The Landa Family

The Landas: Charles, his son Myer (MJ), daughter Fanny plus youngest son Dick with his own family-wife Daisy and sons Basil & Godfrey.

The following has appeared in various issues of the British Jewry Newsletter and are reproduced here with kind permission of Sherry Landa.


It all began with a birthday present and a year off work. In early 1999 I had a birthday and received a copy of the CD-ROM, Family Tree Maker. My husband thought this would be a good hobby for me during my sabbatical. At that time we were living abroad and so my father obtained the software and posted it to us. Little did the three of us know what would unfold as a result of that innocent little package.

I grew up, an only child, in a small village 20 miles from London. Everyone knew my mother, who had lived there since she was five.

When I was five, I came home from school and asked what a grandparent was. I had none, so I did not know what they were. My mother told me a lot about her parents, who had died when she was young, and I had many great-aunts and uncles who told me about their branches. However, when I asked about Dad's family, I was told some scant details, and when I pushed for more I was told to leave it, because my father had "had a hard life".

My parents brought me up as a Christian. I was baptised. I married in church. My father was secretary of the parochial church council when I was young. He was a regular church-goer and took communion; I often counted the collection with him on Sundays, after Sunday school.

My father had told me some things about the family over the years, and when I started to compile the family tree he gave me a date for his brother's birth and his parents' approximate age and date of marriage, and said that his father's sister was older than his father, but that his mother's brother was younger than she was. So, I began with the following information.

Charles Landa, a shopkeeper of Leeds, had two children, Fanny and Dick.
Fanny was married to Jack.
Dick left Leeds, and moved to London and married Daisy Gray, and their sons were my father and his brother, Basil.
I knew my father's and Basil's dates of birth and an approximate date for my grandparents' marriage.
Dick, Daisy and uncle Basil were all killed in WWII: a bomb fell on Dick and Daisy, and Basil went down on The Hood.
My father was away at war at the time. He returned to find his family dead and his sister-in-law had cleared the bank accounts, so he could not take up a place at Cambridge.

I began to check on this information. I searched the Internet and learned that The Hood was sunk in 1942, but my father had said that when his mother received the notification that he was missing in action in Crete in the spring of 1941, she had thought she had lost them both. Only when she got the notification that he was a POW did she know that she still had her younger son. The years did not match; she could not have thought she had lost both sons a year before The Hood went down.

I searched the GRO index for war dead and found no one fitting the description of my family. I wrote to London to try to find out if the address where my grandparents lived had been bombed; it had not. I searched the GRO indexes and found a marriage for Fanny Landa, which seemed right, although the groom's name did not match. I also found a few other Landa entries. I found the Landa families on the fiche of the1881 census in Leeds, and they were all born abroad.

By this time I was seriously confused. My father is quite racist and "very Christian" (if you can be both). If his family were "foreign", this seemed odd. Everyone seemed to have Jewish-sounding names, which I mentioned to him, but he reacted by telling me to drop it, I would never find anything, it was all silly. This of course made me want to dig deeper.

So, I dug and dug. I joined the Yorksgen list [1] and someone put me in touch with Murray Freedman. I made trips to the UK for vital records when I could.

Almost exactly two years ago, I made contact with Jackye Sullins in San Diego. She posted to Yorksgen about Leeds Jewry and I replied, and we struck up a friendship. We are now as close as two people can be, considering we have never actually met. We correspond all the time. We bounce ideas off each other. We also share research: I pay for her English items, and she pays for my US ones.

Then in June 1999 things began to come together within the space of a couple of weeks. Anthony Winner mailed me, saying he had Dick Landa on his tree. My certificates arrived from ONS saying that Fanny was married in a synagogue. Murray gave me marriage and burial information from Leeds Jewry databases [2]. Someone sent me some wills information.

I remember sitting reading the wills late one evening at home. It was one of those all-defining moments, the kind of thing where you remember everything almost in slow motion. I scrolled through names that I did not know. The first name I found was Alice; Alice was Dad's sister-in-law, who had died in 1955, but she was noted as wife of Basil, not widow. Then I found Daisy in 1963, three years after I was born. Then I found Uncle Basil in 1993 - I was 33 when he died!

I cannot describe what I felt, except the most fundamental kind of betrayal. I felt that my whole life had been a lie. All I wanted to do was talk to my mother, but she had passed away in 1987. She was on the list of wills too, which I think made it harder. What could I say? What could I do? Why had my father lied to me? Why had he not let me meet my uncle? Why had he pretended? Why? Why? Why?

I wrote to my father, not trusting myself to speak to him rationally. I received a very irate call in reply in which he said a lot of hurtful things, none of which actually helped with my research. We were at an impasse. He was not speaking to me; I was not speaking to him. Luckily, I had a lot of support from my husband, and from friends I had made on the Net, some of whom had found out things about their families which were even more disturbing. I began to redefine my tree: who I was, where I came from, who my family were. I searched Web sites and repositories, got look-ups and professional guidance.

