Corroborating some old stories from Posen

I’ve been lucky enough to have had access to some amazing artefacts from my family history, including old photos from around the world, and carefully preserved documents revealing ancestor names. Probably my favourite of these is a memoir written by my grandfather’s brother Wolfgang for their sister.

Written in German, it runs to about 35 pages and provides an engaging history of all the relatives that Wolfgang knew and/or had heard about.  It’s deliberately anecdotal and no sources are given.  Needless to say, I’ve taken it upon myself to try back up and flesh out the stories he tells.

Wolfgang’s mother, my great grandmother, was Rosa Benjamin (1880-1927).  Wolfgang tells a vivid story about Rosa’s great grandfather, Benjamin Dolziger, who was apparently murdered in a forest in 1820. Thereafter, we’re told, his son took his first name as his last name, and became Israel Benjamin.


This is all very atmospheric, but in terms of bare facts all we have is that a man called Benjamin Dolziger died somewhere in the province of Posen in 1820.  Unsurprisingly, there are few death records from Posen dating back this far. I had also drawn a blank with the name Dolziger – nothing seemed to come up.

As happens so often, corroboration came via researching cousins and siblings.  Wolfgang explains that his maternal grandfather Isaac Benjamin had cousins who were called Jakubowski, so Isaac’s father Israel must have had at least one sister.  He provides enough information about the Jakubowski siblings to give me a shot at finding them, noting there were two boys, Gustav and Ewald, and two sisters: Flora, who married “one of the rich Schottländers”, and another who married a Phillip Königsberger who lived in the Höfchenstrasse. This address is confirmed in a Breslau directory from 1915:


At this point I had the notion of Posen as a place of origin (albeit vast area), and some biographical details.  I had some early luck. It turns out that a kind of census was taken in Posen from 1870-1931. This seems to have been more akin to the British 1939 register in that names and dates of birth, but no occupations were taken, and the entries seem to have been kept updated as people married/died/moved etc.

Anyway, some persistent searching led me to a series of census records for this family. These are very hard to decipher but I did get used to the handwriting,  Key bits of info, such as the Königsberger and Schottländer marriages, plus the fact that they had all moved to Breslau, helped me to pin things down. Without these distinctive first names this would have been very difficult, particularly since ‘Jakubowski’ seems to have been used interchangeably with ‘Jakubowska’.


The quickest way I found to search the Posen census was to do a site search with a phrase: site:// “lastname firstname”.  Some kind people have done a simple index of all the digital records, which is an enormous help as the names can be very difficult to decipher and you could easily miss what you’re looking for if you just browsed through them.


It was good that they included dates of birth, as the above mentioned Flora also went by the names of Pauline and Vogel!  All the records showed a home town of Kurnik (aka Kórnik, Poland). This gave me something to work with, including some additional sister names.  As well as Flora, there was Bertha and Marie.  But since the parents weren’t living with any of the children, and I didn’t know their names, I had no way of finding them.

Searching for Flora and her husband Schottländer, I found another amazing online resource, the Familiendatenbank Juden im Deutschen Reich, which had a transcription from Flora’s marriage:

I now had the parents’ names and the tantalising suggestion that my legendary ancestor who was murdered in the forest was called Goeczlig, not Dolziger!  I contacted the owner of the site, who very kindly sent me the original marriage record (which in fact was on the same site as the census, the incredible but somewhat hard to navigate


The name as written was definitely Goeczlig, which was great for clarity, but didn’t fix the fact that searching for this name produces zero records!

At this point I stepped back from the search. After all, I had no firm proof these people were related to me at all, and I couldn’t see how I was going to get any further for now. This was perhaps a eighteen months ago.

But yesterday while researching some of my partner’s family nearby, I came across the Poznan Project again. This is an online project to index marriages from the 19th century in the Posen area.  I’d been able to find the marriage of her Polish great great great grandparents, who had emigrated to the USA, and this revealed the names of four new ancestors.

Then it occurred to me to search for Jakubowski weddings, and the following came up:


Bingo! This was my first evidence linking Amalie and the Jakubowski family to the name Benjamin.  Strangely, this was 1880, five years before Flora’s wedding, so it’s curious that the maiden name is given here as Benjamin, yet five years later Flora used the original, Goeszlig.  The original record was available via so I was able to double check.


