Papers of Edward Gelles (1927 - , Balliol 1944)
Balliol College Photograph (1947, detail) - Edward Gelles sitting in the front row, 3rd from right
Photograph by Gillman & Soame (1947), reproduced with permission.
This collection comprises the research papers of Edward Gelles, supporting his extensive publications on Jewish European history and genealogy as listed below. It has not yet come to Balliol College. The collection catalogue will be made available from this web page and the collection will be open to researchers when the papers have been received into the archives and appropriately processed.
Edward Gelles writes: 'I was born in Vienna in 1927 and came to England with my parents in 1938. We became British subjects in 1949. My father, Dr David Gelles, was an advocate in Vienna and the descendant of generations of rabbis. My mother, Regina Griffel, came from a family which had extensive timber and oil interests in Galicia and beyond.
'I have spent most of my adult life in London. I was educated at the City of Oxford High School, Haberdasher’s Aske’s School in Hampstead, and Balliol College, Oxford, where I was a Brackenbury Scholar and read Chemistry, obtaining my MA and DPhil degrees in 1951. I was a post-doctoral research fellow at University College London, a research associate at the University of California, Berkeley, and a lecturer at Glasgow University. My enduring interests include fine art and antiques, European history, and genealogy.
'My published work, reflecting these varied interests, includes more than twenty articles on physical chemistry in scientific journals, a small book on nursery furniture and some magazine articles on collecting antiques, and, more recently, six books and over forty articles on Jewish history and genealogy, which are the fruit of researches extending over fifteen years.'
Edward Gelles writes: 'The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York has a fragment of the records of the Rabbinical Court in Brody (in Galicia). This manuscript opened up searches for my paternal Gelles rabbinical line. On my mother’s side, my ancestor Saul Wahl, scion of the Katzenellenbogen Chief Rabbis of Renaissance Padua and Venice, ‘came alive’ in the pages of the manuscript written by an 18th century descendent that is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.
'From these starting points I followed the course of traditional genealogical research in studying personal and property records in archives all over Europe, records (Pinkas) and memorial (Yizkor) books of individual Jewish communities, tombstone inscriptions, town censuses, tax, and business records, ships’ manifests, specialist monographs and ephemera such as old newspapers and private correspondence. These searches gradually built up a picture of many families linked by intermarriages during their millennial migrations across Europe.
'The results of my genealogical work came naturally to be set against the background of a wider European history. Essential ancillary studies to Jewish genealogy are onomastics, the study of Jewish names and naming customs, and the new and increasingly important supporting role of DNA tests, which have clarified some of the links suggested by traditional methodology.'
Edward Gelles speaking at Launch of his latest book, January 2016. Text (PDF)
Video on Voices from Oxford: Sir Drummond Bone talking to Edward Gelles, March 2016
The use of DNA tests in support of genealogical and historical research is becoming increasingly widespread as available commercial tests are improved and the size of data bases continues to grow. Companies such as 23andme, Ancestry.com, and FamilyTreeDNA provide tests for Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA, autosomal and X-DNA. Other web sites, including pre-eminently GEDmatch, offer a range of utilities for using these data to advance studies in both genealogy and genetic anthropology.
Where the emphasis in my work has been on Jewish origins and connections, I might mention some basic applications of DNA tests. Firstly, Y-DNA tests which relate to direct male (father to son) descent.
Millennial migrations across the European continent resulted in the geographical and cultural categorisation of Jews into Mizrachi (near eastern), Sephardic (Iberian) and Ashkenazi (central and east European), who underwent further dispersions and admixtures while retaining much of their common origins.
A division of Jews in earliest times separated the priestly Kohanim (HaKohen or Katz), their assistant Levites (Halevi or Halevi Segal), and Israelites of the other tribes. A majority of Kohanim are of the J1 or J2 haplogroup (that define ancient genetic group origins). Individuals who claim to be of direct male Levitic descent are found to come from one or other of several haplogroups. My forebears include both Kohens and Levites but not in the direct male line. Among the Levites, the Halevi Horowitz belong to Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1a, a group which is discussed on the Levite DNA web site run by Jeffrey D Wexler, where summaries of other work on this subject can be found.
