Like someone panning for gold, I can spend hours sifting through great quantities of mud in the hope of a shiny particle or two, better still – a small nugget. It’s a clock-ticking pursuit – the internet is my biggest time thief – but when something shiny appears, it makes all that trawling through the mud seem worthwhile.
I regard myself as an introvert, but I’m not ashamed to say that I periodically put my name into Google. My top hits are mostly related to my erstwhile rankings in ocean racing and pool events. There’s not much else there to distract a reader, that’s if you could even call my swimming prowess an item of interest to anyone other than myself.
The genealogical gem I was hoping for revealed itself about 10 years ago.
It is an essay written by an unknown relative, Avrom Saltman, and titled “To be buried in Grimsby” (April, 1998). It is chock full of information about my family line, some of it supplied by my late father. Information not only about who they were, but where and how they would have lived.
Avrom’s essay confirmed much of what I already knew. I knew that my great grandparents, Israel and Sarah, had married in Sheffield in 1875 and had produced a son less than a year later. That they had not originated in Britain. I knew that my paternal great great-grandfather, Zelig Saltman, was a “traveller” and that he, too, had not been born in Britain. I knew that my maternal great great-grandfather, Marcus Marks, was a shopkeeper in Sheffield, and had been born in Russia as had his daughter, my great grandmother.
The essay revealed a birthplace for Zelig: the town of Kruky in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled places like Lithuania and others in the Pale of Settlement for a better – and more egalitarian – life in countries such as the US and South Africa. And while I am not abreast of the full extent of the suffering they endured at the hands of their Russian oppressors, I do recall that my maternal grandmother – the only grandparent I was lucky enough to know – was, at the age of 15, illiterate due to education laws at the time which precluded up to 90% of Jewish children from gaining a place in schools.
Zelig was widowed, probably about 1872, his wife (Esther or Esther Rivka) having died in Lithuania. Shortly afterwards, Zelig, who never remarried, came to England, presumably with his son Israel.
Zelig settled in Grimsby and was a hawker in glass or travelling glazier, a fairly common Jewish trade at the time. The ancient town of Grimsby, England’s largest fishing port, had recently undergone dock improvements which not only greatly increased the number of vessels using the harbour and the amount of fish being handled, but spawned a range of ancillary industries which provided economic opportunities for capable middlemen. Litvack glaziers, such as my ancestors, were no more than hawkers who sold glass across the surrounding countryside, returning home for the Sabbath. Theirs was not an easy life. The Jewish glaziers had to face a certain amount of discrimination or anti-semitism, even if trivial compared with what they had experienced in the Russian Empire. According to the Jewish Chronicle of October 20, 1875, a glazier with his own premises did not require a licence to trade, but Jewish glaziers were being fined for hawking glass without a licence (cited at page 29).
Zelig died in April 1900 at the age of 79 or 80 and appears to have left no estate. He outlived his eldest child Israel, my great grandfather, by almost 24 years. His tombstone in the Jewish cemetery in Grimsby reveals an unexpected bonus: the name of his own father, Judah Arie Saltman i.e. my great-great great-grandfather.
I knew that Israel had called himself a commercial traveller and it is possible that he also dealt in glass. Unbeknownst to me, my father had also supplied the following information to Avrom about Israel (refer page 9): “Seven months after his son, Harris, was born Israel died of a bowel inflammation at Everton (near Liverpool) while on his travels. Sarah later married a man called Edelman. They went to Edinburgh and had at least four sons.”
I now knew the cause of my great grandfather’s death.
Unfortunately, if my father had discussed a time frame within which my great grandmother had remarried and relocated to Edinburgh, it is not recorded in Avrom’s essay.