And then today I found Ewald’s death record which similarly names Amalie Benjamin.


I can now say with reasonable certainty that my GGG grandfather Israel Benjamin was originally called Goezlig/Goeczlig/Goezlik and that he had a sister called Amalie.

Postscript: One Goezlik Benjamin, appears in the following publication listing naturalised Jews.

HIRSCHBERG, Isidor: Verzeichniß sämmtlicher naturalisirten Israeliten im Großherzogthum Posen, Bromberg 1836.

He’s a butcher (as was Israel Benjamin), and was registered in Kurnik in 1836. If this is our man, his death might have been later than 1820 as estimated by Wolfgang. If a civil record of Israel’s death somehow materialises (he might have died a week or so too early depending on when exactly civil registration began in Breslau!), I might be able to corroborate this.

Next steps:

  • I need to try and figure out when Amalie died. Alas I fear it was early and pre-civil registration (1874 for Posen).
  • I also don’t know the name of Israel’s wife, which is a major gap in my tree. Wolfgang names her as Rebekka but I know from experience this could also mean Frederike or another variation. EDIT 2019: her son Isaac’s death record turned up; she was Rebecca Kempinski from Kepno/Kempen
  • However, I do know that Israel died on September 21st 1874, so if I can find the civic record of his death, and it’s complete, it should confirm the names of his parents plus the name of his wife.
  • I’ve written to the German embassy here in London asking the best way to get the death record without making a trip to Berlin.

Riveting stuff (well, it might be of some interest if you’re related to me!)

The elusive William Blackburn

I realise I hadn’t got round to writing up my recent research into my GGGG grandfather, William Blackburn and his wife Elizabeth (née Burbidge). Before I forget where I was, here goes:

Here are the only cold facts I have on William:
– William Blackburn married Elizabeth Burbidge, who was 17 or 18, in 1807 at St Mary Newington, London and they had four children from 1808 to 1815.
– William was a clerk (1809), then a beer and porter dealer (1811) based on baptism records for daughters Elizabeth and Julia at St Olaves, Southwark.
– He was then briefly in the King’s Bench prison in 1812 due to a debt to Thomas Riddell, a brewer. His residences were Weston and Dean streets (both very near where the Shard skyscraper is now)
– By the time of his third child Mary’s birth in 1813 (baptised at St George the Martyr, Southwark), his profession has changed to Fishmonger. It’s the same in 1815 when his son John Richards Blackburn is born. [note the middle name is the child’s grandmother’s maiden name!]. Their address is London Road (in Southwark near Elephant and Castle)
– His wife dies aged 30 in 1821, address London road
– By 1839 when daughter Mary marries, he’s listed as ‘Gentleman, deceased’. All I know for sure is that he died some time between about March 1815 and March 1839.

1812 William Blackburn Gazette

Prisoners in Kings bench prison in the county of Surrey.
William-Blackburn, formerly of Weston-strcet, and late of 
Dean-street, St. Olaves, Southwark, spirit and porter-merchant. Third notice

A William Blackburn is back in debtor’s prison (the Marshalsea, also in Southwark) again for brief periods in n 1816 and 1821 but I haven’t yet proved it was him.

I want to know when he was born and when he died, but have struggled to prove either of these. As noted before, there’s a baptism at st Olaves in 1780 that *could* be him but there’s no proof (when I was less experienced at this type of research, I decided to assume it was him. I’ve since realised how ridiculous that was!). He could obviously have been much older, and he might also not have come from Southwark originally at all. There’s a death (aged 58) in 1832 in Nelson Square, Southwark that could also be him (But there are others as well – this is just the most likely one)

To add to my confusion: there was a famous William Blackburn from Southwark who designed prisons. He died in 1790 but left a son also called William (too young to be mine and who apparently didn’t marry!) who went on to be a barrister at Lincolns Inn (he died in 1846). What baffles me is that in a poll book for 1837 there’s a William Blackburn, fishmonger, resident at Lincoln’s Inn! I haven’t yet separated these two (could the barrister have moonlighted as a fishmonger? Seems unlikely!) but am uncomfortable with the notion that the name and profession can have been a pure coincidence.

