The Jordans of Talsen and Scotland

As a child in the 1930-40’s, I would often stay with my maternal grandparents, pictured above. My grandmother, Fanny, was a very tall, thin woman who looked more Scottish than Jewish. Unlike other relatives she did not speak Yiddish but German, and English without a trace of a foreign accent.  Being aware that most of my grandparents’ generation of Jews were immigrants to Scotland, I was interested in knowing their origins. Most Glasgow Jews had arrived at the turn of the 20th century either from Lithuania or the Ukraine. Many were on their way to the USA, and embarked at Leith, the port of Edinburgh, went by train to Liverpool, and there boarded the boat to America.  Those who stayed either “ missed the boat” or  found the “natives” friendly and decided to stay in Scotland.  In most cases Scotland was not the final destination.

My grandmother was born in Courland, and my grandfather in the Ukraine. For most of my early life I knew that Courland was in Latvia but assumed it was somehow connected to East Prussia, otherwise why the German.

My grandmother’s maiden name was  Jordan, and I learned that my great-grandmother had been called Mary, and my great grandfather, William David Jordan. Jordan was not a Jewish name, and Mary most certainly was not, so I wondered many times whether my grandmother was Jewish, or a convert. She certainly kept Kashrut, and observed Jewish holidays, but that doubt or question lingered for some time.  My grandfather’s family name was Mitchell, also not a  Jewish name, but I assumed that the family changed its name  on arriving in Scotland. Certainly the Mitchell family were very Jewish, and often spoke Yiddish among themselves.

Jump forward many years, with the advent of the internet and the possibilities of searching data from Eastern Europe, and an interest in genealogy.  I did searches and did find Jordans in the Latvian database of JewishGen.  Mitchells I could not find in the Ukrainian data base other than those like myself searching for other Mitchells.  My grandmother died in 1957 and my grandfather much earlier.  Many years later my uncle (my mother’s brother ) sent me a copy of my grandmothers UK Naturalization Papers that he had found in a drawer.  

This is from 1950. I have no idea why she waited so long to become a British citizen. In it she states that she was born in Talsen, at that time in Russia. Date of birth is June 30th, 1885. I also learned for the first time that the Mitchell name was derived from  Mechalman,  a name no one in the family knew of. My grandmother’s father’s name  is given as William David Jordan. He never arrived in Scotland, but died before Mary, his wife, left Courland. Having this clue as to place of birth, I then searched the All-Russia 1897 census on JewishGen. I found a Marianna Jordan at an address in Talsen and her daughter Fanny age 11 (below).

Below is the original census page available through FamilySearch and the Latvian Historical Archives.

1897 All-Russian Census for Talsen, Entry 561

Her place of origin (I assume this meant birth) was listed as Mitau.  Was this the correct family? Date of birth of Fanny was quite close, 1885-86. She was 11 years old. Mariana is described as a widow age 47. Fanny’s father name is given as Wulf. And Marianna ‘s father as Heim, which I assume is Hyman (Chaim). Thus Marianna’s husband was Wulf Jordan. Could she have filled out paper’s equating Wulf to William on arriving in Scotland?

Scotland’s People is a site devoted to archival material. For a small charge one can obtain birth certificates, death certificates , census results, etc.  Using this site, I found that Mary Jordan and her daughter Fanny were living in 1901 in Paisley, Scotland. This was not unexpected since my mother was born in Paisley, a small textile-industry town close to Glasgow. Paisley is famous for the reproductions of the Iranian tea drop pattern on scarfs, etc. Mary is listed as head of household, age 50, living with  Fanny age 16, another daughter Ada, age 24, with her husband Sam Paltie (age 27) and a two-year-old granddaughter Martha. 

If the Marianne and Fanny  found in the Talsen (All Russia) census were the same that would mean they arrived in Scotland between 1899 and 1901. The ages matched.

