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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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





Hotel employee

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






Harry & Sheinie & fam



Bicycle shop owner

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













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]


Mr & Mrs Joseph (Joe)



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]


Mr S



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:

[3]   This town is 80 kilometres from Pietersburg

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!

I continue to be side-tracked by the Edleman family

I had now added John Albert – or JA as I shall call him for convenience – to my database of Edleman offspring.

JA’s quarters at the Grand Union Hotel in 1911 do not appear to have been those of a pauper.

This brick hotel with its mansard roof and quoin corner blocks, plus the trademark New York fire escapes to the front facade – a  relatively new feature of fire safety at the time – presents an imposing figure and, dare I say, one that would likely have attracted well-to-do patrons.

Built in 1872, the Grand Union Hotel was situated at Park Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets.  The recently completed Grand Central Terminal is partly visible on the left.[1]

The photo of the hotel was taken in 1914, shortly before it was demolished to make way for the Lexington Avenue subway line.[2]  By then, of course, JA and his family would have moved on.

Saul Marks had suggested that I could trace JA’s line in the US further through reference to a range of sources.

Interesting as I imagined this would have been, the Edlemans’ American pathway after 1911 seemed less important to my central aim of giving some context to the missing years of my grandfather’s life, than trying to find out more about JA’s earlier existence and, by association, my grandfather’s circumstances.

A logical starting point was to establish JA’s date and place of birth.

That wasn’t going to be quite as easy as I would have liked.  There is no record of his birth in England nor of any having been registered at a British Consulate abroad.

I was reasonably confident that JA had been born sometime between 1881 and 1889.  He was younger than his brother Joseph who – at the 1881 Census had only my grandfather as a sibling – and most likely older than another brother, Reuben, who was born circa 1889.

Something about the birthplace of Anna, Grace and John Edleman Junior had aroused my curiosity: all three had been born in Cairo, Egypt.  This presupposed that JA had, prior to 1911, spent time in Egypt.

A record of marriage would prove how far back that period might have extended.IMG_6545

Registration of their marriage at the British Consul in Cairo confirmed a link to Egypt back to 1906.[3]

I would soon discover that JA and his family had a far closer relationship with this country than with the US.

And that by pursuing this particular relationship further, it would lead me to what I was looking for.

[3]              Calculated from the age of their daughter, Grace, who was five years old in 1911.

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?