History of the Emdon
LECTURE DELIVERED TO THE DEVON FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY AT SCOTT LECTURE HALL, PLYMOUTH LIBRARY, WEDNESDAY APRIL 13th, 1977.
[by Bertram Harris Emdon]
I have long been a student of history, because, unlike Henry Ford, I do not believe history to be bunk, but I believe from history, can be distilled essences in which, if properly understood, one can savour the flavour of the future. My own particular interest is the study of Jewish History. I like to examine it, not as a series of dates and personalities, but rather as a closely woven tapestry where events and personalities interweave to make a coherent pattern.
No aspect of history presents a better basis for this point of view than that of the study of genealogy, here the continuous interweave of events, is woven closely around the individuals of a family, and, when the family concerned, is ones own family, then the research takes on a very personal and real meaning.
If you are lucky, you may be able to trace your family back for a number of generations, and, it is a source of great personal satisfaction if you can do so, It becomes even more so, when you are able to place your ancestry into the wider picture of external developments. This I have endeavoured to do and I have therefore entitled this paper, Ancestral Tapestry.
Being Jewish is a circumstance that has proved both fortunate and unfortunate to my endeavours. For many of my co-religionists, it is virtually impossible to trace ancestry back for more than one or two generations. The vast body, of our people, are, or were, refugees from one or the other many hundreds of acts of persecution perpetrated against them in the both recent and ancient past.
If the persecution from which your family fled, was in the recent past, then the chances of tracing them back more than one or two generations is virtually nil. If, for example, from the Polish or Russian persecutions of the latter half of last century, or the terrible holocaust of the Hitlerian carnage, then your family tree is likely to be rooted in soil that has been so burnt and scarred that it is beyond recognition. On the other hand, because of this virtually unrelenting persecution, family life has become a very precious thing to the Jew, and we have a very special term for family relationships, which is simply the Hebrew word for family, 'Mispoochah', it has, however, to the Jew, a deeper, richer meaning than the mere word family. It embraces all aspects of the family, in both the past and the present, and covers all manner of relationships, both by blood and marriage, so when a Jewish man says that someone is "Mispoochah, he means that somewhere, somehow, they are related, no matter how distant or remote this relationship might be.
This characteristic of Jewish life means, that if, by some chance, your family did escape from oppression at a more distant date, than some of your brethren, then the probability is that you will be able to establish a very extensive family tree.
As I have said, in this respect I have been, both lucky and unlucky, on my maternal side my grandparents were refugees from Polish oppression in the latter half of the XIXth Century, and, although their escape to Britain, and establishment of a new life, in the face of great adversity, in a country in the throes of an Industrial Revolution, is an interesting, exciting, and often, romantic one, it is, nevertheless, of too wide a general experience to be remarkable, countless thousands of Jews have a similar tale to tell.
On my paternal side, however, the prospect is a much more exciting one, and it contains a history, so colourful and worldwide that it is quite impossible to cover all its aspects here, in this short paper.
I have been even more fortunate in as much, as I have two cousins who have researched very deeply into the genealogical side of my family history. They are a Mr. William Jessop of America and a Dr. Anthony Joseph, lately domiciled in Australia, but now residing in Birmingham. Furthermore the Rev. Susser has done much research into Westcountry Jewry's general history. I shall draw, very heavily, on the researches of these gentlemen. For my part I shall endeavour to add my own researches, particularly of historical and local background.
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