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Researching Belfast Jewish Families, c. 1850–c. 1930

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 20, 2004


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by Dr William Roulston, Pamela McIlveen

"THIS BELFAST JEWISH COMMUNITY is currently celebrating the centenary of the opening of the synagogue in Annesley Street, just off Carlisle Circus in the north of the city. Opened in August 1904 by Sir Otto Jaffe, for many Russian and Polish immigrants the synagogue proved to be something of a refuge after a hard day’s work in what were often demanding circumstances.

Journalist Martin Sieff, a former Belfast Telegraph reporter now with United Press International, sums up the hold of the synagogue for him and for many members of the Jewish congregation in the city:

To me it really was a shul from the long centuries of Galut [exile] with all the romance, atmosphere, and mystery that accrued.

It may therefore be timely to remember that there was a quite substantial settlement of Jewish people who arrived and resided, largely in north Belfast, in the last quarter of the nineteenth and first few decades of the twentieth centuries. In this context, it may be appropriate to consider the question of how a researcher might set about reconstructing Jewish families in Northern Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."

This article aims to give some pointers as to how the history of Belfast Jewish families in the province might be explored further. The geographical focus will be on Belfast because this is where the great majority of Jewish families in the northern part of Ireland lived.