Ari’s earliest known Mendelsohn ancestor is Louis, his 5x great-grandfather. Louis was the father of Moses Mendelsohn (see Family stories: the inn-keeper in Memel), but unfortunately I haven’t found a single document relating to his life.
Sometimes it helps to go over the known facts, so what do we have?
The death notice for Moses in the South African National Archives tells us that his father was called Louis:
But this may not have been his actual name in Memel. If you look at the records for Memel (now Klaipeda) on Ancestry.co.uk, for example, there are some records for men called Louis, but also for Leib, Ludwig and Leo. (These are not just Jewish records.)
If we search for Louis Mendelsohn in the Memel records on Ancestry, nothing comes up. As Moses was born in 1855 or 1856 (but we don’t know if he had any siblings), we can estimate the date of his parents’ marriage as 1845–1855. This would put the rough birthdate for Louis as between 1825 and 1835. We also know that he was still alive in 1855 when Moses was conceived, so the death date must be after that.
Even with this range of dates, names and looking more widely at places, there are no records that can be identified as this person.
So no progress can be made until we find another clue, for example a sibling of Moses who also names his father as Louis, or a DNA match. I have recently been told that the Mendelsohns in Memel came from Darbėnai in Lithuania, so that’s another clue. Darbėnai is north of Klaipeda, close to the Latvian border.
It would be helpful to have the Hebrew name for Moses (e.g. from his gravestone), which would give us his father’s Hebrew name. I have combed the photos of Braamfontein Cemetery (Johannesburg) where Moses was buried in 1904 on Jono David’s amazing site here (twice) but not found it.
Another clue might be the fact that I don’t think Moses named any of his sons after Louis, so that could mean that Louis was still alive until the late 1890s. I haven’t found any of his grandsons named after him either.
I have told the story of my paternal grandparents’ marriage already (in this post). When the FamilySearch website added the collection called “South Africa, Transvaal, Civil Marriages, 1870-1930” earlier this month, I hoped I’d find the record.
And I did:
This says that, on 28 October 1930, Ludwig Feinstein and Rose Hurwitz were married. He was 30, born in Latvia and a manufacturer living at 6 Olivia Rd, Johannesburg. She was 22, born in the Transvaal, no occupation, living at 20 O’Reilly Street. In the column for “banns or licence”, it says banns. In the column for “with or without antenuptial contract”, it says with. The witnesses included a J. Hurwitz (presumably Rose’s brother John).
But there was another record:
This one says that the marriage took place on 28 January 1929. His name is given as Louis Feinstein, 28, born in Russia, and a commercial traveller living at 33 Joel Rd, Berea, Johannesburg. Rose is 21 and a bookkeeper, with the same birthplace and address as above. In the column for banns or licence, it says “special licence no. 22220, 28/1/29”, and it was without an antenuptial contract. The witnesses included a P. G. Nande and a name that could be Middleton.
Another difference is that the earlier document doesn’t say that they were Jewish, and is signed by a magistrate, whereas the later one does, and is signed by a minister. So maybe this means that the first was a civil marriage and the second was the religious one? I am not sure, but hoping that someone will tell me.
This clip of a 1929 Johannesburg map shows the streets mentioned in Berea:
The fourth record is obviously a relation, and it turns out that Basia Ziv (or Sive) married Shaya’s second son, Zusman. They emigrated to South Africa. (He died in 1931 and she died in 1933. They are buried at Brixton Cemetery, Johannesburg.)
They left a joint will:
The Revision List (census) taken on 29 May 1858 gives us another clue about Shaya:
The first entry is for Shaya’s oldest son Yankel in 1897, but the second tells us that his father’s name was Hatskel. If you are interested in the process by which names became surnames, there is a really good article here.
Rose was the youngest of the family. Her brother Charles had been born in Memel (Klaipeda), Lithuania, before the family emigrated. John, Anne, Lottie and Rose were all born in Johannesburg. Rose attended the Convent of Mercy in Braamfontein, the German School (Hospital Hill) in Twist St, and Commercial High School. She worked as a book-keeper for her father between 1925 and 1930.
Rose told me that she met Louis Feinstein at a party in 1926, and used to watch him walking past her house in O’Reilly Road, in Berea, Johannesburg. He had a room at No. 11 and his sister Mary lived at No. 32. The Hurwitzes lived at No. 20. They decided to get married in 1927, but her parents objected, saying that she must wait for her older brothers and sisters to get married first. In the end, they married on Louis’s birthday, 28 October 1930, and spent their honeymoon in Muizenberg.
