I become side-tracked by the Edleman family

In addition to the 1911 Scotland Census information, Saul Marks had some other important news for me.

Anna Edleman & children to NYC 1911 pg 1


It appears that Reuben Edleman had almost sailed from Glasgow for New York in both October and November 1911, according to his listings on the New York Passenger lists on Ancestry’s immigration and travel section.  On both occasions, his entry is crossed out, meaning that he did not sail.

The October listing places him with a woman named Anna Edleman (aged 25) and her children Grace (5) and John (2), all born in Cairo, Egypt.  Their address in Britain is the same as that on the 1911 Census for Sarah and Harris Edleman, with Anna naming H. Edleman of that address as her father-in-law.

Anna Edleman & children to NYC 1911 pg 2


Anna Edleman and her children are destined to meet her husband, John Albert Edleman, who is cited as living at the Grand Union Hotel in New York.

John Albert is therefore another son of Harris and Sarah Edleman, the fifth child to emerge to date.

Mention of Grace Edelman – she would later spell her surname this way – triggered a particular memory for me.

As their older children matured to an age where a taste for music could be cultivated, my parents acquired a baby grand piano.  If my siblings had spent any time learning how to play this instrument, I was too young to remember.  But I wasn’t going to escape that easily.

I took lessons with three successive teachers over the better part of ten years, sat for exams and was entered in competitions.

During the late 1960’s my then teacher encouraged me to enter the Cape Town eisteddfod.

My early performances met with lukewarm results, no doubt reflecting my deeper interest in swimming.

I was encouraged to try again the following year.  When I mentioned to my parents that the adjudicator was a woman named Grace Edelman, my father announced that we were “related”.  Whether this was intended to make me play better, I shall never know.

When I appeared before Grace Edelman, she was in her early 60’s.  She judged me generously on two of my performances and a little less so – most likely with good reason – on the other two.  The two favourable grades earned me a spot in the annual prize winner’s concert at the City Hall.  I would like to think that “blood” had not entered into the equation when it came to the judging.  Indeed, if Grace had tumbled to the family connection, then she certainly wasn’t acknowledging it.

My career as an apprentice concert pianist, however, was destined to be short-lived.  Tepid grades reappeared the following year and shortly after that I lost interest in both practising and performing.

IMG_6535As for the piano, in 1983 it left Cape Town for Sydney along with my parents.  For the last ten or so years it has occupied a corner of my dining room.

I almost never touch it.

If Grace Edelman were alive today, I’m sure she’d have something to say about that.

Closing the gap

I’d managed to shave seven years off a 21 year gap in my grandfather’s movements thanks to the 1881 British Census and a record of attendance at the South African College in Cape Town in 1895.

Somewhere during this reduced period, my grandfather had migrated to South Africa.  But when?

It seemed reasonable to assume that Sarah and her two sons had followed Harris Edleman to South Africa soon after 1881.  After all, according to my father, Sarah and Harris “…(went to Edinburgh and) had at least four sons’.  Hopefully they hadn’t endured a 14 year separation before adding to their family.

With this assumption in mind, I began to dismiss previously held notions about my grandfather’s movements.

If Harris Saltman had not appeared in the 1891 British Census, then it was most likely because he was not in Britain at the time.  And the widowed stocking-maker, Sarah Marks, living alone in Liverpool at that time, was unlikely to have been my great-grandmother.

Outbound passenger lists from Britain between 1890 and 1960 are available on Find My Past.  There is no record of a Harris Saltman having travelled from Britain to South Africa after 1890.   Unfortunately, passenger departure lists before 1890 are rare, so I cannot confirm that he travelled before 1890 either.

A passport application for an H Saltman in 1896 had previously aroused my curiosity – see third last entry at bottom right.


This date lined up neatly with my father’s view that my grandfather had emigrated to South Africa in 1897.  However, I realised that the H Saltman who applied for this passport could as easily have been Avrom Saltman’s grandfather.  To add to the confusion he, coincidentally, was also named Harris.  I could not therefore claim this person as my grandfather without further verification.

As I systematically eliminated these options, I fancied I was becoming something of a professional genealogist.

In reality, I was still a rank amateur.

It took Saul Marks’ professional eye to point out what I’d missed.  The information was in the 1911 Scotland Census, if only I’d taken the trouble to look.

1911 - Harris & Sarah Edleman & family (Edinburgh)

Living in Edinburgh at the time were Sarah and Harris Edleman, and three of their sons, Reuben, Isadore and Maximilian, aged 22, 16 and 14 respectively.

Sarah and Harris had produced nine children, of whom seven were still alive in 1911.  I shall never know if my grandfather had been counted among them, but my father had been correct about their moving to Edinburgh and the addition of four more sons, if one includes Joseph Edleman.  The only difference was in the sequence of these events.

While these findings cleared up a number of information gaps I’d had, the real breakthrough came in the details of Reuben’s, Isidore’s and Maximilian’s place of birth.

All three had been born in the Cape Colony, South Africa.

Reuben’s estimated date of birth is circa 1889.  My grandfather, by then a boy of 13, would almost certainly have lived in the Cape at this time.