My father, meanwhile, suffered a stroke and I returned to UK. It was a double-edged event; suddenly he was not omnipotent and 'in charge', and he needed me. It also gave me a chance to go to the PRO and find the naturalisations I wanted.

At the same time Anthony Winner put me in touch with Uncle Basil's son Clive, my first cousin. We had not known of each other's existence. Something happened between our fathers and neither would talk about the other. Basil had told Clive that he thought my father was in Australia. My cousin and I also met up with a distant relation on our great-grandmother's side. She was most helpful with little stories; although she did not fully seem to understand what it was like not to know things. However, she staunchly refuses to tell us exactly what had happened. Back in February, Jackye had a problem. She was at what seemed like a dead end with some research concerning a woman who married twice in Leeds, whose first husband's death she had tried unsuccessfully to find. I was trying to help her, writing cheques for death certificates for every Barnet Cohen that ever died. In the end we were in such a mess that I suggested she should mail me all her documents, as possibly something would leap out at me that she had over-looked. She had not looked at some of them for years, so she dug them out, scanned them and e-mailed them to me. I searched them, not seeing anything until the second marriage.

One of the witnesses to the second marriage was a name that looked to me like "C Landa". It was a hand-written extraction and not very legible. I e-mailed her right away and asked about it, and she replied that she thought it said "C Laniola". I asked my husband and he said he could see what she meant. So I faxed ONS and asked them to send me the certificate. It arrived ten days later and the signature was most definitely C Landa. My great-grandfather's shop was in the same street as the bride was living. She was a tailoress, he a draper. I was so pleased, so thrilled and so spooked. What on earth must the chances be of that happening? An ancestor witnesses a marriage in 1890 and 111 years later two of the descendants of the witness and the bride are chatting to each other on the Internet!

Amazingly, this is not the end of the story. Last November Dad turned 80 and I made him a book of the tree with photos of gravestones and photos of him he did not know I had. In the book his father's brother, Myer, is mentioned. However, Dad never reacted to this or to the book, in general. He just thanked me, said it was nice and would I put it in a safe place. Then the breakthrough came.

I decided to tell my Dad about Charles Landa turning up as a marriage witness in Jackye's marriage. He said it was a little bit strange, to say the least, and we chatted about marriage witnesses in general. I was telling him about something once posted on JewishGen about the witnesses sometimes being different on the religious copy from those on the civil copy and why, and I was just chatting about synagogues and churches. Then he suddenly said that after his grandfather died his father came to London to be with his uncle (his father's brother). He had never admitted before that his father had a brother! From there, we have been able to talk about the family and about some of the events and motivations. My father still will not admit to being brought up as a Jew, but we have made some progress. There has been no shouting or hurtful things being flung into the conversation or outright bans on speaking about it, as there were in the past.

Over the last 18 months we have reached a peace. By biding my time and picking my moments, and above all not letting him know how hurt I felt, nor seeking revenge, we have come to some sort of understanding. I would say our relationship is the best it has ever been. I do not put up with his bullying any more and he knows it. He knows I know about the family and he has failed to stop me researching more.

I still do not know if my mother knew my father was born Jewish and brought up in an Orthodox Jewish household.

The Internet is a powerful tool. When I joined Yorksgen over two years ago a chain of events was set in motion. Mine is not a story of a tree back to Adam, using the IGI; mine is the story of how a whole life can change and how the Internet can help you, not just to access records, but possibly far more importantly to access people. A network of help and support is there for you, at your fingertips. You can find support in whatever way you need it, professional researchers, free look-ups, advice, databases, emotional support or just a chat.

Mine is also a story of how information can mislead. You should not always believe what you are told, or what a certificate says. You should question everything and take nothing for granted. I received a mail last week which, in part, said "From the 7th generation down to the bottom, these have come from census records, and word of mouth from family members, so all these are OK. " I did not dispute it, but if it was a part of my tree, I would. I still have a lot to learn about my family, but now I do at least have a tree which bears some relationship to the truth, whatever that is. I have ancestors of whom I can be proud.

This article can be read, in its entirety, in the June 2001 issue of Shemot (Volume 9,2).


