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.
Select Jacobs Resources on The Internet

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
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
– 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

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.

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
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
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.

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
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

  • 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).





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