More Moses Marcus

An ornament symbolizing the Biblical Moses.

Last weekend I had an extremely fruitful session of something my husband and I call “Moses Marcussing.” While the Rev. Moses Marcus is not an ancestor or even a cousin of mine, he appears in my family tree as the father-in-law of my first cousin five times removed, and despite his infinitesimal kinship to me, I consider him one of the jewels in my genealogical crown.

Vita Brevis readers may remember a few details of his life contained in a tribute to his daughter Lelia, who was lost during a hurricane in 1875. Three years ago I was contacted by someone requesting details about her father, after they’d found information I’d provided for her memorial on Find A Grave. You can imagine the thrill of getting such a request, since I fancy myself the world’s foremost expert on the Rev. Moses Marcus. My thrill was tinged with a hint of suspicion that a close family member (knowing my partiality to the reverend gentleman) might have gone to the effort of creating a fake account just to pull my leg … but it was genuine, and I was happy to oblige.

In case another soul on the planet ever wants more information, I periodically check to see if I can find anything new about Moses Marcus, and last weekend the answer was a resounding YES. The source of my of my success came from English probate records that have been added since I last had an international subscription to Genealogical experts are always singing the praises of probate records, and what I found this weekend absolutely proved their value. Before I reveal what I found, however, I should mention that I had to wade through medieval-style script to get there!

I’m definitely a fan of preserving ancient art forms, and love the fact that English lawyers still wear little white wigs and black gowns in court, and judges look like Father Christmas all year long in their fur-trimmed red robes. However, I fail to see the necessity for nineteenth-century clerks to transcribe wills using script that had been out of style for hundreds of years! Alas, this was what my poor eyes and brain had to contend with (compounded by imperfect digital images); thankfully, the effort was well rewarded.

Genealogical experts are always singing the praises of probate records, and what I found this weekend absolutely proved their value.

First, I discovered the 1834 will of William Page, gentleman, a resident of Emberton, Buckinghamshire. This man was the father of Kezia (Page) Marcus, wife of the Rev. Moses Marcus. I nearly passed up this document as irrelevant, since the first page mentioned a wife Sury (Kezia’s mother was named Elizabeth), plus a son James and two daughters, Sophia and Mary … but not Kezia or her sister Knight. I’d discovered the relationship between Kezia and the unusually-named Knight early on, since they signed as witnesses at each other’s marriages in 1817. Luckily, I continued to scan later pages and noticed the name of James Millar – Knight’s second husband – and finally a reference to Kezia herself.

But what I read about Kezia was heartbreaking: she had been disinherited! Of course it’s impossible to know the exact circumstances, but a likely explanation was that William Page objected to the Jewish heritage of his son-in-law. If Kezia went against her father’s wishes in marrying Moses, naming her firstborn son after her father does not appear to have mollified the old man one bit. Tragically, Kezia died in January 1835, only a few months after her father.

But what I read about Kezia was heartbreaking: she had been disinherited!

My spirits were lifted, however, by what I found in the 1852 will of Kezia’s sister, Knight (Page) (Pomfret Williams) Millar, widow, of Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire. After stipulating that her debts and funeral expenses should be paid, the very first bequest was for the children of her sister Kezia Marcus. I have to admit that I shed a few tears of happiness to think that Knight had continued to stand by her sister, even in the face of their father’s wrath. Each of Kezia’s children was given 150 Pounds Sterling (worth approximately $20,000 today) … and there were two children named in addition to the four I was already aware of!!

While this was a very exciting development, it was not wholly unexpected. There were two tick marks in Moses Marcus’s 1840 census record that were not accounted for, so I’d looked for additional children. However, since I didn’t know their names, or even whether they’d been born in England or the Netherlands (where their father served as chaplain in the early 1830s), I’d been unsuccessful in tracking them down. Now here they were: Marianne Marsh Marcus, the wife of [blank] Tinker of New York, and Pomfret Marcus.

Even with names and approximate birth years, I have not been able to find their baptismal records in England, but I was able to find them in some New York documents. Their dates and places of death are also still mysteries … which is a little odd in the case of the youngest son: how can anyone named Pomfret blend into the crowd?? In due time, I may be able to track everything down, but for now I’m thrilled to know their names, and that their Aunt Knight loved and remembered them.

About Pamela Athearn Filbert

Pamela Athearn Filbert was born in Berkeley, California, but considers herself a “native Oregonian born in exile,” since her maternal great-great-grandparents arrived via the Oregon Trail, and she herself moved to Oregon well before her second birthday. She met her husband (an actual native Oregonian whose parents lived two blocks from hers in Berkeley) in London, England. She holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon, and has worked as a newsletter and book editor in New York City and Salem, Oregon; she was most recently the college and career program coordinator at her local high school.

9 thoughts on “More Moses Marcus

  1. Pamela, I also read your earlier post. Their lives are a map of the times. In the hands of a skilled historical novelist or mini series writer – who knows. The conversion of the Marcus family from Judaism is a story unto itself as well. I’m hooked. Please tell us more.

  2. I love this story! Good luck with your continued quest. Now I will have to go look at that collection of probate records too!

  3. Re the idea someone named Pomfret should be easy to find, the same can be said of an ancestor from Devonshire whose first name was Ponsford. (Can’t imagine how much trouble such a name caused him at his English boarding school!) He himself wasn’t difficult to find in Victorian-era records. It was the grandson “Ponsford Thomas” who was difficult to track after being transplanted to 1880s America (Iowa and Kansas). On this side of the Pond, the younger Ponsford became simply “Thomas P.”. A great-uncle who’d emigrated several years earlier also had a son named “Thomas P.” With both having the same unusual surname, figuring out which was which unless the record contained a full middle name, age, birth year or bp was quite the head-scratcher for a year or two.

  4. Your research was interesting. I’m sure none are my relatives, but the name caught my eyes. I was named after a grandmother named Lelia Monona Gile Liebenberg, Feb. 07, 1869 to Feb. 28, 1904. Her Father James was born in VT and Grandfather John Gile was born in England abt. 1801. My name is Lelia Maude Liebenberg Ladenburger. Do you think Lelia is an English name? It is unusual and no one can pronounce it so I have always gone by Lee.

    1. Lelia Marcus was baptized Kezia Jane Lellias, and apparently went by Lellias through mid-life. I’ve wondered if she might have been named for her paternal grandmother, but really have no idea. It seems like a lovely name.

      1. Pamela, Thank you for your reply. Paul’s response might be that you are correct it was perhaps a family name as you spelled it in your research and coming from Rome.
        Growing up was difficult when no teachers could pronounce Lelia correctly. By college I used the nickname.

  5. A quote from the website cited below gives this take on Lelia:

    A rare and delicate choice, Lelia is a modern variation of an ancient Roman family name. It came to Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, following the publication of George Sand’s popular romantic novel titled Lelia in 1833. –

    It also adds that the pronunciation is LEEL-ia

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