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Are you a Calvari Freeman or Freedman?

Updated on March 13, 2012

Does This Ring Bells?

In your family history is there a widow and 13 children travelling steerage to New York?

Was there a lady in Phoenix Arizona who tried to keep track of all the children and their descendants?

Was there an important funeral (the widow?) in Chicago in 1953 or 1954?

Some family history you may not know

The origins of the family are in Calvari or Kalvari near Vilna. Many of our ancestors were rabbis. but the immediate patriarch of our tribe apparently ran an inn. He had 12 children by his first wife, and having a brood of children to look after married again. This lady had 14 children with him.

The elder family gradually emigrated, most of them settling in South Wales, London and Leeds. I suspect. but I do not know, that some went to America. The patriarch died - one version being that during a flood in the village he swam out to rescue a mad woman who had escaped from the asylum. He caught his death of cold and left a widow with 14 children. He also told his family to go to America.

It is likely that the eldest boy among the 14 (my grandfather) had already gone to Wales to work in a business run by one of the first family.

In those days the common route for East European migrants was to take a ferry to Hull, and then walk 111 miles to Liverpool. One common route was along what is now the A62. On the Hull side of Marsden is a pub which gave overnight shelter to these migrants. Hebrew script was carved into the beams, presumably by the passing Jews.

The eldest boy did not go to America, but he stayed in Britain all his life. By World War II he was living in London. When America entered the war a number of American Jewish nephews in uniform appeared, all carrying uncle Jack's address in London. My mother was born in 1922, so by the time these attractive single young men arrived she was in her early 20s. As they were family she was allowed to socialise with them.

I have often wondered why Jack did not go to America. He wrote to his mother once a week all his life, so there was clearly no family animosity. Had he gone with the family he would have missed out on serving in World War I, and living in London during the Blitz. No doubt there were family discussions at the time.

Steerage and After


Travelling steerage was hell. Dark, noisy, with no privacy, and among hundreds if not thousands of strangers. You cannot keep 13 children with you at all times, so there would be a frequent worry when one or more of your children was not in sight.

After arrival in New York they had Ellis Island to get through.

What happened then? I would like to think that some of the first family were in New York to greet them and to organise for their material needs. Work would be found for the older children, an apartment for everyone to live in, and over time the children would learn English.

I think Jack knew there would be help in New York. Otherwise either the family could have stayed in Britain where most of the first family were. Or Jack would have had to go to America.

In 1953 or 1954 there was a family funeral in Chicago. I was only 2 years old, so I have no memory of it. The reason it was a big event was that the family recognised that this was the last time they would all be together. I assume it was the funeral of the widow.


What now?

During her lifetime my mother was in contact with a lady in Phoenix, Arizona who tried to keep track of all the family. After my mother's death I wrote to the lady to report the death, only to receive a nice letter from the lady's daughter to say that her mother had passed away a couple of years earlier.

By 1954 the family had seperated geographically, with some doing well and some not so well. Fiftyseven years later, the original children must now all have passed on. What are their grand and great grandchildren doing in that country of opportunity - America?

Family Tree Information

I have family tree information going back to the middle of the 18th century which I would like to pass on to my distant kin. I know you are out there! And you may have information and maybe photographs for me.

One minor issue is that the surname started as Freedman and in England at least evolved to Freeman. As you may have gathered my mother married out, so I was not brought up Jewish. Sometimes we visited our Jewish relatives. My memories are of the food and the cultural strength.

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