Rose’s son Charles was born in 1932, and daughter Barbara in 1938.
In 1939 Rose helped to found a branch of the Jewish Benevolent Fund, of which she was the treasurer and then chair. In 1949 she was approached to start a play centre in Soweto, which led to the creation of four schools with over 800 children. Rose ran the committee for 20 years.
As children, we used to stay with Rose and Louis in Johannesburg for our Christmas holidays, and I remember going to one of these schools to give out prizes. We also learned Afrikaans songs, put on plays and concerts for visitors, ate toasted cheese sandwiches at the OK Bazaar, had freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast (and learned to eat cereal without making any noise), did lots of sums, read banned Enid Blyton books, tasted delicious peppery green pasta and tinned lychees (I wasn’t a fan) for the first time, learned to swim, and generally got very spoilt.
I have lots of these letters!
Rose spent a lot of time travelling to see her children and grandchildren in various places, and when we were together she helped me with my first family trees. Although I have plenty of her photos, there are not very many that she is actually in.
After Louis died, Rose went to live in Long Beach, next to Barbara and her family.
I learned so much from Rose. We laughed a lot and talked about many things. I still miss her.
The mother of Missing Minna was called Jennie, Janie or Gesa. How do we know this?
On 29 May 1858 she appears in a Lithuanian Revision List as Gesa, wife of Shaya Hatskelzon (Chaskelson). Her age is given as 31, so we can put her date of birth at about 1827. She is living in Silale, which is in Kovno, Lithuania (see https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_lita/lit_00683b.html). In the Comments field, the family are described as “petit bourgeois”. The other information about her comes from various records of her children.
In 1844 the first son, Jacob (Yankel) was born in Silale, followed by two daughters, Ryvka Golda and Feyga Leah. Then Minna (Ari’s 4x great-grandmother), another son, Zusman (Simon), a daughter, Beyla, and finally Benhard in 1860.
It seems that the sons emigrated to South Africa, but Feyga Leah stayed in Silale and died in 1923. I don’t know what happened to Ryvka Golda or Beyla.
The youngest son, Benhard Chaim Benyamin Chaskelson, at first went to the USA when he left Lithuania in 1888.
In his US passport application in 1902, he states that he sailed from Hamburg to the US on 10 March 1882, and lived in Philadelphia until 1887. He became an American citizen. He then went to South Africa but says in his application that he intends to return within two years to live in the US. He gives his occupation as Jewish teacher.
In South Africa, he set up a mattress factory and also had a dairy farm.
In 1903 he made a compensation claim for damage to his property (totalling £181) during the Boer War.
He was awarded £100.
The South African Archives also hold records of a claim that he made in 1912 against Johannesburg Council, after being knocked down by a tram (there are 96 pages, including financial details of his mattress company, all of the evidence and witness statements, and a map of the junction where the accident happened). The case went to court on 5 September 1913, and he lost. “At the time of the accident the said tramcar was proceeding at a slow rate … and the gong of the said tramcar was being rung in time to warn the Plaintiff of the tramcar’s approach.”
Getting back to Jennie or Gesa, on Benhard’s 1937 death notice no name is given for his mother:
Minna’s 1930 death notice calls her Jennie:
(The informant was one of her sons.)
And Zusman or Simon’s 1931 death notice calls her Janie Gessa (the informant was one of his sons):
So all we know is that she lived until at least 1860 in Silale, but no records of her after that date have been found (yet!).
Ari’s great-great grandfather Louis (pronounced in the French way rather than the English) was born Ludwig Feinshtein on 28 Oct 1900 in Libau (Liepaja) in Latvia, and died on 15 Sep 1972 in Johannesburg, South Africa. His birth is recorded in the Latvia Births Database on JewishGen:
The story told by his wife Rose was that Louis’ mother Hinda died in 1901 and the children (Louis and three older sisters – Bessie, Mary and Sara) were sent to stay with relatives (I don’t know who these relatives would have been). His father Charles (see Family stories: murdered for a wedding suit) and older brother Sam went to South Africa to join his brother (probably this was Charles’s brother Aron who had emigrated in 1889). In 1907 the uncle sent money for the children to come to South Africa.
