Thursday, July 2, 2009

Eureka!! A Mystery Solved!

Genealogy is a bit like hunting for treasure with a map full of holes. You have a little bit of information, and you know there are some more gems out there somewhere, but finding them requires determination, lateral thinking and a little luck. On the other hand, sometimes all it takes is a trip to the cemetery.

This week I went on a field trip to Rookwood to visit the rellies. While there I solved a mystery that had been bugging me since I first joined my family’s collaborative genealogy project… what on earth happened to my great grandmother’s father, Myer Rothbaum?

Myer Rothbaum and his brother, Gershon (AKA George), were born in Cracow, Galicia, Austria (modern day Poland) around 1856 & 1863 respectively. Myer traveled to London where he married Leah Cypres in 1880. They are listed in the 1881 UK census as living at 43 Bedford Street, Mile End Old Town. George also traveled to London and married Leah’s sister, Theresa, in 1885.

Myer and Leah had three children in London – Minnie, Gerald (also known as George) and Henry. They migrated to Australia some time between 1886 and 1888 and Jane Sarah (my Nan - AKA Sadie) was born in Sydney in 1890. George and Theresa also came to Australia about this time so we can only assume the two families traveled together – although I am yet to find documentation to confirm this.

I still have a huge amount of work to piece together the family’s movements however I have some wonderful letters written by Nan’s suitor – Mr Arthur Davis (grandson of Solomon Schlossman, the subject of my last post) – during their courtship, which I hope will give me some clues. These letters will be the subject of another post when I finally decipher Arthur’s handwriting.

Myer’s entry in our family tree program did not have any details of his death and I was unable to find any record in the NSW BDM register, but it suddenly dawned on me one day that although I knew my Nan’s name had been Jane Sarah Rothbaum, I also knew that she was known as Sadie Myers. In looking closer at the family tree I realized that several of Myer’s children had the surname Myers as well. I came to the screamingly obvious conclusion that the family had changed their name… the question still stood though: what had Myer Rothbaum changed his name to?

And so we come to the cemetery. As I was planning my field trip I looked up the plot details for each person on the Jewish Cemetery Trust website. The good people at the JCT have documented each and every gravesite and so when you click the link to view the precise location of your ancestors’ grave, the surrounding graves have the surnames of their occupants on the map too.

In the case of Myer Rothbaum it was in finding his wife, Leah, that I found him! Leah, it seems, did not change her name and so was buried a Rothbaum. On the map, in the plot next to her, was a Myers. Was this a coincidence?

I rang the JCT and they told me that the person buried next to Leah was Lewis Myers. I looked him up on their system. I check the NSW BDM and there was a death certificate in his name. So now all I needed to do was go and check it out with my own eyes.

Sunday was fine and mild: a typical Sydney winter’s day. I wandered through the old Jewish sections of Rookwood finding each person, photographing their final resting places and pausing for a few moments to pay my respects. I got to section five and found Leah’s grave. It was a double plot with a single headstone. Underneath the inscription marking her passing were the words: Also Lewis Myers who passed away 23rd April 1937 Aged 81 years G.R.H.S.

So there it was; the undeniable evidence. Myer Rothbaum had become Lewis Myers. But that wasn’t the end of the story. I wondered if he had made the change official so the following day I went to the Department of Lands – housed in that wonderful old building next to Hyde Park Barracks. Up to 1992 it was this department that was responsible for the administration of name changes by deed poll.

According to the clerk only about 20% of people who changed their names actually registered the change so I had a pretty slim chance of finding anything. He seemed excited nonetheless that I was trying and led me to a large room packed with tall metal shelving full of big blue ledgers. We went to the back of the room. He pulled out a single volume and handed it to me. I opened it and turned to the R’s. I scanned the list of names, written in a nice neat cursive, and there it was. About halfway down the page, a single line: Rothbaum, Lewis Myer to Lewis Myer - 1033. He had made it official! We noted the reference number, went back upstairs and I paid the money to get an official copy.

So, there you have it. Myer Rothbaum’s full name was actually Lewis Myer Rothbaum, and he simply dropped his surname to create his, and his family’s new name. Exactly WHY he did it is a matter of some conjecture. If you have any notions please post a comment.


1 comment:

  1. Dani, have info for you regards a post on viewmate of your great grand father in St Clements Malta. I am the Australasian representative for the Malta Study Circle UK, and we have much info on the camps. regards Roger Bower, Brisbane