The foregoing discussion of the contents of the database is just a beginning for those interested in pursuing their South African Jewish roots. There is much more to learn from many other valuable resources.
You will find a wealth of information from these two resources that will assist you in directing your efforts towards the information you need.
The database itself does not contain all of the information that is available in the biographical entries as noted above. However, it does have the most pertinent facts that are to be found in the following fields:
Page: This refers to the page on which the entry appears in the Year Book.
Photo: There are approximately two hundred and sixty-four photographs that accompany the entries. Many of the entries that had photographs were of individuals who had already passed away. Unfortunately, no dates of death are provided in the entries if this is the case. A way to cross check this is to look in the South African burials listed in the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR). In some instances, the photos may be the only ones known of certain individuals or the only one of the individual at a certain age. A case in point, is the photograph for Abraham Benjamin Kavonick. His children had never seen the photograph before and it pictured him at an age where there were no other surviving photographs.
Surname / Firstname: The last name is fairly straightforward. However, some entries include the present name of the individual such as Kentridge and their original name such as Kantrovitch. Other examples are Lomey / Lomiansky or Torbin / Press. Or, there were examples of names that individuals were also known by such as Stanfield or Starfield. There were double names too such as Kossuth-Sieradzki. The names reflected the infusion of a wide variety of Jewish individuals from all over the known Jewish world. There are no noticeably oriental or Sephardic names in the entries. The women profiled are generally listed under their married names and their maiden names where provided are found after their first name. An example is the well-known South African writer: MILLIN, Sarah Gertrude Liebson.
The first name of the individual may either be their full name, as in Morris Isaac or Hector Ernest Solomon, or their name along with their nickname, as in Morris or Mannie, or their initials such as M. I. for Moses Isaac. In some cases, the entry may include a professional title such as Dr. (Doctor), Rabbi, or Rev. (Reverend). There are also titles such as those bestowed by the British Empire for services rendered as in “Sir”. Two cases in point are Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and Sir Lewis Richardson.
Year Arrived / Address: The arrival data pertains only to those who were born outside South Africa. There were a number of individuals who do not have information listed as they were either born in South Africa or they did not provide the information for their entry. The earliest arrival in South Africa was 1876 and the latest was just one year prior to the publication of the Year Book in 1928.
The bulk of the individuals profiled in the entries were among the earliest arrivals during the period of the greatest development of South Africa in the era of the discovery of gold and diamonds. Many were part of the mass evacuation from Europe due to the harsh economic and political conditions in the 1880’s and 1890’s and the first part of the 1900’s. Later arrivals came when entry was denied them in other countries. However, a number of individuals were not fleeing oppression or the poverty of their lives, but came with a profession such as medical practitioner because South Africa offered unbounded economic opportunities in their field of endeavor.
The address refers to the town in South Africa where the person lived or received mail at the time of the publication of the Year Book. In many cases, a post office box was used instead of an actual street address, especially in the case of professional listings for physicians or lawyers. The database lists the town name only.
Father: There were only twenty-four first names provided in the total of thirty-two entries for the first name of the father. Some were initials only or a professional title such as Reverend (Rev.) or Rabbi. There were only thirty-two entries that had the last name of the father provided out of the total of 783 entries. In some rare cases, in the entry, it was stated that the individual was the first or second son of the father.
Mother: There were only two entries that provided the mother’s name and one was not an actual name, but the honorific Mrs.
Spouse / Date Married: The first name of the wife ranged from typical Jewish names such as Hannah Leah, Rachel, Rebecca and Shulamith to more modern permutations such as Aurelia, Carrie, Clara, Maud, Nancy, Phoebe and Zephyra. Also, there were a number who listed only the initial of their first name.
The last name of the wife refers to her maiden name. Many individuals had already taken on anglicized names such as Burns, Coral, Hill, Kay, Green, Sanders, Smith and Watson. There may be some cases where the individuals married non-Jews and this is difficult to determine just from the name. Many retained their original names such as Baiewsky, Kantorowich, Mikhalisky and Sieradzki. In some cases, the last or maiden name of the wife appeared to be the same as that of the husband. It was felt that this did not indicate that the wife was related to the husband only that the husband had written in her married name as opposed her maiden name for the entry. The data also indicated that there were several sisters who married brothers.
