Select Jacobs Surname Genealogy

The Hebrew Yaakov and the Biblical Jacob are the sources for the surname Jacobs and its variants.

The Jewish surnames from Yaakov include Yakov, Jacob, Jacoby and Jacobowitz, as well as Jacobs.  The Biblical Jacob has given the Jacob and Jacobs names in Holland, Flemish-speaking Belgium, and Germany and the Jacobsen name in Scandinavia.  Jacobs has been a somewhat less common surname in England because Jacob frequently transposed to James.

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Select Jacobs Ancestry

Today, the Jacobs number about:
  • 20,000 in Holland,
  • 20,000 in Belgium
  • and another 20,000 in Germany.
Of these, the Dutch had been the first to spread their wings - establishing colonies in New York and South Africa by the 17th century.  However, they were slower than the English in adopting surnames.  At this time many families were still operating a patronymic system.  Surnames were not to be formerly required until 1811.  Even so, the Dutch did bring Dutch surnames like Jacobs into what were to become English-speaking areas. 

One Flemish Jacobs line began with Jan Jacobs, born in Puurs near Antwerp in 1750 and married there in 1784.  Fernandinus Jacobs emigrated to Peru around the year 1875.

South Africa.   The Jacobs in South Africa are mainly of Dutch origin.  The early Jacobs arrivals in the 1680's included a French Huguenot refugee and a Dutch orphan girl being sent there in search of a husband. 

A young Jacobs boy, Stephanus Erasmus Jacobs, became famous in 1866 when he discovered on his family's farm - at Hopetown on the fringes of Cape colony - what turned out to be the Eureka diamond.  The find sparked a diamond rush and marked a major turning point in the economic history of South Africa. 

Since that time the number of Jacobs has grown and Jacobs is the most common white surname in South Africa.

America.  The Dutch brought the Jacobs name to New York in the 1650's, but for its bearers - like Tryntje Jacobs - the name would still be varyingly patronymic rather than one to stay constant over the generations.  Even so, under English influence, the Jacobs surname did spread in colonial America. 

Another early Jacobs, George Jacobs and probably English, arrived in the Massachusetts Bay colony in the 1650's and settled in Salem.  In 1692 he was caught up in the Salem witchcraft trials.  Despite the vigorous defense that he mounted, he was found guilty and hanged that year.  Interestingly, the Jacobs family remained in Salem.  When they eventually sold their house in the 1980's, old George's bones, buried on the land, had to be moved.

Later, there were some nondescript Jacobs who perhaps unwittingly gave their names to illustrious Jacobs:
  • The first was a Captain Jacobs of German ancestry living in Pennsylvania in the 1750's.  A mighty Delaware Indian, responsible for multiple raids on English settlers at that time, was given that nickname because, it was said, he resembled the German.   His real name was Tewea.
  • Then there was Henry Jacobs, an illiterate small-time farmer who lived near the Knox plantation in Edenton, North Carolina.  In the early 1800's his name passed onto a slave family in the plantation. Two children there, Harriet and John, escaped slavery and Harriet later wrote her story, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the most compelling slave accounts written from a woman's perspective.  
Over 60 percent of the Jacobs arrivals in the 19th century were from German-speaking lands.  The following are two examples of Jacobs immigration at that time:
  • Three children from a Jacobs/Jacoby family in Posen, Prussia left their homes in the 1860's to try to better their lot in America.  They came to Wisconsin and Illinois and prospered there.
  • Later came a Jacob family, this time Jewish from Lithuania, who were more typical perhaps of the "tired, poor, and huddled masses."  They came through Ellis Island in 1905 to seek their fortunes on the streets of New York.
Not all of the Jacobs immigrants were German or Jewish.  The Joseph Jacobs who founded the Jacobs Engineering Group was the son of a Lebanese immigrant who came to Brooklyn and made his living selling razors.

A number of Jacobs have made their mark in America in more recent times, including:
  • New York's Jacob brothers and their piano company (from 1877)
  • the Jacobs brothers of Buffalo who started a sports condession business (from 1915)
  • the Jacobs of Cleveland (from 1955)
  • and Bernard Jacobs who took over the Shubert theater group in New York in 1972.
England.  There were early pockets of the Jacobs name in various places in south and east England:
  • A William Jacob was recorded as holding land in Cambridgeshire as early as 1138.  The Jacob name then become quite widespread in Suffolk, with many references in the Laxfield, Bury St. Edmonds, Buxhall and Glemsford parish records in Elizabethan times.
  • The Jacob name also showed up in the records of Folkestone in Kent from the 1400's.  Thomas and William Jacob appeared as barons of the Cinque ports at that time.  There are Jacobs family histories from Folkestone and Dover and the nearby village of Elham which began in Elizabethan times.
  • Another Jacobs family has traced their history also back to Elizabethan times and to William Jacob on the Isle of Wight in Hampshire.
London Focus  The Jacobs distribution in the 1891 census showed that the name was not that prevalent in England outside of London, with the exception of Hampshire.  Some London Jacobs of that time were local-born - such as the humorous short-story writer W.W. Jacobs, the son of a docker.  His roots went back to Burstall in Suffolk in the early 1700's.  But more Jacobs in London probably came from immigrant German and Jewish families.

German/Jewish Jacobs  There was a Jacobs butchers' family in Whitechapel from the late 1700's.  And David Jacobs had arrived from Litzen in Germany by that time.  He and his family were china and glass merchants.  Old trade directories indicate a significant number of Jacobs as glass cutters and dealers in the Berwick Street area of London from the early 1800's. 

Meanwhile Lazarus Jacobs from Frankfurt had started a glassmaking business in Bristol in the 1760's and his firm were to become glassmakers to King George III.

Australia.  The Jacobs were among the earliest arrivals in South Australia, firstly Isaac and Elizabeth Jacobs from the Isle of Wight in 1837 and then two Jacob brothers, William and John, who got there a year later. The Jacob brothers farmed in what is now known as Jacob's Creek. 

A number of Jewish Jacobs also came to Australia, including:
  • John and Sarah Jacobs from London in 1837.  Their son Joseph became a well-known children's writer and Jewish historian. 
  • Charles Jacobs, whose marriage with his wife Elizabeth in 1846 was the first to be celebrated in the Jewish faith in South Australia.  Charles became a sugar importer, his son Samuel the manager of a brewery, SA Brewing Company, where he was succeeded by his son Roland in 1948.
  • and Moses Jacobs and his brother Solomon who came to Victoria in 1852.  They established a clothing shop in Geelong which ran through three generations.
Select Jacobs Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Jacobs Names

Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861, is the most important slave narrative to be written by an African American woman.
Michael Jacobs was a leading boxing promoter in New York in the 1930's and 1940's.
Jane Jacobs, a Canadian writer, is best known for her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  She was born Jane Butzner in Pennsylvania.
David and Richard Jacobs began their real estate business in Cleveland in the 1950's and were pioneers in America's new shopping developments.

Select Jacobs Today
  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 41,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in South Africa).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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