An end….and a new beginning

After my great-grandfather’s death in November 1876, it seems that there was little reason for his widow and infant son to remain in Sheffield.  Within two years, they had left town and, to my knowledge, they would never return.


Shepherd St, Google Maps, 2012

I’d always wondered what had happened to Shepherd Street and its surrounding area in the 10 years since I’d first visited.  And thanks to the wonders of Google Maps and Street View, I did not have to make a trip to Sheffield to find out.

From my desktop several thousand kilometres away, it seems that the area has deteriorated further and some businesses have closed their doors.  If it had all looked rather dreary in 2003, then it is even more so now.

However, there is a ray of sunshine on the horizon.

My earlier hunch about the area being ripe for urban renewal has proved correct.  Plans are afoot to redevelop it for a range of mixed uses: see here.

Like all such projects, time frames are long and change will be achieved incrementally, the final outcome probably taking longer to materialise than would have been originally anticipated.  But when complete, I’m sure that it will look great and be home to a vibrant community.

Perhaps as it may have been over a hundred years ago.

But that story is for someone else to narrate.

Painting a picture

After leaving Russia[1], my great-grandparents’ path of travel would have likely taken them through Austria-Hungary or Germany to the nearest railway station whence they would have crossed Europe to a North Sea port in Germany, Holland or Belgium.  There they would have boarded a ship for England, probably travelling third class where conditions were hardly luxurious, but adequate for the two-day crossing.

Many such migrants passed through Sheffield on their way from Hull to Manchester, Liverpool and ultimately America.  Some decided to stay and set up as watchmakers, jewellers or tailors. [2]  My great-grandparents were among them.

Typical of migrants in a strange land, new arrivals often went directly to members of their own family who had already settled in England, or else to people from their village back home. [3]  The Jewish community, which grew from a base of about 60 in the 1840’s to 800 by the turn of the century, established itself in the Scotland Street and West Bar area of Sheffield, which included Shepherd Street.


Google Maps

The map below shows part of this area as it was in 1873.  Someone has fortuitously applied a red pen to a section of the map which includes 37 Shepherd Street, Harris’ first home.  This is in the building at the intersection of Shepherd and Doncaster Streets just inside the area marked in red.  Judging by the depth of the housing footprint, number 37 may have been part of a “back to back” development and/or could equally have looked out onto a communal court.


source: Sheffield City Council

A number of photos of the area were taken by the City Engineers Department of Sheffield Council in 1937.  Other than the addition of modern touches such as the motor car, the buildings and streetscapes look much like they would have in Harris’ first year of life.

A local shopping strip:


Allen Street, No. 65-67 John Truswell Ltd, wholesale provision merchants (Sheffield City Council).

What some of the housing looked like from the rear:


Elevation of wall at rear of 15-19 Doncaster Street and 43-47 Shepherd Street (Sheffield City Council)

A Victorian streetscape…with pub at the junction of the two streets:


Nos. 43-63 Shepherd Street and (former Corner Pin P.H.) 80 -70 Allen Street (Sheffield City Council)

Did my great-grandfather enjoy a drink at the Blue Boy?  Or was the family teetotal?


Court No. 9 Shepherd Street, wall and property between yard at the rear of the Blue Boy P.H., 41 Shepherd Street (Sheffield City Council)

The foundation stone for the former synagogue in Church Street – see below – was laid in January 1872.  Did my great-grandparents get married there?  Was Harris circumcised here?  Was the family active members of the local congregation?  Did they celebrate the high holy days and keep to Jewish customs?


North Church Street, Nos 2-6, Talbot Chambers, St. Peter’s Close and former Jewish Synagogue, 2003 (Jean Moulson)

Is this the building in which Harris spent his first year of life?


Shepherd Street at junction of Doncaster Street, Netherthorpe. Court No. 6, Shepherd Street at rear of properties, left. Court No. 4, under archway, right (Sheffield City Council)

I can only speculate about these things.

[1] Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire during the nineteenth century

[2]  Sheffield City Council Sheffield’s Jewish Community 2011

A tale of two cities

What kind of place would have greeted new migrants to Sheffield in the late 1800’s?

By the latter half of the century, steel had eclipsed cutlery manufacture as Sheffield’s predominant industry, fed by a global demand for railway stock and armaments, both of which helped to position the city as the world’s most famous steel manufacturing centre.  Cutlery making continued as an important industry through the nineteenth century, and was joined by tool making and other industries.

