Louis(?) Mendelsohn from Memel

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.

Passport card of a part of the Baltic Sea with the coast of Poland and Latvia, with insert cards of the arrivals of Riga, Danzig, Koningsbergen and the river Memel, with three compass roses. North is on the left. The title is flanked by Ceres and a man with a sword. To the left of the title is a rider talking to a walker and to the right a farmer is plowing a piece of land. http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.336853

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:

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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.

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Darbėnai (red pin) and Klaipeda (Memel) on the coast. Map data ©2019 Google.

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.

Ari, this is how you are related to Louis:

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Schlaum Levin Feinstein

Schlaum Levin Feinstein is Ari’s 6x great-grandfather, born in about 1760 in Palanga, Lithuania.

The only record we have for him is the 1845 All Lithuania Revision List on JewishGen, which tells us that he is no longer listed because he died in 1830.

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All Lithuania Revision List on JewishGen

The  LitvakSIG page tells us that “Revision Lists (“Reviski Skaski”) are comprehensive lists of the taxpaying population to which almost all the Jews belonged. They were first recorded in 1772. The last Revision List was compiled in 1858. Revision Lists were revised or updated, sometimes several times, until the next census was recorded. Such information frequently covered a period of ten years or more. Revision Lists are by far the most useful of all of the 19th century records. These records are written in Russian (Cyrillic) except for those in the Memel (Klaipeda) Archive, which are written mainly in German. Some records contain additional notations written in Yiddish or Hebrew.”

With such a small amount of information, all we can do is to follow all the branches of the family and hope that more clues emerge or that new information is online. Schlaum and his wife (her name is not known) had three sons: Hirsch Schlaume, Abram Schlaume and Shmuel.

Hirsch Schlaume was born in 1787 in Palanga and died in 1842. Again, the military lists from 1845 give us the information that help us piece together this branch of the family:

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All Lithuania Revision List on JewishGen

His two sons, Jossel (born 1811) and Michel (1814) are not recorded anywhere else, and I do not know what happened to them.

Schlaum Levin had a brother called Behr Levin, who died in 1838 in Palanga. His three sons were Moses Behr Feinstein (1813–1893), Elias Behr Feinstein (born 1815), and Levin Behr Feinstein (born 1819).

Moses Behr married Hanna and died of a heart attack in 1893 in Liepaja, Latvia. Hanna died in 1896 of kidney disease. Their daughter Sheina was born on 30 Dec 1846 in Liepaja.

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Latvia Deaths Database on JewishGen

Nothing more is known about Elias Behr or Levin Behr. It’s very frustrating that we have so little information, but I continue to hope that more will turn up!

Ari, this is how you are related to Schlaum Levin:

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Shaya Hatskelzon

Ari’s 5x great-grandfather Shaya Hatskelzon (or Khatskelzon) was born in Silale, Lithuania, some time in the 1820s, and we know that he was still there in 1896 when he was recorded as a tax-payer.

What else do we know about him? The main evidence is the Lithuanian tax and voter lists on JewishGen:

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This shows us Shaya in Silale in 1877, 1885, 1892 and 1896.

Shaya had married Jennie in about 1843.

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.)

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They left a joint will:

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The Revision List (census) taken on 29 May 1858 gives us another clue about Shaya:

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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.

Ari, this is how you are related to Shaya:

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One of Ari’s 6x great-grandmothers was called Itka. She was born in 1804 in Lithuania, probably in Svencionys (also known as Švenčionys, Sventzion, Święciany, Shventsian, Śvianciany, Schwintzen, Švenčoņi, Svencionyz, Shvintzion, Shvyentsiani, Shvyetsiani, Sventsian, Sventsiany, Swenziany, and Svintzian!).

I don’t have any photos of Itka, but here are some of her descendants and their families in South Africa.


Itka is a derivative of the name Judith, according to Alexander Beider’s Handbook of Ashkenazic Given Names, mentioned before.

We know that her father’s name was Leiba, and that she was 30 in 1834. Thanks to the Svencionys District Research Group of LitvakSIG (a group of people who have contributed to making data about Svencionys available), we have a list of people who lived in Svencionys in 1834 when there was a Revision List, which was a census used to collect poll taxes. Itka is listed as the wife of Movsha Gurvich (Hurwitz), and her father’s first name is also provided.

Also in the household on 30 April 1834 were her son Leib (aged 11) and daughter Sheina (aged 5).

To find out her surname, I checked the 1811 Revision List for a man called Leiba (or Leyba or Leib) with a daughter aged 7 called Itka. The closest was a Leyba Muchan, with a daughter Ita, aged 12, so I’m not convinced.

The 1850 Revision List shows our family again in October of that year, with Itka now aged 46. Also in the household is her son Kopel Leib (27), his wife Tema, and their daughter Buska, aged 8.

I have found no other records for Itka, and she does not appear in the 1858 Revision List.

Contributions to LitvakSIG are very much welcomed, to enable further records to be transcribed and made available. See https://www.litvaksig.org/research/

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Ari, this is how you are related to Itka:

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Abram Schlaume Feinstein

Abram was Ari’s 5x great-grandfather, born in 1808 in Palanga, on the Baltic Sea, in north-west Lithuania. At the time, Palanga was in Courland, and part of the Russian Empire. A description by Yudel Mark can be found in a yizkor [memorial] book about Lithuania:

“The name comes from the Lithuanian po langa, meaning “up to the windows,” that is, the sea reached as far as the windows.” People came to Palanga in the summer to bathe, and it was not a particularly pious place because the men were working with amber, rather than studying religious texts.


