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Monday, 29 June 2009

Balls Pond Road London? Or Ayres Quay Sunderland? Which is the true burial place of David Johnasson?

The cemetery at Ayres Quay Jewish Cemetery in Sunderland, presently classed by Jewish Heritage UK as a "site at Risk" was closed in 1856.

However, a space was reserved for a memorial to David Johnasson, a local landowner, ship owner, owner of the Usworth Colliery, and a senior member of the community, who died in London on 25th July 1859.

Only a stump remains of the once imposing obelisk, raised in his memory by his children, but earlier photographs can be seen here.

David Johnasson (Jonassohn) appears to have been quite out of the usual run of early nineteenth century Anglo-Jewry.

A notice of his marriage in Hamburg to Charlotte, 2nd daughter of Mr. J Bouer of that city, appears in the Newcastle Courant on 15 July 1826, suggesting that, although still a young man, he was already an established figure in the North of England.

By the mid 1840's he was already the ow ner of an estate which included a fine property, Usworth House, later known as Usworth Hall and it was here that he sunk a Colliery which he ran for many years.

Pit accidents were far from rare at this time; how often this was due to lack of knowledge, and technology and how much to bad management, is hard to judge.

The raw facts reported by the Durham Mining Museum show that the one at Usworth on 5 June 1850 was caused by a naked flame resulting in the deaths of 12 men and one boy, from the 160 working the pit that day.

But the boss, David Jonassohn, was also possessed of a paternalistic streak. The Preston Guardian of 8th Feb 1851 reports:

".....Mr David Jonassohn and Partners have erected a large and commodious Chapel with school rooms for the alternate use of the Wesleyans and the Primitive Methodists".
In similar benevolent fashion, the following week, the Newcastle Courant reports that on the occasion of her marriage, the eldest daughter of D. Jonassohn Esq. of Usworth Place gave half-a-crown each (2 shillings and sixpence) to the poor widows and old people in the villages of Usworth and Usworth Colliery as well as £2 to the inmates of the Chester-le-Street workhouse.

David Jonassohn was still living at Usworth in 1851, but evidently moved to London some time prior to his death there on 25 July 1859. The stone, erected in his memory in the Balls Pond Road Jewish cemetery, is still standing.

In the English inscription, he is identified as DAVID JONASSOHN Esq. of Usworth DURHAM. and, this is repeated in the Hebrew inscription:

resident Durham

So, it would seem that, whilst his physical remains were laid to rest in London, his heart belonged to the North East of England.

Further information on the Jonassohn family can be found on Cemetery Project see here. Our thanks to Shaun for the use his photos.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

More Levy's than Cohen's on GenPals

A quick review of the numbers and names on GenPals Cemetery Project.

Since we launched the site with 500 entries back in Nov 2007 it has grown and grown!

There are now over 8,000 individuals listed, so we thought it would be interesting to look at the top ten family names:

  1. Levy
  2. Cohen
  3. Jacobs
  4. Harris
  5. Davis
  6. Nathan
  7. Solomon
  8. Hart
  9. Isaacs
  10. Moses
NB. Because we list women under their maiden names there are a large number with no family name on the site plus there are those where only the Hebrew name has been identified on the tombstone.

There are 7 individuals who died at the grand age of 100 years or more and 3 aged 99 years.

We are currently working on tombstones from Balls Pond Jewish cemetery in London and Nuevo Jewish Cemetery so expect the numbers to increase over the next month or so. Both of these cemeteries have been fully photographed as have Brady Street Jewish Cemetery, Brompton (Fulham Rd) Jewish Cemetery, Bancroft Rd Jewish Cemetery and Lauriston Road Jewish Cemetery.

We don't just cover London, see here for a full list of the cemeteries recorded on the site.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Restoration Projects: Make such a difference!

Who, in the Jewish establishment, is responsible for the Bancroft Road (Maiden Lane) Cemetery?

The argument has raged for over 100 years.

While that once historic burial ground has been reduced to a weed-covered desert and is now beyond restoration,

enthusiastic local activists have not only done, literally, ground-breaking work to restore the historic Deane Road Cemetery in Liverpool but have also mounted a campaign for Heritage funds which has resulted in a development grant of £13,800.

The wonderful work being done at Deane Road is described in photos here and the news of the development grant here on Louise Baldock's blog

For information on Bancroft Road Jewish Cemetery and a brief history see here

Thursday, 11 June 2009

GenPals Cemetery Project: Cut Off date

We have been asked many times why we do not include photos of headstones where the individual died after 1928.

We took the view when we started this project, that while we want to record the information that has been inscribed on headstones and make that information freely available, we would need to keep in mind the feelings of living decsendants and also whether the information could be used for identity fraud. While the detail is so useful for genealogy its the detail that can cause problems.

I feel sure that genealogists have realised that when asked for 'mother's maiden name' its best to make it up or use a spelling variation or not publish their immediate family details and of course many institutions have now moved away from that type of security question.

