One of my great-great-grandfathers, a man of several name variations and a murky past.
Morris ABRAHAMS was born on 10 September 1849 in “Russia” or “Poland” (even though it was not a political entity in 1849), son of David. Russia in that timeframe could mean anything East of Germany, and the only real clue we have of his birthplace is that his wife – according to family lore – was born in Pinsk, in what is now Belarus.
At some point before 1875, Morris married Sarah JACOBY, and moved to London. I have found no marriage record for the couple, nor have I been able to locate them on the 1871 UK census, so both events may predate the move. Their first child, Dena, was born in London in 1872. Even though all documentation for Dena claims an English birth, I can find no UK registration.
Finally, the 25 January 1875 birth of a second child, David, produces the earliest piece of documentation of the family in the form of a UK birth registration. At that point the family was living in the notorious slums of Whitechapel, Morris was listed here as a tailor, a common immigrant profession. The name of the child also likely indicates that Morris’s father, David, was deceased by this time.
By April 1875, Morris had arranged passage to New York. He travelled first, arriving 11 May, and Sarah and the two children followed in September. Once settled in New York, the family grew with Pesach (later, Peyser), Samuel, and Eva.
Around 1879, the family relocated to Baltimore, where the rest of the children were born in the next decade: Ida, Dora, Aaron, Rosa, and Annie. It was during this period that Morris began freely using variations of his name. Sometimes there was no “s” at the end of ABRAHAMS, and often the entire name was shortened to ABRAMS. It even varied among the children, where Peyser and David used ABRAHAM and the younger children starting with Sam never used anything but ABRAMS. The name Morris sometimes became Maurice in certain documents and directories.
Even though the family was located in Baltimore, they began to open clothing stores and other occupations in Portsmouth, VA and Elizabeth City, NC, to a level of success which was generally marginal to somewhat less so. It’s not clear why they chose th0se locations in particular, but the family continued to have a presence there, and eventually several of the children relocated permanently.
At the end of 1899, daughter Eva ran off and married a gentile. The story of that mixed marriage was related via a granddaughter of Annie ABRAMS (Morris’s youngest child):
At the turn of the century, Eva Abrams ran off to marry an “Italian” guy. When she did, her father, Morris, was so upset that he sat shiva for her. Her sisters, Daisy and Annie, tried to stay in touch with her for awhile. Finally, Morris seemed to come around and agreed to go visit his daughter. However, he was told that he had to enter Eva’s house through the back door, not the front door. Naturally offended, he refused to enter the house through the back door. From that day, he had nothing further to do with her, and Daisy and Annie lost touch with her as well.
As with most family lore, this story doesn’t quite ring true in the light of fact I have uncovered. Eva didn’t marry an Italian, but rather the US-born, son of a German immigrant, Louis RIEBEL, Jr. – quite literally the “boy next door”. The two ran off to Washington DC to marry, and then came back to Baltimore, a little over a mile from their former homes. It doesn’t appear they would have been difficult to find. An August 1900 newspaper article notes that Louis had renounced Christianity and was converting to Judaism on behalf of his wife, and that there was “joy in his home and among his wife’s relatives and friends” as a result. What actually happened and eventually transpired is not known.
Morris’s wife, Sarah, died in Portsmouth in 1907, less than a year after son David had died of lung cancer at age 31. For a few years thereafter, Morris vanishes from public records, including Baltimore city directories and the 1910 US Census. Then, sometime before 1920, Morris remarried a Russian widow twenty years his junior named Bertha / Bessie / Brina (most likely correct) or Rebecca, who had two grown children from a previous marriage, Clara (b. 1895) and Jake (b. 1896). The previous surname of the new family is not recorded. Brina had arrived in 1913 according to the 1920 census, a year or two after her children. All four were living in the same household in 1920.
Morris died in Baltimore on 1 September 1929, and was buried in Portsmouth, VA. Despite being a few days shy of his 80th birthday, someone decided to “round up” on the gravestone – even though they also engraved his birth and death dates on the same stone.
Morris’s Maryland State death certificate lists his wife as Brina, but I have not found her nor children on the 1930 census, and they’re not at the address they had been living with Morris since 1924. It’s possible that they reverted to her previous, and unknown, married name.