Using Internet newsgroups.
Forgotten but not lost.
This small posting I found on the British Jewry news list changed many lives in our family.
I had only been doing our family history for a few weeks by
Googling every family name I could think of (and getting 1000’s of hits) It soon became apparent that:
1, We needed to get organised.
2, I had to investigate these newsgroups that kept popping up
A few weeks later after the family interviews, the questions, writing down the stories and creating a tree then further checking dates etc it was time to start again on the Internet.
Using a combination of My Grandmothers Married name and her maiden name I only got 2 hits! It was in an archived posting that google threw up from a news list called BRITISH-JEWRY which was hosted at the rootsweb.com website, a group of family names, Our family names.
Subject: [British Jewry] Reuben & Esther Lewis (nee Cohen)& Fanny Bernstein
Date: Thu, 1 Aug 2002 04:26:00 EDT
Further to my request for any info on Reuben & Esther Lewis (nee Cohen) who were married in Bethnal Green Great Synagogue in 1940, I would also like any info on Fanny Bernstein. All I know is that she was part of a small group of Jewish people who went from London to South Wales (Abertillery) sometime before 1944, and that she had some kind of authoratative relationship with Esther Lewis (nee Cohen). Any information on any of these three people would be much appreciated. It is possible that Esther & Reuben emigrated (to where?) in late 1944 or early 1945.
I remembered from the family Interviews I had conducted that the family had spent the war years in Wales so without a second thought I fired off an email. I didn’t realise it at the time but this one email would change the lives of many people! It was a short reply “I have some of these names in my family tree” I explained my relationship and asked what the poster's interest was?
The reply left me completely dumfounded
Thanks for your very interesting e mail.
I believe Esther Cohen to be (have been?) my mother. I was brought up by what I believed to be my parents. On their death when I applied for a birth certificate and discovered that I was not their child.
I eventually obtained a birth certificate in the name of 'Peter Lewis' On the birth certificate it says that the child was given into the care of Fanny Bernstein - How and why I was given to my adoptive parents is still something of a mystery. I was given - no adoption, nothing 'legal' at all! I would be delighted to hear more from you. I have been trying to trace the family for many years and your email is the nearest I have got. Tell me more!!
Fanny Bernstein was my grandmother. Esther was her sister. My family knowledge was good, the tree I had build so far was complete BUT there was no mention of any other siblings for my great aunt. I assumed that the writer of the posting must have been mistaken. I read and re-read this email many times but some of the details just didn’t connect, my Aunts maiden name was wrong and other small points didn’t quite match my data, so I did more research I found out my Grandfather changed the family name in Nov 1944 (a mystery). A discrete call to my mother confirmed My Great Grandmother (Esthers mother) had left Poland to meet her husband in London (only to be abandoned soon after her arrival in the UK) and had taken the name Cohen. What part of Wales I asked “Abertillery” came the reply!!
By now I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach the mystery was deepening. All sorts of things where going through my mind. I fired off another email to the writer
Phew, when I started this family tree I didn't realise how much detective work is needed before a link can be confirmed.
Firstly do you have a birth date or other information that I can use to confirm we are talking about the same Esther Lewis (nee Cohen) as I only just found out her maiden name (now there is a story!!) and how have you got the name fanny Bernstein (was it recorded anywhere)?
I can investigate more if we are on the right track.
My idea was to get some facts to work with, reader don't get me wrong it's not that I didn't believe the contents of the email but I had to have facts to confirm or disregard for both my peace of mind and before I could approach living family members. I had been communicating with the writer of the emails all evening and tiredness and scepticism was creeping in and it was getting late.
The reply arrived..
Subject: Re: Reuben & Esther Lewis (nee Cohen)& Fanny Bernstein
The info you asked for:
Esther Cohen b 28Dec 1916; father: Isaac (but I have also seen his name given as 'Joe) mother: Rachel nee Zeitman of 396 Commercial Road. Fanny Bernstein is mentioned on the birth certificate of Peter Lewis (me!) as 'person in charge of child Bronant, High Street, Abertillery as per Declaration dated 16th June 1944' (but what that Declaration was, I would love to know!)
Esther and Reuben were married at Bethnel Green Great Synagogue on 21st April 1940. Both give their address as 74 Old Montague Street, Stepney. It is on this certificate that Esther's father is named as 'Joe'
I hope this helps
Where do you and your family fit into the picture? I would love to know if I have any blood relations from the Cohen/Lewis families. Do you know what happened to either/both Esther and Reuben after 1944? Did they have any other family?
I look forward to your reply
The email arrived in minutes with many vital documents attached and even though these documents could have been applied for by anyone, to be honest, deep down I already knew that what the author was claiming was could be true and I had all the information I needed but I still needed to be sure.
Another call to my mum and another question where in Abertillery? Brosnant Street was the reply!! Then reality hit me “How could this be!!” I Googled the author of the emails and after a lot of reading discovered a family man working in the community involved in many projects for the good of others. It was the picture that gave me the impression that here was an honest man!
This was too much for one person to deal with. I could not yet speak with my mother or other family members, so a council of siblings was called. I called my brothers and we discussed and checked and discussed some more. What if I am wrong? what if the author of the emails was mistaken. It was decided to ask more questions I composed an email based on the discussions with my brothers. As a sign of good faith I attached a photo of my family.Subject: RE: Reuben & Esther Lewis (nee Cohen)& Fanny Bernstein
This started of as me acting as collator of a family tree for my children. It has turned into a detective story and has twists, turns and questions at every branch.