Since the original publication of the above article, five years ago, the story has of course continued. My father died two years ago, never having read the article. He knew it existed and that I had met my cousin, and his cousin. He often asked me to let him read it, and I "forgot" to bring it with me on innumerable occasions. I could not face what his reaction might have been when he read what I had written about our relationship and my feelings on the subject. He knew that I knew he was born Jewish, and that I continued to research my familyís origins. He remained guarded about his past and he died without telling me what had led him to leave his family and refuse so adamantly to talk about them. Even at the last, I was hoping for some sort of death-bed "confession"; some sort of explanation which would finally put to rest all my questions. It never came. My father died quickly, within 36 hours of being admitted to hospital, in March 2004. He had been around so long and been through so much, I felt he was indestructible; he could not die! I was with him at the end. I felt sad for the loss of the opportunity to build a better relationship with him. However, I know if he had lived to be 100 that would not have happened. I had done everything in my power, but he did not want to tell me his secrets and eventually, with the finality of his death, it was time for me to accept that fact.

Afterwards, I applied to the MOD for his service records and then I found his Chaplainís Records. It seems there was another deception. According to both, my father never was at Dunkirk - but that doesnít detract from his being a Jew at war. In a way, itís sad that I had to wait until he had died before I was able to apply for his records. I suppose that, if things had been different between us, I would have felt able to ask his permission to apply for them. Since his death, I have had to come to terms with the fact that things will never move on. I have been in touch with various people, to try to help me understand what a Jew at war went through and what conditions in POW camps were like. I continue to learn little snippets of information of a generic variety; long may it continue. Finally, I have come to accept that there are some things I will never know about my father and his family: I have to move on. I am still in intermittent contact with my cousins. I am able to see my father in a less harsh light; to talk about him and try to explain, without prejudice, how he was as a person. You can read a little more about this aspect in my "Lest We Forget" piece.

Jackye and I continue in our firm friendship. We co-own British Jewry and are proud of its success. We continue to research and brainstorm together. Our second meeting is planned for 2007. Despite occasional phases when we communicate less with each other, due to other pressures, we remain as close as ever -inextricably joined at the hip! You may or may not believe that we are all reincarnated, that we keep coming back to live out new lives with other souls we have previously encountered. Judging by the serendipitous circumstances of how Jackye and I found each other and our ancestral connection, there is certainly something going on. Perhaps in my next life Iíll find out everything Iím missing in this one. I live in hope!


I said it would happen. I knew it would happen, eventually. As sure as eggs were eggs it had to happen. If I kept going long enough, and wide enough, eventually the ALD and I would merge. Then, finally, we did. I wrote about the ALD (All Leeds Database) and the life it has of its own, in issue 9 of the B-J News. Obviously, I have family already in the ALD: they were its starting blocks. The LANDA family are there, and some of their in-laws who were born or raised or died or saw a rugby match in Leeds. Then there are the in-laws of the in-laws and so on, and that is how the ALD developed. However, I always felt that, eventually, I would make a connection that started on the ALD and went to my tree, rather than the other way around. My tree is entitled A Hedge. Periodically, I get it out and look at it. Then I put it away again. For years it has sat, turning orange in autumn and green again in spring, but not getting any new twigs, or branches. A Hedge is in a sort of permanent state of waiting. It sits and waits for some long destroyed records in Lithuania to miraculously turn up - in English - and be posted to the internet. It waits for some cousin ten times removed to email that he or she has documentation of all my family back to the time of Adam and Eve to share. It waits, and nothing happens. Lifeís a bit like that, isnít it?

When Iím away from home, I always work on the ALD - days and days of more or less uninterrupted data typing. I flit about to get away from the sheer boredom. I have a spurt of doing burials, then I switch to censuses or marriages, and sometimes I pick a family or two and juggle three Excel files and about ten worksheets. At Christmas I was working on burials. They are quite depressing. They are also a pain because the book has about eight sheets which canít easily be merged because the data format differs from page to page. I "did" Mariempoler because itís short, and I had a go at Hilltop because itís quite short too, but I missed big chunks out because I was getting bored. Then I decided to change tack. I had got to Z on Hilltop so I thought Iíd have a go at doing all the Z surnames from everything - there couldnít be that many and it might make me feel better to actually complete something. When I got to ZACKLIN I found a fatherless family in the 1901 census, with a mother Betsy and some children all born in Manchester. I had to look for the rest of the family in previous censuses there.

They were easy to find: in 1891, there were more children, older. I looked in 1881: again, there were more children, older. So I looked in 1871 - and my search was over. I saved the files to the computer and checked Free BMD for all events between 1865 and 1950, with any variant spelling. Then I started typing in the census stuff. I found the father was Levi. I added the older children, refined details of the younger ones and checked BMD for them all. I managed to merge two individuals in ALD, both for one of the elder daughters, who had her father listed as Judah, not Levi, on her marriage certificate. I checked her details, and the two individuals were definitely one and the same, so I merged them and carried on. I had four possible marriage references for the children in locations other than Leeds. I went back on line and checked the possible spouses. I checked two of the children in 1901 to find which partners they married; I checked Jewish Genís UK databases too. I noted the spouses. I put in the 1895 marriage of one son and his details from the 1901 census - verifying the wife. I tried looking for a daughter but couldnít find her under either spouse on BMD, so had to give up. That left one daughter, the youngest, Esther. She appeared to have been married in 1907 in London - but to whom? Without the 1911 census to search, I had left her till last as a sure dead end. The husband was either Solomon BORNSTEIN or Samuel GORDON.

