For many months I’ve been trying in vain to find time to sort out and properly follow up the precious scraps of information I gleaned from various sources at the beginning of this project, which coincided with the start of an incredibly hectic academic year. At last the summer vacation provides a breathing space, so the first thing I want to do is properly to acknowledge the great help and encouragement provided to me by the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, who were the first organization I contacted.
I was thrilled to receive an immediate reply from Harvey Kaplan, SJAC’s director, saying that just four years ago he’d done research into the history of the Glasgow Jewish Student’s Society as part of the preparation for its centenary celebrations. Samuel Grasse had been elected its first President in 1911 and Mr Kaplan had been President some sixty-six years later, so he’d taken a personal interest and written a centenary brochure which mentioned Samuel, a copy of which he very kindly sent me. At that time he’d done some research into Samuel’s life and was able to provide me with some key information:
According to the census of 1911 Samuel, then a 22 year old science student, was living in the Gorbals in Glasgow at 66 South Portland Street with his aunt Bella August, dairy keeper, and her son David. Mr Kaplan had tracked down her death certificate which showed that she’d died in 1929 aged 71 and that she was the widow of Abraham August, Dairyman, and the daughter of Michael Grasse and Sarah Cohen. The death certificate was witnessed by another of her sons, Michael. Not only that, but Mr Kaplan had somehow come across the letter heading for August Creameries.
He was also able to provide a copy of Samuel’s marriage registration, showing that he’d married in Central Station Hotel in Glasgow on 23 March 1923. His occupation was recorded as ‘solicitor and legal advisor’ and his parents’ names were Abraham Grasse, saddlery merchant, and Ita (or Eta?) Ellerstein. He married Ruth Jane Thorn-Whitelaw Muir of 30 Moray Place, Glasgow.
Finally, Mr Kaplan provided the wording from two cuttings in the Jewish Chronicle:
Jewish Chronicle: 27 June 1913
‘Mr Samuel Grasse graduated as a Master of Arts with Honours in Mathematics and Astronomy. Mr Grasse is the first Glasgow student to take Honours in the latter subject…’
Jewish Chronicle: 1 October 1943 – DEATHS
‘On September 24 1943…with tragic suddenness, Samuel Grasse MA BSc LLB LRCP & SE [?] of 55 Messina Avenue, NW6, in his 55th year. Beloved husband of Jane…sons Michael and Alfred, daughter Ethel and a large circle of friends.’
So thanks to the SJAC I now knew his parents’ names, I had a first clue to my grandmother’s story about his invention to preserve milk or cream on submarines (further discoveries about which I will blog separately), and confirmation of my impression that his Lithuanian family had been connected with the leather tanning trade. However, I was left with an even greater mystery about why Samuel had worked as a lawyer before switching completely, after so many years of study, to be a doctor. Furthermore, my beloved grandmother Jane’s first name was recorded as Ruth on the registration of marriage, something I’d never known and which I’ve since found out was due to her Jewish conversion.
Mr Kaplan told me that he thought Bella must have been the sister of Samuel’s father, Abraham, so it seems that Samuel travelled over from Lithuania (at that time occupied by Russia), presumably by ship, to lodge with his aunt and cousins who had already taken up residence in the Gorbals and were running a dairy.
Interestingly, Samuel named his first son Michael, so I wonder which of these two Michaels he was named after? And it turns out that my mother, Ethel, who always told me that this was an anglicized version of her real name, was in fact named after Samuel’s mother Ita. I wonder who Samuel’s second son Alfred was named after?
With all this new information, I am very keen to create a family tree for Samuel, to trace all his relations and to find out more about their lives and what happened to them.