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Jewish Ancestry Guide

There is a large collection of sources relating to the Jewish East End. This is because of the large community of Jewish East Enders residing in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields areas from the mid-19th century.

The Library Collections include books, pamphlets and cuttings, and microforms. We hold a good selection of general books about Jewish London and biographies of Jewish East Enders. Of particular interest are publications produced by Jewish organisations and institutions such as:

  • Annual reports of the Jews’ Temporary Shelter (LC9265)
  • The Jewish Maternity Hospital (LC10059)
  • Stepney Jewish Girls Club (LC9049)
  • Jewish Year Book from 1896 onwards (LCP00099)

We hold a collection of London-wide trade directories which date from the early 19th century to 1991. They contain lists of businesses that operated in London arranged by address and trade type.

Unlike provincial towns, there are very few street directories listing private residents in the East End. The only examples date from the 1860s, and cover the more middle class, northern districts of the borough.

We hold both hard copy editions and copies of some editions from the Guildhall Library collection on microfilm.

Digitised copies of directories across the country can be viewed online via Historical Directories hosted by the University of Leicester.

There is an almost unbroken run of electoral registers dating from 1901 to the present day. These are heavily used by family historians and many are available online at ancestry.com.

Collected from a wide variety of local and national sources it dates back to the early years of the 20th century.

Key class marks for the Jewish East End include:

  • 430 - Jews (Ethnic Groups, immigrants and race relations)
  • 222.7 - Jewish Places of Worship, Stepney
  • 224.7 - Jewish Places of Worship, Poplar
  • 226.7 - Jewish Places of Worship, Bethnal Green
  • 621.13 - London Jewish Hospital
  • 621.15 - Jewish Maternity Hospital

The face of Tower Hamlets has changed beyond recognition in the past 60 years. The maps can be used to trace the location of the smallest alley and the locations of businesses, schools and institutions.

We hold over 2,000 maps dating from Elizabethan times to the present day. These include copies of Ordnance Survey maps at a scale of 1:1250 for the Borough of Tower Hamlets. They date from the mid-19th century to the late 20th century, and clearly show individual buildings.

We also hold street plans and some early parish and estate maps. Key large-scale maps from earlier dates include:

  • Gascoyne's map of the Parish of Stepney (covering most of present-day Tower Hamlets) of 1703
  • Roque's map of London of 1746
  • Horwood's map of London of c. 1795
  • Faden's map of London of c. 1813

For further information about maps, please refer to our Maps User Guide.

Layers of London is a map-based history website where free historic maps of London are accessible. A small selection of maps from our collections is available to view online via Layers of London.

We also have a range of maps for sale.

We hold around 33,000 photographs and illustrations relating to Tower Hamlets. These are arranged in two main series:

  • By location - street / road name
  • By subject.

    Some photographs date from the 19th century but the bulk of the images date from the 20th century. The photographs can be viewed in our reading room and some of our digitised images are also accessible online in our Digital Gallery.

    Key class marks:

  • 222.7 – Jewish Places of Worship Stepney
  • 224.7 – Jewish Places of Worship Poplar
  • 226.7 – Jewish Places of Worship Bethnal Green
  • 621.13 - London Jewish Hospital
  • 621.15 - Jewish Maternity Hospital
  • 820.1 - Stepney Jewish Primary School

A good range of local newspapers is held on microfilm. The earliest is the East London Observer which began in 1857. By the end of the 19th century there were about half a dozen local newspapers.

These papers are not indexed, and, except for persons of exceptional note, there are no notices of births marriages and deaths. The district was too poor and densely-populated to make this viable. If an individual died in a manner which necessitated an inquest it is possible that will have been reported.

The East London Observer even carried a weekly feature called “News from the Ghetto”. The Library also holds microfilm copies of the Jewish Chronicle from 1841 onwards, and a run of Jewish Year Books from 1898.

Princelet Street Synagogue – W/PRI

  • Covers the period 1884-1988 and includes marriage and membership records. Also records of Loyal United Friends Friendly [or Benefit] Society and the Society for Chanting Psalms and Visiting the Sick.

Spitalfields Great Synagogue - W/SGS

  • Includes subscription and receipt books covering the periods 1909-1975.

Records of the Brady Clubs (Jewish youth clubs), Whitechapel – S/BRA

  • Jewish youth clubs originally based in Whitechapel. Includes membership records from 1940s - 1960s, records relating to camps and photo albums of club activities.

