Wednesday 21 August 2019

'How I found out my dad was Jewish'

Early days: Tony Ward with his mum, June.
Early days: Tony Ward with his mum, June.

Tony only recently found out his father was Jewish. Tony spent part of his childhood in Leeds, Yorkshire and remains a committed Leeds United supporter. His mother, June, came back to Dublin after the death of her husband. Tony has three daughters, Lynn, Nikki, and Ali, and a stepson, Richie...

I was only five years old when my father, Danny Ward, died and I have precious few early memories of him.

I knew very little about him or his family. For whatever reason, my mum never discussed anything to do with the other side of the family. I left it alone, but my daughters did not. Nikki and Lynn decided as part of a Christmas present to do some serious digging through a professional genealogical research company called Ancestry Made Easy. They came up with some amazing findings that I had never known about for the best part of six decades.

For starters, my father, one Danny Ward, or so I thought, was born on August 16, 1909 and registered as Saul Solomons. His parents were Harris Solomons and Jane Cohen. Harris worked as a tailor and lived with Jane at Great Garden Street,Whitechapel in east London. Saul (Danny) had three siblings: Sadie, Sydney and another sister, Sarah, who died soon after birth. The three surviving children were all born in London, but their nationalities were noted as Russian on the census return.

Saul went on to change his name to Daniel Ward. As a family, the Solomons were victims of their time. Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the persecution of the Jewish population in Russia, Poland and Finland became severe.

However, as the girls discovered, Danny (Saul) met and then married Lily Gross in the Philpot Street Synagogue in 1934. They both worked in London as hairdressers and had a son, Derek (my stepbrother, I guess), who was born in 1935. Their marriage was later dissolved.

It is thought Danny then moved to Ireland where he settled in Dublin in the late 1940s. It seems he met my mum around 1952, and there was an 18-year age gap between them.

By late November 1953, having changed his name from Saul Solomons to Daniel Ward and converted to Catholicism, my parents married in Cardiff Registry Office. I was born almost a year later. Then, on St Patrick's Day 1960, he suffered a heart attack and died in Leeds General Infirmary. Our return to Ireland and to Dublin was almost immediate. I grew up in a house full of women.

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