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  • Writer's pictureJessica Feinstein

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.

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, 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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