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David Kahn has shared a link to a MyHeritage genealogy blog which provides access to 28 collections of 18th to 21st century Jewish records from across Europe, UK, USA and Ireland.

The link is: https://blog.myheritage.com/2022/02/myheritage-adds-28-collections-of-jewish-historical-records/

Thanks David for sharing this with us.

Our earliest known ancestor is Nathan Cahen, born in Nurnburg, Bayern, Germany, in 1445, dying in 1512. His line eventually gave us Mathilde Cahen, great-grandfather Victor’s wife. One on-line source married Nathan to an Oury (forename unknown). But this is without verification and could be doubted as I can’t trace back on the ancestry.com site which threw out that little snippet. A descendant was given the forename Ouri in about 1582, but that’s probably just another coincidence.

The West London Observer of 16th September 1910 reported on a ruling by the local Revising Barrister (a sort of magistrate with responsibility for settling disputes relating to electoral rolls and voting rights). Our grandfather Gaston Victor Kahn claimed for refund of 3/6d from the Liberal canvasser who had questioned his nationality (and therefore his entitlement to vote) on the grounds that the canvasser could find no record of naturalisation, and Gaston’s wife was German. Grandfather was able to prove that he was born in Lancashire by producing his birth certificate and now he demanded refund of the purchasing fee. Oddly, there’s no repudiation of the claim that his wife was German, though we know that Amy was British.

A quote from the cutting reveals one of those human characteristics so often missing from genealogy. It was mentioned in court that “He spoke with a pronounced Lancashire dialect – (laughter) – …” I’ve never considered that grandfather would have had a Liverpool accent, although he was born and educated there, spending most of his time in Liverpool until the late 19th century, some 40 years. Dialect of course is not the same as accent, but perhaps we can be given an elastic licence to assume that granddad sounded like John Lennon and went around greeting acquaintances with “ey up cocker.”

As usual, we come away with more questions than answers. Thanks to David for sending the news clipping. The image shows GVK obviously keenly anticipating tucking into a pie buttie.

As I begin to mature, squinting over the top of my reading glasses at ever encroaching senescence, I become forgetful. As far as I can see, I never posted a family image recently acquired. To rectify that, and by way of annotation, I quote an unabridged extract from Aunt Hetty’s tapes of 1960:

“I’ve got a photograph of mother and father on their honeymoon – you should see it dear. I’ll save it for you to see; it’s beautiful. Mother in one of those dresses with a bustle. She has curls, long curls, and of course she’s standing up – and father’s sitting down, you know, with a bowler hat on. O it’s beautiful.”

The subjects are great-aunt Lucy Kahn and her new husband, David Matthews, both originally from Liverpool and later living on the Wallasey peninsular. Lucy of course is grandfather Gaston Victor’s younger sister. The photo was taken in 1882, soon after their wedding, when Lucy would have been 21 and David would have been about 24. Their first daughter, Aunt Hetty (or Esther as she was given at birth) was born the next year. David had a successful shop fitting and joinery business in the Liscard area of Merseyside.

Thanks again to Kirsty for providing the information.

Courtesy of Cousin Josh… this is how Nanny Kahn would have appeared in vivid colour although (oddly) my memories of her are monochrome. She always seemed so old to me then, but now she looks young… passing of years from May to September… and on to December. I wish I’d asked her those burning questions when I had the chance

as we remember her

Names continue to confuse and irritate. Lucy Kahn married David Matthews, a shopfitter. David’s father was Ellis Matthews until the 1891 census when he became Arthur, a cabinet maker. And suddenly both he and his wife were born in Germany, not Poland and Holland as previously declared. They were living at 78 Elizabeth Street, Liverpool, and had three children living with them – Fanny (age 20) Rose (age 19) and Henry (age 21). We’re confident this is our Ellis, even allowing for a change of name and gender for one of his children. For some reason never to be revealed, Rose (or Rosel) was recorded in my ancestry.tree as Rory, a forename which has never rested easy with family nomenclature.

According to Aunt Hettie, Ellis was living with Lucy and David in Wallasey up to his death, though as yet we’ve found no death record for him, either as Ellis or Arthur.

