20 July 2009

BBC: A Jewish family's journey

Readers in the UK - or elsewhere if your cable provider offers BBC access - make sure to watch the award-winning "Coast" program on September 1.

The episode details Jewish genealogist/journalist Howard Wolinsky of Chicago as he tracks his grandfather Hillel Sragan's 1892 journey from Lithuania to Hamburg to Hull (UK), and finally to Boston. The same path was followed by millions migrating to the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia.

Howard emailed me the following and it makes for a fascinating read:

Last year, BBC flew him to Hull to appear in a Coast segement about his grandfather's journey from Kedain to Boston. The network hired Nick Evans (of Who Do You Think You Are? fame) to research Howard's grandfather Hillel Sragan, who became Henry Wolinsky in Massachusetts.

That's an important, as each time I send a WOLINSKY researcher to Howard, he reminds me that they are really SRAGAN !

Nick found all kinds of interesting things, such as how my grandfather started on his journey just before a cholera outbreak that would close the ports in Europe. Nick found a clipping on a case of cholera diagnosed first in Paris, I think. Immigration was shut off for a time afterward. Had my grandfather been delayed, it's possible he never would have made it.
Nick was even able to describe the sights and smells his grandfather experienced on the small steamer (SS Sprite.)

The episode shows what immigrants experienced as they approached the port of Hull, were processed, stayed overnight and sent by train to Liverpool, where they continued their journeys.

The show helped Howard recreate his grandfather's journey by taking him out on the North Sea and then into Hull:

"...creating the journey through the town to a kosher eatery along cobblestone streets and on to the waiting area in a train station that is now a pub honoring the local soccer club. Nick was my guide, starting at the docks in Hull."
When Nick was in Chicago for the 2008 international Jewish genealogy conference, Howard was his guide, returning the favor and took Nick on a Chicago river tour of the genetic cousins which I also enjoyed as an "honorary" genetic cousin!

Howard also mentioned a major breakthrough following an unsuccessful 10-year search. Via tips on wildcard computer tricks from his genetic cousins, Rebekah Canada and Jill Whitehead, he discovered - despite the dreadful manglings of his grandfather's name - how and when he arrived in the US.

The episode should be fascinating for all genealogists, whether or not they have a link to Hull. Later in the year, Howard will be writing on the experience and research for both Ancestry and Avotaynu, so there's more to anticipate.

Howard will also appear in a BBC radio interview in Hull in conjunction with the show.

Unfortunately, Howard won't be able to see the televised episode as he'll be en route to New Zealand via Tahiti.

For more information on the program, click here:

Produced once again by BBC Birmingham, and co-produced by The Open University, the long-awaited new series will broaden Coast’s horizons still further. The eight programmes will continue to introduce the audience to fresh, untold stories around our own shores, but will also feature the coastlines of neighbouring countries, with whom Britain traditionally has had a close affinity.
For more on Howard's episode, click here:

Neil Oliver discovers how 19th century Hull became the Heathrow of its day, serving as a vital transit route to America for millions of refugees. Between 1870 and 1914, Hull was a lifeline for millions desperate to escape oppression in Eastern Europe, and make a fresh start on the other side of the world. Neil joins Howard Wolinsky on his journey to retrace the footsteps of his Jewish grandfather from Lithuania to Boston, via Hull, in a bid to escape the brutal repression of Czarist Russia. ... .
Mark your calendars for September 1 if you have BBC access.

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