The steel boom was accompanied by soaring population growth.  In 1851, the borough had a population of 135,000; fifty years later, this number had almost trebled.  Much of the population increase was due to people marrying earlier – and therefore having larger families – but also to in-migration from neighbouring counties and countries such as Ireland. [1]

The huge expansion in industry occurred in tandem with major urbanization.  The centre of town was remodelled into a commercial district and new housing was developed for both the working and middle classes.

Industrialisation also brought unprecedented pollution.  Rivers were subject to both the removal of water and discharge of industrial effluent. Many were used as open sewers.  Not surprisingly, aquatic life in the Don almost disappeared and the river became a “stinking, barren channel”.

Where the more prosperous of Sheffield’s residents were able to move to wooded estates away from the workshops and factories, worker housing could be found cheek by jowl with industry, and often sharing the same yards.[2]

Standards of health and housing increasingly became the focus of commentators’ attention.

Penned in 1848, this report on sanitary conditions in Sheffield observed that “…the particles of soot floating about in the atmosphere (are) so numerous that people (are) prevented from having recourse to the most common method of ventilation by opening windows and doors; in many places the evil is so extensive that the inhabitants find the greatest difficulty in maintaining personal or domestic cleanliness…”[3]

Another report written in 1861 noted that “…a thick pulverous haze is spread over the city, which the sun even in the dog days is unable to penetrate, save by a lurid gaze, and which has the effect of imparting to the green hills and golden corn fields in the distance the ghostly appearance of being whitened by snow…”[4].

As the middle classes shifted west and north-west to the less polluted parts of town in the mid-nineteenth century, inner city areas – and the tenements in particular – attracted working class families.

Tenements – which saved space and building costs – were reproduced, with minor variations, in almost all working class quarters.  A standard “apartment” was one room deep, and built “back to back” with another, one facing into the street and another into the yard.  Behind each set of rooms was the staircase, and behind it the partition wall to the other house.  In such terrace housing, three walls of each apartment were common with adjoining apartments, and one wall, facing either into the street or into the yard, was freestanding and broken by windows and the door.  The terraces were built around courts to which the entrance was commonly gained by a narrow passage built under the first floor rooms to the depth of two apartments.

About half the houses opened inwards into confined yards which were generally unpaved and contained the toilets.  These had to serve the entire complex of buildings with each toilet possibly being shared between two and a dozen households.  Many houses were not connected to potable drinking water and had to rely on communal standpipe in the yard.  Residents living in houses facing outwards thus had to go out into the street, through a passage into the yard to fetch water or visit the toilets.  By 1864, Sheffield had 38,000 of these “back to back” houses. [5]

In the same year, a by-law was proclaimed prohibiting any further construction of this type of housing on health grounds[6], although much of it survived into the twentieth century.

At the close of the nineteenth century, little had changed.  This extract from JS Fletcher’s A pictorial history of Yorkshire sums up the author’s impression of Sheffield thus:

“Under smoke and rain, Sheffield is suggestive of nothing so much as of the popular conception of the infernal regions.  From the chimneys, great volumes of smoke pour their listless way towards a forbidding sky; out of the furnaces shoot great tongues of flame which relieve the sombreness of the scene and illuminate it at the same time; in the streets there is a substratum of dust and mud; in the atmosphere, a choking something that appears to take a firm grip of one’s throat.  The aspect of the northern fringe of Sheffield on such a day is terrifying, the black heaps of refuse, the rows of cheerless-looking houses, the thousand and one signs of grinding industrial life, the inky waters of river and canal, the general darkness an dirt of the whole scene serves but to create feelings of repugnance and even horror.”[7]

It was into this world that my grandfather was born.

[1] Hey, David A history of Sheffield 2010, pages 185-187

[2]  Pollard, S A history of Labour in Sheffield 1850-1939 (1959)

[3]  Quoted in Hey, page 134

[4]  Ibid page 235

[5] Pollard, op cit.

[6]  Hey, page 241

[7]  (1899) quoted in Hey, pages 237-39

A beginning

I first became acquainted with my grandfather’s birth place through the back of a butter knife.  “Made in Sheffield”, it proclaimed, and for many years when I thought of this town, I thought only of cutlery manufacture.

From what I can gather, my father never visited Sheffield either during his four year period of residency in England during the 1930’s, or on subsequent family holidays.  For a man who was otherwise endlessly curious about life and family matters, this always seemed rather odd to me.

I had no inclination to go there until my husband (M) and I made a trip to England in September, 2003, by which time I had uncovered a few details of Harris’ existence in Sheffield, in particular an address for his place of birth: 37 Shepherd Street.

