Anyone who has embarked on tracing their family tree or researched individual figures will know the delight of chance and random connections.
Fiona Frank gave a heartwarming talk in the Carnegie Room of the Orkney Library and Archive on Thursday 15th of August when she described her journey in tracing her family.
Candles, Conversions and Class: 5 Generations of a Scottish Jewish Family is Fiona Frank’s book which brings together her PhD research in an accessible form for readers.
Trained in recording oral history Fiona Frank used those skills in listening to uncover the stories of her own wider family, Jewish immigrants who came to Scotland in the 19th Century. Like all families some had drifted out of touch but added to that was the complication that some of them had changed their surnames.
Different accounts were retold of the same family story as remembrances changed over time and with whoever was telling the tale.
Some married non Jews despite family objections and some moved away.
Fiona Frank said:
“It is amazing how much influence parents think they have over who their children marry.”
Holding the talk in the Carnegie Room was another happy connection for Fiona Frank. At the turn of the 20th Century times were tough for the Hoppenstein family in Glasgow. Choices had to be made and although they did not have much money education was important. The Carnegie education fund enabled the boys to enter university. The girls were not offered this opportunity. (The Carnegie Trust is still here today)
Having a university education and a professional career meant that the males in the family had a higher income, married daughters with excellent dowries and moved away to be with their spouses’ families. The girls with less educational opportunities and the resulting lower incomes stayed closer to the parental home. This was not a situation only found in Jewish families and to some extent continues to this day within some families who send boys to private schooling whilst the girls attend state schools.
Over time people in this Scottish/Jewish family changed in their religious observation – “Judaism isn’t a given,” explained Fiona Frank ” it changes over your life.”
In the oral remembrances that Fiona Frank recorded people placed themselves as either insiders or outsiders but what was particularly poignant was the phrase to be “an outsider wherever I am.”
The talk was attended by Jews and non Jews in Orkney. An interesting discussion took place where people shared personal family stories and Orcadians with Jewish heritage expressed what that meant to them.
Candles, Conversions and Class: Five Generations of a Scottish Jewish Family is published by the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre (SJAC)
Reporter: Fiona Grahame