According to the Aunt Hetty tapes, David Matthews and Lucy (born Kahn) had a son named Philip. His family took him from Liverpool to Dublin for the marriage of Emily Kahn to Moses Marks Samuel and on his way home the young lad (of uncertain age) caught a chill which turned into a fatal bout of pneumonia. I’ve tried to trace him without success.

However, Victor and Madeline (Lucy Matthews’ parents) had a son named Philipp, born in West Derby, Liverpool in 1866. He appears on the 1871 census and died on 20 November 1874 of typhus fever, age 8. On his death certificate he has the double-n of Kahnn (Victor’s naming peculiarity). Present at his death was Victor, an interpreter. So we can be confident this is Victor and Madeline’s son.

Emily and Moses married not in Dublin but in Liverpool and 15 years after Phillip died. Perhaps Aunt Hetty (who was 86 at the time of recording) is remembering wrongly. I wonder whether she refers to Victor and Madeline’s fourth son. Or did two lads die young, some years apart? That’s not a question just for rhetoric. It’s a need to know.

This is the final word on 19th century Blanche…

Applying paraphrased principles of Occam’s Razor, if we prune away all assumptions, conjectures  and unverified coincidences based on what may or may not be right, we’re left with what must be the truth, which is:

A woman describing herself as Blanche Rachel Kahn was the mother of Harold Wigdor Kahn. Her former surname was stated as Gordon. (source: Harold’s birth certificate). On that birth certificate Charles Jasmine Kahn is registered as the father.

After severe pruning, that’s it… the sum total of certainty derived from over a century of joint family research. Harold died soon after birth, by the way.

Everything after that date can be verified with reasonable confidence. Everything before that date has to be deemed to be an unknown, either because of discrepancies or perhaps false reporting, deliberate or otherwise. We can’t be absolutely certain that Charles and Blanche were married. We can’t be certain of Blanche’s age or place of birth, nor identity of her parents. Assumptions are no longer good enough; we are able to postulate or hypothesise or even theorise all sorts of potential events from subsequent information, but that magical comfort of certainty evades us.

Just before the turn of the century Blanche and Charles had a second son, Leslie and a further son Aubrey in 1899. The rest is 20th century history, starting with another son Victor, born in 1901. On census reports she declares herself as being born in Brighton (unverified) and over the years her age varies wildly.

Thus we need to return to basics. Who was that Blanche? And I vow (fingers crossed behind my back) that this is the last word on Blanche Rachel Gordon…

… until we have more information.

This painting is by William Logsdail, a renown British landscape painter. It’s dated 1884 and shows Ludgate Hill in London where our ancestors had an optician’s shop around that time.

Eighty years later it hadn’t changed much, though the carriages had become horseless and few locomotives smoked quite so much. Amazingly, even St Paul’s cathedral remained intact despite the best attempts of the Luftwaffe.

Please accept my apologies in advance because I know I rattle on a lot about this elusive woman. I’ve spent the past two days excavating deeper than ever before, but can make no real progress. So far, all records we’ve traced under the name Blanche Gordon (and variations of the surname) have been eliminated as potential contenders for the eureka crown. Her consistently declared birthplace of Brighton denies all knowledge of her. After a couple of census false leads (a daughter of a Yorkshire vicar and an Oxfordshire barmaid in the Perseverance pub at 1 Lupus Street, Pimlico, London) and chasing a few more red herrings, we’ve arrived back at our starting point, staring with dyslexia at a lot of meaningless coincidences on a multitude of pages and not a single sighting of our great-aunt Blanche. All ladders eventually bring us back here – at the tail of the snake. She married Charles in December 1891 and yet she doesn’t seem to exist before then.

Annoyingly, our original candidate, a Blanche Gordon in Brighton (previously living with her mother Annie and father George) pops up in the 1901 census with a 5 year old son named Victor, no sign of a husband, no hint of a future. Victor! Another coincidence! But, please note, we have eliminated this suspect from our enquiries, because in the 1901 census our Blanche lived in London with Charles, so all along we’ve been wrong – Blanche cannot have been Annie’s daughter.

The oft repeated cry: Blanche? Wherefore art thou Blanche? The dig goes on.

