Posted by Elf Flame Friday, February 8, 2013
Name: Leon Seneft
Birth: before 1868, likely in Germany or Galicia
Death: between 1919 and 1922, probably in London, England
Marriage: before 1883, probably in Galicia
Relation to me: Leon Seneft is my paternal grandfather's paternal grandfather, which makes him 5th generation before me.
Alias(es): Surname may have also been spelled Senft.
As for Leon, it seems quite unusual for a Jew, so I am uncertain if he had another Hebrew name.
Seneft also seems unusual for a Jewish family, though I know that at some point, German Jews were forced to take German names, so the name, which is distinctly German (it means "mustard seller") may come from this period, which would have been Leon's father or grandfather's time, I believe. Which also means that he may have another, more Jewish surname. I believe they used a Patrnonymic system, but I do not know enough about it or about his family at the time to guess what that other surname may have been.
Spouse(s): Mindel(aka Minnie) Hilinger
Children: Alex, Jennie, Annie, Jack, ?
Other Family: No other direct family known.
Details: Leon Seneft was a Rabbi when the family was living in London, and possibly before. I believe he and his wife had at least five children before leaving Galicia and taking their family to settle in London. I have an address that puts him living in London's south-east side, south of the Thames, though I am uncertain how long he lived there. He and his family lived there until the war, when Alex was sent to Camp Douglas, and many of his children left the country, which saw them as enemies at the time because they were German. Leon and at least one of his sons (the unnamed one) stayed in England after the war, and one of his daughters did return as well after her husband died, but the others left England and never returned.
1) Leon has always been part of my family tree that was given to me by my grandfather. Though he never met the man, he knew of him, and had a few pictures of him while growing up.
2) My second piece of proof on Leon came from a letter my grandfather wrote to someone of the name Hillinger in Belgium, who was hoping our lines might be somehow connected. It only briefly mentions him, but reinforces the information I have from the family tree I got from him. In it, he mentions that he never met the man, as Leon died before he was born, which was in 1922, giving me the outside edge of his possible death date.
3) The next is the Hillinger family book. With my grandmother's death, I received the Hillinger Family book my grandfather got from Germany to confirm his birth date for the US government, which contained information on all of his family, including both Alex and Dora's parents. Again, he is not one of the entries in the book, but it refers to him tangentially as Alex's father, though the information is minimal as the German government did not recognize his marriage to Mindel because it was a Jewish ceremony.
4) We also have a copy of Alex and Dora's wedding invitation from the Hillinger family book, which does mention Leon, and makes it clear that he was still alive in 1919 when they married in Frankfurt. Because he's listed on the invitation, I assume he was also in attendance at the wedding, though that is only speculation at this time.
5) The last piece of information I have on Alex is an Ellis Island record for Jennie Seneft, one of his daughters. It lists him as her next of kin back in England, and gives his address at the time.
I have no BMD information for Leon at all. I imagine if those records exist, they're likely in Hebrew, if they weren't destroyed during the war. I also don't know when he emigrated to England from Galicia, though I imagine those records must be somewhere, in England if nowhere else. I don't know if he was ever naturalized in England (was that even possible at the time?), but if he was, that may be a good place to look.
Complicating things is the information on his name above. I need to determine if he only ever went by Leon Seneft, or if he might have had other names he used while young or while in Galicia.
I know he was a Rabbi from family stories, but have absolutely no idea where even to start looking for that kind of record, particularly something that might tell me when and where he was trained, and if he was a Rabbi his whole life, or if he did something else for a living as well. I also don't know what synagogue he might have worked at (is that even the right phrasing?) or if there were more than one.
I do know that his wife died many years before him, as I believe I have found her gravestone, though it lists only her name and her daughter's, so I am not 100% sure. It does lead me to wonder why his name is not on the stone, and where he might be buried as well.
The last piece of information I am currently missing is about Camp Douglas. I know that Alex was sent there, but I am uncertain if he was the only one, if perhaps one or both of his brothers were sent with him, or if Leon or even the whole family were sent as well. I believe there was some sort of arrangement where so long as one member of the family went, the others could stay where they were, but it is possible that meant all the male members of the family had to go. I will need to write to the Red Cross to get this information. Hopefully they will have a bit more than just names for me when I do.
And that is all I have on Leon Seneft. Again, if you've any information on this man not listed here, or if you can answer one of the questions I've listed, please contact me. I'd love to get further on this branch of the family.