My family support our need to do this as a historic record of our ancestors but this is the sort of thing that you don't calculate for and is very new too me. It is due to this inexperience that I need to be mindful that our facts are ACCURATE. It is too early to say YES or NO this is the same Esther Lewis so we have to tread carefully at this point as I am sure you would agree.
Esher, Reuben and Fanny are all now gone but are all survived by family members.
The marriage and birth certificate which we have in common are the same. All the facts from the documents we have in common also match. I still need to talk to the oldest surviving member of the family from that time and will do that this evening. Tomorrow I will copy some of the old documents we have to visually check the dates etc.
where do we go from here?
Is it possible for you to scan your birth certificate and email a copy also How did you get Esther's Birth Certificate? and is there anything else you can tell me that you feel is important, although I can't think of anything myself.
I suppose I was hoping that his profession made him more suited to dealing with this situation than the other way round. I was about to go to bed when another email dinged in..
Many thanks for the e mail and picture. The cert is attached to my Statutory Declaration With the death of my parents (1958 & 64) I needed to establish my identity once it was discovered I was not an their offspring! After some time I obtained the birth certificate which I hope to copy to you. This has been authenticated by Beth Din. A child born to Esther was the only child born in the hospital at that time, the date and time and place of the birth agreeing with what I had always been told to be my birthday and place of birth. So Peter Lewis, child of Esther and me are the same. With this information I was able to obtain a copy of the birth certificate which now forms part of the Statutory Declaration which includes a sworn statement that Peter Lewis and I are the same person.
I appreciate your caution; it must be strange to discover a family member whose existence was never known. I think this is probably all the information I have at the moment.
Quite how and why Peter Lewis was given to the people who became my parents at the age of 3 weeks and the part Fanny Bernstein played in this - see the reference on the birth certificate - remains a mystery to me at least.
I look forward to hearing from you very soon.
Once the email arrived and although I knew that anyone could get copies of vital documents, It was obvious that no one could make up a story like this. The birth certificate was just as described and had my grandmothers name at the address my mother had confirmed in Wales.
But now came the REALLY hard part how could I get this information over to my MUM (you know how defensive Jewish mum’s can be!!) because before I could talk to our oldest aunt I had to confirm as much as possible with mum (the hardest part of all this!!)
Another council of siblings was called and after much more discussion they all agreed that I should be the messenger as none of them had the guts to do it and if anyone was going to get shot it should be me.
I wrote a very long email to my mum detailing the facts as I had understood them. My email took the view that like her I didn't believe a word. I wrote all the scenarios I could think of. It had got very late so I waited until the morning before I emailed her.
The next morning I could not send it instead before sending it I called the author of the emails. Hello I believe we may be second cousins. The conversation lasted a while and more details where added to the story. I concluded by promising to call back once I had confirmed the facts I now had.
Being reasonably sure by now I fired off an email to MUM then telephoned immediately to run through it with her. At first she was not convinced but after looking at the facts and copies vital documents I had been sent she realised what I had already understood. Here was a lost cousin. I asked permission to call the oldest living member of the family.
Of my brothers the youngest had the best relationship with our aunty in Israel so he got the job. we presented the facts and at first she denied having any knowledge of that time but her closing line led us to believe she knew more that she was saying. We called again and by now her daughter had checked the posting I had found and she finally admitted that as a young girl she was sworn to secrecy and had not even thought about those times for many years. she asked that we tell nobody about this discovery but realised that the Internet was not going to allow her to honour her 60 year old secret.
I Emailed a picture I had found on the Internet to my Mother, Brothers and Aunty in Israel. Now although this was possibly not what a nice Jewish Family from London was expecting we had to admit a family resemblance this man looked too Jewish to be a Vicar.
What I hadn't mentioned to our new cousin was that Aunty Hetty as we knew her was survived by a Son a blood brother of our new cousin.
It was Saturday afternoon I arranged with my mum to visit warren (aunty Hetty's son) the premise was to digitise some old pictures for the family tree.
I called Derek and related the conversation with our aunty in Israel. I also told him about his living family and that I was going to confirm the Vital evidence and pass on the good news BUT would respect my cousins wishes should he NOT want to meet up.
Sunday morning arrived I picked up my mother and we went over to cousin Warren we hadn't even thought about our approach. I took my laptop family tree and the collection of Emails and Vital documents.
When we arrived I spoke to warrens wife who (after her utter disbelief) called her son and daughter we spent what seemed like ages talking outside looking at the evidence and relating the whole story. Finally it was decided to present the evidence to their dad.
I asked for any vital documents he had to compare with documents I already got from Derek. All that was said was "What does this all mean!!" and I began to re-tell the story and my final sentence was "From what I can tell this man's mother was Esther Lewis!!" if the facts are correct he is your brother!!
Everyone was in tears (even a big butch boy like me!!) We had already decided to honour warrens wishes should he NOT want to meet his brother. His reaction was exactly the same as my mothers and he wanted some time for all the details to sink in.
He asked me to email the vital documents over which I did with all the contact details.
There have been several reunions since then and warren and his brother Derek now have a relationship thanks to the Internet and some clever detective work.
Some emails contained may have been edited to remove personal details