The two Josephs

A chance remark by a fellow blogger has completely overturned an assumption I’d previously regarded as rock solid.

This assumption was that Joseph Edelman, Harris and Sarah’s first son born in England, was the same as the Joe, solicitor and newspaper editor living in a South African country town in the early part of the twentieth century.

The remark that turned this assumption on its head was this:

“… the 1912 South African Who’s Who has the following entry: Edelman, Joseph, solicitor; b. 1887, Oudtshoorn, 3rd son of H.Edelman.”

If it is unlikely enough that parents would give two of their children the same name, then it is even more unlikely that an Ashkenazi family would do this.  This is because protocol dictates that newborns take the name of a deceased relative.

The only logical conclusion to be drawn from the appearance of a second Joseph is that the first must have died sometime after 1882/1883 – the assumed birth date for John Albert – and that the younger Joseph took his name from the deceased child.

In the hope of validating this new assumption, I turned to the younger Joseph’s estate file.

South African estate files are a treasure trove of information for the amateur genealogist.  In addition to the deceased person’s name, they can tell you the birth place and nationality of the deceased, the name of his or her parents, the age of the deceased in years and months, occupation, place of residence at time of death, and much more.

I’d had Joseph’s estate file in my possession for over 12 months.  I’d read it more than once, but had failed to absorb some of its key messages.

A 030

Joseph’s parentage confirms that he is another half-brother to my grandfather.  His occupational status – attorney and journalist – aligns with the person described thus in the SA Rootsbank database which, in turn, established a relationship to another brother, Barney.

His place of birth is shown as Oudtshoorn, spelt without a “t” here.  He was 70 at the time of his death in Krugersdorp on 19 April, 1957.  This places his date of birth at 1887 which, together with his place of birth, is consistent with the entry in the 1912 South African Who’s Who.

This Joseph is clearly not the same as the Joseph born in Liverpool, England, in 1879.

I’d like to have closed the case on the younger Joseph there.  But two entries in Rootsbank made me pause.

The first lists a date of death for Joseph Edelman as 19 April 1957, clearly establishing him as the son of Harris and Sarah Edelman.  The second lists a date of death for Joe Edelman as 4 March 1962.  Was there possibly a third Joseph?

Most likely not.

I recalled that Barney Edelman had also died in 1962.

Surname EDELMAN
First Names Barney
Hebrew Names Dov (Barney)
Died Date 1962-03-04
Hebrew Date of Death 29 Adar A
Notes All those who knew him
Region in SA Northern
Listing Pietersburg cemetery

And sure enough, the Rootsbank entry for Barney’s death gives the date as 4 March 1962.

It is too coincidental to regard both brothers as having died on the same day; this has more likely arisen out of a keying error.

Significantly, there is no estate file for a Joseph Edelman who also died in 1962.

But there is one for Barney Edelman.

Picking my way through Rootsbank

At the 1911 Census, Harris and Sarah Edelman had seven surviving children.

I had accounted for five sons:

  • Joseph: born in 1879 in Liverpool, England
  • John Albert: assumed to have been born in 1882 or 1883, possibly in Cape Town
  • Reuben: born circa 1889 in the Cape Colony
  • Isidore: born circa 1895 in the Cape Colony
  • Maximilian: born circa 1897 in the Cape Colony

Assuming that my grandfather was included in the surviving number of offspring, then I had only to find one more living son or daughter of the Edelmans at 1911

Someone who might hold the key to the family’s arrival in South Africa.

Asking a researcher to copy more than 80 archival documents for persons bearing the Edelman name would be both onerous and random.

To make the national archives research more focussed, I knew that I had to drill down for information on ethnicity.  And for this, the South African Jewish Database – SA Jewish Rootsbank – of the Centre for Jewish Migration and Genealogy Studies at the University of Cape Town, would be my primary source.

I plugged in the name, Edelman.  76 matches popped up.  But this was not as daunting as it sounds.

