Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Story of Chuts: How Cigars Saved My Family

In the 19th century my Dutch Jewish ancestors decided to move from Amsterdam to London. My first ancestors to make the move were my 4th great grandparents Abraham Moscou and Schoontje Veerjong in 1867 (although it is disputed if Abraham was around for this move). They moved their whole family to London including my 3rd great-grandfather Morris Moscou. Morris' future wife's family, the De Haan family, also made the move around this time as they appear in the 1871 England Census living in Spitalfield. By 1881 another set of my 3rd great-grandparents, the Nunes Vaz and Robles family, had made their move to London from Amsterdam.

I had always wondered what caused my ancestors and their siblings to move to London from Amsterdam, a city in which Jews were seemingly able to thrive with very little anti-semitism for hundreds of years. Through the House of Orange and the Napoleonic Emancipation, Jews in Amsterdam were treated better than most other Jews throughout the World. One of the things I noticed about most of my Dutch Jewish ancestors was the fact that they were almost all cigar makers. There were even stories that my Nunes Vaz ancestors worked on the same bench as Samuel Gompers, who helped set the 8-hour workday.

I soon found that while Jews were treated better in Amsterdam than in most other places there were still some anti-semitic laws. Jews were not allowed to join guilds, which would have been something extremely useful to cigar makers, nor were they allowed to own their shops. Seeking better opportunities in their trade my ancestors made the move to London which was a major center for cigar making during the 19th century. These Dutch Jewish immigrants gained the nickname of Chuts, which is often attributed to the Dutch word 'Goed' which means good. They mostly settled in Spitalfields in the East End of London in an area nickname 'The Tenterground', an area originally established by Huguenot refugees.

Many of these Chuts established small workshops and factories for cigar and cigarette making. Many of the shops were situated in Bethnal Green, White Chapel, and Spitalfields, areas that are all close to the Tobacco Dock in Wapping. Tobacco would come in from the United States and sold to the jews who then treated, stripped, and processed into cigars and cigarettes. The cigars the chuts made were known as "British Cigars" and were considered of high quality.

With the progression of technology and machinery in the late 19th century the cigar making jobs in London became less available and caused many Dutch Jewish families to immigrate once again around the turn of the century. While some of these Jewish families went back to Amsterdam many either stayed in England or immigrated to the United States, Australia, or New Zealand. The United States was going through a golden-age of cigar making and there was a lot of available work. My family decided to move to the United States for stability but they were also bringing safety to their descendants. My family's decision to pursue the cigar making industry in the United States ultimately led to the safety of my family. Not only did this decision to officially move to the United states save them from enduring the bombing of London, which so many of our English relatives suffered through, but it also saved the family from the fate of the many relatives in Amsterdam who were murdered in the Shoah.

There is a family story which comes from the early 20th century when my 2nd-great grandparents were trying to decide whether to stay in London or move to Boston. My 2nd-great grandfather had been pursuing a career in London as a vaudevillian actor and dancer under the name William H Macknay and liked it much better in London. The family had already been to the United States, having lived in Michigan and Boston, but went back to England because my 2nd-great grandfather didn't really like it in America. During an argument about where to live my 2nd-great grandmother told her husband "In England we starved, this is the country that gave us something to eat." They went to America where the family flourished, safe from the horrors so many of their relatives endured. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Digital Genealogy and Privacy Issues

For anyone in genealogy who has invited relatives to view their tree online it is likely they have run across a few relatives who were less than pleased with family information being published online. I once had a cousin actually threaten to sue me if I didn't take the tree down (referring to For genealogists who are constantly reaching out to new found relatives this can be even more prevalent, especially if the family being contacted have had identity theft problems.

This summer at the 35th Annual Conference of the International Association for Jewish Genealogical Societies in Jerusalem, Randy Schoenberg presented his lecture "Privacy Issues with Online Family Trees" in which he discusses why there is little to fear when it comes to digital genealogy. He methodically and logically breaks-down the idea of privacy rights and how they apply to genealogy just as they do in every day life. In his introduction Schoenberg states -

"The right to privacy is a relatively recent legal construction, and one that is still evolving. As genealogists, people whose goal is to learn and write about personal details of other people, we often hear complaints about invasion of privacy. So it is worth exploring the issue in some detail to understand what rights exist at present and what might evolve in the future. Since much of our work is done online, I will also address privacy issues related to online trees on various platforms."

Click here for the published version of the lecture

Thursday, October 15, 2015

First Relative Found Through DNA

Just over 2 years ago I ordered the Full Genome Kit from Family Tree DNA. This included a Y-DNA 67 Test, a Full Mt-DNA test, and an Autosmal DNA test (known as Family Finder). My main goal with these DNA tests was to learn about my paternal ancestry, something that I knew little about, as well as locating relatives. When I finally received my results I was stunned at the amount of matches I had in Family Finder and every surname in my Y-DNA matches had completely different surnames, both being quite common results for those with Jewish ancestry.

I found a handful of relatives who I had already found through the paper-trail but it was nice to have DNA confirm what old documents told us. I couldn't find anyone linking into my tree otherwise and throughout the years have contacted different matches in hopes of finding the link. The big hope was to find someone who not only linked into my tree but had more information than I did on the family. I expected the first person I would find to be a 3rd-5th cousin because I've known a lot of about my 1st and 2nd cousins (assuming no one has hidden an illegitimate child).

Finally after 2 years I found a match who had a not so common Jewish surname which was also in my tree. As well they had listed that family being from the UK and Holland, which basically confirmed it for me there because I have yet to find any families in Holland with the same surname. After contacting the relative and explaining what I knew she responded and told me that her sister had focused on researching that side of their family but she knew there was little information of where their side came from. After looking up the names she sent me for their most distant ancestors on that line I was able to find her great-grandfather in my tree. 

After adding her in and doing some quick calculations I realized that she was my 8th cousin exactly. I would have never imagined that the first relative I found through DNA would be so distant in relation. Our most recent shared ancestors were born in 17th century Amsterdam. Although I should also mention her sister had taken a DNA test but we did not match. Either way, it's great to finally have found a relative through the use of DNA and hope that I find more success in the near future.