“Amber established the entire way of life in the shtetl. … People lived according to the clock. All of Palanga awakened at the same hour and ate the main meal at the same time. The midday meal was exactly at 12 noon. There was an “afternoon snack” exactly at 4. The time of work, eating and rest was not haphazard, as was characteristic of a shtetl where trade was the main source of income. And as long as the amber workers lived well, the storekeepers who had a “stall” (a shop), the butcher, the baker, the wagon driver and so forth, earned, too. The one-story wooden houses in which we lived were very spacious with good floors of painted boards. The houses often had a small garden near them. Jews also had large gardens with vegetables and there were several who had potato fields. A few rich Jews had large orchards with assorted fruits. I remember the surprise of the Jews who came from Drobian (Darbenai): “The Palanga Jews eat meat every day!” In truth, however, we also ate much fish, particularly during the summer months. Mencas [fish found in Latvia], flekshnes (flounders) and small herring dried on long strings on every Palanga farm.”

I recommend the full account, which can be read here.

I have no information about Abram apart from this: From the military records of 1845, we know that he was born in 1808, and that he was the father of Isaac Abram and the son of Schlaume Levin Feinstein. We also know that he had an older brother called Hirsch and a younger brother, Schmuel. I’m not sure if this Hirsch is the same one who was arrested on the evening of 30 August 1832, with twelve other men from Palanga. The thirteen Jews had hatched a plot against a meat tax and were sentenced to fourteen days in prison. They also had to pay 40 Roubles in silver coins to cover the arrears. The meat or slaughter tax was paid for each animal that was slaughtered. See the full story, with the original documents, on this page.

Jennie, Janie or Gesa from Silale

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.

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Benhard Chaskelson

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.

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In 1903 he made a compensation claim for damage to his property (totalling £181) during the Boer War.

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Part of his inventory of stock

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.”

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Entry in the South African Jewish Year Book

Getting back to Jennie or Gesa, on Benhard’s 1937 death notice no name is given for his mother:

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Minna’s 1930 death notice calls her Jennie:

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(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):

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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, this is how you are related to Gesa:

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Nisel Shnaiderovich

Ari’s 6x great-grandfather Nisel lived in Svencionys, Lithuania. Nisel (a variant of Nisn) is a name that was given to boys during the month in which Passover occurs, and Shnaiderovich means ‘son of a tailor’. He is also listed as Nosel.

All we know about Nisel comes from the All Lithuania Revision List Database on JewishGen. This is the family on 30 April 1834 in Svencionys:

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This tells us that Nisel’s father was Shmuila, and gives us Nisel’s date of birth as 1798. We can see that his wife is Gitka, and her father was Girsh. They have four daughters: Raina (14), Tema (12), Sora (10) and Feiga (2). This suggests that they married in about 1819.

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The Revision of 30 October 1850 (above) shows that he had died in 1848. A son, Shmuel, is 16. Who is he living with? Has his mother also died?

Please read this article about what happened in Svencionys in 1941.

Ari, this is how you are related to Nisel:

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Moses Gurvich of Svencionys

One of Ari’s Lithuanian ancestors was Moses Gurvich, the father of LK Hurwitz. Moses was known as Movsha or Moshe, and his middle name was Nison. He was Ari’s 4x great-grandfather.

Moses was born in about 1847 in Svencionys, Lithuania and died aged 73 in 1920, also in Lithuania. He worked as a timber merchant.

The middle name proved to be the clue that enabled me to discover relatives in Wisconsin a couple of years ago (before that I had no idea about his parents or brothers and sisters).

This was discovered from the birth record of LK’s son Khatzkel (Charles) in the  Lithuania Database on the JewishGen website:


The second column gives the names of his father, grandfather (top row) and mother, grandfather (second row).

Other records show him aged 11 with his family in the 1858 Revision List in Svencionys.

He must have married in about 1868, and five children were born between 1870 and 1881. They were Leah, Gittel (Gertrude), LK, Sorel (Sara), and Chasel (Charlotte).

A small diversion

Leah married Moshe Michelson and owned a flour mill. She was killed in 1943 in Lithuania with three of their children (a grandson, Khaim Mikhelson, has submitted testimony to Yad Vashem). One of her sons, Jacob (Yankel) married Jehudith Kuritsky. She has written an account of what happened to the family in Svencionys when the Germans arrived in 1941. This is just the first page.

Svintzian story1

Back to the story

From the records giving me his father’s name, I was able to match someone in America who had been contacting me wondering whether our Hurwitz familes were related. At that time I had no way of telling. She turned out to be descended from Moses’s brother Vulf, who emigrated to the US in 1921, providing us with many new relations in Milwaukee.

Here is the record of Moses’ second marriage at the age of 64 on 30 July 1909 (I knew that after his first wife Annie had died he had married her sister). What I don’t know from this is whether Tzimerman is their maiden name or whether she was a widow.

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As far as I can see, all of his grandchildren were born before he died in 1920, so nobody in that generation is named after him.

Ari, this shows how you are related to Moses:

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Family stories: the inn-keeper in Memel

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).

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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/.)

Ari, this shows how you are related to Moses:

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The New Jersey connection

Isaac Abram Feinstein was Ari’s 4x great-grandfather. He was born in about 1827 in Polangen (now Palanga), on the Baltic coast of Lithuania, and died on 23 March 1901 in Libau (now Liepaja), which is further north on the same coast, in Latvia.

We don’t know much about him, but some records are available on JewishGen, including one from the All Lithuania Revision List Database from 1845 (below):

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and one in the Latvia Deaths Database:

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Isaac (called Itsik) and his wife Sheva had six children that we know of. Three of these children (Charles, Jacob and Aron Feinstein) went to South Africa, but a daughter (Johanna or Jennie) went to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where she married a man called Louis Solomon, proprietor of an automobile shop.

Having been in touch with her descendants, it was nice that DNA testing told us that she really was from the same Feinstein family.

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Ari, this shows how you are related to Isaac:

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