As far as we are concerned its better to be safe than sorry and trust that users and contributors to the GenPals Cemetery project understand, respect and accept that this is how it is.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Website error: Hannah Montefiore

Among the photographs kindly donated by Dr. Helen Fry, was one from the Exeter Jewish Cemetery for Hannah Montefiore, wife of Moses d'Ancona. The inscription on her stone reads

"Hannah relict of Moses Ancona daughter of Moses Montefiore died April 25 5599 ages 71.
From the Hebrew inscription: Hannah bat Moshe ...

In a moment of inattention, we placed her as a child of Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1886) and his wife, Judith Cohen (1784-1862) respectively, GenPals Person ID I7638 & I7637.
Keen students of this famous family will already have spotted two compelling reasons why this would have been a factual impossibility.
  1. Sir Moses and Lady Judith died without issue
  2. Hannah Montefiore D'Ancona died in 1839 aged 71, which would have made her some16 years older than the man we had designated as her father!
Hannah Montefiore is now with her rightful parents; one of the 17 children of Moses Vita (Chaim) Montefiore and his wife, Esther Hannah Rachah . And she is, of course, an aunt of the Sir Moses we erroneously designated as her father.

Sincere apologies to anyone who copied this data into their own research. Please revisit GenPals Cemetery Project and revise your files accordingly.

We will double our efforts to avoid any future errors but there are no cast-iron guarantees and it is always best to check data for yourselves, even when it appears on well-sourced and carefully researched websites such as

Friday, 5 June 2009

Workhouse burials?

A letter to the Hull Packet dated 29th Aug 1849 and printed in the Friday edition a couple days later describes the following situation.

Arnold Eichborn, a penniless cabinet maker, had died earlier that week. Due to the distance his body would have to be carried, the expense of interment was considerable, and had to be raised by the local Jewish community. The President Mr George Alexander applied to the workhouse for a coffin and was refused on the grounds that a coffin could only be provided if the burial took place in their cemetery, not if the burial was in a Jewish cemetery.

It raises the question and one I would be very interested to hear the answer to, of whether there were cases of Jews being buried in Workhouse cemeteries? It seems likely that there were, perhaps accidentally, perhaps due to lack of funds.

The City of London Burial records show, for example, Isabella Cohen who died on the 2nd Oct 1840 aged 3yrs at the Workhouse and buried St Mary, Whitechapel or perhaps Pho(e)be Solomons who died aged 84 on 19th Dec 1832 at the Workhouse, Cock and Hoop Yard and buried St Botolph, Aldgate.

Do you know more?

Note: FreeBMD Death Index records Arnold Eichborn as Arnold Ichborn Sep 1849

Monday, 1 June 2009

Beyond the high wall, Alderney Road Jewish Cemetery

It would have been around 1991 that I first visited the Jewish Cemetery in Aldernery Road, London E., the oldest Ashkenazi burial ground in Britain, dating from 1696\7. We came upon it, quite by chance, on our way back from the Tower Hamlets Family History Library in Bancroft Road. There was a door in a wall, a small sign, and a bell. We rang, not expecting an answer, but before long the gate was opened by an elderly woman, wearing slippers, followed by a large, mournful dog. She looked us up and down, nodded and let us in. For more than half an hour, we wandered, unimpeded, round the crumbling stones: just the two of us, under a blue sky, with the birds singing in the trees, and the deep, quiet layers of history beneath our feet. A magical experience! But not, apparently unique.

In 2001, a decade after our visit, the German author W. G. Sebald published his strange, disturbing and, ultimately, tragic novel 'Austerlitz'. A few pages before the end of this extraordinary book, is an unidentified photograph of an old Jewish cemetery and the following text:
......... And then he gave me the key to his house in Alderney Street.......And I should not omit, he added, to ring the bell at the gateway in the brick wall adjoining his house for behind the wall, although he had never been able to see it from any of his windows, there was a plot where lime trees and lilacs grew and in which members of the Ashkenazi community had been buried, including Rabbi David Tevele Schiff and Rabbi Samuel Falk, the Baal Shem of London. He had discovered the cemetery......only a few days before he left London when the gate in the wall stood open for the first time in all the years he had lived in Alderney Street. Inside, a very small, almost dwarf-like woman of perhaps seventy years old - the cemetery caretaker, as it turned out - was walking along the paths in her slippers. Beside her, almost as tall as she was, walked a Belgian sheepdog now grey with age who answered to the name of Billie and was very timid. In the bright spring light, shining through the newly opened leaves of the lime trees, you might have thought, Austerlitz told me, that you had entered a fairy tale which, like life itself, had grown older with the passing of time....."
When I read this sentence, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck! I have been back to the cemetery a couple of times since but, today, in the interest of security and conservation, all our old burial grounds are permanently locked and entrance is only possible by pre-arranged appointment : the mystery and the magic are still there, but you are unlikely to be alone and you may have to half close your eyes and ears before you can capture it.