My own Y-DNA haplogroup is R-M124, previously referred to as R2a. This genetic group, which is relatively rare among Ashkenazi Jews, is generally believed to go back many thousands of years to India and Persia.
I am a 6th generation direct line male descendant of an 18th century scholar of the prestigious talmudical study group known as the Brody Klaus. The scholar's name was Menachem Mendel Levush and he married a daughter of a Rabbi Shmuel Gelles. He was subsequently known as Moses Gelles and for two generations his progeny were called either Levush or Gelles. The epithet of Levush most probably refers to descent from the important 16th century Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe of Prague and the title of his magum opus. The latter's family came from Bologna. Various Jaffe were in Spain, in Sicily, and elsewhere in early times.
My family name could have been styled Gelles-Levush and my YDNA haplogroup may go back to Jaffe. There is indeed some evidence that a Jaffe of a rabbinic family deemed to have direct descent from Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe was found to be of Y-DNA haplogroup R2a.
Rabbi Shmuel Gelles of Siemiatycze was a direct descendant of Rabbi Uri Feivush ben David of Vilna, who became Nasi (head) of the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem in the mid 17th century.
The adoption of a wife's or father-in-law's second name was quite common among Jews in certain periods. Y-DNA tests can be used for investigating such genealogical issues.
In my book, Meeting my Ancestors (2011) I discuss these matters, including confirmation of the connection between my Gelles line and that of the 18th century Chasidic leader Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz. A direct descendant of a line of Gelles cousins who took the name of Polonsky from the town of Polonnoye, was found to have a very close Y-DNA match with me. This match with Dr Jeffrey Mark Paull provided valuable support for our common descent from Rabbi Moses Gelles of Brody, whose genealogical connections had been put forward in my earlier publications.
Another example of informative Y-DNA matches relates to my maternal grandmother's Wahl family from Tarnobrzeg in Austrian Galicia. Town censuses of the late 19th and early 20th centuries identify half a dozen Wahl families who were believed to have common roots. I compared autosomal DNA matches of confirmed Wahl cousins with two men of other Wahl families. The results showed a modest amount of shared autosomal DNA. But the Y-DNA tests yielded the interesting results that the two other Wahl probands had very close J1 Kohanic matches. Their nearest common ancestor was a Kohen, who may have married a Wahl and whose issue maintained the Wahl name (The Jewish Journey :A Passage through European History, chapter 22).
Following the completion of the above mentioned book my studies have continued in a number of directions, with DNA tests often assuming an important supporting role. For example, I might cite my latest findings of autosomal DNA matches for a close Gelles cousin, Dr Stuart Rothenberg, who is a grandson of my paternal aunt Bertha Gelles.
The first chart in the appended file shows Horowitz-Weinstein descent to me, to my first cousin Elsa Gellis Schmaus, and to Stuart Rothenberg and Susan Lee Weinstein, who are respectively my first cousin once removed, and my second cousin once removed. Stuart shows a 34 cM X-DNA match with Elsa Gellis Schmaus, this DNA deriving from Rabbi Hirsch Leib Weinstein and Gittel Horowitz, but there is no shared X-DNA with me or with Susan Lee because X-DNA can pass from male to female but not from male to male.
The second chart shows autosomal DNA matches between myself, Elsa, and Stuart and significant matches with some Oppenheim and Wertheimer probands, indicative of 18th century common ancestors. This is added material to the detailed discussion of the affinity of my paternal ancestors with the line of descent from Moses Mendelssohn and his grandson Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and with their in–laws who include Oppenheimer, Salomon, Itzig (Jaffe) and others (The Jewish Journey, chapter 15).