I have a Samuel GORDON in A Hedge; heís related to me in two ways. One of his sisters, Annie - Aunt Naomi of The Jewish World - was married to my great-uncle Myer (MJ) LANDA.
In addition, his mother, Bertha, was my great grandfatherís sister; Bertha PULVER married AE GORDON, Chazzan of the Great Synagogue.
Berthaís brother was Henry PULVER who was the father of my grandmother, Daisy, who married MJís brother - my grandfather - Dick (Isaac) LANDA.
There was something vaguely familiar about the name Esther ZACKLIN, and 1907 would have been about right for a marriage. As I opened A Hedge I had that tingly feeling in the pit of my stomach. I thought, at the least, even if Samuel had married someone else in 1907, I could still tie Esther to Solomon BORNSTEIN. On Samuelís page I found that his spouse had been written as Esther ZICHLIN. The marriage year was given as 1907 and the source was a JC obituary for Samuel in 1927.

I have found nothing further in the JC on Esther ZICHLIN beyond the engagement and marriage to Samuel, and his obituary. I canít find any ZACKLIN entries for her siblings or her parents. To me, this doesnít matter. The point is, finally, after almost five years I have managed to find a link out of the ALD to my tree and A Hedge has, at last, grown a new branch.


In Edition 3 of B-J News (page 12), June Solntseff wrote an interesting little piece on handwriting genes. She discussed certain characteristics of her familyís handwriting which seem to be duplicated through the generations. She backed it up with a quotation from another researcher saying his direct lines all had the same way of writing certain letters. At school I was taught to write by hand, with a pen, the old-fashioned way, and I was actually quite good at it. I do a fair bit of it in my job as a teacher. I am pretty neat and tidy; my letters are uniform in size although my handwriting can change with my mood and the pens and paper I am using. My handwriting is nothing like the handwriting of either of my parents.

Ever since I first started researching my family, back in early 1999, I have been trying to link my Charles LANDA of Leeds, with a David LANDA who was in Leeds in 1881: I have done a lot of negative research. I know David was not a child of Charles, I know he was not a brother. I have also found out a lot about David, but I have yet to find a positive relationship to Charles. It seems highly likely they were related, cousins or uncle/nephew seem the most likely relationships but, search as I might, I cannot work back beyond Davidís father Barnet/Baruch and Charlesí father Avrohom Elieíezer to prove a relationship.

Not to be deterred, I have forward-searched from David. The search led me to Australia and two of his sons, Abram and Maurice. Both were born in Belfast in the early 1900s and moved with their mother to Australia in about 1912, after their father Davidís death. Abram went into politics and is quite well documented. Maurice was a business man. Using the National Archives of Australia, I was able to trace some paperwork relating to these brothers and, and having viewed some records on-line, I also sent for some others to be released. Amongst these I have received signed papers relating to both brothers.

Imagine my amazement then when I saw that Abramís signature resembled my fatherís. I was even more surprised when I saw Mauriceís though. It might as well have been actually written by my father! It was as though someone said to him, "Here, Godfrey, sign this in the name of Maurice Landa!"

I wonder to what extent this phenomenon is purely generational or educational methodology. I have thought about this. I would obviously need to do a large-scale project of the signatures of many people born between, say, 1900 and 1925 who were not related, and compare them to see if it is purely an historical timeframe phenomenon. I am not sure how feasible this is. I wonder what the real chances are of two men born in 1902 and 1905, educated in Belfast and New South Wales, having such similar signatures to a man born in London in 1920 and educated there. I wonder, too, are these signatures actually the link I have been searching for. Could they be the proof that David Landa was related to Charles Landa?


MORE   About the Database.
Background on how it all began and how it turned out.

MANHAM   The Manham Family.
Theresa Stewart shares some of her research stories on this fascinating family.

RAISMAN   The Raisman Family.
John Raisman writes about his family history, plus a book review by Naomi Barnett.

LANDA   The Landa Family.
Sherry Landa has written numerous pieces about her own family history research which was the precursor of the Leeds Database .

IMMIGRATION   To Leeds from Lithuania & Latvia.
Angie Elfassi shares a momentous trip.

MORE   On Engagements, Betrothals & Forthcoming Marriage Announcements.
How many announcements in the press, were actually followed up with a marriage? Not as many as you might think according to this article by Sherry Landa.

JOSEPH   Jewish Genealogy in Leeds-from Abroad.
The story of Jonny Joseph's research journey.


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