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Smorgon Stories

By Keneth Zucker

It all really started with Myra Rothenberg of New York.
She embarked on the task of seeking to establish that all the families with the surname "Brudno" are connected. That name is not common but not sufficiently uncommon to automatically establish that anyone bearing it must be related.

It so happens that my wife's maiden name was Brudno. I had always sworn that I would not get involved in her family history. I had enough to do with my own. I would leave her side of it to her and and my daughter. It was not, of course, the feeling that if I did so nothing would be done. Certainly not. However the genealogical bug is inclined to bite. It bit me. So I embarked on the extensive ramifications of the descendants of my wife's grandfather Yekutiel Zussman Brudno, Rabbi of Rozalimas in Lithuania from about 1880 to 1923. Hence the net widely flung by Myra enmeshed me.

So it was that I stumbled across a puzzle that Sherlock Holmes himself might have found worthy of a solution; because not one but four Brudnos (or in one case to be precise Brudnow) came to England from Eastern Europe between about 1867 and 1913. The records at Kew revealed that three of them individually and at different times adopted the name of Bradlaw. That in itself might suggest a connection. But although several of their descendants believed that there might be one no one could produce any evidence.

The four bearers of the name each had an interesting history

The eldest Robert Brudno arrived here in about 1867. He had been born on 22 February 1840 in Smorgon in what was then part of the Russian Empire and is now in Belarus. By 1881 he was using the name Robert Bradlaw. He had moved with his family to Dublin in 1880 where he practised as a Dentist. He became one of the leading members of the Dublin Jewish community. He was the founder of the St. Kevins Parade synagogue and the Dolphins Barn cemetry where he is buried. An obituary referred to him as the "Prince of the foreign community". One of his grandsons was Sir Robert Bradlaw, Dean of the Eastman Dental School from 1959 to 1970.

Eliana Sydes who is married to a great great grandson of Robert Bradlaw has written a thoroughly researched and very comprehensive history of Robert Bradlaw and his descendants. That history has provided me with many facts and leads without which this article could not have been written.

Leopold Brudno was born in 1878 in Plunge in Lithuania. He took the name Lawrence Bradlaw in 1895 prior to going on stage to play character parts in Shakespearean companies.

Henry (formerly Hirsch) Brudno was born in Rozalimas in Lithuania on 5 March 1891, the seventh and last but one child of Yekutiel Zussman Brudno. He received semicha from the Slavodka Yeshiva at the age of 19. He came to England in 1913. He matriculated at Jews College and then studied medicine at Queen's University, Belfast. He supported himself in his early years here by teaching Hebrew and Talmud. One of his pupils was Israel Brodie, later Chief Rabbi. After years as a locum in the Welsh valleys he became a highly respected South East London GP. He alone kept the name Brudno which is how my wife his daughter acquired it.

George Brudnow was born on 15 September 1892 in Propoisk in the district of Mogilev which was then part of the Russian Empire but is now in Belarus. At some time before he obtained his Certificate of Naturalization on 14 May 1927 he had adopted the name George Bradlaw. He was called to the Bar and spent most of his working life as legal counsel to the Palestine (Israel) Electric Company.

It is part of the puzzle that the name "Bradlaw" was adopted by three of the Brudnos. The fact that they did so at dates set well apart could imply that it was by more than a coincidence

Eliana Sydes ingeniously suggests (p.15 of her history) that Bradlaw could be derived from the Hebrew name Brudno. If that were correct it could rule out the inference that all took the same name by reason of a family connection. However Brudno is not a Hebrew name but is Polish. Even if it were Hebrew it would be quite impossible to derive Bradlaw from Brudno. The reason most Jews changed their names was to replace a foreign sounding name with an English one. Often, of course, they looked for a name which might reflect in some way their original name. Bradlaw meets that purpose but many other names could have been chosen. Eliana's suggestion that Robert Brudno was impressed by the MP Charles Bradlaugh, newly elected in 1881 and adapted his name may well be correct: particularly as the name Bradlaw appears to have been used by Robert for the first time in the 1881 census.

The change of name is a pointer but not by itself sufficient to establish a link.

I believe that there is strong anecdotal evidence supported by available records to show a connection between the families of Robert Bradlaw, George Bradlaw and Henry Brudno. The keys are the city of Dublin and the name Sylvia. Who was she?