I knew from family conversations that my grandmother had three sisters: Kitty, Sophie and Ada.  Family lore was that Ada and Sophie had married two brothers and had immigrated to Australia and the United States  after their marriage.  I also heard that the two brothers lived in the North of Scotland in a town called Elgin and  were peddlers. This always seemed  romantic and the reason for the Jordan family moving to Scotland in the first place was for Ada and Sophie to be with the brothers who were from the same town, Talsen. 

Mary died in 1929, and according to the record, which was filled out by Fanny, her daughter, she was the widow of William Jordan . Her father was Hyman Thalberg. and mother Kate Thalberg (nee Levenshtein or something similar). The Hyman agrees again with the Russian Record. I found another Levenshtein married to a Thalberg, thus there must have been a lot of marriages between the same families.  There are many Thalbergs listed on JewishGen in the army registration list from Talsen. Three of them are the sons of Heyman Thalberg, though I do not know if this is the same Hyman as Mary’s father.

I downloaded the marriage certificates of my grandmothers sisters on Scotland’s People. Sophie was married in 1892 to Jacob Paltie and Annie (Ada) in 1897 to  Samuel Paltie, and Kitty in 1900 to Philip Shapiro. I knew my mother’s Aunt Kitty and her husband since they resided in Glasgow. One of the marriages took place in Elgin.

Jessie Taylor, the author’s mother, and cousin, William Shapiro, son of Kitty/Katy Shapiro,
ca. 1915 in Paisley, Scotland.

Jacob and Samuel were indeed brothers since in the marriage certificate they have the same parents, Louis  Paltie and Hannah Thalberg. I assume these were first cousin marriages (so far I have no direct evidence for this). How, why and when they arrived in Elgin is a bit of a mystery. Louis is described as a hairdresser.

I was unable to find any records of arrival dates of any of the family  members to Scotland. But all the names – Jordan, Thalberg, Levenshtein and Paltei – are associated with Talsen or Mitau in Courland.  There is an interesting  novel, The Credit Draper, by Scottish Jewish author J. David Simons, describing the life of Jewish peddlers in Scotland.

I searched on JewishGen for other Jordans from Talsen and discovered others looking for Jordans. There was a large family of Jordans residing in the USA. I corresponded with an Alan Jordan who kindly sent me information on the family.  His source was the revision Lists from Mitau Jewish Community for 1838 and 1858. The family begins with Wulf Jordan, and his son Leib. Leib and his wife Lina raised a family of 4 sons and 4 daughters.

The four sons were Wolf, David, Reuben, and Yeshayahu. When I contacted Alan he knew of the descendants of two of the sons, Reuben and Yeshayahu, but nothing of the families of Wolf or David. Interestingly Leib was a saddle maker, as was the William (Wolf) identified on my grandmother’s  and Kitty’s death certificate. The stumbling block to identifying Wolf, the son of Leib as William, the wife of Mary was information from the archives of  Mitau, which lists Wolf as having  4 daughters, and a son, and the names of the daughters do not match (nor dates of birth). Thus it is difficult to reconcile the data. Could the archives have the wrong Wolf?  It was a common name, and I have found more than one Wolf Jordan.

Sophie Paltie and family immigrated to the USA in the 1920’s and Ada about the same time to Australia. Both families have expanded, as have the Glasgow families. One final note, my grandmother Fanny is buried in Glasgow Jewish cemetery.  Her name in Hebrew is “Feige bat Zeev David HaLevi,” which translates to “Feige, daughter of Wolf David.”

DNA analysis confirmed that I and a great grandson of Shai (Yeshayahu) Jordan are third cousins.  However I am still left wondering whether my family tree and that of the US Jordan’s are really linked.  If it was not for the data from the archives I would accept it. Another puzzle, the Paltei family on arrival in New Jersey as far as I know never attempted to contact the Jordan family, which might have been expected.

For further information, the Taylor/Jordan family tree can be viewed on MyHeritage.

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