The 1921 census report has now been released and is available on line through FindMyPast. After a few trawls, we’ve found little to help solve any of our many family puzzles. But one interesting gem appeared.

Many years ago when I first communicated with my Uncle Phil on matters genealogical, he mentioned that he recalled my grandfather’s business traded in the name Silex Opticals. Despite extensive searches, nothing came to light under that name.

Thanks to reporting on the 1921 census returns, we’ve discovered that Gaston Victor’s nephew, Eric Kahn (also an optician) worked for the Silex Optical Company. So Uncle Phil was close if not actually spot on. Little by little, family hearsay is proven.

We’ve also learnt that Moses Marks Samuel (father of Beatie & Babs) had by 1921 established himself as an optician at 46 Shaftesbury Avenue London WC, along with his two sons Edward Israel and Victor Jacob.

Unusually, this census was conducted on 19th June 1921, having been delayed for a couple of months by industrial action. And for the first time it recorded ages as so many years and months, thereby moving us slightly closer to actual birth dates where we’ve been unable to find them. On the down side, Blanche Rachel Gordon remains a mystery – she’s changed her age yet again.

Overall, another couple of dots joined; a few new pieces of the jigsaw. Alan Kahn

1911 census

i discovered recently that the 1911 UK census made special provision for Hebrew speakers. The image is an example of one such completed form, the subjects of which are not related to us. The owner of the image gave me permission to post it here.

The 1921 census report is to published in the next few days…but I’m not sure I can access it.

4 images of talented multi-instrumentalist Uncle Phil leading his band in the days when they played in the Weymouth-Dorchester-Southampton areas (1920s through to the 50s). Happy Christmas to all.

On the left: Charles Jasmine Kahn; on right: Gaston Victor Kahn; centre and seated: Arthur Kahn. Three brothers, sons of Victor and Mathilde. They’d moved to London by time they posed for this portrait and though looking formal and stiff, they show no sign of putative animosity which could have caused a rift in their relationship.

Date: hard to be certain, but Charles was admitted to the Willing Lodge No. 2893 on 1st May 1902. He’s pictured wearing what I believe to be an entered apprentice’s apron, so let’s make the reasonable assumption that the photo was taken if not on 1st May 1902 itself (highly likely) then sometime before the end of September that year.

This post is dedicated to Jan M with thanks for all her ongoing genealogical expertise.

Reviewing Aunt Hettie’s Tapes, I looked for references to Great-uncle Charles Kahn and his inscrutable wife, Blanche, but little was said beyond what we know already. We’re told that Charles was more than just an optician; he also dealt in hearing instruments. “He had his coat of arms over his shop and all the royalty in those days were nearly all deaf.” Thus we can assume reasonable accuracy for earlier hints that Charles counted royalty among his clientele. Charles set-up on his own as an optician. Though Arthur and Gaston were also opticians we’ve found no record of any ophthalmic joint ventures, and certainly no trace of a family business.

According to the tapes, Charles started his working life in the employ of Aaron Woolf, a Liverpool jeweller. In the 1881 census Charles is recorded as being a jeweller, age 25. Aunt Hettie records:

“He (Charles) started there at 8 shillings a week as a little office boy – well’ he got so tired of it that he thought he’d go to London and try his luck. Well, he struck with a man named Philips, who was a relation of the Philips in Lime Street, as a jeweller… and he started at 338 The Strand in a shop, and was so poor he slept under the counter and the rats he used to say were running over him where he slept, and he started with theatrical jewellery – what the wax works figures wear – and then when Uncle Arthur took up this optician’s they all went into it.” Not together, we assume from what she said earlier.

From there Charles went to Charing Cross Road (London) where he had an optician’s shop which also sold instruments for the deaf such as chairs and horns. Aunt Hettie confirms Charles bought the business of F. C. Rein & Sons, keeping that name over the shop until he died “a very rich man.”

Unfortunately for us, Aunt Hettie couldn’t recall Blanche’s maiden name, but she does tells us that “she turned a Jewess,” hence confirming that Charles married outside his religion. Charles and Blanche attended Aunt Hettie’s first wedding (1909 in Liverpool) where Charles broke his ankle during a trip to a skating rink, resulting in a 3 days’ stay in Liscard Hospital. He was so appreciative of his care there he sent to London for a dozen gold brooches with sprays of lilies on them, one for each nurse: “he was such a kind generous man.”