So in 1908 Bessie, who was twelve, boarded a ship to London with Sarah, Mary and Louis. The journey took several days, and the passengers were told that the ship might capsize or take extra days to reach London. Bessie panicked and hid a couple of loaves of bread. She was caught and reprimanded, and asked where her parents were. She told them that she was in charge of the children and was forgiven. They then went by another ship from London to Cape Town (looking at a map, it is possible that they went by sea from Libau to Hamburg rather than overland, and then from Hamburg to Hull). It is very hard to imagine how they managed this journey on their own but presumably people helped them. The Jewish Heritage Trail in Hull includes this stop:
13. Anlaby Road – Emigrants’ Waiting Room
In 1871 the North Eastern Railway Company built a waiting room for transmigrants on Anlaby Road, close to Hull Paragon Station. This helped to reduce a possible threat to the health of local inhabitants and offered a shelter where passengers could make contact with reputable ticket agents. The building was enlarged in 1881 to provide separate rooms and washing facilities for men and women. Trains with as many as seventeen carriages set off from a long platform at the back of the waiting room, many of them on their way to Liverpool via Leeds. The number of migrants using the waiting room began to fall in 1907 when a dockside rail terminus was built, and the decline continued after the First World War as immigration quotas were imposed by the United States. It closed in 1999 but was reopened in 2003 as a club for Hull City supporters.
A plaque in Paragon Station commemorates the 2.2 million people who passed through the Emigration Platform, Hull on their way to America, Canada or South Africa. Among them were about half a million European Jews, hoping to find a better life elsewhere.
We went to look at it a couple of years ago but it was full of football supporters and I was too scared to go in 😦
The children stayed for a week at the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter in London, which records that they had come to Hull on the ship Omsk. I haven’t found these passenger lists.
I think that Louis attended the Jewish Government School in Doornfontein (see some lovely photos here) and then Jeppe High School. I have emailed them to ask if they have any records. (Update 16 Aug: A very prompt reply: “I have checked the admission registers and the school magazines which list the new pupils every year but could not find your grandfather, Louis Feinstein. I even checked the Jeppe Prep admission register to see if I could find him but no luck.”)
The next family story about Louis was that in 1917, at the age of 17, he tried to join the army. His father had him recalled and brought home. In 1918 he again joined up, hiding in a compartment on a train for Potchefstroom. There he had his military training and left by boat for Salisbury, England, with the South African Jewish forces. Armistice was declared in November of that year and Louis volunteered for service in Vladivostock, Russia. He fought for the British against White Russia. Eventually he was repatriated and returned to South Africa.
He looks so young in the photo above. Here are the military records I have for Louis.
These are quite hard to read, but they do show that he lied about his age! One gives his year of birth as 1899 and the other as 1897. They show that he served in the 2nd South African Infantry for 305 days, enlisting at Potchefstroom on 15 April 1918, then being discharged on 17 May 1919 after re-enlisting in the Machine Gun Corps, North Russian Relief Force at Whitehall on 19 May 1919.
Moses Mendelsohn was Ari’s 4x great-grandfather, born in 1856 in Memel. Memel is on the Baltic coast and was part of Prussia until 1923, which is why the family spoke German. It is now called Klaipeda and is in Lithuania. A history of Memel tells us that:
“In 1815 there were 35 Jews in Memel among a population of about 10,000 people. Russian Jews, who came to Memel for their businesses, could not settle there because of lack of prayer houses and other religious institutions which were only allowed for Jews who held Prussian citizenship. As time passed, more and more Russian timber merchants would come to Memel before the High Holidays, staying there until January. They would arrive in the city by carts and even by carriages harnessed to horses, bringing with them cooks and slaughterers, but only for poultry, whereas meat, sheep and cattle would be smuggled in from nearby Lithuanian towns.” (For more information and photos, see the wonderful KehilaLinks page compiled by Eli Rabinowitz.)
The family story told by Moses’ granddaughter Rose was that he had an inn on the border, where people could exchange Russian currency for German. She said that Charles Feinstein (see Murdered for a wedding suit) travelled from Libau in Latvia and stopped at the inn to exchange money. Mrs Mendelsohn (the subject of my post Missing Minna) offered him food, which he refused because he thought it might not be kosher.
That may not be true, but the story we think is true is that LK Hurwitz (see LK Hurwitz and the Raleigh Cycle Co. Ltd) was travelling from Svencionys and stayed at the inn in Memel. He met the daughter of the inn-keeper, Rahle, and they married in 1899.
