wife Esther. Shortly after that marriage, Mordecay, a merchant, took his new wife and settled in Alajuela where their children were born between 1873 and 1889.


At about the same time another merchant from St. Thomas, Mordecai Moritz Sasso and his wife Hannah Joselin Mendez moved to Port Limon, where their 2 children were born. These two families thus became part of the Jewish community of Costa Rica. That community, which numbers three to four thousand today, were well established as merchants throughout the Caribbean. Families like the Sasso's and the Athias Robles' families used their influence throughout the region to make a better life for their families. However, even though they both left St. Thomas for Costa Rica, they never forgot their first home, as all of the children of both families had their births recorded in the Synagogue records of St. Thomas.



These records are amongst those that were just added to the Knowles Collection - Jews of the Caribbean.

03 May 2011

Jews of Iran

Recently the records of the Battat Family of Iraq were added into the Knowles Collection - Jews of Africa and the Orient database. This great family had a tremendous history throughout the region. One of the areas that the family journeyed to often was the land of Persia, which is modern day Iran. This has made many people inquire as to the history of the Jews of Iran. Besides families such as the Battats, Iran has always been a home to many Jews.
The Jewish community of Persia, dating back well into the sixth century B.C.E., is one of the earliest Jewish communities. As with the neighboring Jews of Babylon, the Jews of
Persia have always been a people living under constant change. Some examples include;


  • From about 226 - 642 C.E., Persia was under the Sassanid Dynasty which was favorable to the Jews, which allowed the Jewish community to grow and eventually move to other locations.

  • In 642 C.E. Persia was invaded by Arab Muslims, who made Islam the state religion and placed restrictions upon the Jews. Many of the freedoms they previously had were now gone.

  • Into the 1800's the Jews of Iran were often tormented and persecuted for their beliefs. This led to a lot of immigration into the land of Israel.

  • In 1925 Iran fell under the rule of the Phalevi Dynasty. They moved Iran toward a more Western lifestyle. This was wonderful for the Jews as they gained more freedoms and indeed became a community that flourished. By the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were somewhere between 80,000- 90,000 Jews living in Iran.

  • After the Revolution of 1979, the Jewish community found itself in a state of uncertainty, which caused thousand to flee the country, leaving behind their homes and businesses. Those that remain live under the scrutiny and restrictions of the government. Even with the restrictions, the Jewish community is still of good size, possible only Israel has a larger one in the area.

The records of some of the Jews of Iran are included with the Battat family. Those and others families, such as the Sassoons who had connections to Iran, can be found in the Knowles Collection - Jews of Africa and the Orient database.



Knowles Collection Update

In February of 2011, the Knowles Collection was updated to include the genealogical records of over 195,000 Jewish people. Today, less than 3 months later the Knowles Collection is again being updated. The five databases that make up the collection now include the records of almost 240,000 people. The individual databases are:

Jews of the British Isles - 112,800 people



Jews of the Americas - 73,400 people



Jews of Europe - 40,600 people



Jews of Africa and the Orient - 7200 people



    Jews of the Caribbean - 5700 people



The continued growth comes from many areas, however the most rewarding part is the many family trees that have been donated to the various collection. I am very grateful for all those who have donated their own records so that others may benefit from the research that has already been completed. As of this update, there are now records from over 70 different countries, from hundreds of different sources. The Knowles Collection is constantly updated and has been averaging about 15,000 new records a month. The collection, which is freely accessible can be accessed as either a GEDCOM or can be individually searched. The Knowles Collection wiki page at FamilySearch Wiki, can help anyone access these links. It can be found at https://wiki.familysearch.org/en/The_Knowles_Collection

02 May 2011

The far reaching influence of the Fordon Jews part 4

As part of my ever continuing plan to document the Jews of Fordon, Poland, I was most curious to find the following entry from a headstone at the Rookwood Cemetery just outside Sydney, Australia.

On that headstone are listed a husband and wife and their daughter. It says;


Marianne Levy Nelson born at Liss, Prussia died 29 Jul 1892 age 50.

Abraham Levy Nelson J. P. born at Fordon, Prussia. Died 4 May 1893 age 54.

Erected by their daughter Julia Nelson.


Once again I am amazed at the influence one small community can have throughout the world. I am sure eventually the people of Fordon will have left their mark on the majority of the world.