17 January 2008

Australia: "These are the names"

Members of international Jewish genealogical societies can offer amazing local resources and help on the ground. It always pays to contact JGSs in the places your ancestors lived or immigrated from. Members of these groups know all the ins-and-outs of research in specialized archives and are truly expert in local matters.

Les Oberman of Melbourne is president of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society (Vic), which publishes the quarterly journal Jewish Genealogy Downunder. He's always been a great source of help. On a personal note, he located and contacted Talalay relatives who moved there from Bobruisk, Belarus nearly 20 years ago.

I've just received my copy of the Melbourne journal and also receive The Kosher Koala, the newsletter of the Sydney society.

Your local Jewish genealogical society likely receives the newsletters and journals of societies around the world, and it always worth a visit to your society's library. Find a list of all member societies of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies here. While these publications carry general announcements of interest to all genealogists worldwide, they also carry informative articles focusing on local interests, history and resources.

The first article in Downunder focuses on Rabbi John Levi's new book These are the Names: Jewish Lives in Australia 1788-1850, an 873-page book published last year; it sold out soon after its release.

His previous book (1976) was The Forefathers: A Dictionary of Biography of the Jews of Australia 1788-1830. The new book includes all information in Forefathers and extends the research range another 20 years, providing information on some 1,500 Jews who had arrived up until 1850.

The article is an account of the problems Levi faced in researching these individuals and how some research was easier now because of Internet accessible resources, such as the UK's Old Bailey Court records which hold transport information on Jewish convicts.

Another interesting article is on the Jewish community of Penang (Malaysia) by Margot Bailey, president of the Jewish Genealogical and History Society of South Australia (Adelaide).

On a 1995 visit, she received a book, Streets of George Town Penang, a guide to the city's streets and historic buildings. She found the following interesting entry:

Yahudi Road, Jewish Cemetery Penang had a small community of Jews whom the locals called orang Yahudi. Like the Armenians they came from India along the trade route. The Jewish Cemetery, which has over 100 graves from the 19th and early 20th centuries is well maintained.

Bailey follows up with an account of her later visit with her husband in 1998, and contact with the lone Jew in Penang, David Mordechai. She relates that Mordechai said the first burial was in 1835 and a photo of the stone appears to be that of a person with the family name Sassoon-Levi, dated July 9, 1835. The 1971 Encyclopedia Judaica, according to Bailey, records that "A few Jews settled in Penang, of whom the first was Ezekiel Menassah of Baghdad in 1895.

Most society journals and newsletters also print family inquiries asking about possible relatives, and Jewish Genealogy Downunder prints eight in this issue.

The society also has a discussion group where you may receive even more assistance; for information, click here.

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