20 January 2008

UK: Indexing Jewish marriages

Looking for Jewish marriages to track your ancestors in the United Kingdom? Available resources include United Synagogue marriage authorizations which can offer clues to genealogical research.

What is an authorization? The document is obtained by bride and groom from the Office of the Chief Rabbi before a religious marriage can take place. Documents proving the Jewish ethnicity of the couple must be produced, including the ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) or the religious marriage certificate for the parents of both. If either of the couple is a convert, the certificate of conversion must be presented.

A new resource will be coming online to include all United Synagogue marriages up to and including 1907, thanks to Louise Messik, a council member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB).

During 2007 and after many years of discussion, writes Messik, the JGSGB and the United Synagogue (US) reached an agreement whereby she would index the documents for those dates. It would show the names of bride and groom, with date and place of marriage. The indexes would then be placed on a joint website under US auspices.

Although this work will take many months to complete, Messik is hopeful that the first 3,000 or so records she has prepared may be available online in the near future and be updated as more are ready. Tracing the Tribe will let you know when this happens, so stay tuned for more.

Adds Messik, the authorizations carry many genealogical clues if researchers know where and how to look. Rabbi Jeremy Rosen and Messik have produced an aid to deciphering the forms; it is here.

The page includes three examples of text from an 1884 form, a page on terminology and an original handwritten form.

Although forms have changed over the years, the basic data required includes application date, impending marriage date, Hebrew and English names for both bride and groom, their places of residence, birthplaces, certificates presented to confirm information and who presented the certificates, whether the groom was married before or is related to the bride, names of the groom's brothers in Hebrew and where they live, any previous surnames the bride might have used, synagogue where wedding will take place and the time, reception place, officiant's name, special comments and the groom's signature.

The data also includes terms (in cursive Hebrew and transliteration) used if the groom or bride is a convert to Judaism. The names of the groom's brothers are listed in the event the husband dies before the couple has children (with the obligation of the eldest unmarried brother to marry the widow). Although banned in Ashkenazi communities for 1,000 years, according to a footnote on the page, this was practiced in Sephardic communities until 1948 and their immigration to Israel. Next to each brother's name is the Hebrew terminology for his status (whether he were unavailable - already married, for example - or likely to refuse).

The bride's name also has a prefix describing her status, which could be virgin, widow, divorcee, important person or convert. Other terminology indicates if the bride's father is alive or not at the time of application.

This index should be a boon to researchers with a UK connection who have struggled, says Messik, with the form's cursive Hebrew and Aramaic and were frustrated in deciphering clues and information.

Messik promised to let me know when the first group of names is published and, of course, I'll let readers know.

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