Records of the New Cambridge Boys' Club and its predecessors – S/NCB

  • Records related to the New Cambridge Boys' Club (1955-1990) and its predecessor organisations:
    • The Cambridge and Bethnal Green Boys' Club (1938-1955)
    • The Cambridge and Bethnal Green Jewish Boys' Club (1924-1937).

Papers of Jack Greenstock (1895-1980), boxer – P/GRS

  • Records documenting a major figure in boxing history including photographs, press-cuttings, personal and business correspondence.

Documents relating to the Rosenberg family of St. George-in-the-East – P/ROS

  • Personal papers of the Rosenberg Family (Russian Jewish immigrants) including immigration documentations, 1890-1948.

Papers of the Tuffel Family of Whitechapel – P/TUF

  • Papers relating to the Tuffel family who had links to Jewish schools and organisation. Records include photographs, school certificates and prayer books.

Papers of Kevin Martin about the Novo Cemetery – P/MAR

  • Finding aids to the burial sites at Novo Cemetery, Mile End. Records include photographs of gravestones and Excel spreadsheets doumenting locations.

Currently in cataloguing stage are records of the:

  • Stepney Jewish Day Centre
  • Stepney Jewish Girls' Club and Settlement and related organisations (I/SJD). Descriptions are not available online, collection not available to users at present.

Records of the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney – L/SMB

The most significant body of records relating to the Jewish East End are the records of the Stepney Borough Council. This local authority was created in 1901 and survived until 1965 when the London Borough of Tower Hamlets took over. The Jewish East End was largely within the boundaries of the Borough of Stepney.

Minutes of the Markets Committee – L/SMB/A/15

Includes details of market traders’ pitches. For example, in 1928, in Middlesex Street, the 1st stall outside the Essex Tavern (nine feet long) was occupied by Mordecai Hart of 7 Crispin Street. He sold confectionery and mineral waters and had been in the same position for 35 years.

Minutes of the Housing Committee – L/SMB/A/7

Includes details of applicants for housing. For example, the minutes of October 1921 details the application for the council’s newly-built Jubilee mansions. The family of Abraham Goldman of 45 Gower’s Walk, Whitechapel, who worked in Hackney, were living in two rooms. They “removed from 19 Mayland Street, Mile End Old Town, which is at the back of Jubilee Street when houses in latter street were demolished through air raid, on account of nervousness of wife and because windows of house were broken”.

Minutes of the Maternity and Child Welfare Committee - L/SMB/A/14

Includes details of families, their income and applications for support. For example, the Chicofsky family of 79 Jubilee Street, had an income of five shillings and two pence per head after deducting rent. They were successful in their application to the Council’s scheme for Free Milk with an allowance of two pints of milk per day.

Staff Registers - L/SMB/B/4

The Council’s staff registers contain detailed information relating to employees, many of whom were Jewish. For example, Morris Aaronovitch of 523 Commercial Road, was appointed the Second Despatch Clerk in the Electricity Supply Section of the Borough Treasurer’s Department, on a salary of £100. He had obtained a Royal Society of Arts certificate for Shorthand in 1920 (60 words per minute), and that he resigned his position in October 1929.

Rate Books - L/SMB/C/2

Arranged by address, these give the names of the occupiers and owners and property as well as details of the property’s value.

Few rate books and valuation lists have survived for Stepney compared with those for Bethnal Green and Poplar. But there are valuation lists for 1910 and 1935.

Most local school records, including those of the Jews’ Free School, are held at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA/4046). But a growing number has deposited their records at THLHLA.

These include the records of The Central Foundation Girls’ School (I/CFS), now in Bow Road but formerly in Spital Square. The admission registers, covering the periods, 1888-1907 and 1932-1945, include details of Jewish pupils.

These are documents which record the transfer of land or property between individuals, and the details of the transaction. They include personal names, dates, the costs involved and sometimes plans or maps of a local area.

Most of these have been indexed by surname. The index is only accessible in the reading room. But a large part of it can also be searched on our online catalogue).

For example, in 1870, Barnet Solomon Cohen of 9 Magdalen Row, Whitechapel was leasing out 89-91 Mansell Street, Whitechapel.

These complement our wider deed collection. For further information please refer to our Title Deeds user guide.