In two earlier paperbacks, Family Connections: Gelles-Horowitz –Chajes (2008) and Gelles-Shapiro-Friedman (2009), I put forward connections to Horowitz and Friedman that were largely based on strong circumstantial evidence. In view of the scarcity of primary documentation, it has been very gratifying to find support from DNA tests for my proposed connections (The Jewish Journey, chapter 21).
My third appended chart shows Horowitz descent to Edward Gelles, Naftali Horowitz, and Israel Friedman, the latter being a great-grandson of the eponymous Grand Rabbi of Czortkow with whom my grandfather Rabbi Nahum Uri Gelles was closely associated in Vienna. My family and the Friedman dynasty have old connections not only with Horowitz but also with Katzenellenbogen and Shapiro.
The fourth appended chart shows chromosome 22 and X-DNA matches of myself with Naftali Horowitz, Israel Friedman, and Louisa Krupp (of Horowitz and Shapiro descent).
Items relevant to my continued study of Gelles - Horowitz connections and with the Friedman chasidic dynasty include the following:
I have studied autosomal DNA matches of about a hundred probands. These include many members of my wider family circle. I have established a good case for my old family connections in Germany almost entirely by means of DNA tests. Largely for comparative purposes, I have also studied a number of DNA profiles of probands of well known ancestry who do not appear to have significant Jewish admixture.
These DNA tests are increasingly used in the study of genetic anthropology. In my latest book, The Jewish Journey, chapter 24 is devoted to a discussion of the genetic admixture of Ashkenazi Jews in relation to the history of their millennial migrations.
My fifth appended chart presents an example of just one of the currently available facilities on GEDmatch for the study of genetic admixtures. The facility relates autosomal DNA test data of individuals to a set of bio-geographical reference groups. I have compared the results for myself and for a group of Ashkenazi Jews with a few west and east Europeans who have little or no Jewish admixture. It is clear that the Ashkenazi Jews show a distinct genetic mixture of eastern and European DNA. Without dwelling here on the quantitative aspects of such commercial tests it should be emphasised that a distinct Ashkenazi admixture is shown when several other models using different reference populations are used. Broadly speaking these results are in line with earlier and deeper genetic studies using Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA data.
For the sixth chart of this brief introduction to my DNA tests I reproduce a map of "My Origins" which is also attached to chapter 20 of my book The Jewish Journey. It is produced by FamilyTreeDNA as part of my Family Finder autosomal DNA test, matched with their extensive data base, and provides a colourful rough and ready guide to my ancestral journey.
Ashkenazi Jews lived in central and eastern Europe for hundreds of years until the Holocaust. More than a few had old Sephardic and Mizrachi connections. For example, some of my closest ancestral families traced their origins back from eastern Europe to Provence, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and so on.
As I have mentioned before, major studies in recent years have shown that Ashkenazi Jews in general have a mixed near eastern and european genetic background with a mediterranian emphasis. The typical Ashkenazi admixture largely came about at the time of a so-called genetic bottleneck in the middle ages, thus having a complex relationship with the history of migration, changing social, economic and cultural conditions, ghettos, expulsions, conversions, intermarriage, and so on.
My studies have included DNA tests of many Jewish and non-Jewish probands. Some of these tests compare an individual’s autosomal DNA with bio-geographical reference groups to obtain a measure of the proband’s genetic admixture proportions. The choice of reference groups and the design of the several available models can lead to somewhat different results. But at least some of the main mile stones of my wider family’s millennial journey stand out – DNA affinities in the Levant, Anatolia and the Caucasus, Greece, Sicily and southern Italy, northern Italy, Spain and Portugal, the north-west African littoral, southern and northern France, the Rhineland, Austria and Bohemia. In the period of the crusades there began the migrations to Poland and beyond, which only started to reverse in the Age of Enlightenment. The Iberian Inquisitions at the end of the 15th century impelled many Sephardic Jews to seek refuge in the Ottoman Empire and in the Low Countries. From the former some subsequently went to Italy and elsewhere and from the latter to England.
