Success! Finding a Link to Family in Belfast via the JewishGen Blog

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

It is always wonderful to hear from JewishGen Blog readers regarding success stories of their connections to family as a result of my postings. Such was the case when I published a piece on the Blog on Tuesday, March 17, 2009, entitled “Green Bagels and Matzoh Balls – It’s That Time Of The Year Again.”
Naomi Barnett in Australia read the story and remembered that her friend Mervyn Silverstein, who also lives in Australia, had been born in Belfast and perhaps he might enjoy reading the article too. So, in that time-honored tradition amongst friends, she forwarded the link onto Mervyn via e-mail on April 14, 2009.  Mervyn avidly read the story and saw a photo which included Harold Moss, who had married Rose Coss, the daughter of his grandmother’s sister, Millie Leopold.
Given that inspiration, he clicked on the link for the Irish Jewish Community in Belfast which was also provided. He then proceeded to register on the Jewish Belfast site and submitted his bio on April 19, 2009.  Within two days, Mervyn had found his cousin Dickie Leopold who lives in America.  Mervyn’s grandmother Dorothy (or Dolly as she was known by her Belfast family) and Dickie’s mother Edith were sisters.
His response to me on receiving this remarkable contact was as follows:
“The internet can be such a powerful tool, but so is serendipity.  Ann, you wrote a blog that Naomi read.  She, in turn passed it to me.  I thought it might be interesting and I clicked a link.  Had Dickie Leopold not been registered in this site, then it might have just ended as quickly as it started.  As they say, the rest is history.  Both of you have performed a mitzvah and only good should happen in your lives.”
Not only had Mervyn found Dickie, his mother’s first cousin, but a whole load of relatives he never knew existed and certainly never knew had remained in Belfast after his family had left for Canada in 1951 and then gone onto Australia in 1961.
Imagine his surprise, when he also learned that the family, who were now spread out to the UK, Zimbabwe and the United States, had a reunion in Sydney, Australia, only a few weeks before.  If he had only known of them then!
Utilizing the 1911 Irish Census, I was further able to direct Mervyn to his great grandparents, Philip Leopold and his wife Rose Patchunsky Leopold, both born in 1877, in Russia, who lived at 27, Rose Street, Clifton, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.  Listed along with this couple were their children: Bessie, Dorah (Mervyn’s grandmother Dorothy/Dolly), Edith (Dickie’s mother), Rebecca, Minnie and Nettie.  The last two children in the family, Sonny and Lillian, were not listed as they had not been born yet.
Further family research had determined that Philip Leopold’s original name was actually Lepar and that he was born in Kriukai, Lithuania, the son of Yehuda-Leib Lepar.  This, in turn, could be confirmed by a search in the All-Lithuania Database (ALD) on JewishGen which turned up several Lepar families in Kriukai, Lithuania.  All of a sudden, in what amounted to a blink of an eye, Mervyn had been able to connect with his ancestors from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the 20th Century, back to Kriukai, Lithuania, in the 19th Century.  The years almost melted away, like the peel of an onion, to reveal his Litvak roots.
A ten page family tree was then sent to Mervyn by his relatives as well as a number of family photographs which included his branch of the family.  The following wedding photograph is thought to be the wedding of Harry Cowen and Dorothy/Dolly Leopold, who were the grandparents of Mervyn Silverstein.  The seven Leopold sisters are shown in the photograph, but only four of the sisters are identified according to an educated guess by the relatives.  The next photo depicts Bessie Leopold, the eldest sister, at her wedding to Samuel Freedman.  The final photo is of the grandfather and mother of Mervyn Silverstein - Harry Cowen, husband of Dorothy/Dolly Leopold, and his daughter Gladys Cowen.  
Leopold Family Wedding in Belfast, c. 1921-1923
(Left to right: Nettie Leopold, Unkn, Unkn, Harry Cowen, Dolly Leopold, Lillian Leopold, Unkn, Bessie Leopold Freedman)

Wedding of Sam Freedman and Bessie Leopold, Belfast, c. 1921-1922
(Bessie was oldest daughter in Leopold family)

Harry Cowen and daughter Gladys, Belfast, c. 1939
(Grandfather and mother of Mervyn Silverstein)

Once the initial link was established between Mervyn and Dickie, e-mails flew back and forth and these too provided additional relatives who were copied on the messages.  Now, Mervyn had an overwhelming sense of family and the continuity of it despite the distances involved and years that had passed without contact.
This success story proves that it is especially important to register on sites like the one for Belfast, if you are looking for family from a specific place or even on the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF) site.  As it so happens, none of Mervyn’s family names are registered under Belfast on the JGFF.  Now, that Mervyn knows his family names and where they are from, he can sign up for the JGFF and perhaps, he in turn, can help someone else who is searching for his family names.
Another aspect of this story is that Mervyn was basically a non-genealogist and unfamiliar with JewishGen or the JewishGen Blog.  However, he had a thoughtful friend, Naomi Barnett, who was interested in genealogy and who had the forethought to contact him and let him know about the Blog article and the link to Belfast.
It is hoped that this story encourages others who may not think they have surviving relatives or those who know very little about their origins to pursue these kinds of on-line links on the Internet.  It takes a little effort, but it is well worth it!


  1. Fantastic, Ann. Your articles are always so full of information and now you and JewishGen are using the blog to connect relatives - keep up the great work!

  2. Thanks for the mention and link to Anyone with a connection to Jewish Belfast is welcome to join.

  3. I am interested in Philip Leopold Lepar, some of Yehuda-Leib Lepar from Krukai, Lithuania. My grandparents were from Austria, George Lepar and Antonia Rohrman. There is no one left to ask regarding family history. Can anyone help me?

    Thank you.

    Lynne Brodd

  4. I am married to Harold and Rose Moss' daughter, Amanda, so it is something of a surprise to see their names here. We added information concerning Millie Coss(Leopold) (as Minnie was subsequently known) to the Lepar tree, and, alas, records from Yad Vashem, concerning the fate of the Lepars remaining in Kriukai during the Shoah.

    As alluded to in Ann's interesting article on Dublin, the Belfast community is rapidly contracting: it now numbers approximately 80, so the next major concern may well be how to preserve and record communal records? The Carnmoney cemetery plan was documented, and copied to a number of people with Belfast associations earlier this year, but that has to be just the start! I can cite Sunderland, where some incredibly dedicated individuals took digital photos of every single memorial stone in the cemetery, and put marriage and undertakers' records on line before the community closed. Being realistic, there probably needs to be a contingency plan for
    Belfast, unfortunately.


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