We had arrived in the country at the tail end of an unusally hot summer both in Britain and in Europe.  Fortunately, we had missed the worst of it – almost 15,000 people had died in France from heat related causes  – but evidence of its effects lingered, particularly in landscapes burnt brown by the sun.

As we headed north out of London in our hire car, windows wound down to bring relief from the heat, I pondered two things: what my grandfather’s living circumstances might have been at the time of his birth and why was it that all British cars weren’t automatically fitted with air-conditioning.

We arrived in the centre of Sheffield around midday.  Requiring some sustenance for the task ahead, we cast our eyes about for something suitable to eat.  A nearby Italian restaurant beckoned, its decor and menu full of promise.  Sadly, the focaccia didn’t deliver, its taste suspiciously suggestive of bully beef, a foodstuff we thought had long since been consigned to the annals of history.

After having picked up a map and a few brochures at the Tourist Information Centre, we set off on a sightseeing tour. Shortly after leaving the city centre, we were into the suburbs near Sheffield University.  Judging from the style and quality of the fine Edwardian houses, I gathered that this must be one of the better parts of town.

Our route traversed some of the many hills of Sheffield, eventually taking us to Walkley Cemetery with its overgrown but very charming atmosphere.  After spending some time browsing the gravestones in the lower Anglican section, we decided to try to find the Jewish cemetery which I knew from earlier research to be in the vicinity.  This was no larger than a suburban garden, filled with graves dating from the late nineteenth century.  I scanned these in the full knowledge that I was unlikely to recognise any of the names inscribed on the tombstones.  Indeed, none was familiar.

The route to Shepherd Street gradually gave way to blocks of high-rise housing, not unlike that built in the Sydney suburbs of Waterloo and Redfern during the 1970’s.  On a street corner stood a couple of women dressed in skirts just a little too short and necklines that plunged just a little too low.  A few other street corners were similarly adorned.  Had my grandfather’s neighbourhood become a red light district?

I tried to imagine what we might find when we arrived at number 37.  I had no illusions about the kind of housing my forebears might have occupied.  I knew not to expect a quaint row of Victorian terraces since gentrified to accommodate upwardly mobile inner city dwellers.  My great grandparents were low-skilled migrants with limited prospects, and their economic circumstances would have forced them into a very modest form of accommodation, at best.

No amount of logic could have prepared me for what I was about to see.

s26746I estimated that this ugly brick factory building and others in the vicinity were at least fifty or more years old, having long since replaced any nineteenth century housing, and giving Shepherd Street and its surrounding area over to industrial use.

The urban planner in me also judged that these buildings had seen the best years of their life and might not be around for much longer.

Not just a burial place

Jewish burial customs require that the deceased be interred as soon as possible after death.   Taking this into account, the two likely locations for my great-grandfather’s grave were Liverpool and Sheffield.  Grimsby was a remote possibility due to the presence of siblings and father living there.

Michael Saltman had mentioned that by 2011, the Jewish community in Grimsby had shrunk to three people.   To paraphrase Avrom, the most vital institution of this once thriving community was now its cemetery, the synagogue having ceased to function.

I was impressed to read that the North East Lincolnshire Archives has more than two kilometres of shelving filled with 12,000 boxes of records dating from the 13th century.  If Israel had been buried in Grimsby, I figured that he would show up in these records.  He didn’t.

That left Sheffield and Liverpool.

I had stumbled across a blog devoted to the conservation of Walkley Cemetery in Sheffield.  I had known of a Jewish cemetery in that vicinity and contacted the blog author, Hugh, for more information.

While Walkley Cemetery is a Church of England Burial Ground, there is a small Jewish cemetery adjacent which is a separate entity.  Both cemeteries opened in 1880.  But Israel had died in 1876 so I could cross that one off my list.

Sheffield City Council

Bowden Street Cemetery (Sheffield City Council)

Hugh had copied a link to an earlier Jewish burial ground in Bowden Street.  According to the source of information on this link – one Neville Ballin, a Sheffield local writing in August 1999 – Bowden Street Cemetery opened in 1831 and closed in 1880.  In 1975 Sheffield City Council bought the Bowden Street Cemetery and 51 remains were re-interred in that year at the Sheffield Jewish Congregation Cemetery at Ecclesfield.  Most of the Bowden Street graves appeared to have been unmarked, so my expectations were low.

More recent information on the JCR-UK website inferred that Bowden Street Cemetery might have closed in 1874.  In that case, I could cross this cemetery off my list as well.  The remaining working Jewish cemetery in 1876 was at Ecclesfield, the oldest section having been acquired in 1872.