One aside: Hettie mentions in passing that all three boys (Arthur, Charles and Gaston Victor) lost touch with their religion, though she references the rest of the family as being “orthodox” in their practices. Certainly fin de siècle arranged marriages feature prominently, though Gaston Victor seems to have avoided the legalities of marriage altogether and Charles & Blanche went undercover.

As ever, Blanche remains a mystery. More from Aunt Hettie later.

Thanks to Aunt Hettie’s Tapes, we’ve been introduced to a new exotic name in our family tree, Ventura. An Abraham Samuel Ventura married Fanny Ellis Matthews in Liverpool in 1894. Fanny Ellis was sister to the David Matthews who married our grand-father Gaston’s sister Lucy.

We know little about him or his family, other than he was born in Gibraltar about 1865 and became wealthy through the dried food business. The 1901 census shows him as being a British subject, with occupation of commission agent. Victor was also a commission agent in Liverpool, and we know he visited Gibraltar, so we can speculate that possibly he knew Abraham before his marriage to Fanny.

The Venturas had two children: Hannah (born in Liverpool 1896) and Estella (born 1898). Hannah married No. 1 a Max Hauser and No. 2 a Mr Silver. Estella married Emanuel Goodman in Toxteth in 1921, having one daughter Fanny (or Fay) born in Leeds in 1922. Estella died in 1932. Aunt Hettie tells us that Estella’s sister Hannah (then living in Brighton-Hove area) adopted Fay. Hannah and Max had no children of their own. In WW2, Fay married a Jewish American – or maybe South African – soldier and they migrated to South Africa. After her second husband died Hannah joined Fay in Africa and lost touch with Aunt Hetty.

Aunt Hettie refers to Abraham Ventura’s second wife, Annie Bonn, of matzo fame. She was a concert singer with a beautiful voice, we’re told.  Abraham died in Liverpool in 1933.

Hannah Ventura was still alive in 1960 and Aunt Hettie speaks as though she lived locally to The Wirral, though reportedly she’d migrated to South Africa.

We’d like to know more about the Ventura family. If you can add to our tiny collection of snippets about them please email: contactus@kahngene.org.uk. I’d be especially interested in obtaining a family photograph or two. Thanks/ Alan

… on Victor. We’re learning about our great-grandfather even though we can’t find all answers to those perennial questions: why, how, and what were you playing at? For example, why did he add a second n to his family name, Kahnn instead of Kahn? He was the sole generation, perhaps even the sole family member, to add that little flourish. All his offspring bore, or reverted to, the original single n.

The Aunt Hettie tapes provided some small extra insight into Victor’s life. We know that Victor and wife Madeline (Mathilde) lived at Crown Street, in a “beautiful” house that in 1960 had since deteriorated. Victor was described by Aunt Hettie as a character, speaking half in French and half in English, though he supposedly spoke 8 languages, being an interpreter for Cunard Line and Pacific Steam Navigation. As such he mixed with a broad variety of peoples. The Tsar of Russia gave him a breast pin, for example, and Victor used to arrive home “with his pockets full of gold sovereigns” which he’d give to his wife who’d be “sitting there putting all these sovereigns into her apron.”

He was a well-known figure in Liverpool, apparently spending much of his time between Lime Street railway station and ships in dock, presumably acting as interpreter and agent for travellers, a lot of whom would be migrating Jews using England as a land-bridge from northern Europe. During his life-time he was celebrated enough to be represented by an immediately recognisable effigy displayed in a prominent city wax-works museum, Reynolds Amusements in Lime Street.

One way or another he was a modest traveller himself. His parents were born in Schweich in Germany, Victor himself in Luxembourg, although his obituary erroneously records him as a native of Alsace. He married in Paris, then moved to Liverpool. Family hearsay hints that he was “in the navy” though in whose service we’re not told. His father Lazarus, by the way, earned the St Helene Medal for his part in fighting alongside Napoleon. Victor himself found a sword and a coin in Gibraltar Bay, both of which according to minutes he donated in 1872 to the Free Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of the Borough of Liverpool. We have no idea what he was doing at the entrance to the Mediterranean or when he was there. Diving? We have an ancestor born in Gibraltar about 1865, Abraham Ventura, husband of Fanny Matthews (sister-in-law to our Lucy, one of Victor’s daughters). Maybe just another coincidence.