Under the section heading “Some Family Charts” the last chart is entitled “ Ancient rabbinical ancestry of Edward Gelles”. It has an outline of my ancestry going back to notable 16th century rabbis in Prague, Venice, and Padua. The family names of my great- grandparents were Gelles, Griffel, Weinstein, Horowitz, Chayes, Safier, and Wahl (Katzenellenbogen). Earlier family connections include Jaffe, Loew, Halpern, Shapiro, Kohen, and Halevi.. A number of these lines go back over a thousand years to the Kalonymos in south west France and to Benveniste in Spain.
In the section headed ”DNA Tests” the last chart is called “My Origins”. These origins, indicated on the coloured map, stretch across Europe and beyond. I have a genetic mixture that might be described as about half european and half near eastern in origin. Numerous tests show the strong affinity of my genetic makeup with Italy and Sicily. But tests differ in the details of early genetic origins in the Levant. The attached results of the Eurogenes K36 test give a rough overall picture of my admixture. Some aspects of particular interest to me are areas not covered adequately by my latest book (The Jewish Journey). I refer to roots in the near East, to Sicily and southern Italy, Portugal and Spain, and to some Dutch and British connections.
Sicily with its great cultural legacy is a most important staging post in our journey, with strands going on to Italy, Spain, France, and the Low Countries (The Jewish Journey, pp 314-317) and back to Greece and Anatolia. My DNA tests show affinities not only with Sicily but also with south Italian Abruzzo, which lay within the ambit of Norman conquest. This Adriatic region received Jews fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition and from the Balkans in later centuries. I also have separate strong ancestral connections with northern Italy, some dating from the time of the Renaissance.
While we came across many people on our millennial journey, it might be apposite at this point to focus on the Normans and Armenians who relate to areas at either end of the colour chart of “My Origins”. We met Normans before their conquests of England and Sicily. Jews had been a part of Sicily’s multi-ethnic society since ancient times and they continued to flourish there under the Norman Hauteville and the Swabian Hohenstaufen, and then somewhat less happily until the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
The island was at the cross roads of history not only for Normans and Germans, who respond to this day to the romantic aura of Emperor Frederick II.
In England, professing Jews were expelled in 1290 and this was followed by expulsions from northern France in the early years of the following century. Descendants of some of these Jews who had taken refuge in the Low Countries were probably among converts who came to England in the years that followed. At the height of the wool trade in the later 14th and 15th centuries there was much commerce between England and Flanders, Hainault, Brabant, and Holland. West Yorkshire was of particular importance, while Somerset, Devon, Oxford, and Lincoln also come into this story. (The Jewish Journey, pp 246-251). My Dutch and British connections show up under “North Atlantic” and “North Sea” on the EU K36 test and on other Eurogenes tests, for example EU K13.
My DNA tests show some Viking affinities in Scotland. Later Baltic trade between Scotland and Hanseatic ports, for example between Aberdeen and Danzig, is of interest in connection with immigrants, who included those with recent or not so recent Jewish roots.
At the other end of Europe my colour chart indicates some ancient origins in Syria and across Anatolia and the Caucasus all the way to the Caspian Sea. The Jewish presence in these far flung regions goes back to ancient times, possibly to the dispersion of the "ten lost tribes of Israel" when their northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians. A century and a half later a similar fate befell the southern kingdom and the ensuing Babylonian captivity left a large Jewish diaspora in Mesopotamia that remained for many centuries after the state of Judea was resurrected.
The conquests of Alexander the Great were followed by a period of Seleucid rule in Judea, when many hellenised Jews spread across the Levant. A great number were in Egypt and they also went north to Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, and Antioch. Some affinities of my DNA with Lebanese or Kurdish Jews in this region is unsurprising in view of our millennial journey and is indeed shown by my EU K13 and EU V2 K15 tests.
Jews were also found in Cyprus at this early date. They came to Sicily long before the fall of the second Temple, at which time the Romans brought large numbers of Jewish prisoners to Italy, some of whom were then sent to Sicily as slaves. Considerable movement between Sicily, southern Italy, and north Africa occurred at that time.