JCR-UK identifies 1,390 burials having occurred at the Jewish Community Cemetery at Ecclesfield between 1874 and 1997.  Of these, only a handful of names are obtainable online and none matches my great-grandfather.

I shall digress slightly here.  Mr Ballin had previously caught my eye in connection with a book he had written, “The early days of Sheffield Jewry”.  The book includes a list of all Jews extracted from Sheffield directories between 1852 and 1900.  A period during which my ancestors lived there.

I knew that Sheffield Council held a copy of this book, but I wanted my own.  The market for Mr Ballin’s book must have been thin, as none was for sale anywhere.  Nor was there a copy in any library close to home.

Cap in hand, I asked the Council if they would scan the book – it was only 64 pages long – and email it to me.  I would, of course, pay for any costs.

If the market for the Ballin book was thin, then so were the prospects of my request being met.  My correspondent advised that due to United Kingdom copyright law, I could be supplied with up to five percent or one chapter of the book.  I am still wondering how I was to select a particular five percent or book chapter, sight unseen.

Through a combination of perseverance and luck, I found a copy of the book at the Sheffield Jewish Congregation and Centre.  The woman who responded to my inquiry generously offered to check the book, as well as cemetery records, for mention of my ancestors.  They didn’t feature in either.

That left Liverpool.

Deane Road Cemetery was opened in 1837 and closed for regular burials in 1904.  It is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Liverpool and was recently restored.

Despite the cemetery being operational during the relevant period, the project manager for the restoration, Saul Marks, said that there was no record of Israel having been buried at Deane Road.  He added that there was another Jewish cemetery active in Liverpool in the 1870’s at Green Lane.  However, a fire many years before had destroyed the burial registers for this cemetery and the surviving substitute comprised a list of existing upright tombstones made in 1979.

Was destruction of records by fire becoming a recurring theme in my search?

A colleague of Saul’s, Arnold Lewis, contacted me separately to say that Israel’s name did not appear in the Green Lane cemetery database.  The list did not include many headstones that had been overturned and their inscribed names unable to be recorded.  Israel’s headstone may have been one of those.  However, as the cemetery was now completely overgrown and access barred, no-one could do a headstone check to confirm.  Arnold’s view was that if Israel had remained Jewish and within the community then it was almost certain that he would have been buried there.

I did not need to muddy the waters by adding that Liverpool was one of two, possibly three, possible last resting places for my great-grandfather.

With my long distance forensic investigations having failed to identify a burial place for my great-grandfather, I was left pondering the future of cemeteries in modern urban life.  Did they have a role to play?

Increasing funeral costs, weather effects and greater societal mobility have seen a growing trend towards cremation.  Apart from the financial incentive – cremation offers huge savings compared to a conventional burial – this option also absolves family members of any responsibility for maintaining a grave site.  And more than one generation out, the likelihood of a surviving relative performing this role is fairly slim.

Will cremation, however, signal the death knell of cemeteries?  I don’t think so.  Or, at least, I hope not.

For as long as religion, culture and tradition prevail, so are physical memorials to people’s memories likely to continue. Cemeteries are where many cultures still prefer to lay their loved ones to rest, the grave being one of the last physical connections with the deceased’s existence.  This is also a place where those who remain behind can make a spiritual connection with their relative.

But burial places have a much wider appeal.

Their role as tourist destinations is well established: witness, for example, the Taj Mahal, the grave of Elvis Presley, the Pyramids.

bonaventure_cem – 160

A few years ago, I found myself at the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.  This is the garden of “good and evil” referred to in John Berendt’s gothic tale of murder and magic, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Rows of neatly laid out graves are compartmentalised according to faith, public achievement (or notoriety) and war service.  Some of the characters who featured in Berendt’s book are also buried there.  The grave  sites are interspersed with lush growth and set under a canopy of oak trees that drip with Spanish moss.  What better place to enjoy one’s lunch sandwiches and ponder the meaning of life than in this atmosphere-laden burial place?  I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

Closer to home, Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney’s west is the largest burial ground in the southern hemisphere and one of the biggest in the world.  Its 283 hectare site is represented by 80 different religions and cultural groups, and has seen a million burials since it first opened in 1868.  Inhabitants include representation from Sydney’s business world, entertainers, politicians, equal rights campaigners, war heroes, underworld figures and the odd convict.  Rookwood’s grounds are worth a drive through, if for no other reason than to take in the sheer scale of the cemetery.