I had reduced my 14 year gap to eight years.

But could I improve upon this?

Through the eyes of a five year old

What forces were shaping Harris Saltman’s world in 1881?[1]

Whereas steel manufacturing was the predominant commercial activity in Sheffield during the last half of the nineteenth century, in Liverpool it was trade.

International trade between Liverpool and the Americas commenced in the mid seventeenth century, but it was not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that this trade consolidated around a wide range of commodities, in particular cotton.  Liverpool became the leading world market for this crop, supplying the textile mills of Manchester and Lancashire.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Liverpool was among the four greatest ports in the world, conducting one third of the export trade and one quarter of the import trade of the United Kingdom.  The city owned one third of the total shipping of the Kingdom and one seventh of the total registered shipping of the world.

The advent of the steamship was a key catalyst in the expansion of international trade.  No longer having to rely on wind for movement, cargo ships could run to a timetable with a degree of accuracy that had previously been impossible.  In addition to cargo, this period also ushered in the era of the passenger ‘liner’.  In 1840 the first of these vessels, the ‘Britannia’, inaugurated a fortnightly service to New York for the Cunard Company.

The distance between the Edleman’s Gildart Street address and the bustle of the Liverpool docklands was less than two miles.  I wonder whether Harris’ mother took him there of a weekend to watch the movement of cargo and passenger ships, much as Harris’ son would do with his children several decades later at another dock at the tip of Africa?

As commerce expanded, so too did Liverpool’s population.  By the close of the eighteenth century, the town had 80,000 people.  Less than a hundred years later, this figure would multiply more than sevenfold.

Opportunities for a better life drew migrants from England and further afield.  The Great Potato Famine of 1845-49 resulted in the migration of thousands of Irish people to Liverpool, where by mid-century they represented around one quarter of the town’s population.

The first Jewish settlers – hawkers from Eastern Europe – migrated to Liverpool in the mid-eighteenth century.  As commerce and the town expanded, more settlers arrived from Germany and Holland, as well as from other parts of Britain, shifting the centre of Anglo-Jewish population gravity from the market towns and ports of the South to the new industrial and commercial hubs of the Midlands and North.

Between 1875 and 1914, an estimated 120,000 Eastern European Jews settled in Britain.  Liverpool’s main role in this ‘mass migration’ was that of a port of embarkation along the chief route of migration by road, rail and sea stretching from Western Russia, through Berlin, Hamburg, Hull and Liverpool to the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa.  Several of these migrants did, however, remain and by 1875, Liverpool’s Jewish population numbered around 3,000.


Google Maps

Before the 1880s, Liverpool’s Jewish community settled within a radius of some two miles of the earliest synagogues in Princes Road and Hope Place.  The effect of Eastern European settlement was to create a close-knit and readily recognisable ‘Jewish Quarter’ in the cheaper housing around Brownlow Hill, Paddington, Crown Street and Islington[2] – the precinct loosely defined by the line markings on the map above.

New immigrant workers were drawn to petty trade or small-scale industries such as tailoring and cabinet-making, with which they had some prior knowledge in Eastern Europe.  Most newcomers took to a form of peddling, as did the adult members of the Edleman family and their lodgers.

These new arrivals found themselves caught between two cultures.  From Eastern Europe they brought a distinctive way of life based on the strict observance of traditional religious custom and the secular culture embodied in the Yiddish language.  On arrival in Britain, they were immediately exposed to the very different traditions of English working class neighbourhoods and, in the longer term, to all the practices, ideals and activities of a major city.  Thankfulness to England for providing a safe haven combined with practical considerations of survival – encouraged by an older-established Jewish elite which saw the immigrants’ ‘foreign culture’ as a barrier to their acceptance as well as a threat to the community’s reputation  – to set the immigrants firmly on a path to anglicization.

Immigrant children were a particularly vulnerable target for any proselytising forces.  The introduction of compulsory elementary education for all British children in the 1870’s played a significant role in this regard.

In the wake of this reform, a number of Jewish day schools were established in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.  And while it is tempting to speculate that Harris may have attended such a school – immigrant parents were keen to send their children to schools which would reinforce Jewish heritage and culture – it is just as likely that he did not.  The majority of Jewish children attended local state schools and, sometimes, church schools.

If the aim of the education system was to ‘detribalise’ newly arrived children by turning them into proper Englishmen and Englishwomen, then it succeeded.  A 1894 Board of Trade report describes how the children ‘enter the school Russians and Poles, and emerge from it almost indistinguishable from English children’.

At least Harris did not have to contend with being foreign-born, even if his mother and stepfather wore this tag.  To all intents and purposes, he would have looked and sounded like any other Liverpudlian child of his age.

But any outer semblace of being English was destined to be short-lived.

[1]              Information in this post is drawn variously from Ramsay Muir ‘A history of Liverpool’ 2nd edition, 1907;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Liverpool; http://www.liverpooljewish.com/community/history-of-merseyside-jewry.php; and http://www.movinghere.org.uk/galleries/histories/jewish/growing_up/growing_up.htm

[2]               Islington was the area in which the Edleman family – and my grandfather – resided between 1878 and 1881.