Thursday, 23 December 2010

Times are changing

My mother’s parents were born in Russia but my mother never ever went on holiday outside of England. My father also never travelled outside of England.

How time changes things.

On Saturday, London was hit with, for us, fairly heavy snow. Enough for me not being able to go to football (that’s soccer for those of you outside Europe) and see my team Arsenal. Also enough to bring our transport system to a virtual halt.

On Sunday, my number 1 son (I have 3 of them) was due to fly to Tel Aviv from Heathrow for a meeting. The flight was cancelled but he managed to get a flight from Luton and arrived in Israel about 6 hours later than originally expected. He flew home on Wednesday.

On Monday, number 3 son was due to fly to Frankfurt from Heathrow for a meeting. The flight was cancelled so he couldn’t travel. On Wednesday he fly to Tenerife with his wife and their 2 children for a week’s holiday.

Next Tuesday, number 1 son together with his wife and 1 of their 2 sons is also going to Tenerife for a week’s holiday.

Number 2 son and his wife are not going anywhere, nor are we.

Growing up after the war one could never imagine the increase in air travel that has occurred.

This has nothing to do with Family History, but it shows how what was once a dream becomes part of everyday life. Television, colour television, Sky Plus, games consoles, computers, laptop computers, mobile phones, Iphone, Blackberry.

The list is endless and my younger grandchildren could not envisage life without them and wonder how my generation survived without them. What we didn't have, we didn't miss.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

When is a census not a census

Much has been made of the release of the 1911 UK Census. There is, however, a much later “Census” that you can obtain information from, at a cost, so long as the person you want information on is dead.

On 29 September 1939 a National Registration of the civilian population of England and Wales was taken in order to issue identity cards as a result of outbreak of World War II. Members of the Armed Forces were not listed as they had already been called up for military service.

The National Registration Act 1939, which covers the registration is not a census and is therefore not subject to the 1920 Census Act. The register contains personal details including name, date of birth, occupation, marriage status and address.

The information in the register is of interest because the 1931 census has not survived and a census could not be carried out in 1941.

The cost of an application for information is £42 and this will not be refunded, even if the search is unsuccessful.

The register is maintained by the National Health Service Information Centre. Full information on how to apply for information, and the terms and conditions applicable can be found at:

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Journey to Auschwitz

The past few days have seen snow arrive in London for the first time this winter. Putting on my walking boots reminded me of the reason I had bought them.

Over the past few years I have wanted to go on a trip to Auschwitz, but it never seemed to be convenient. So when my son first asked if I was interested in going and that my oldest grandson would be going, I immediately said yes, since I thought that if I don’t do it now, at the age of 70, I never will.

As the day got nearer, I did become apprehensive – leave home at 3am, get home at midnight, take plenty of warm clothing, take food because we can’t stop for meals, take a torch, the list goes on. What have I let myself in for?

Came the day, and everything went well. The taxi arrived, everybody got picked up on time and we arrived at the airport early. The flight went well and then we were in Kracow. The next 10 hours were probably the most moving and emotional time of my life. I am sure that everyone finds it hard to put into words the emotions that flow whilst you are in the death camps.

I must admit that I found Auschwitz very emotional at the time, but it was only when we went to Birkenau that the full horror of what had happened to Jews in Europe really hit home. The sheer vastness of the camp and the way in which Jews were systematically murdered was brought home to you.

Our gathering near the memorial, the Rabbi’s talk, the prayers, the blowing of the shofar and the walk back along the railway lines added to the emotions that we all felt.

Arriving back at the airport we found that Poland was covered in fog. No flights for at least 24 hours. We decided as a group to go home by coach. A 1000 mile trip across Europe. The next 24 hours in many ways added to the emotions we all felt, because it allowed the whole group to bond together in a way that is not normally possible.

If you want to learn more about Auschwitz go to:

Monday, 15 November 2010

My wife's family

My wife Diane’s family were Ashkenazi Jews and her mother was born Leah (Lily) Hart. We were both surprised when we found out that Diane’s grandmother Dinah Bittan, was from a Sephardi family. Our 3 sons now want to know if they can have rice at Pesach. The Hart side I have traced back to Diane’s 3 x great grandfather Meir Hart born about 1770.

The Bittan side linked with the Nunes Martinez family in 1834 and with the Mendoza family in 1764 when Abigail Mendoza born in London in 1744 married Isaac Nunes Martines born in London in 1745.

Abigail Mendoza’s father Aaron was born in Amsterdam in 1709 and probably came to England about 1730. Aaron’s father Daniel Mendoza was born in Seville in Spain in 1685. Daniel’s father David was also born in Seville in Spain in 1650. In 1685 he married Abigail Castro de la Penta in Holland. Abigail was born in Seville in Spain in 1665.

David Mendoza’s father the Patriarch de Mendoza was born in Seville in Spain in 1624 and the trail ends there for the time being. Abigail’s family can be traced back to her great grandparents Franciscus Fernandes de la Penta born 1550 in Spain and Bianca Fernandes born 1558 in Spain who married in 1579.

The search continues.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What's in a name

My father Simon Belson was born in 1912, I had his birth certificate and my parents wedding certificate as well as the marriage authorisation from the Chief Rabbi’s Office in London. From these I knew that my father’s parents were Harry Belson and Dora Godelsky.

Try as I could, I was unable to find my paternal grandfather Harry’s birth certificate or his marriage certificate. I knew that his father’s name was Joseph but could not trace a Belson family in any UK census with a Joseph and a Harry. Eventually I found the family in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses as Balsom. I still couldn’t find the birth or wedding certificates for Harry who is shown as 1 year old in the1891 census.

I then tried Free BMD looking for a female Godelsky, using Soundex, getting married between 1910 and 1912. From this I found a Dorothy Gudelsky married a Henry Belsom in early 1912. I now have the certificate and they are definitely my grandparents Harry and Dora.

Again I tried Free BMD looking for a male Balsom, using Soundex, born 1890/1891. The only one was a Harry Balzum born in 1890. I have just received the certificate and it shows Harry, born 23rd May 1890 to Joseph and Leah Balzum.

Checking on the births of Harry’s 8 brothers and sisters, I have found births registered as Belson, Bulsom, Balsom, Bolsam and Bellson.

So, what is my family name. Balsom, Balzum, Belsom, Bolsam or Bellson. Or does it matter. I can only presume that when the births were registered, the registrar wrote down what she/he thought the name sounded like when spoken by someone who only knew Russian or Yiddish and couldn’t read or write in English.

Friday, 5 November 2010

In the beginning

When I first started out on, to quote Tony Blair, “A Journey”, it was in the days of the Commodore 64 and continuous printing paper with green lines.

Over the years I have started and “rested” rather than “stopped” my research numerous times, but I always come back to it. Researching family history has a fascination, which never seem to leave you once you are hooked.

My biggest regrets are not questioning my parents and my in-laws enough before they passed on. I lost the opportunity to find out more about the past. Their lives, where they lived, where they went to school and what they knew of their parents lives. Much of this information is probably lost forever. My research has helped to fill in some of the gaps but not all.

When I started out I knew that my mother’s parents were born and married in Russia (now Poland) and came to England about 1905 with 2 children. My mother was born in London. My father’s parents had the same background although they were both born and married here. Their parents came here around 1880.

My wife parents were both born in England. Her father’s parents came to this country from Russia as an engaged couple with his grandparents. On her mother’s side my wife was brought up believing that her family had been in England for over 200 years. It was therefore this part of our family that I have spent the most time researching and have now been able to trace it back to the 1550’s in Spain. Her ancestors seem to have arrived in England in the early 1700’s.