Friday, 20 June 2014

You don't know what you don't know...

You don’t know what you don’t know until someone tells you and then you realise that for all those years you never knew that you didn't know. Let me explain...

The title proper of my Cemetery Project is Lives Behind the Stones. This was the original interest, before we started filling in the Heritage Lottery Fund application. As we wrote down our plans we realized that we needed first to catalogue the entire cemetery, set up a database with basic information about all the graves etc. We have just about done those things and so we’ve moved on to the most interesting part; finding out about the lives behind the stones.

Some of the deceased have family still living in the community and so, rather than researching files, folders and internet sites, I’ve been visiting, chatting and gathering their stories together. That was when I realized that I didn’t know what I didn’t know… but now I do and, yes, I am going to share.

Before the war there was a street in Leicester called Wharf Street. It was a busy shopping street full of character. One of the shops belonged to a man called Sam Jacobs, the grandfather of a friend who is also a member of my project team, so I went to speak to my friend's father to find out more about Sam Jacobs.

Sam Jacobs had a shop selling ladies fashion wear. We talked a bit about the shop and about Wharf Street and then my friend’s father became animated as he remembered that his father would get the clothes altered for the customers by two sisters who lived in London. These sisters also made dresses for his mother for special occasions. They must have been very good dressmakers, I thought. My friend’s father continued,

“I was the one who was sent down to London. I was only a lad. I had to take the dresses that needed altering and bring back all the work they’d done. Then when war broke out,” he said, “They came to Leicester to escape the bombs. They stayed here after the war was over and carried on working for my father. They were two sisters, little ladies, foreign, spoke Yiddish. Their names were…”

And then I stopped him because I knew what their names were and I was right. They were good. They were my Grandma and my Great Aunt. I talked about them here a few years ago, about their private dressmaking workshop and the way I used to ‘help’ by picking up pins but I never knew that they were doing business with someone from Leicester long before war broke out. I never knew why my family chose Leicester when they evacuated from London but now I do. They had business contacts here. It’s amazing what you find out when you’re least expecting it.

On the left is a photograph of my Grandma Bessie and on the right is a photograph of my Great Auntie Alice. These were the two sisters who worked for Sam Jacobs all those many many years ago.


  1. what a wonderful coincidence Ros...and what a story! I remember you've spoke of their work it's lovely to see their photographs.......

  2. That's fascinating! I'm also deep in family history at the moment so find these things really interesting.

  3. Isn't it wonderful, the stories that can creep out from behind the stones if only we are ready to listen to them!

  4. Wonderful story. I love social history. My nephew made a film "The Tribe" about the Jews of Leeds and interviewed many people who told their stories. It is amazing how events change the route of the lives of ordinary people.

  5. small, small world. That is an amazing story. They looked quite stylish for back in the day.
    How neat. Keep sharing these stories - this is fascinating

  6. Isn't that fantastic, Ros? What a wonderful new insight for you. Like finding treasure!

  7. Wow, Rosalind! What a wonderful thing to discover. The world really is smaller than we think.

  8. What a great way to find out more about your family.

    The project sounds really interesting, especially being able to talk to family and descendants.

  9. Amazing, what you didn't know but do now. Your great aunt looks very stylish and very pretty so does your grandma. I'm off to read the other post. This is turning out to be a lovely project for you.