A wider question is “what did ‘gentleman’ really mean? That you didn’t have to work? If so, it doesn’t really match with the picture I had built up of William. I did go through post office directories but couldn’t find him at all so I’m guessing he was employed as a fishmonger by someone else…

Here are my slightly pathetic attempts to answer my key research questions from May:

Mary [Burbidge nee Richards] is in London with Elizabeth by 1807. Were John and William jr with her?
I didn’t get too far with this. Post office directories didn’t reveal anything.

When and where did William Burbidge the grocer die?
Blank again! I couldn’t find a death. I now suspect that his daughter Elizabeth was born in Gillingham rather than Market Harborough. Perhaps he died in Market Harborough and his widow moved to Kent to be near family? (This is pure speculation). There is a reported bankruptcy of a Mary Burbidge of Sheerness, grocer.  I wonder if the national archives might have documents that could shed light.

Were both William Blackburn and Elizabeth dead by the time of the 1841 census? I certainly can’t find them.
Finally I have an answer. Yes,  they were both dead as noted above.

How can I prove or disprove the assumed baptism for William in  1780 (parents Edward Blackburne and Mary Rowley)
Well to be honest, I think the question is wrong. As noted above, I don’t know enough about William’s age for it to even be a fair assumption that this is the right person.

The mystery continues.  It’s sad that Elizabeth Blackburn (nee Burbidge) died so young.  Two of her brothers, John and William, lived to old age.  I’ve never traced elder brother Thomas, who may perhaps have died in infancy.

Recap on who these people are:

My grandmother’s father was John Victor Charles Jones (b. 1874)
John’s mother was Mary Jane Moore (b. 1849)
Mary’s mother was Julia Blackburn (b. 1811)
Julia was the daughter of William Blackburn and Elizabeth Burbidge (b. abt 1789)


Other Irish gaps at the GGG/32 level

There are two more gaps at the ’32’ level on my Irish side – that is, two further missing great great great grandparents.

  • I know that Joseph Hill married Jane McBride in 1853 in Frankford Second Presbyterian Church near Castleblayney in Muckno Parish, Co. Monaghan, but all I know about her father was that he was called James McBride and the family residence was at the townland of Tullycollive, Monaghan (Joseph Hill was from the townland of Tullycaghny). I haven’t found a baptism for Jane, so all I know about her is that she was born around 1829 in Monaghan. She has a brother called Samuel who married Margaret Sinclair on 7th Dec 1852
  • I know that John Dawson Dunlop, my GG Grandfather, was the son of Robert Dunlop, but I know nothing of his mother or of Robert’s family. Confusingly, he married Margaret Elizabeth Dawson, and it would appear there was a bit of cousin inter-marriage going on.  You’d think this would help pin down the precise relationships, but in the absence of census records, it’s tough! Robert’s profession is given as Labourer and residence as Belfast on the marriage certificate in 1866.  This makes him harder to track than my farming ancestors who could at least be tracked to specific townlands

Agnes Broadfoot, of Scotland, b. abt 1840, d. Belfast 1904

I’d love to crack this one as it’s my only known Scottish connection.

2021 update: I cracked it! But the photos below are not Agnes and James, but rather Agnes’s elder sister Elizabeth and her husband James Burns. Full blog post to come!


Agnes Broadfoot married James Mathews in Hollymount, County Mayo, on 31st May 1866. James was a Colporteur (travelling bible salesman) and Agnes was a servant at nearby Turin Castle (it looks amazing, although their website says it was abandoned for 250 years up to 1997. Apparently not!)

In spite of the detailed information on the wedding certificate, I haven’t had much luck working backwards. What follows is what I know:

  • James’s father was Hugh Mathews, a farmer. The witnesses at the wedding were John Ward and Maggie C. McCorkey.
  • James was born in county Down; there’s no evidence of any deep Mayo roots
  • The family settled in county Antrim, first Cushendall, and then Ballymena
  • James and Agnes had 5 children, 4 of whom died between the ages of 14 and 21 of TB.
  • There are two middle name clues: my GG Grandfather was James BROWN Mathews, while his sister was Martha WILSON Mathews. Shame these aren’t more unusual names!
  • Agnes and James travelled to upstate New York some time around the mid 1890s, and they were photographed in a studio in Canandaigua, New York (that’s where the photos on this page are from). I wonder if they might have been visiting some relatives (I have no proper information about either James or Agnes’s siblings, for example) (see note at top)
  • Agnes appears in the 1901 census with a place of birth of ‘Scotland’
  • Agnes’s father was John Broadfoot, a farmer.

