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Library staffer's dogged research sheds historic light on local soldier

Samuel Ginsberg, who died in the First World War, now has an appropriate gravestone thanks to Jayne Turvey's efforts; 'I get emotionally connected to these guys'

An Orillia Public Library employee’s dogged determination to share stories of local soldiers has resulted in a proper headstone being installed for a young man who died in action.

Jayne Turvey, the library’s community services co-ordinator, was contacted last summer by Ellin Bessner, author of Double Threat: Canadian Jews, the Military, and World War II, who she got to know through Turvey’s research project called Dieppe Blue Beach Every Man Remembered.

Bessner had been contacted by Martin Sugarman, archivist at the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women military museum in the United Kingdom.

“For several years, Martin has been instrumental in ensuring that fallen Jewish soldiers have a correct headstone in the Commonwealth War Graves,” Turvey explained.

That’s when she learned about Samuel Ginsberg, who had ties to Orillia. The young man was killed in 1917 during the First World War. He is buried at La Targette British Cemetery in France, where he had a cross on his headstone.

When Ginsberg enlisted with the Grey and Simcoe Foresters’ 157th Overseas Battalion on Feb. 9, 1916, he indicated on his papers that he was Jewish. Sugarman needed a secondary source of proof, however, so Bessner asked Turvey to put her research skills to work.

Turvey learned a lot about the Ginsberg family in the process. The parents, Joseph and Annie, operated general stores in Brechin and Washago. Samuel’s older brother, Benjamin, carried on the tradition. He ran a general store in Orillia at the corner of Mississaga and Front streets.

Benjamin was 21 years old when he was drafted in February 1918, forcing him to close his store and liquidate his merchandise.

The parents lived in Brechin, but Samuel was staying with a Mrs. Marsh at 19 Elgin St., likely boarding while attending high school in Orillia, as that was common at the time. It was during that time that Samuel enlisted.

On May 3, 1917, one week after his 20th birthday, he was killed.

Turvey used resources including Library Edition and went through the library’s cemetery records to track down the graves of Joseph and Annie Ginsberg.

She learned they had moved back to Toronto shortly after Samuel’s death. So, she contacted the manager of the Dawes Road Jewish Cemetery in Toronto.

“He had to literally walk the grounds to find both parents,” Turvey said, noting the couple was buried in separate grave sites.

The manager found them, took photos of the headstones and sent them to Turvey, who forwarded them to Sugarman in the U.K. He then sent the photos to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

It was the secondary proof that was needed.

Sugarman recently sent Turvey a photo of Samuel Ginsberg’s new gravestone, which is inscribed with the Star of David rather than a cross.

“I actually got teary eyed,” she said.

That mission was accomplished, but Turvey wasn’t done. She asked library staffer Chris Pestell to go through microfilm to try to find a photo of Samuel. Again, success.

“I saw his handsome face and it was the icing on the cake,” she said. “It’s easier to remember them when you have a photo.”

She will send the photo to the Brechin Legion, where Samuel’s name is included on a cenotaph. His name is also inscribed on the memorial at Veterans’ Memorial Park in Orillia.

Samuel will now “have a special place in our remembrance event,” Turvey said of the annual interactive exhibit she organizes at the library that puts the spotlight on local soldiers and their stories.

It took a lot of research to find answers about the Ginsbergs, but that didn’t concern Turvey. If anything, it excited her. Finding out about local soldiers and sharing their experiences is one of her passions.

“I get emotionally connected to these guys. You learn about their lives. You think about their poor moms finding out their sons aren’t coming home,” she said. “When something like this comes in front of me, I pull out all the stops.”

Helping with the process of getting an appropriate gravestone for Samuel was special for Turvey. While his older brother was drafted, Samuel volunteered.

“He signed up. He wasn’t forced,” she said. “He wanted to serve our country.”


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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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