There were two hundred and fifty-three entries where the individual did not mention their wife’s name. This was particularly true of medical practitioners and dental surgeons who, for the most part, did not provide family information. They may have felt that the listing was for professional purposes only. In some cases, the individual may very well have been a single man, but this was not usually the reason the wife’s name was left off the entry.
The earliest marriage recorded was 1877 and the latest was the year of publication of the Year Book. There were two hundred and fifty-three entries that did not include the date of marriage. As the entries contain both the date of marriage and the date of entry to South Africa, it is possible to hypothesize that the individual possibly married someone from his/her hometown or its vicinity if they married prior to their arrival. Many individuals married after arrival to women who were also from their hometowns and who had come to South Africa too. A number had gone back to their birthplaces to bring back a bride. Familiarity with the family names from the individual’s birthplace can confirm this.
Year of Birth: The earliest date of birth was 1853 and the latest was 1908. For the most part, almost all the entries had birth dates. However, there were some seventy-one entries that did not have a date of birth provided. One entry gave the Hebrew date of birth and this was converted to the modern equivalent.
Place of Birth: There are approximately two hundred and nine different towns of birth represented in this field and two hundred and four entries that did not contain the town information. The town names range from South African, South-West Africa and Rhodesian towns such as Johannesburg, Durban, Kimberley, Windhoek, Salisbury, and Bulawayo, to towns in Australia, England, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, and Russia. The town of birth was usually given in either the old Russian or Yiddish name or the modern Lithuanian name being used at that time. There are a few town names such as Neinstadt, Lithuania, that were either names where there were several towns by the same or similar name or they could not be located in standard texts such as Where Once We Walked by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack. Also, there were a few entries that used a guberniya name such as in Vilna Guberniya rather than an actual town name.
There are twenty-four countries of birth in this category and the largest number of entries came from Lithuania with one hundred ninety-one entries, followed by South Africa with one hundred and eighty-nine and England with one hundred and eleven. The country names used are those in existence at the time the person left to come to South Africa or the modern name as of 1929. Also, twenty-four entries did not contain the country of birth information at all.
In eighty-one of the entries, “Russia” was given as the country of birth which is thought to be a generic designation for all those places located in the Russian Empire. When “Russia” was used, the individual usually did not provide the town of birth, so it is difficult to determine exactly where they were from originally unless they were known to have come from a specific town. In cases where Kovno is given as the town of origin, it may refer to the Kovno Guberniya rather than the actual city of Kovno.
Occupation: There were approximately eighty-one types of occupational endeavors listed with many representing similar or the same professions written in different terms. The most numerous occupations were those of merchant which came first with the legal profession coming in a close second and medicine third. For the most part, the occupational names were not standardized at all. Doctors, for instance, were listed as medical practitioner, physician, consulting surgeon, surgeon, consulting gastroenterologist, and specialist nervous and mental disease.
The legal profession had a number of terms used depending on the level of expertise or training.
Examples of these terms are advocate, advocate of the Supreme Court, attorney, barrister, Kings Counsel, lawyer and solicitor. Some of those profiled who played a prominent role in the development of Jewish institutions in South Africa had quite modest entries as is the case of Wolf Hillman: Hillman, Wolf, Merchant. Born in Zabelen. Resided in Talsein, former Kourland, now known as Latvia. Came to South Africa in 1891. President of the South African Jewish Orphanage, Johannesburg. Postal Address: P.O. Box 2954, Johannesburg.
A number of individuals did not list their occupations at all as their communal activities far overshadowed their profession endeavors. Quite a few of these were instrumental in the development of Zionism both in a South Africa context and even worldwide. Four of these were Abraham Couzin, Manual Leo Gennusow, Jacob Gitlin and Benzion S. Hersch.
Some individuals put retired and left it at that. The women were, for the most part, active communal workers or involved in charitable endeavors. Where women did have a specific profession listed, it is to be noted that they were usually pioneers in their field. Some of these early South African Jewish career women were Mary S. Gordon, one of seven medical practitioners listed, Hannah Greenberg, a solicitor, Jennie Trakman Hayman, a dentist, Gertrude Liebson Millin, the writer, and Eugenie Sachs, a chemist.
Business: There are one hundred and sixty entries that have a specific business associated with the individual. In addition, the “Who’s Who Section” has sixty-two advertisements throughout which give some idea of the many types of companies that the Jewish population was involved in. In some cases where the individual did not list their business, it was mentioned in an accompanying advertisement and this has been added to this field.