The rise of Islam was followed by the Moorish invasion of Spain, when more Jews came into the Iberian peninsula. Arab involvement in Sicily increased in the following century, adding to the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish ethnicity of the island.
Jews were in Visigothic northern Spain and in Frankish southern France by the time the Norsemen came from Scandinavia and transformed themselves through conquest and rapid ethnic admixture in the duchy that bears their name. Jews came to England with William the Conqueror, while at the same time the descendants of Tancred de Hauteville found a significant Jewish presence in Sicily and southern Italy.
In England the Norman kings were pre-occupied with consolidating their power on both sides of the Channel while their kinsmen carved out a kingdom and principalities in the East. This was the period in which Norman and other crusaders engaged with the Byzantine Empire. It brought them to the Holy Land and other places from which the millennial Jewish odyssey had originated.
Baldwin, the brother of the Frankish Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, became the first of the Crusader Kings of Jerusalem. Another imposing figure of the first crusade was the Norman Bohemond of Taranto, a son of Robert Guiscard, the Duke of Apulia and Calabria. Bohemond became Prince of Antioch. His line maintained themselves in this principality that abutted on Anatolian Cilicia where Armenians displaced from the Caucasus established a state. It was briefly a kingdom under a dynasty related to the ancient Bagratid rulers of Georgia and Armenia who claimed Davidic descent.
History, traditional genealogy, and family DNA tests might combine to throw more light on the story of 18th and 19th century migrations from the Baltic to Austrian Galicia and Bukowina, to the Russian Ukraine, to the new seaport of Odessa on the Black Sea and further to Baku by the Caspian Sea. Changing economic conditions were, as so often in the past, a principal impetus for migrations of Jews and other ethnic groups, such as Armenians with whom they had a long record of neighbourly co-existence. (Meeting my Ancestors, pp 72-74).
We can behold the contrast between the huge impact of the Normans on European history within a relatively short period of time and the story of the Armenians in Anatolia and the Caucasus, who have been neighbours of Jews at different periods for two thousand years.
The charts below, with some highlights of Norman connections, may be helpful in showing some of the mooted points of Jewish admixture in Hauteville and Plantagenet lines of descent, including possible connections of Fressenda Hauteville, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Katherine de Roet Swynford.
As for Mary of Guilders (Gelre, Geldern), who married the Scottish King James II, the connections of William of Gellone (Guillaume d’Orange), and the semi-legendary Carolingian-Jewish admixture of Stuart, Plantagenet, and other royal lines are discussed in the first chapter of The Jewish Journey.
1. Drafts of unpublished essays
2. Genealogical charts
3. Family photographs
Family traditions and legends of East and West
An Ancient Lineage: European Roots of a Jewish Family: Gelles-Griffel-Wahl-Chajes-Safier-Loew-Taube. London: Valentine Mitchell, 2006. ISBN-10: 0853036802, ISBN-13: 978-0853036807. [link to PDF 144MB] NB this is a large file (144MB) and may take some time to load.
Family Connections. Gelles – Horowitz - Chayes. Maastricht: Shaker, 2008. ISBN-10: 9042303387, ISBN-13: 9789042303386. [link to PDF 4MB]
Family Connections. Gelles - Shapiro - Friedman. Maastricht: Shaker, 2009. ISBN-10 9042303700, ISBN-13 9789042303706. [link to PDF 7MB]
Ephemeral and Eternal: Josef Gelles A Brief Life. Maastricht: Shaker, 2010. ISBN-10: 9042303921, ISBN-13: 978-9042303928. [link to PDF 5MB]
Addendum - postcard sent to Josef Gelles in Boryslaw 4.1.1935. [link to PDF]
Meeting My Ancestors: Genealogy, Genes, and Heritage. Maastricht: Shaker, 2011. ISBN-10: 9042304030, ISBN-13: 978-9042304031. [link to PDF 5MB]
All of the above books are held in Oxford libraries: connect to the SOLO catalogue here.
