Find your ancestors in Britain, Jewish Commercial Directory 1894

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Harfield’s Commercial Directory of the Jews of the United Kingdom was written in 1893 and published in 1894 (the title page also gives the Hebrew calendar year 5654) in both the UK and US. Inside the Star of David embossed in gold on the front cover are two mottos – Dum spiro spero (Latin: “While I breathe, I hope”) and Tiens ta foy (French: “Keep thy faith”) – the significance of which is perhaps a little unclear in the context of a commercial directory.

The author, or editor, was one G Eugene Harfield, a seemingly slightly hazy figure. He was apparently born circa 1866 in the Courland guberniya (governorate) of the Russian Empire – in other words, somewhere in what is today Latvia, presumably in one of the towns with a thriving Jewish population such as Mitau (now known as Jelgava). The original surname is likely to have been Harfeld or perhaps Herzfeld, although of course in Courland the name would have been written in Yiddish and Russian Cyrillic characters as often as it might have been written in German or, for that matter, Latvian, which use our Latin alphabet.

At some point, he emigrated to Richmond, Virginia and began writing and publishing books there, but had relocated from the United States to South Wales by 1890. In June 1892 his engagement to Annette Freedman of Pontypridd was announced in the local press but it seems the couple never wed (she married Samuel Louis Harris in the following year).

By 1904 he had lived in Bath and then removed to Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, where he was a commission and general merchant and pawnbroker.

He appears under the name Goodman E Harfield in the 1911 Census of England & Wales, in which he describes himself as a “teacher of languages, & author” and as an American citizen domiciled in England and residing in Upton Park, Essex. Living with him was his elder brother Louis, who was also a teacher and probably a former rabbi. Goodman taught Talmud Torah at the West Ham Associate Synagogue. Both Goodman and his brother Louis died in East Ham in early January 1916.

It should be said that the volume does not seem to have received universally glowing reviews upon publication. The publishers acknowledge something of this at the end of the introduction and promise “a more amplified second edition”. The directory should not be regarded as being comprehensive or exhaustive. However, it is what it is, and provides details of Jewish businessmen and tradesmen, arranged geographically by country and town across the British Isles. How the data was acquired and collated – from what sources, and how current those sources were – is not entirely clear. Therefore, information should be treated with some caution, and perhaps as having been current a year or two previous to the year of writing in 1893. Of course, the same type of caution should always be exercised with all directories at all dates and places, as information starts to become out of date as soon as it is gathered.

The directory is unpaginated but starts with England & Wales on image 8 (note the URL in your browser). Ireland begins at image 116, Scotland on image 122 and Wales on image 130. In places with a small population, there is a simple alphabetical listing of inhabitants. In larger places, the arrangement may be by street instead within the town.