Saturday, 25 August 2012

Stella's schools

Towards the end of her life my Auntie Stella had a number of chats with her daughter Cynthia, recounting what she remembered of Shreibman family life in the East End of London in the early part of the 20th Century. Cynthia recorded the conversations, and later used them to write up an account of Stella's story.

It was 1999, and Stella, the oldest in a family of eight children, was nearly 90. She had been living in New Zealand for 50 years, and I don't think she ever returned to the UK. I don't think she ever saw her mother Sarah or any of her brothers and sisters again, bar the youngest, Alice, who emigrated to Australia in the 1960s. Nevertheless, her memory for people and places seems remarkably vivid.

I was particularly intrigued by the schools she said she had attended (see the end of p2, and then p3-4, of her Story), so when I was at the Tower Hamlets local history archives the other day I tried to track them down. She was born in 1909, so will have been at school during the period 1914-1923 or thereabouts. It is unlikely that the schools will still exist in the same form as then; the buildings may no longer even be there. But contemporary maps should show where schools were located, and the Library also has a very handy guide to London schools which can help us work out if particular schools were in use in the period we're looking at.

Stella's parents, Morris and Sarah Shreibman, had both come to England a few years previously, and spoke very little English. The language of the home, Stella's mother-tongue, was Yiddish, and she herself spoke no English until she started school.

Her first school was in Hare Street, the street they lived in for the first few years of her life. She says, "It was a Church School, and had a tiny Church building with a hall in it." There was indeed a church just up the road from their home, St Mathias. It had a little school for Infants which had opened in 1848 - one of a wave of church schools set up in the East End in the middle of the 19th Century.

(Click for larger version)
St Matthias Infant School is on Hare Street, just to the right of the church, in the centre of the map. The Shreibmans had two upstairs rooms at number 12, towards the Brick Lane end of the street, and later moved to slightly larger accommodation in Sclater Street, just off the map across Brick Lane. Wood Close School is to the right of the map, above Hare Street. Possibly before Stella left Wood Close, the family moved to Grimsby Street (here called St John Street), opposite the railway viaduct, just round the corner from Hare Street.

However, she was only at the church school for a short while, and says she then moved to an all-Jewish school near Petticoat Lane (Middlesex Street). We know that Stella's grandmother Michla - Sarah's mother - was very religious; she lived nearby, and was a frequent visitor. Her grandmother's influence may have been a factor in Stella's move from a church school to a Jewish one.

There are two candidates for this Jewish school, and we are not sure which one Stella went to. The Jews' Free School in Bell Lane was one of the biggest schools in Europe, and it had two associated Infants' schools not far from where they lived, one on Commercial Street (pictured), and the other a bit further away in Buckle Street (see map below for locations).

She probably stayed here until the end of infant schooling, at age 8. 

The third school she mentions is Wood Close Girls' School, a few yards down the road from her first school (see map above). Wood Close took children from both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. She was there for several years, until she left school, probably aged 14. She recounts some of her memories of the school in her conversations with Cynthia.

(photo by Reading Tom)

There is a successor school, William Davis, operating now on the same site, and they have a brief history on their web-site which gives a flavour of those early years. The writer Emmanuel Litvinoff, who died earlier this year, attended the Boys' School - he was a contemporary of Stella's brother Barney, and may well have been a classmate - if Barney went to Wood Close, of course! Litvinoff talks about the area and the school in this interview.

During the period Stella was at school the family lived at three different addresses, all of them within half-a-mile of the schools she attended. By the time she left school four of her brothers and sisters - David, Esther, Barney, Michael - were also at school in the same area.

I would love to be able to check the school admissions records, and put names and dates to Stella's school story, but I am told that for privacy reasons there is a 100-year block on access, as some people in the records may still be alive. I shall nevertheless incorporate these schools into our East End Walks, and say, "We think this is where Stella learned to speak English." Which is something she never tired of doing throughout her very long life.

Click on this 1922 map for a larger version, and find all the streets and schools mentioned. Buckle Street is just above Little Alie Street, at the bottom of the map; it is not labelled, but you can see the location of the school. The Commercial Street school is on the left towards the bottom, opposite Thrawl Street.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Finding new cousins

Morris Shreibman My Grandfather Moshe Shreibman came to London in 1905, completely on his own, and we have never known anything at all about his family, except that they came from Pinsk (now in Belarus). As far as I know he had completely lost contact with them.

After my own parents both died in 2004, my brother and I began trying to pull together what we could find out, but it wasn't much. Then last year some cousins and I commissioned research in Belarus, and did a week's visit there. The researchers found various references in the local archives, and pieced together a Shreibman family tree for us, which shows Moshe's father Nevakh. It also shows some brothers and sisters of Nevakh, one of whom is Chaim. Chaim's son Aron and his wife Chaya Vishnya also appear on the tree with a son Gdalia, born in 1897.

