do you trace
your ancestry to?
By Bill Choyke
updated spring 2009
Rising above other gravestones, deep inside Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, the headstone of Manassah J. Choyke reads: "In memory of my beloved husband and our dear father. Born April 11, 1827, Died Sept. 25, 1897."
At various times over the three decades that preceded his death, Manassah was called in census documents and other official records: Manassius Choike, head of household, schoolteacher. To the generations of many Choykes born in the United States, Manassah and his wife Cecilia, should be known as progenitors. Immigrants with their family, they are the first known Choykes to emigrate from Europe, arriving between 1869 and 1871, with six sons and two daughters. In all likelihood, they arrived from Liverpool, given all the children were listed in the 1880 census as born in England. Other documents noted Liverpool as the place of birth for the eldest son. Oral history has the family coming from the Netherlands; although there is no documentation to suggest the family or any of its members spent any time there.
As any Choyke knows, many people are unfamiliar with the name and openly ask: "What kind of name is that." Typically, this is meant to inquire about the national origin of the name rather than genealogy. A similar sounding name, Choueka, traces itself back to Aleppo, Syria, in the early centuries. To make that connection would be a baseless leap of faith. What is certain, however, is that Manassah and Cecilia Choyke were born in what in 1880 was known as Prussia, the eastern part of what later became Germany. There's strong evidence that Choyke was the original European name although it likely was once pronounced Choykee, but spelled as it is today - Choyke. In fact, later Choykes who immigrated to this country in the years leading up to Hitler's Germany pronounce their name Choykee although spelled similarly to the silent-"e" Choykes.
Based on its family history, those Choykes trace their European roots to Militsch, near Breslau, formerly part of Germany (Prussia). This region is now part of Poland. The town, now called Milicz, is 55 kilometers, or about 90 miles, northnortheast of Wroclaw, formerly Breslau. Milicz has about 12,700 residents. The name Choyke, I am told, derives itself from the Hebrew perversion of a scholarly person. It is likely that the Choyke wings share some heritage, an area for further exploration.
In 1880, about 11 years after Manassah and Cecilia brought their family to the United States, they were living in tenement housing at 205 Delancey Street in New York City's lower east side. The family lived in apartment 183, and there were 26 numbered housing units in the building. Today, this site is either a municipal building or parking lot, it is difficult to determine based on both a site visit and mapping. In the 1880 census, Manassah's age was listed as 48; Cecilia's 42, suggesting they were about 37 and 31 when they immigrated to the United States. Seven children lived in the household in 1880, ranging from the oldest Isaac at 21 to the youngest Martin, 10. Living in unit 184 - ostensibly next door or across the hall - was Joseph Rosenthal, 25, and his wife Sarah, 24. Two decades later, after Manassah died, Cecilia lived on the Upper East Side of New York with the Rosenthals, listing them as her daughter and son-in-law.
For Jews, they were actually fairly early arrivals. In 1860, there were far more Jews in the South than in the north, with only about 60,000 Jews in New York. Nationwide, between 1820 and 1850, about 200,000 Jews arrived from the Ashkenazic countries of Germany and Bohemia, fleeing from political oppression and grinding poverty. Manassah and Cecilia likely arrived in England sometime in the 1850s before 1858, given that Sarah, their eldest, was born in 1858 in England. The port city of Liverpool, known many years later for launching the Beatles, is the suspected home for the Choykes in England. The New York City death certificate of Fanny Choyke, the 7-month, 10-day-old daughter of eldest son Isaac, lists father's birthplace as Liverpool, England. At the time, Liverpool, a rapidly expanding port city, attracted scores of German Ashkenazi in search of economic betterment and escape from punitive conditions in the German states.
The name Manassah is a probably a variant from the Biblical name of Menashe (pronounced Minash), which follows the original Hebrew form of Mnasheh, which is found in Genesis 41:51, derived from Manasseh. Manasse is the variant in German, with Manassah the Anglicized form. Menashe was the eldest son of Joseph and the brother of Ephraim in Genesis.
Manassah's death certificate in 1897 says he lived in the U.S. for 28 years, putting his arrival in 1869. He might have, however, lived elsewhere for the first three years because it says he lived in New York for 25 years. Both the 1880 census and his death certificate list Manassah's occupation as either "schoolteacher" or "teacher," but it is not known if this was for the New York public schools, a religious school or other private school. The death certificate, dated Sept. 25, 1897, lists him at 71 years old. Given his gravestone says he was born in 1827, one assumes that was rounded up in the death certificate. At the time of his death, he lived at 115 E. 106 St. J. Gerstel, the physician who signed the death certificate, said he was under his care from Aug. 16, 1897, until his death and that the chief cause was "general debility" contributed to by "old age."