Working through Rootsbank’s various databases – there are 12[1] – allowed me to whittle down the number of potentially suitable candidates to a manageable few.  It also reconfirmed a few facts.

Isaac Edelman, the feather buyer from Ladismith, appears under the category ‘naturalisations’, although his country of birth is stated as Russia (not Prussia, Germany).  A bit of sleuthing on his birthplace, Olecko Marggrabowa – as it is now known – established that this town was part of Prussia during the late nineteenth century.  Olecko Marggrabowa is also very close to the Lithuanian border making it likely that Isaac is the same as the person identified in my previous post.

Another entry under this category is for Simon Edelman, general dealer, born in Wilna (Vilnius) and mentioned in my previous post.  This information will become useful in a little while, if only to eliminate Simon from consideration as a surviving child of Harris and Sarah.

The most useful category, however, was ‘communities’.

This category brought up a match for Mr and Mrs John A Edleman, resident of Pietersburg, an auctioneer, estate and manufacturer’s agent.  The comment is made in 1920, so this could be John Albert.  Although it implies that the family may have had a change of mind about settling in Abyssinia en route from Liverpool to Cape Town in 1919.

Surname First name Community Status Occupation Comment

Edelman

Barney

PIETERSBURG

Resident

Hotel employee

Bachelor; brother of Joe Edelman. Worked at the Royal Hotel. [Wiener; Susser]

Edelman

Barney

PIETERSBURG

Cemetery

Edelman

Harry & Sheinie & fam

PIETERSBURG

Resident

Bicycle shop owner

Children: Ian & Jocelyne. [HOD Journal 1962; Wiener]

Edelman

Joe

PIETERSBURG

Personality

Edelman

Joe

PIETERSBURG

Cemetery

Edelman

Mr

SOEKMEKAAR

Resident

Lived in the district. Rabbi Newman said he was the sole Jewish inhabitant of “a nearby place”. [sajbd arch sajbd corres arch 33.3 – messina]

Edelman

Mr & Mrs Joseph (Joe)

PIETERSBURG

Resident

Lawyer; newspaper editor

Brother of Barney Edelman. Wife not born Jewish. Originally a lawyer but sold his practice to Max Chaitow and became editor of the Zoutpansberg Review. Died in 1962 and was buried in Pietersburg. [Wiener; joe- 1922 greetings; dennis edwards 1922; 1924 tel dir]

Edelman

Mr S

PIETERSBURG

Resident

General dealer

[1922 dennis edwards]

It appears that, by the early twentieth century, a cluster of Edelmans had settled in the Northern Transvaal town of Pietersburg, now known as Polokwane, a major urban centre and capital of modern-day Limpopo Province in South Africa.

The first listing – for Barney Edelman – establishes a fraternal link to Joe Edelman, lawyer and editor of the local newspaper[2].  If this Joe is my grandfather’s oldest half-brother, then Barney is possibly the seventh surviving child of Harris and Sarah Edelman.  He died in 1962.

Unfortunately, few details are provided for Barney and certainly not enough for me to draw any meaningful conclusions.

There are even fewer details about “Mr Edelman”, resident of the curiously named town of Soekmekaar[3] which, translated from the Afrikaans, means “look for each other”.

The entry for Mr Harry and Sheinie Edelman and their family is too recent to be of interest, but suggests a possible next generation of Edelmans.  Mr S Edelman, general dealer, is potentially the same person as Simon Edelman discussed above, but too old to be a child of Harris and Sarah.

So where did all this research leave me?

It appeared that I had made a potential breakthrough in discovering the existence of Barney Edelman.

But I needed to know more about him to see if this was the case.


[1]   Birth, cemeteries, communities, congregations, deaths and estates, marriages, military records, naturalisations, passenger arrivals, SA General, shipping manifests, SA-Israel (links).

[2]  The Zoutpansberg Review survived at least until 2002 before being renamed the Northern Review: http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/1721/dissertation.pdf.txt?sequence=2

[3]   This town is 80 kilometres from Pietersburg