Reuben

It is very likely that John Albert, the third son of Harris and Sarah Edelman, was also born in Oudtshoorn.  The entry for Aaron Edelman in the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation (Great Synagogue) birth register lines up closely enough with his date of birth, circa 1882.  This may also be borne out by the fact that, in the absence of formal congregations in country towns, many immigrant Jews became ‘country members’ of the Great Synagogue in Cape Town.[1]

The Scotland Census of 1911 shows Harris and Sarah Edelman living in Edinburgh with three of their sons, all of whom were born in the Cape Colony.  One of them was Reuben, 22 at the time and a medical student.

In October and November of 1911, Reuben was scheduled to sail from Glasgow to New York.  The October listing places him with John Albert’s wife, Anna, and her two children.  On both occasions, Reuben’s listing is crossed out.

A search on Reuben in Find My Past brings up two important key milestones.

The first is an entry of marriage in Egypt sometime between 1916 and 1920.

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Source: FindMyPast

The transcript shows that the marriage took place in Cairo and that Reuben’s wife’s maiden name was Feldstein.

The second relates to a journey from London to Port Said, Egypt, in 1932.

Source: FindMyPast

Source: FindMyPast

Reuben’s address is given as 19 Dean Park Street, Edinburgh, and he is destined for Port Said – and ultimately Palestine – in the company of a nine-year old child, Doris.  This is presumably his daughter.  Reuben’s age is 43 which implies a date of birth circa 1889.  His occupation is stated as ‘Pal. A (or H) Off.’, which I am guessing may be short for Palestinian Army Officer.  It is possible that he was a doctor serving in that army.

I checked the South African National Archives database for an estate file for Reuben.

Having resolved the conundrum of the two Josephs, I was now confronted with the prospect of another pair of identically named Edelmans.  For there are estate files for two Reuben Edelmans in the Archives.  Both had died in the former Transvaal Province of South Africa, one in 1932 and the other in 1954.

Which one was my man?

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The file for the Reuben who had died in 1954 lists some key facts in his favour:

  • He was born in January, 1889, in Kimberley in the Cape Colony;
  • His wife’s maiden name was Feldstein and they were married in Cairo;
  • His older daughter’s name was Doris.

The only discordant note is his occupation.  Storeman is about as far removed from what I was expecting to see i.e. doctor, as one can get.

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The death notice for the Reuben who died in 1932 firmly eliminated him from consideration:

  • He was born in Russia, to Solomon and Rose Edelman
  • His age at death was 65 years.  Thus his year of birth must have been 1867.

Notwithstanding his occupational status, the first Reuben was almost certainly my ‘person of interest’.  This being the case, it is possible that my grandfather was living in Kimberley at the beginning of 1889.

He was a few months short of his 13th birthday.


[1]               Berger, S ‘The prehistory of the Great Synagogue: the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation 1841-1905’ p6

The missing years fall away

If the younger Joseph Edelman had been born in Oudtshoorn in 1887, then I could now reasonably assume that my grandfather – aged 11 – was  also living there at that time.

I had hoped that the estate file for Barney – bachelor, resident of Pietersburg, hotel employee and brother to Joseph – would at least consolidate evidence of my grandfather’s early connection with South Africa.

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And it did.

Barney’s parents are clearly identified as Harris and Sarah Edelman.  I could now account for seven of their nine children: Barney, John Albert, Reuben, Maximilian, Isidore and, of course, the two Josephs.

The death notice is signed by his brother, Max who, it would seem, had at some point after 1911 returned from Edinburgh to make a life in South Africa.

The death notice also suggests that Barney is the Mr Edelman who lived in the Northern Transvaal town of Soekmekaar.  Why Barney – “the sole Jewish inhabitant of a nearby place (Soekmekaar)” according to a local rabbi – chose to end his days in this undistinguished place, is something one can only wonder about.

Almost twenty years after his death, an attack on the local police station would lift this town out of obscurity.  While no-one was killed, the three men who committed this offence were given the death penalty in 1980.  A sentence that two years later would be commuted to life imprisonment.

Like the younger Joseph, Barney was born in Oudtshoorn.  Having regard to his age – 80 years and six months – he is likely to have been born in September, 1881.

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The abridged death certificate confirms this: Barney, the second son of Harris and Sarah Edelman, was born on 11 September 1881.

Exactly 120 years later, four acts of terrorism in New York City and Washington D.C. would rock the global community to its core.

Barney’s date and place of birth suggest that Harris Edelman may have left England for South Africa later than I’d previously thought, that is, sometime during the first quarter of 1881 rather than two to three years before.

More importantly, this event suggests a very strong likelihood that my grandfather – a boy of five at the time – was living in South Africa as early as September 1881.

Thus sometime between 3 April 1881 – the date of the English Census – and 11 September, 1881, Sarah Edelman and her two older sons, Harris Saltman and Joseph Edelman, would have left Liverpool for a new life in South Africa.

If it had taken me a while to find Barney, then the wait had been worth it.  The circumstances of his life had helped reduce the missing years in my grandfather’s movements between England and South Africa to a matter of months. Or 131 days, to be precise.

It had taken me over 15 years to reach that point.

I felt satisfied.