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March 16, 1990 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-03-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I LOCAL NEWS(

OLDS °BILES FOR LESS

1990 CUTLASS CALAIS SEDAN

Researcher Discovers
His Lost Jewish Roots

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM

Assistant Editor

H

is mother always de-
nied it, but Ramon
Sarraga was convinc-
ed he had Jewish ancestors.
So, armed with little more
than relatives' names that
sounded Jewish, Sarraga
went in search of his lost
forbearers. It took numerous
trips abroad, weeks of
research, visits to a crumbl-
ing cemetery and days of
deciphering ancient, gran-
diloquent script, but Sarraga
finally found them.
Sarraga, who was born in
Puerto Rico and now lives in
Warren, spoke of his resear-
ch into his family roots dur-
ing a meeting last week of
the Jewish Genealogical
Society of Michigan.
Sarraga began his in-
vestigation in Altona, near
Hamburg, Germany, in
1986, where he discovered
the birth record of his great-
grandfather, Luis Bravo
Pardo, born Itzak Luis
Jacob. Altona was home to a
large Sephardic community.
"Then, we started looking
from what way we could con-
tinue from there," he said.
"We had no idea what to
do."
Next, Sarraga and his wife
wrote to Rabbi Malcolm
Stern of the American Jew-
ish Archives. Rabbi Stern
recognized many of the
names on Sarraga's list of
ancestors, which included
several prominent rabbis,
and provided Sarraga with a
preliminary genealogical
chart.
Sarraga followed up with
research at the genealogical
library of the Church of
Latter Day Saints (Mormon)
in Bloomfield Hills, which
has on microfilm copies of
birth and death records from
around the world. Included
among these are the records
of Jewish communities.
Sarraga said his first big
break came when his wife
discovered the birth record
of his great-great grand-
mother, Sara, at the LDS
library.
The certificate, covered by
writing in a delicate Gothic
script, also named all of
Sara's siblings.
That these relatives ex-
isted, Sarraga now could
prove; but why, he
wondered, did they come
from Hamburg to Puerto
Rico?
The answer: the slave
trade. In the early 1800s,

numerous citizens of Europe
were actively involved in
selling slaves in Puerto Rico,
for use in working the sugar
cane fields. Sarraga believes
his family may have been
involved with the slave
trade and come to Puerto
Rico in conjunction with
their business.
Sarraga, who taught
himself Hebrew to further
his research, credits luck
with many of his findings.
Much of the data he needed
came from Germany and
Holland, which keep
excellent genealogical
records, he said. He met up
with one relative who had an
old family Bible that listed
the names of generations of
sons, along with the date of
their brit milot.
He also found ketubot that
gave information not only
about who married, but the
financial status of some
long-lost ancestors. Looking
over one ketubah from the
1700s, Sarraga discovered
that the family of a young
woman had little money
when she was wed; her uncle
had contributed to her
dowry.
Sarraga, who traced his
family roots back to 1619,
found he had a curious col-
lection of relatives. Among
these were Joseph Pardo, the
first rabbi hired in Amster-
dam; a husband and wife
who died the same day in an
epidemic; and a certain
prominent gentleman who
loved to cite his many titles
— "modesty was not one of
his failings," Sarraga said —
who believed he was a rein-
carnation of King David and
followed the false messiah,
Shabbtai Tzvi.
Included in Sarraga's
research were trips abroad
to the cemeteries where his
ancestors were buried. He
went to a Jewish graveyard
in Hamburg that
miraculously survived
World War II. There, Sar-
raga found his relatives'
names on the heavy
headstones which, as is
Sephardic custom, lie flat on
the ground rather stand
upright.
Sarraga said the Jewish
family line in his past broke
in 1859 when Louis Pardo,
his great-grandfather, mar-
ried a non-Jew and was bap-
tized. Like Sarraga, all Par-
do's descendants are today
Christian.
Pardo's sister, however,
married the son of a rabbi,
and all her descendants re-
mained Jewish,

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

3

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