Cemeteries are important not only for the above-mentioned characteristics, but also as islands of tranquility in the midst of urban areas.

Newtown, close to the Sydney CBD, is one of my favourite places to visit.  Its centrepiece is King Street, the longest and most complete commercial precinct of the late Victorian and early Federation period in Australia, and listed on the Register of the National Estate.  The colonnade of buildings which line King Street house a variety of restaurants, cafe’s, pubs, bookshops, entertainment venues and antique dealers.  There is a constant hum of activity on King Street and at times, it can be overwhelming.


Just one block back are the 19th century remains of the Camperdown cemetery.  Meandering amongst the graves, often with the birds as one’s only companion, it’s hard to believe that you are in the inner city.

Not having found the grave of my great grandfather was not the disappointment I thought it would be.  It was more reflective of the reality that, over time, some things survive and others don’t.

And for those that do survive, their legacy is there for future generations to appreciate, interpret, value and enjoy.  For there is no need to have a personal tie to a place in order to connect with it on another level.

The Internet throws up a gem

Like someone panning for gold, I can spend hours sifting through great quantities of mud in the hope of a shiny particle or two, better still – a small nugget.  It’s a clock-ticking pursuit – the internet is my biggest time thief – but when something shiny appears, it makes all that trawling through the mud seem worthwhile.

I regard myself as an introvert, but I’m not ashamed to say that I periodically put my name into Google.  My top hits are mostly related to my erstwhile rankings in ocean racing and pool events.  There’s not much else there to distract a reader, that’s if you could even call my swimming prowess an item of interest to anyone other than myself.

The genealogical gem I was hoping for revealed itself about 10 years ago.

It is an essay written by an unknown relative, Avrom Saltman, and titled “To be buried in Grimsby” (April, 1998).  It is chock full of information about my family line, some of it supplied by my late father.  Information not only about who they were, but where and how they would have lived.

Avrom’s essay confirmed much of what I already knew.  I knew that my great grandparents, Israel and Sarah, had married in Sheffield in 1875 and had produced a son less than a year later.  That they had not originated in Britain.  I knew that my paternal great great-grandfather, Zelig Saltman, was a “traveller” and that he, too, had not been born in Britain.  I knew that my maternal great great-grandfather, Marcus Marks, was a shopkeeper in Sheffield, and had been born in Russia as had his daughter, my great grandmother.

The essay revealed a birthplace for Zelig: the town of Kruky in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire.  Towards the end of the nineteenth century, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled places like Lithuania and others in the Pale of Settlement for a better – and more egalitarian – life in countries such as the US and South Africa.  And while I am not abreast of the full extent of the suffering they endured at the hands of their Russian oppressors, I do recall that my maternal grandmother – the only grandparent I was lucky enough to know – was, at the age of 15, illiterate due to education laws at the time which precluded up to 90% of Jewish children from gaining a place in schools.

Zelig was widowed, probably about 1872, his wife (Esther or Esther Rivka) having died in Lithuania.  Shortly afterwards, Zelig, who never remarried, came to England, presumably with his son Israel.

Zelig settled in Grimsby and was a hawker in glass or travelling glazier, a fairly common Jewish trade at the time.  The ancient town of Grimsby, England’s largest fishing port, had recently undergone dock improvements which not only greatly increased the number of vessels using the harbour and the amount of fish being handled, but spawned a range of ancillary industries which provided economic opportunities for capable middlemen.  Litvack glaziers, such as my ancestors, were no more than hawkers who sold glass across the surrounding countryside, returning home for the Sabbath.  Theirs was not an easy life.  The Jewish glaziers had to face a certain amount of discrimination or anti-semitism, even if trivial compared with what they had experienced in the Russian Empire.  According to the Jewish Chronicle of October 20, 1875, a glazier with his own premises did not require a licence to trade, but Jewish glaziers were being fined for hawking glass without a licence (cited at page 29).

Zelig died in April 1900 at the age of 79 or 80 and appears to have left no estate.  He outlived his eldest child Israel, my great grandfather, by almost 24 years.  His tombstone in the Jewish cemetery in Grimsby reveals an unexpected bonus: the name of his own father, Judah Arie Saltman i.e. my great-great great-grandfather.

I knew that Israel had called himself a commercial traveller and it is possible that he also dealt in glass.  Unbeknownst to me, my father had also supplied the following information to Avrom about Israel (refer page 9): “Seven months after his son, Harris, was born Israel died of a bowel inflammation at Everton (near Liverpool) while on his travels.  Sarah later married a man called Edelman.  They went to Edinburgh and had at least four sons.”