Cecilia, who listed herself as a housewife since arriving in the United States, lived another 14 years. Altogether, she lived in this country 40 years, according to her death certificate, and it is not discernible if any of the time was spent elsewhere than New York. Given that Manassah spent some time outside New York, it's possible that he came up to three years earlier than the family. Possible, but unlikely. The death certificate of Bertam, the second youngest who died in 1937, indicates he spent all of his 67 U.S. years in New York, suggesting he arrived in 1870. So the arrival year might be a result of best memory or rounding. Regardless, by the 1900 census, Cecilia was living on the Upper East Side with the Rosenthals - daughter Sarah; son-in law, Joseph; and their three daughters and two sons. She died, apparently at home in her tenement, at 63 E. 117th St. in New York. In one document, her name was spelled Cecillia, an apparently misspelling. In others, the nickname Cecile was used. It's unclear whether her maiden name was Israel or Issacs. On her death certificate, her father is listed as Jacob Israel and her mother's maiden name was Jane Serafin - both born in Germany. On Bertam's death certificate, however, her maiden name was Isaacs. Cecilia died of acute bronchitis at the age of 82, and is buried at Mt. Neboh Cemetery, 8207 Cypress Hills St, in the Glendale section of Queens.
The fact that Manassah and Cecilia were not buried together - their remains are in different boroughs - was not unusual for that era. Manassah was buried in the section of Sons of Benjamin - which was a burial society and possibly religious social club. Consistent with Jewish tradition, he was buried the next day. The cemetery, founded in 1867, is at 5400 Bay Parkway and accessible via the "F" train to Brooklyn. Also buried in Washington Cemetery is Fanny, Isaac's infant daughter. Mt. Neboh, a much smaller cemetery, also has Isaac and his wife, Rosa Choyke.
It should be no surprise to any descendants that then 20-year old Jacob Choyke, the second oldest son of Manassah and Cecilia, listed his occupation at "salesman" in the 1880 census. Jacob, my great-grandfather, lived at home on Delancey Street with his five brothers and a sister. His older brother Isaac was a tailor; Baron and James, then 18 and 15, were sugarmakers. Sister Evelina, 14, was "at home" while brothers Bertram and Martin were "at school." Mom kept house, as did sister Sarah Rosenthal, also at 205 Delancey. Her husband, Joseph, was listed as a tailor.
Because the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire, it is unknown when the family went their separate ways as the children got older and left home. By 1900, mother Cecilia was living with the Rosenthals in New York at 238 East 114th St. Eldest son, Isaac, lived at 358 Sumner Avenue in Brooklyn with his wife and seven kids: daughters Hatta, Sadie and May; and sons Joseph, Arthur and James. Baron lived in Manhattan and worked as a cigarmaker. He and his wife Clara had two children, Joseph and Esther. And Martin, the baby of the family then 30, was a brushmaker and lived with his wife Ana. They also lost a child, Zachariali, at 4 months and 7 days.
About a 1,000 miles away from much of the family, Jacob Choyke lived at 670 N. Irving Ave. in Chicago, selling wholesale clothing. He rented. He was 39, and had been married for 16 years to Eva, a few months younger. Joseph I. was their oldest of three children, born in May of 1885, and my grandfather. Son James Edward, somewhat strangely, was born about nine months later and Ester, the only daughter, followed by another 14 months.
All of Jacob's and Eva's children were born in New York, suggesting that Jacob left for the Midwest sometime after 1888 when Ester arrived and before 1900. Eva Choyke was born in New York. Her maiden name is unknown at this time, as the death certificate of her oldest son Joseph, says only it is not available. In 1900, all the children were in Chicago schools.
Another Choyke family from Germany has a strong presence in the United States. Wolfgang Justus Choyke (Jim Choyke) is a physicist emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh; his son, Peter, a well-known and prolific diagnostic radiologist in Washington, D.C.; and his daughter, Alice, an archeologist. In 1986, Jim Choyke wrote to me after seeing the byline William J. Choyke in a news story: "My parents came to this country from Berlin in 1935 as refugees from Hitler. I was born in Berlin in 1926, and we first went to Amsterdam for a year on our way to New York City. My paternal (and maternal, for that matter) grandparents lived most of their adult lives in Magdeburg. Both grandfathers were lawyers and had become friends as students at the University of Breslau."
On file at the Leo Baeck Institute at the Center for Jewish History in New York is the Isidor Choyke Collection, a number of reference materials related to the Choyke family of which Wolfgang is a descendent. Isidor was born in Militsch, near Breslau, on March 2, 1856, to Samuel and Rosalie (Israel) Choyke. Isidor was a prominent attorney and served as the equivalent of a judge in the Magdeburg area. What is interesting is that on a couple of these documents, the name Fanny Choyke appears - the name of the infant daughter of Manassah and Cecilia's eldest son, Isaac. Family history or coincidental? Fanny was not used, based on available records, as a child's name again in that Choyke family.
|Choyket clothing store in Paris|
In Paris is another connection - or coincidence. Charles Choyket, bald with outward ears and a striking resemblance to my father, Bud Choyke, ran retail stores with his father for years, including a clothing store and later a jewelry store at Maison de le Reine No. 8. The family was from Lille. Charles passed a number of years ago. His father was named Ephraim Choyket, and he was born in Gorichkow, Russia, on Oct. 15, 1874. In Genesis, Ephraim is the younger brother of Menashe. Ephraim was the son of Fridel Choyket and Heva Goldberg, information gathered from Charles' widow. A half-brother of Charles, Henry Choyket, died in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
This site will be updated periodically through further research and information provided by Choykes around the world. If you are a descendant of Manassah and Cecilia Choyke, or have any material that you think is relevant to this project, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.