As Sherlock Holmes probably pointed out to Doctor Watson, it’s elementary that no piece of information is wholly insignificant. If you have anything new, no matter how small, please let us know. I’d like to resolve a few more cryptic clues before time comes for me to be resolved in a valedictory way.     email: contactus@kahngene.org.uk               Alan Kahn

My view of ancestry is changing. At one time I’d tend to regard distant relatives as often a little too genealogically remote, in that too much sideways movement away from a nucleus rootstock could be irrelevant or even confusing by introducing difficult to manage complexities in our researches. That’s an exponential problem for my age-enfeebled brain as we step further and further back in time – bearing in mind our direct line now extends back to 1454 in Frankfurt and Metz. No doubt we have thousands of relatives yet to be discovered (that won’t be my problem – we look to future generations). Apparently if we can get back to Charlemagne (748-814AD) we’ll find that we’re related to everyone else in the world anyway. That makes for a big family tree.

But some while ago I came to realise that “no man is an island entire in itself” (John Donne) and “we are all made of stardust” (Carl Sagan) so there is more essence to be squeezed out of every link than I’d first considered. Take away one element in this vast leafy tree of connectivity and the whole lot could fall into disparate clumps with no apparent relationship. So all connections are valuable.

What prompted this shaky venture into parlour philosophy and metaphor was a message recently received from Susan x in the Boston area, USA. Her researches discovered a name common to both familial islands but links were not evident. We’ve now traced a direct line back to a common ancestor, Raphael Kahn, born in Schweich about 1720. Raphael and Brendel Joseph Levy had 6 children, two of whom were Esther Kahn and Feist Kahn.

Esther married Feist Israel in Schweich and they had 7 children one of whom was Hertz (b. Schweich 1780). In 1805, Herz married Sara Simon (b. 1781 Schweich) and they had 11 children (all born in Schweich) one of whom was Raphael (b. 1819). In 1851 Raphael married Fratgen Kauffman (b. 1828 Hilbringen) and they had 6 children, one of whom was Bertha Israel (b. Schweich 1863). Bertha married Eduard Strauss (born Cues/Mosel 1854) and they had two children Oskar (born 1891) and Robert Strauss (born 1896 in Westphalia). Robert migrated to Pittsburgh, PA, in 1939 and later married Elsbeth Schönhof (b. 1912 Offenbach/Main), who had emigrated in 1938. Susan is Robert and Elsbeth’s daughter.

Raphael Kahn (1720) was “our” great-great-great-great grandfather, give or take a few degrees of greatness now I’m a great-grandfather myself, so Susan is my fifth cousin, or according to Ancestry my 3rd cousin twice removed. Thus we establish another little bridge between  islands; another metaphor. Thanks to Susan for making contact and adding to our gradually expanding family tree.

Alan Kahn

This unique family photograph was kindly sent to me by our “cousin” Brian Kahn. It was taken on 5th May 1945 and features, from left to right at back: Eric Kahn (son of Great Uncle Arthur) and his wife Jean; Arthur (Eric’s son), Germaine (Eric’s sister);  Bernard Seelig (husband of Mathilde, Arthur’s daughter) and Cyril Kahn (Eric’s brother). In the front, from left to right: Vivienne (Mathilde & Bernard’s daughter), Mathilde Seelig, Eugenie (Great Uncle Arthur’s widow); Paula (Cyril’s daughter); Stella (Cyril’s wife) and Brian Kahn (Cyril’s son).

Great Uncle Arthur (1855 Paris – 1925 London) married Eugenie Fallek in Paris in 1898. He was son of Victor and Mathilde Kahn (sometimes Kahnn) and brother to our grandfather Gaston Victor (otherwise known as Alexander Gaston). Thanks to Brian and Paula for giving permission to post this wonderful family portrait.

Alan Kahn