British Mandate Publications

This posting is a bit tangential to genealogy, so for those not interested, I apologize. However, researching history goes hand-in-hand with researching your family. It’s hard to understand what is going on in your family tree without understanding what was going on around your family at the time.

In the period between WWI and shortly after WWII, the British government ruled the area which now constitutes Israel and Jordan. That area was called the British Mandate of Palestine (the ‘mandate’ given to the British by the League of Nations). What is now Jordan was split off in 1922 as Transjordan, and eventually became the modern state of Jordan (technically the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). The remaining area is now the State of Israel and the territories (Gaza, which was captured by Egypt, and the West Bank, captured by Jordan, during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49 and later captured by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967).

Back to the British. It’s important to realize that the period of the British Mandate was the apex of the British imperial empire. After WWI, the British ruled over the largest land mass in its history (1.8 million square miles) and yet it really was the beginning of the end of the empire. During the interwar years, and following WWII, the British Empire began to unravel.

During this transitional period, the British government published quite a bit about what was going on in their empire. Many of their publications, even though they dealt with far-flung parts of the empire, were either published or at least made available by the British Mandate government. When the British left in 1948, they left behind many of their government documents which found their way into what became the Israel State Archives.

While many of the documents from this period deal specifically with the British Mandate of Palestine, the variety of documents is actually quite interesting. Many documents deal with the British during WWI and WWII. War Office. Colonial Office. Parliamentary debates. Naval law. Education. Police. Prisons. Railway. Agricultural and Veterinarian studies. Archaeology. Water. Documents related to France, Egypt, Iraq, India, Yemen, Transjordan, Sudan, Turkey, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), West Indies, Kenya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Gambia and more.

Some documents of interest to genealogists (besides for general history) include a phone book from Iraq in 1945 and phone books of the Palestine Mandate from 1946 and 1947. A guide to transliterating geographical and personal names from Arabic and Hebrew into English that was published in 1931. Several reports deal with the Arab riots in 1920, 1929, etc. which presumably list the names of the victims.

Of course, as the government was British, the great majority of documents published were in English. For those people interested in general British history, there are probably better ways to search for these documents, although browsing the Israel State Archives catalog might give you some idea of what documents you want to look for elsewhere.

The Palestine Gazette, the official publication of the government for all legal notices and publications of new laws, etc. also included name changes during the period, although these are already indexed and searchable on the Israel Genealogical Society web site.

Other British Mandate documents made searchable on the Israel Genealogical Society web site include part of the 1922 census (from Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv) and a collection of lists of medical practitioners. The 1922 census is available to anyone online, but the medical practitioners list is only available to IGS members. Thanks to Rosie Feldman for pointing out these additional resources.

By now you might be wondering where on the Israel State Archive’s web site you can search their catalog of British Mandate government publications. The fact is, you can’t search for it there. The Israel State Archives does not have this index online. In fact, while it was put onto a computer roughly twenty years ago, they no longer even know where that computer file exists anymore, if it does at all. Like many government archives, they have their budget issues and I don’t blame them for these problems. So how do you search this catalog? The archive has a printout from 1993 on fading paper from when it was computerized back then. You can go to the archive and look at it if you’d like of course, but the purpose of this posting, besides making people aware of this archival resource, is to make available a digital version of this catalog.

I didn’t re-type the catalog. It’s 111 pages. What I’ve done is scanned the catalog, applied optical character recognition to the pages so it is semi-searchable, and put the whole thing online. I say semi-searchable because the document was in such poor shape that I wouldn’t rely on the search exclusively to find entries in the catalog. Also, there are about 9 pages of Hebrew documents at the end of the catalog which are not searchable at all (for those who can read Hebrew).

In order to access these documents in the archives, you need to go to the archive building in Jerusalem. It’s in a nondescript building in the Talpiyot neighborhood. See their web site for details on hours, etc. The code given in the catalog needs to be ‘translated’ into a location code using a second document they have there, which maps the codes. I can put this online too if there’s interest, but if you’re already going down to the archive to look at documents, this will only take a few minutes there anyways. For those documents not specific to the Palestine Mandate, and many of those that are, you can probably also find these same documents in British archives and other archives of former British territories.

I’ve posted the document using Google Docs, which allows anyone to browse the document as well as search it. Keywords used in the search are highlighted yellow in the document (orange when the current selection). Considering the original shape of the document, the OCR was surprisingly good and the searching works fairly well.

Example of highlighted search terms in the catalog

So check out my online catalog of the British Mandate of Palestine government publication index from the Israel State Archives.

I’m not sure where to put a link to this for future reference, but for the time being I’ve added it to the my list of links in the right column of the blog (scroll down to bottom right of this page). You can always search for this posting too.