JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Re: Questions about Identity #general
May I add my own contribution to this discussion on Questions of Identity.
My greatgrandfather, Marcus Israel Landau (as he was known in England), is
recorded in his naturalisation certificate of 1871 as having been born in
Homel (Gomel) in Russia on 20 May 1837. There is no mention of any previous
We are told by family lore (see below) that his surname was not his actual
surname - he possibly took someone else's identity to escape Russia to avoid
service in the Tsar's army.
If let us say that he assumed someone else's identity why should the
birthdate that is stated on his naturalisation certificate be the actual
date but instead possibly the date of birth of the person whose identity he
I assume that a person in Victorian England would have had to use some form
of confirmation of identity - particularly when presenting themselves for
We also understood that he with his young wife escaped >from Russia at the
age of about 18 to escape service in the Tsar's army - they were apparently
when he was 16 and she was 18.
Yet the naturalisation certificate records that 4 of the 5 children (listed
by name and age) were born in Russia.
According to the notes about my greatgrandfather in my familytree (not notes
made my me):
"Marcus Fredkin was born 1837 in Gomel in the province of
Mogilev, White Russia. He fled Russia at the time of the
pogroms in 1852/3 at the age of fifteen when he was about to
be conscripted into the army of Czarist Russia. Under the
Cantonists system in force >from 1805 to 1856, Jewish
children were conscripted into the army >from the age of
twelve (and younger) with the implicit intent of converting
them to Christianity. Service was for 25 years reckoned
from the day they attained the age of eighteen, the normalconscription age. For the adolescent conscripts it was
often a death sentence, not >from enemy fire but from
antisemitism >from within the army.
To get out of the country, Marcus used a common method of
escape. He acquired a forged passport which had belonged to
a deceased German Jew by name of Landau. The frontier
guards were not naive and bribe money as well as passport
were required to get past them. So armed, he took flight.
The accuracy and sequence of events is uncertain. (A cousin of my father)
understood that he travelled to Europe via Kiev, Odessa and Constantinople,
eventually arriving in London
with a wife and small son. He cannot verify this."
Well, did he elope with his wife and get married after escaping Russia (or
was he in hiding?).
There is no independent corroboration of the original surname Fredkin (this
is not referred to in the naturalisation certificate).
My father never heard this >from his own father, although it is clear that
the story has come >from other cousins.
This is, in fact, recorded as fact in page 8 of "Uncle Tungsten" by my
father's first cousin Oliver Sacks.
According to Sacks he made his way to Paris and then Frankfurt where he
married. It says that two years later (in 1855) with the first of their
children they moved to England.
Was he travelling all this time with his young wife-to-be? According to her
death announcement in 1871, she was the daughter of the Rav of Chernigov. It
sounds more like today than 150 years ago - and not the sort of thing that
Orthodox rabbi's daughters would do today - let alone then.
It would though have not been possible for them to keep in touch (he on the
move, she in Russia) and meet up later.
The naturalisation certificate records that only the last of the children
was born in England, and that he only came to England about 8 years before
the naturalisation ie 1863.
I have not been able to trace the births of the older children on the
British birth registers.
I suppose that there is one possibility that they were living in England
under another name prior to 1863.
from what I have mentioned above the records might raise more questions thanthey settle - and at the minimum question family stories which in the
absence of any evidence to the contrary have been passed down as family
history or lore.
A question of identity - you bet!
COHNREICH (Anklam, Germany Krajenka, Poland) ATLAS (Wielkie Oczy (near
Lvov/Lemberg), Poland) WEITZMAN (Cracow), WECHSLER(Schwabach, Germany),
THALHEIMER (Mainbernheim, Germany), KOHN/WEISSKOPF (Wallerstein and
Kleinerdlingen,Germany), LANDAU (only adopted
on leaving Russia/Belarus or later)/FREDKIN (?)
(Gomel, Mogilev, Chernigov, Russia/Belarus)