Robert Bradlaw's connection with Dublin I have already set out.

Looking back through my correspondence I came across a letter from George Bradlaw's daughter Ruth Giller who had written to me in 1998. She said that her father was born Eliachum Getz Brudno. She wrote "My father spoke of family in Dublin (Sylvia?)…"

If I could find a Dublin Sylvia in Robert Bradlaw's family I would have gone a long way to establishing a connection between the families of Robert and George Bradlaw.

Sylvia and Dublin also ocurred in a different context. My wife Ruth told me that she could remember two members of the Wigoder family who were relatives of her parents visiting her home in Brockley,South East London in the early 1950s. Her memory is that their first names were Robert and Sylvia and that Robert Wigoder had a medical practice in Catford. This was particularly intriguing because the Wigoders were a well known Dublin family.

Could I establish a link between the Wigoders and the Bradlaws? If I could I would have linked the family of Henry Brudno to that of Robert Bradlaw. Obviously as the surname was Wigoder it could only be through a daughter of Robert Bradlaw marrying into the Wigoder family.

I turned back to Eliana's history of her family. She relates that Robert Bradlaw's elder daughter was Jessie Bella Bradlaw born on 22 December 1872.

So to the archives of the Jewish Chronicle. Its edition of 6 October 1893 includes the announcement of the engagement of Jessie Bella Bradlaw to S.G. Wigoder MD of Dublin.

Eureka! There is the Bradlaw/Wigoder connection. But what about Sylvia?

The Jewish Chronicle again came to the rescue. On 1 June 1934 it recorded the sudden death of Dr. George Selig Wigoder aged 70. He had been president of the Dublin United Hebrew Congregation. It referred to two sons Dr. L Wigoder and Mr. R Wigoder and a daughter Dr. Sylvia Wigoder. We have now identified a Sylvia - the granddaughter of Robert Bradlaw. But was she the Sylvia who visited my wife's home.

The Jewish Chronicle again. On 15 April 1977 it carried a short obituary of Dr. Robert Wigoder describing him as a Catford GP born in Dublin in 1906. He was a founder member of the Catford Synagogue with which he was associated for over 40 years.

The tie in is complete because of my wife's memory that their visitor Robert Wigoder had a Catford medical practice and that his sister was Sylvia and because of Ruth Giller's reference to "family in Dublin (Sylvia?)…"

To my own satisfaction at least I have established that both the families of George Bradlaw and Henry Brudno are related to that of Robert Bradlaw.

I have not so far in this article established a direct connection between the families of George Bradlaw and Henry Brudno. But this part of the puzzle is easily solvable because my wife recalls that George Bradlaw and his family visited her family on a number of occasions at their home and that she and her family were invited and went to the wedding of George Bradlaw's niece Miriam (the daughter of his sister Bessie) when she married the historian Lionel Kochan. They were always known as relatives.

To sum up - there is evidence that both the families of George Bradlaw and Henry Brudno are related to the family of Robert Bradlaw. The family of Henry Brudno is related to the family of George Bradlaw. When there is added in the fact that when they changed their names both Robert and George adopted the name Bradlaw the case for a connection between all three families is a strong one.

A connection with Lawrence Bradlaw has only the change of name to support it.

I am, of course, conscious that I have not yet found in earlier generations direct evidence of a common ancestry: but I already have two further pieces of evidence which points to one.

Robert Bradlaw came from Smorgon. Smorgon Yizkor book entries show a number of Brudnos. The death certificate of Yekutiel Zussman Brudno's wife Chaya Hella Brenner describes her as "of the Smorgon community". I strongly suspect that Yekutiel Zussman himself came from Smorgon where he found his wife and the records of that shtetl, if I can find them, will reveal his common ancestry with that of Robert Bradlaw.

Finally George Bradlaw's father was Chaim Yitzhak Brudno born in 1861.

Two of the grandchildren of Yekutiel Zussman Brudno and Chaya Hella Brenner who married in about 1879 were named Chaim Yitzhak; the same names as those of George Bradlaw's father. Another common factor between those two families given the practice of naming children after dead relatives.

There is a great deal of work still to be done. Watch this space.