In 1903, Moses and Minna travelled to Cape Town via Southampton on the ship Doune Castle, travelling steerage with three of their daughters. Before boarding the ship, they stayed for a week at the beginning of January at the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter in London (this database can be searched at http://www.jewishroots.uct.ac.za/Shelter.aspx), and see more at this London Metropolitan Archives page).
Moses was only in South Africa for a few months before he died, but we know from estate documents in the South African Archives that he owned Stand No. 77 in Ferreira’s Township, in the mining district of Witwatersrand, valued at £1600. (Gold had been discovered there in 1886.)
He died of emphysema at the age of only 48 on 21 March 1904 in Johannesburg, without leaving a will, and is buried at Braamfontein Cemetery, grave 501. His death notices helpfully list his parents and children:
Records from Memel are held in the Lithuanian State Historical Archives (LVIA), and are still being translated and transcribed by volunteers. Very excitingly, Moses and Minna appeared in a new list released this week. This was a listing of deaths in Memel between 1874 and 1915, which included the death on 23 Dec 1886 of Behr Mendelsohn, aged seven months, son of Moses Mendelsohn and Minna Chatzkelsohn. Moses is listed as a merchant. Another death, in 1889, lists him as the informant and he is recorded as a barkeeper, so maybe the unfortunate person died at the inn. A third record, from 9 Oct 1891, lists the death of another baby son, Benjamin Mendelsohn, aged six months. (For more information about these records, see https://www.litvaksig.org/.)
One of the stories told by my grandmother Rose was about her father-in-law, Charles Feinstein, who was born on 25 June 1859 in Libau (Liepaja), Latvia. I wrote this down from what she told me: “He ran a grocery shop in Jeppestown, Johannesburg, after working as a picture framer. After his children had left home, he used to send a servant to his daughter Mary’s house in O’Reilly Road, where she would make food for the servant to take back. In September 1930 the servant came and said that Charles was very ill. The servant disappeared, and Charles was found dead in his room. He had told the servant that he had bought a new suit and saved £50 for Rose and Louis’s wedding. Both had been taken. The servant was later imprisoned.”
It was not until our last visit to Cape Town that I was able to find any evidence for this story. This involved hours of peering at microfilmed issues of the Johannesburg newspapers in the library (I don’t think many South african newspapers have been digitised yet – it would be great if they were!).
Although it was a shock to see this in black and white, it was amazing to finally have confirmation. Unfortunately it took so long that we didn’t read on to find out what happened to the servant.
The newspaper account mentions that a relative, Mr Perlman, had a duplicate key to the property and made the discovery, but I have not been able to find out who he was. I would also like to know what Charles’s middle name was.
This dreadful event happened in September, and Rose and Louis got married the following month. Charles was Ari’s 3x great-grandfather.
Minna Chaskelson was Ari’s 4x great-grandmother. She was born in 1852 in Silale, Lithuania, and died at the Carlington Nursing Home in Johannesburg on 9 Aug 1930. She had emigrated in 1903 with her husband and children, following her brother Bernard (or Benhard) who had emigrated in 1895 and set up a mattress company. The family had lived in Memel (Klaipeda), where the family kept an inn.
In her will, obtained from the South African archives (thanks to the very helpful service provided by Ancestor.co.za), she leaves everything to two of her daughters, Jennie (Janie) and Hannah.
We don’t seem to have a photo of Minna. We had thought that she was the person on the left in this wonderful photo of all the great-aunts in their lovely hats taken in 1932, but obviously she was no longer alive then, so that’s another mystery to clear up. Amazing how you notice these things when you present the information in a different way!
One of Ari’s 3x great-grandfathers was Louis Koppel (known as LK) Hurwitz. He was born on 19 Nov 1873 in Svencionys, Lithuania and emigrated to Woodstock, Cape Town in 1901, where his wife Rahle’s brothers had a cycle business. In 1903 he moved to Johannesburg and set up in business on his own.
I love this photo of LK and Rahle with their three oldest children, Charles (b 1901), John (b 1903) and Anne (b 1905).
LK had an agreement with Raleigh to sell their bikes in South Africa, and I came across some correspondence relating to this which is held in the Nottinghamshire Archives. I wrote to them to ask for a copy of the letters.