Confirmation or more questions?

Avrom’s words came back to haunt me:

“…(a) recurring theme… is the frequent inaccuracy of all sources of information relied upon by the amateur and professional genealogist – even the evidence of their own eyes!  This inaccuracy is usually the consequence of carelessness and indifference rather than the product of deliberate deception.  These strictures apply to official sources, just as much as, if not more than private records or memories…the more varied the sources, the greater the confusion.”[1]

I had established a few facts about JA Edleman.  I knew that his year of birth was either 1882 or 1883.  I knew that he had not been born in Britain, because there was no record of his birth in the United Kingdom.

My theory that he had most likely been born in South Africa was just that: a theory.

The National Archives of South Africa (NASA) database of all archives repositories and national registers of non-public records holds 79 documents for persons with the surname Edelman and four documents for persons with the surname Edleman.  There are also 49 documents bearing the surname Saltman, some of which relate to my grandfather.

NASA files are held in various archival repositories in major South African cities.  Apart from deciding which files were relevant – at times involving a bit of guesswork – I had to find a researcher to retrieve and copy the information on my behalf.

As it turned out, I have used a couple of South African based researchers.

One of them emailed information she thought might be of interest to me.





First name

Karel or Carl




Odessa, Russia

Oletzko Margrabovoi, Prussia, Germany

Wilna[2], Russia






Cigarette maker

Feather buyer

General dealer

Residence (Town/City)

Port Elizabeth


Cape Town

Length of time in Colony[3]

19 months

24 years

3 years

Date of Application[4]

15 June 1897

21 May 1904

2 December 1903

The cigarette maker and general dealer from Russia didn’t ring any bells for me.  But the German-born feather buyer, Isaac Edelman, certainly did.

Harris Edelman hailed from Germany and his occupation – as stated on his death certificate in 1924 – was “retired feather dealer”.  Ladismith, a small town in the Klein Karoo of the Cape Colony, was known for its feather trade at the end of the nineteenth century.

Was it possible that Isaac and Harris Edelman were related?

It was the researcher’s concluding paragraph, however, that tore me away from this question.  She had found the following information in the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation Birth Register:

Aaron Edelman (Aharon Zelik ben Tzvi) son of Henry Edelman and Sarah Marks.

This was a son of Harris – here calling himself Henry – and my great grandmother, possibly born in Cape Town.  No birth date was given, only that the birth was registered between 29 December 1882 and 14 February 1883.

Was Aharon Zelik, son of (ben Tzvi) Henry Edelman, John Albert Edelman?

Or was I being careless and indifferent to assume so?

[1]               To be buried in Grimsby, page 4

[2]               Vilna or Vilnius, capital of Lithuania

[3]               Cape Colony

[4]               I am not certain what this relates to, possibly application for citizenship or registration to vote

The side-tracking pays dividends

Grace Edelman gradually faded into the recesses of my past.  Any opportunity that I may have had to learn more about her father evaporated as she moved from this world into the next.

If I wanted to know more about JA, I would have to be satisfied with whatever the official records of his life could tell me.

The first clue turns up in 1910. IMG_6628

A Mr and Mrs Edleman, together with a R and J Edleman and a Master Edleman, arrive in London on 17 September on the Otranto, the voyage having started in Brisbane, Australia.  The Edlemans have embarked at Port Said, Egypt.  All but Master Edleman are listed as merchants.  Could this be Harris and Sarah, and their sons Reuben and JA?  It’s tempting to think so, but it’s not certain.

A more definite link comes in 1914. IMG_6626

JA, his wife and two children arrive in London on the Omrah, which has begun its journey in Brisbane.  They embark at Port Said.  JA is cited as an employee of the Egyptian government and the family’s place of residence, for at least a year prior, is Egypt.  JA’s age is given as 37, which puts his date of birth at 1877 or 1878.  This does not seem correct, as Harris and Sarah Edleman did not marry until 1878 and their first child was born in December 1879.

On 27 March, 1915, Anna and the two children are on the move again, travelling on the Persia from London to Bombay.IMG_6552

They disembark at Port Said and their country of intended permanent future residence is stated as Egypt.  Their country of last permanent residence is identified simply as “Foreign countries”.

JA is not listed on the manifest so one assumes that he remained in England, possibly on account of military duties.

Maybe Anna had wanted, during a time of war, to be closer to her family in Egypt.  Whatever her reasons, the family must have returned to live in England either during or after the War.

On 13 February 1919, JA and his family sail on the Kenilworth Castle from Liverpool to Cape Town, South Africa. IMG_6555

JA’s title is given as Lt (lieutenant) implying that he had seen war service.  The family’s country of last permanent residence is stated as England and their intended country of future permanent residence as Abyssinia, an independent country that would later become part of Ethiopia.  Abyssinia is probably best known for Mussolini’s invasion in 1935 that deposed Haile Selassie from the Abyssinian throne and united Abyssinia, Eritrea and Somaliland under the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel.

JA’s occupation is given as “manager” and his age as 37.  This gives his date of birth as 1882 or 1883, which is a more realistic estimate.

JA was a British citizen, but there is no record of his birth in the United Kingdom.  The only reasonable explanation is that he was born in South Africa.

If this is true then, by association, my grandfather was also living in South Africa circa 1882 as well.  My eight year gap had potentially shrunk to one or two years.

If my distraction with the life of JA had helped me close the gap, then it had also saved me unwanted labour of another sort: I now had no need to delve into American records!