The tree shows Moshe Shraibman with 4 or 5 brothers and sisters - yet my own father, Moshe's son, never referred to the existence of any uncles or aunts on his father's side. We know now that one at least of his brothers stayed in Pinsk, but Moshe had in all probability lost contact with them all.

Then just a week ago I stumbled across a list I had downloaded some years back of Shreibmans who had arrived at Ellis Island, the immigration portal for New York. There are over a hundred of them, from many parts of Eastern Europe. However, looking through for arrivals from Pinsk, and then checking the passenger lists on the Ellis Island website, I found Chaje Schrabman with two sons Gaalia and Abraham, coming to New York to join her husband Aron Schrabman in 1906. The document shows their ages, which correspond with what we had been given in the family tree - 'Gaalia' is 9, therefore born around 1897, and his name I assume to be a mis-hearing or mis-spelling of 'Gdalia'. The second son Abraham hadn't appeared in the Russian records, but then nor do several members of our family.

I then started looking in the US Census records; I'm not sure if I found the family in the 1910 Census - I can't find the document if I did, I'll have to look again. I did however find a candidate Schreibman family in the 1920 Census: Harry (aged 42), Ida (40), Julius (23 - which corresponds with the birth date we have for Gdalia from the research - 1897), Gussie (12), Fanny (11), Anna (9), and Samuel (5). This suggested to me that Aron had become Harry since arriving in the US, Chaia/Chaje had become Ida, and Gdalia become Julius. I think the coincidence of these three names, and the age of Gdalia/Julius, is fairly conclusive. At this stage Abraham (who would be 21) does not appear to be living with them.

The same family appears in the 1925 New York Census; in the 1930 US Census Abe is back with them. I have not yet been able to trace them in the 1940 Census.

It is unlikely that many, if any of those appearing in the 1930 Census would still be alive today. I therefore needed to see if I could trace their descendants. I tried searching Birth, Marriage and Death records, and the first likely ones I came across were entries on the 'Find a Grave' website for Sam Schreibman, and then for his wife Anita, both of whose tombstones have been photographed and placed on individual memorial pages. On Anita's  page there was a clipping from a local newspaper, which included the names of their children: two females and a male. I guessed that the male would be more likely to have kept the surname than his sisters, so I started by looking for him, and found him on Facebook. I sent him a message, but I think like many people, he's signed up but he probably doesn't use it much, and I haven't heard back from him yet.

At the same time I found a Samuel Schreibman on a family tree on the Ancestry website. The tree is private, so I couldn't see it to check for correspondences, but I contacted the owner of the tree. She is not a Schreibman herself, but she was able to put me in touch with one of Sam's daughters, Andi.

And there we are. Andi has checked the information I have sent her, and we have been able to confirm that we are indeed cousins - whether second, third, or removed - who cares? The clinching evidence turned out to be Aron's wife's maiden name: Vishnya in our Belarus research, confirmed as Vishnaya by Andi. It all fits together.

So now we have a whole new set of cousins, all over the USA and maybe elsewhere. And they too have a new set of cousins, in the UK and across the world.

The rest, as they say, is History.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Finding Great-Grandma

Michla Ilyutovich (née Levin, known in the UK as Millie Gitovitch)
d 23 March 1916

We found my Great-grandmother's grave in Edmonton Federation Cemetery today.  Michael, the guy in the office, traced it in the register of burials from the death certificate details I gave him. He gave us the section, row, and grave number, but we worked our way up and down row J19, and couldn't find it. Unfortunately the individual plots are not labelled, but Michael kindly located it for us by counting along the graves from the end of the row.

It turned out that her grave was totally unmarked, and could easily be mistaken for a passageway between the closely-packed rows.


The only people who would have known where she was buried would be her three children living in London at the time - my grandmother Sarah, and her brothers Myer and Harry. I presume they could not afford a headstone at the time. The grave has probably been unmarked and unvisited since she died, nearly a hundred years ago.

Michael made out a little grave marker for her, so at least her space is indicated, and hopefully that will discourage people from stepping on it.


We are looking at marking out the grave with a small memorial stone, placed on a couple of stone slabs. Michla Levin had an extraordinary life, which I will try to recount - at least the little we know - on the Belaroots Stories website. She had 16 grandchildren, but only ever saw four of them.

We - four of her great-grandsons - visited her birthplace in Belarus last year, and now we've located her final resting place, and feel we know her a little better. She needs a memorial, and we need to remember her.