Stuart's part time job takes up all his time

Aimée Horwich roots out genealogist Stuart Rosenblatt

GENEALOGY is something many people begin to explore in their later years - often when it is too late to discover family history first hand.

And Dubliner Stuart Rosenblatt provides help for countless Irish Jews with his genealogical database of more than 40,000 people continuing to grow.

"One thing people regret is not having asked their parents questions they want answering now," said Stuart, who has single-handedly codified 16 volumes of Irish Jewish ancestry.

"Most people don't start tracing their family roots until they are in their 40s or 50s, when they realise life is not just about themselves and their children and when they may have extra time on their hands.

"Millions of people try to trace their family history and roots, especially since the programme Who Do You Think You Are? has stimulated people to stop and ask themselves who they really are."

In 1991, the father-of-two began tracing his maternal family history and, what started out as a humble search, turned into a serious quest.

"I wanted to find out about my mother Zena Jackson's family, which turned out to be a huge search," recalled Stuart, vice president of the Irish Jewish Genealogical Society.

"It led me to various museums, including the Irish Jewish Museum and other routes of discovery - including books, which many couldn't get access to.

"So I started to codify the books into databases."

With the help of a computer programmer, Stuart created 70 different fields of information for 44,000 people, in a piece of software specifically designed for his desire to document Irish Jewry.

He explained: "Over the last 13 years I have accumulated tens of thousands of pieces of information, which have been added to individuals.

"These include their birth, death, marriages, addresses, how they lived, their Hebrew name, alien registration files and burial records.

"I've taken the whole of Ireland including Limerick, Cork, Belfast and Dublin - everything about those communities has been centralised into one database."

And Irish Jews certainly owe Stuart a debt of gratitude for his voluntary work.

"Nobody has ever attempted to codify an entire country before," he explained.

"What started off as a family quest turned out to become a national intrigue.

"I guess being meshugannah (mad) makes me carry on!"

The Peace Commissioner and businessman has prioritised his mission to collect every single piece of information and it has become an integral part of his day-to-day life.

Stuart receives around 20 emails a day, from people as far afield as America and Australia - all trying to obtain or impart information.

"It's certainly not a full-time job, but it takes up all my time," he laughed.

"Every time people make contact I'm receiving more and more information, especially from the families of immigrants who left Ireland to go to England, America and Australia.

"Now all their details are being recorded and I thoroughly enjoy doing it.

"I am happiest when I'm receiving and imparting information."

The 16 volumes cover every aspect of Irish Jewish interest, including heritage and an A-Z of Irish Jewish DNA.

Information collected also includes births from 1864 to the present day and all marriages from 1845 - although Jews have been living in Ireland since the 12th century.

"I update the records every day," said Stuart.

"If a person dies today it goes in the database today - sometimes even before they are buried."

Through his extensive research Stuart, 66, has learned about why so many Jews settled in Ireland during the latter part of the 19th century.

He explained: "A lot of people came to England wanting to get anywhere outside of Russia and with the hope of getting to America - that was the ultimate dream.

"Some stories suggest people arrived here and got off the ships to America because they were sea sick.

"Others ran out of kosher food and some were short-changed by captains who told them they had reached America, when they had actually just arrived in Cork."

But the author of the soon-to-be-released Idiots Guide to Irish Jewish Roots was an unsuspecting volunteer for such a project.

Upon starting his education at Dublin's Wesley College, his preparatory school principal told the headmaster that Stuart was "lazy" and that he was by no means one of the school's "best" pupils.

"I left Wesley College when I was 15 and was told I had 'no academic future'," Stuart recalled.

But he was made a Fellow of the Genealogical Society of Ireland in 2005 and undertook a three-year diploma in family history at University College Dublin.

Stuart's university thesis focused on the burial records of the Jewish cemetery Dophin's Barn, in Dublin, which took him six years to codify.

"One of my favourite tracing stories was about Robert Bradlaw who was in Ireland in the 1880s," said Stuart.

"He managed to get all the small shuls together to unify them into Ireland's first proper shul on St Kevin's Parade.

"He was the leader of the community and when he died he was named the 'prince of the immigrants' and the area became known as Dublin's 'Little Jerusalem'.

"When I came across his tombstone in Dophin's Barn it was blackened with age, as if nobody had visited it, which upset me because he had been forgotten about.

"But one day in Belfast I was working at Chichester House where births, deaths and marriages are registered and I overheard a person was looking for a marriage detail of the name Bradlaw.

"The person turned out to be one of Robert Bradlaw's descendants - which was fantastic."

Stuart added: "The nicest part of what I do is when I have a record just sitting on its own and I eventually join it with the rest of their family. That I find very satisfying."

But despite his tireless efforts, Stuart's work remains somewhat downplayed by Ireland's remaining Jews.

"I have had no donations, help or encouragement," he said. "It is all on my head.

"Only two people in the Irish Jewish community have made personal contact with me to see if they could give me their family details.

"Obviously this makes me feel bad.

"I've filled in a lot of missing pieces, but I need someone to continue the work when I'm gone."

Stuart explained that apart from his fellowship his genealogical work has received little recognition and he is now looking to Irish Jews who have settled in England to help him complete his puzzle.

He continued: "I have a lot of queries and unfinished information that they could give me.

"If one person can achieve what I have, then so can others."

Although he will not be producing any new volumes, Stuart has pledged to completely update volume 15 every five years.

He added: "It's in case I don't make the next five years.

"I operate a cheque cashing service in Dublin, but the genealogy is my life.

"It's like a drug - you get withdrawal symptoms if you don't get your fix during the day!"

So what drives Stuart to continue his work?

"Generations past have allowed us to live the way we do today," he explained.

"It's a privilege we have our lives today so my work is a gracious thank you to our ancestors who gave so much."

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© 2010 Jewish Telegraph