I now knew the cause of my great grandfather’s death.

Unfortunately, if my father had discussed a time frame within which my great grandmother had remarried and relocated to Edinburgh, it is not recorded in Avrom’s essay.

Births, deaths and marriages

I’ve always been grateful of a relatively uncommon surname.  And while over the years I’ve had to endure a variety of misspellings including Saltzman, Saldsman, Sultman and even Saltram – the latter being an Australian variation which borrows from a winery of that name – I have never more so valued its uncommonness than when searching for ancestors.

I knew Harris’ age at and approximate date of death.  Working backwards, this told me that he had been born in 1875 or 1876.

Back at Rumsey Hall, I browsed the St Catherine’s House Index for these two years, checking all four quarters for each.  It didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for: an entry for Harris Saltman between April and June 1876, the birth registered in the district of Sheffield in the county of Yorkshire West Riding.

There were no other entries by this name over this period.  I’d hit pay dirt.

I now had a three month window for a birth date, for which I would need a copy of his birth certificate.  And for the equivalent of five pound sterling, the Society could order one on my behalf.

It arrived three weeks later.

As well as a date, the certificate identifies a place of birth: 37 Shepherd Street, Sheffield.  This address is also given for Harris’ parents, Israel Saltman and Sarah Saltman (formerly Marks).  The certificate had yielded up my paternal great-grandparents.

Israel’s occupation is listed as “commercial traveller”, a travelling salesman in contemporary parlance.  What goods did he deal in, I wondered?  Did he have allocated territory?  Did he spend long periods away from home like most travellers did then and can still do today?  How would this lifestyle have sat with a young wife and new baby?

Israel’s and Sarah’s son was born on 22nd April 1876.  For ballet buffs, this is also the day on which Tchaikovsky completed Swan Lake.

Encouraged by my find, I decided to look for registration of Israel’s and Sarah’s marriage.  I browsed the indexes at Rumsey Hall and found an entry in the third quarter of 1875.  I pondered whether theirs had been a shotgun wedding?  Had Mr Marks had to put the hard word on Israel?  Only the certificate could tell me so I handed over another five quid to the Society and waited the obligatory three weeks.

The marriage certificate shows that Israel and Sarah were living in Sheffield at the time they married, less than a quarter of a mile apart and in the same general area as Shepherd Street.  Their respective fathers are identified on the certificate: Marcus Marks, Sarah’s father and a shopkeeper, and Zelic Saltman, traveller.  I had inadvertently discovered two great great-grandparents.

Their date of marriage was 7th July 1875.  Israel’s age is stated as 20 and Sarah’s as 21.  And while it wouldn’t have mattered to me, I deduced that Harris had not been conceived out of wedlock.

But any satisfaction I may have derived from learning about this family unit was short-lived.  Further review of the indexes revealed that Israel had died in the third quarter of 1876 in Liverpool (West Derby).

Israel left behind a wife who had barely emerged from her teens and a son who would never know his father.


Random encounters

I grew up and spent my early adulthood in Cape Town.  In my late twenties, I moved to Sydney with my husband and have lived in that city ever since.

While my personal jury is still out on how much control we have over our lives, there have been a few occasions that have given me cause to wonder whether things which are beyond our control may happen for a reason.

On a visit back to Cape Town in the late 1990s I met up with a school friend who had married a distant cousin of mine.  Marion was compiling the family tree and asked if I could fill in a few blanks for her.  Sure, especially if it related to my parents, siblings and their families.  Even aunts, uncles and cousins, all this was a subject well known to me.  And being good at dates, I could even proclaim years of birth, marriage and death with as  much confidence as the official certificates on which these dates were inscribed.  I might add at this point that I won the history prize at high school.

As Marion unfurled my family tree, I saw a myriad of names under “Descendants of ? Saltman”, most of whom I did not recognise.   Were all these people really connected to me?  It was almost overwhelming to think that I had such a large family, although not beyond the realm of possibility.   After all, my grandmother had been one of twelve siblings, so multiplying out from this number meant that X number of children and their children….no, numbers have never been my strong suit, but I’m sure you understand where I am going with this.

I searched for familiar names and eventually found “Harry, born in Sheffield about 1873”.   Aha, a name I recognised.  Harris.

I knew that he had been born in Sheffield because my father had told me.  But I also knew how old he was when he died and 1873 did not compute as his birth date.

But if it didn’t, how would I find out what did?