Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Tracing my Mother's Family: the early attempt

It was always in my mind to trace my mother's family. There was the letter from my grandfather to my mother written in August, 1946, describing how the letters of introduction he had written for her to his Schiff relations in England had been returned except for one, which had not been answered. When I went to live in St Albans in the autumn of 1974 I wrote to several people in London with the surname Schiff with a copy of my mother's outline family tree and several kindly replied, and I have just found their replies as I go through my papers from that period. A S. Schiff of 27, Regents Park Road wrote courteously to say their ancestor came from Poland. Dr Charles Schiff of Cortleigh in NW11 wrote similarly to say on 13th November, 1974 that his family came from Poland, from Tarnow. He added, however, that
"I was acquainted with, and indeed somewhat friendly with, a Schiff named Sydney Schiff (who was a writer, under the pen-name of Stephen Hudson, and was a friend of Proust). He wrote a long, veiled autobiography entitled 'A True Story', the first part of which outlines the family story: he came of a wealthy family, cultured and international, of bankers, distantly related to the leading bankers in the U.S.A. These Schiffs came from Frankfurt, I believe.So, too, did two brothers Otto and Ernst Schiff: prosperous bankers and philanthropists. I knew otto who was prominent in Anglo-Jewish philanthropic causes. His brother, Ernst, died before him; but Ernst's widow is still alive, I believe, and yu may find her address and telephone number in the telephone book, S-Z..."
I received a letter a week later from Mrs Betty Schiff of Sloane Street, who was Ernst's widow, saying that she did not think that we were related but that she would check with her late husband's niece in Switzerland. She wrote again on December 2nd to say that her niece in Switzerland had written that morning to say she was unaware of Samson Schiff, but that the same day she had received a visit from her late husband's second cousin from New York who was also unaware of a possible connection.
I did not follow these letters any further, and of course the writers were quite right that we are unrelated, but Dr Charles Schiff's mention of Sydney Schiff was in fact spot on, though it has taken me forty-two years to unravel it.

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