Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Jewish connection

One of the more perplexing aspects of genealogy is getting to the root and truth of certain family lore. Some stories get told over and over and over again and their mere repetition seems to lend them credibility. And some are so compelling that debunking them seems such a shame.

I've shared the story in my family, debunked on this very site, that my great-great-grandmother Matilda Manson was "Spanish." Indeed the real story is much more interesting.

There is another story in my family that, like the "Spanish" story, emanates from Georgia. This story is that some ancestor or another in Georgia was Jewish. Soon after I began my research, my dad asked me whether I'd identified the Jewish relative or not. A variation on this story is that a relative in Texas was the Jewish relative. this version of the story goes like this: my great-grandfather Otis told his sons, including my grandfather Quentin, that if ever they were in trouble and needed money they could go to a certain man in town [the town being Rockdale, Texas] and he would give them money. This man was a Jewish man according to the story. Apparently on one or more occasions, Grandpa Quentin had needed to test this admonition, and indeed, received money from a kind Jewish gentleman in Rockdale who never asked anything in return.

Recently, I spoke to a cousin in Midland, Texas, whom I'd never met before. As we exchanged family history information, I told her the story of our great-great grandfather, George Preston Birdsong. She had never heard the name before. As I told her the story she remarked, "Oh, that must be the Jewish one!" To that point in the conversation I had not mentioned the alleged Jewish connection. So this is a widely held belief in our family -- that there is some Jewish relative.

In December 1873, two brothers, Ben and Joseph Loewenstein, arrived in Milam County, Texas. They set up a general store near the center of what would become the city of Rockdale. this was the beginning of a large and thriving Jewish community in Rockdale. By 1879, there were more than 100 Jews in Rockdale. In the 1880s, a Jewish school was established. there is a Jewish cemetery in Rockdale that was open for burials from 1878 to 1939. Some of the surnames in the cemetery include: Block, Cohen, Crown, Emsheimer, Goldsticker, Kestenbaum, Philipson, and Steinberg.
[source: http://ftp.rootsweb.com/pub/usgenweb/tx/milam/cemeteries/jewish.txt]. but I've documented no connection between any of these people and the Mansons or Sanfords of Rockdale.

I've been unable to find any evidence of a Jewish presence in Talbot County or Upson County, Georgia. I don't doubt that there were Jews in these counties in the 19th century; I just can't find them.

So at this point I can't confirm or deny the story that we have some Jewish relatives.

1 comment:

Demetrius Clark said...

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