Thursday, 7 October 2010

Guest Post - Jewish Roots in Scotland

You know that situation when you wait for a bus then three come along at once?! Well Scottish GENES is getting in on that act! Following Evelyn McCulloch's brilliant blog post earlier in the week on Scottish infanticide, I am pleased to be able to bring another guest post, this time from Harvey Kaplan of the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre. If you had Jewish ancestors in Scotland, where can you turn for help? Well Harvey's a good start!

Jewish Roots in Scotland

Scottish Jewish roots do not run very deep, compared with the ancient Jewish communities elsewhere in Europe. The first Jewish community was established in Edinburgh in 1816, then Glasgow in 1823. Later in the 19th century, communities were also set up in Aberdeen and Dundee. There are five places which once had a Jewish community, but no longer: Ayr, Dunfermline, Falkirk, Greenock and Inverness. Jews in Scotland have generally lived in an atmosphere of tolerance, respected by the Presbyterian Scots as the ‘People of the Book’. Scotland is one of the few countries with no noticeable record of antisemitism.

A wide variety of source material awaits those researching Scottish Jewish family history. Obviously, Jews appear in the indexes of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland since 1855. Because Scottish birth certificates give the date and place of marriage of the parents, the certificates of children born here to parents who were married in Europe often provide a clue to town/country of origin. Another clue might be provided by census records - especially for 1881, 1891 and 1901.

Other useful public records include naturalisation records (available in the National Archives in Kew and indexed at ), city directories, valuation rolls, electoral registers, school admission records and passenger lists of ships carrying emigrants from Glasgow to North America and beyond (available at .

A common problem with Jewish records is that immigrant names were often mis-spelt by officials, and immigrant families often used varying spellings of their names.

The Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, established in Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow (Scotland's oldest) collects and preserves material related to the history of the Jews in Scotland, documents and exhibits the collections for the benefit of the general public, and makes them available for researchers. It also contains a small museum.

The collections include synagogue registers, records of 99% of Scottish Jewish burials, charity subscription records, organisational records, membership lists, newspapers, photographs, artefacts, immigration and other personal papers.

The Centre is open on most Thursday and Friday mornings by appointment (phone 0141 332 4911), and once a month on a Sunday afternoon (other times by arrangement). Its website is at (email:

Visitors may consult the Historical Database of Scottish Jewry, a computerised database which collates records on over 34,600 Jews in Scotland.

The Archives Centre has a small Family History Network – details from:

The main international website for Jewish genealogy is at This contains a huge amount of information, such as databases of East European records and of Jewish genealogists around the world, listing their research interests.

Harvey L. Kaplan is the director of the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre in Glasgow, and author of The Gorbals Jewish Community in 1901, an illustrated snapshot of the vibrant Jewish community in the Gorbals area of Glasgow in 1901, based on a detailed analysis of the 1901 Census (with some 800 heads of households listed), but drawing also on a wide range of contemporary sources. (£5 +p&p, available from the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre at 129 Hill Street, Glasgow G3 6UB /

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