The possibility of a Jewish connection was first mentioned twenty years ago when I first started looking into my family tree.
As a child in the 50’s I was lucky enough to have met my maternal great grandparents, and 2 great uncles. They were called Braham and the story told to me as a child was that they had had a circus with animals and magic – I remember being taken to the circus at Bellevue (Manchester) every year.
When I grew up I took these tales to be something that one tells young children to keep them amused. How wrong I was. Whilst they didn’t have a circus they did have a travelling menagerie. They were fairground folk.
OK, where’s the Jewish connection? My mother told me that the family name had been changed from Abraham to Braham. The story was that one of the family was a tailor and refused to rend his clothes at a funeral and so split from the faith. She also told me of her great aunt who came from London and spoke either Hebrew or Yiddish. This great aunt was, after many years, to prove the linchpin in connecting the family I knew to their ancestors.
Sydney Henry Braham was actually born Simeon Henry Abraham son of Lewis Michael Abraham and Hannah Jacobs. Lewis & Hannah had four children, 3 of whom were born as Abraham. Somewhere between 1851 and 1861 they changed from Abraham to Braham.
What gave me years of frustration was that as travellers it was difficult to find them until Ancestry came along with their search features.
Not only did they change the family name but also the given names of the children! No wonder I couldn’t find them!!
Sarah Hannah became Selina Alicia and Simeon Henry became Sydney Henry. Alice Matilda didn’t change her name and she became my mother’s Great Aunt Alice who was found living in Liverpool with her brother’s wife’s family.
In 1879 Sydney Henry married Sarah Ann McKenzie in Glasgow, Sarah was from a fairground family and this appears to have been the start of the fairground connection for the Brahams.
Another red herring was that because Scottish marriage certificates give both father and mother’s names this is normally a help. Unfortunately Sydney Henry gave his mother’s name as Annie Stevens! Right first name but totally wrong surname. Was he trying to Anglicise himself?
When the connection was finally made I discovered that Lewis Michael’s parents were Aaron Abraham and Sarah Nathan, both from Plymouth. Aaron was originally a watchmaker, but by 1861 he was Curator of Hebrew Cemetery (Deane Street Synagogue, Liverpool).
I don’t suppose I shall ever find out the true reason for the name change, but the journey so far has been frustrating and challenging but great fun, and this new adventure with the Jacobs looks set to continue the challenge.