The Jewish Journey : A Passage through European History. London: IB Tauris, 2016. ISBN: 9781784534530
Reviewed by Dr John Jones in the Balliol College Annual Record 2016. [link to PDF]
Saul Wahl. A Jewish Legend. Judaism Today, No.14, Winter 1999-2000
In Search of My Pedigree. Shemot, Vol. 8, No.2, June 2000
The Wahls of Nadworna. Shemot, Vol. 8, No.3, September 2000
Chief Rabbis in the Genes. Manna, No. 69, Autumn 2000
All Quiet on the Eastern Front. Avotaynu, Vol. xvi, No.4, Winter 2000
Searching for Eve: A Methodological Lesson. Avotaynu, Vol.xvii, No.2, Summer 2001
Galician Roots. The Galitzianer, Vol. 9, No.1, November 2001
Capitalists and Rabbis. The Galitzianer, Vol.9, No. 2, February 2002
Economic Background to some Family Links. The Galitzianer, Vol.9, No.3, May 2002
Finding Rabbi Moses Gelles. Avotaynu, Vol. xviii, No.1, Spring 2002
Abraham Low’s Ship’s Manifest. Shemot, Vol. 10, No.2, June 2002
Genealogy for Moral Support, The Galitzianer, Vol. 9, No. 4, August 2002
The Safiers of Tarnobrzeg. Shemot, Vol 10, No.3, September 2002
My Mother’s People, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol. 16, No. 4, October 2002
A Tale of Two Cities, The Galitzianer, Vol.10, No1, November 2002
My Father’s People, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol.17, No.1, February 2003
The Wohls of Cracow, The Galitzianer, Vol.10, No.2, February 2003
Davidic Descent, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol.17, No.2, June 2003
A 19th Century Pictorial Record of Brody, The Galitzianer, Vol.10, No.4, August 2003
David and Chaim Gans of Prague, Shemot, Vol 12, No.1, March 2004
Rabbi Shmuel Hillman of Metz and his Family Connections, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol.18, No.2, May 2004
Chayes Family Connections, Shemot, Vol 12, No. 2, June 2004
Jewish Community Life in Brody, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol.18, No.4, November 2004
Genealogical Background of some Hasidic Sages, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol.19, No.1, February 2005
Rabbis of Solotwina near Stanislau, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol.19, No. 4, November 2005
Gelles of Brody and some Fraenkel-Horowitz connections, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol.20, No.1. February 2006
Marriages between some Rabbinic Families in Galicia, The Galitzianer, Vol.14, No.1, November 2006
They met in Trieste, Everton’s Genealogical Helper, Sept / Oct 2007
From the Baltic to the Black Sea, Sharsheret Hadorot, Vol. 22, No.2 , May 2008
Die Familie Chajes und ihre genealogischen Verbindungen, “ Adler “ Zeitschrift für Genealogie und Heraldik. Vol 25, No. 4, 2008
End of the Gelles rabbinic line. The Galitzianer, Vol.16, No.1, November 2008
Josef and Giza Gelles of Boryslaw. The Galitzianer, Vol. 17, No.2, February 2010
Postcards and other Ephemera in Genealogical Research: Josef Gelles and the Solotwina Rabbinate. The Galitzianer, Vol.17, No.3, May 2010
DNA tests in the search for common ancestors:
Genes and Genealogy of the Gelles and Polonsky families
DNA tests and common ancestors. The Galitzianer, Vol. 18, No. 2, February 2011
Mes liens ancestraux avec la France. GEN AMI, No 57, September 2011
Autosomal DNA matches between close cousins: The genetic heritage of some Galician families. A précis is in the The Galitzianer, Vol.19, No.1, March 2012.
Jewish Community Life in Brody. The Galitzianer, Vol.19, No.3, September 2012
Capitalists and Rabbis. The Galitzianer, Vol.20, No.1, March 2013
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