Amazingly, that’s all I’ve been able to pin down.  Her death certificate says she was 64 in 1904.  But she is listed as 65 in the 1901 census.  I know she died at the Belfast Asylum and the 64 might have been made up. I did find an Agnes Mathews born in 1936 (based on her census age) in Whithorn, Wigtownshire. I tried pretty hard to prove some connection but found nothing. There are a few other possible candidates in Scotland’s 1841 census, but with nothing to go on, I’m stuck there really!  (Sadly I couldn’t find a family with any names she used for her children (Amelia, Eva, Martha, William and James).



Joseph Marshall of Mullaghmore East, Dyan nr Caledon, Tyrone, d. 1850

It was only through some extreme determination that I managed to discover any more about Joseph Marshall than that he was a farmer, and the father of my GG Grandfather Matthew Marshall.

Scouring newspapers, I finally found a report of his death in the Armagh Guardian of June 24, 1850:

Joseph Marshall 1850 Death

There seem to have been generations of Tyrone Marshalls, all giving their sons the same names, so with neither censuses or parish records, I’m waiting for an old family history to surface somehow! Joseph’s birth circa 1774 makes him the oldest known ancestor I have at that GGG level. He would have been 46 or so when his son Matthew was born, and Matthew in turn was 46 when his daughter Rebecca Rea Marshall, my GG grandmother, was born.

Israel Benjamin of Kurnik and Kieferstaedtel, d. 1874 Breslau

I’m going to write a few posts for the record on the various points in my family tree where the trail runs dry.

The first level with gaps is the level of 32 – that is, my great great great (3G) grandparents.

On my father’s side, there’s amazingly just one gap at this level:

Israel Benjamin (b. abt 1816, prob in Kurnik/Kórnik, Posen) married someone, apparently called Rebekka, some time in the late 1840s or early 1850s. They settled in Kieferstädtel, Germany (now Sosnicowice, Poland) where they had sons Joseph and Isaac (my 2G grandfather). I don’t have Rebekka’s last name.

The legend says that Israel’s father was Benjamin Dolziger, shot dead in a forest in Posen, after which time his family took his first name as their family name. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t ever been able to find evidence of this.

My grandfather’s brother Wolfgang Perl wrote a history of our family in which he describes the Jakubowski family as cousins of Israel’s son Isaac Benjamin.  I was able to consult the rather wonderful census of the province of Posen and pick up quite a few details.  They all seem to have moved from Kurnik to Breslau.  Ewald was a chemist. He had a brother called Gustav (whose funeral Wolfgang remembers), and sisters called (if my understanding of the German handwriting is correct) Bertha, Marie and Flora.  Flora married Jakob Schottlaender, and her parents are given on her wedding certificate as Louis Jakubowski and Amelie Goeczlig.

The rather amazing Poznan project has a record that seems to add credence to this – Bertha’s marriage record reveals her parents as Ludwig (rather than Louis) Jakubowski, and her mother as Amalie Benjamin.

The strong implication is that Amelie Goeczlig is therefore Israel’s sister.  From the birth years of her children, she’s likely to have been born around 1825.  If anyone out there knows any more, don’t hesitate to get in touch, as I obviously need more evidence. But it appears that ‘Goeczlig’ had simply evolved in stories told down the line into ‘Dolziger’.

To complicate matters more, when Israel died on 21st September 1874 (it was Yom Kippur, as Wolfgang had recorded), the hebrew documentation seemed to denote his father as being called August (or possibly Abraham/Aron).  But it’s hard to interpret! (I’m not a Hebrew reader myself – apparently the person who wrote the note used Yiddish spelling).  My next step is to try and get any record of Israel’s father’s name via a death record. Was it Auguste or Abraham or Benjamin? I might also be able to get this via an LDS film if sister Amalie died in Kornik.

As an aside, it’s wonderful to find some ephemera online from your actual family. This is the letterhead of my GG grandmother (Isaac Benjamin’s wife Josefine, nee Wischnitz).

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