Select Marks Surname Genealogy

From the Mark of the Gospels and the Roman Marcus came the English Marks and the German Marx surnames.  Marx is also a Jewish name.  It was possibly an acronym of the first two letters of the Hebrew masiach plus the Hebrew rendering of the Latin rex.  Marx often became Marks in England and America.

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Select Marx/Marks Ancestry

Marx number some 35-40,000 in Germany today.  The name is mainly to be found along the Rhine in Saarland and the Rheinland Palatinate and also in Alsace.  Lord Hans Marx was a legendary figure from Eckwersheim in Alsace in the 15th century.  There was once a wider Jewish Marx diaspora extending into the former Russian Empire.  But this has largely disappeared. 

Karl Marx, the author of the Communist Manifesto and Das Capital, was born in 1818 in Trier on the lower Rhine.  The family, originally Mordechai, had been rabbis in Trier since the early 1700’s.  But his father, at a time of anti-semiticism, abandoned the Jewish faith and adopted the Marx name.  Karl Marx, when rendered stateless, would spend the latter part of his life writing out of the British Museum in London. 

The forebears of the Marx brothers in America have been traced back to the early 1800’s and the town of Hochfelden in the Bas-Rhin area of Alsace. 

 Marks figured at an early date as a surname in the west country, primarily in Devon and Somerset. 

West Country
.  In Devon, one
Marks line in Devon began in 1560 with the birth of Harry Marks in Totnes.  Richard Marks meanwhile was recorded as marrying Agnes Lang in Barnstaple in 1540.  These Marks were later to be found in Crediton and South Tawton before moving to Launceston in Cornwall.   Four Hannibal Marks featured during their stay in Cornwall, the last named departing for New Zealand in 1845 and serving as harbormaster at Tauranga until his death by drowning in 1879.

In Somerset, the Old English word maerc, meaning “mark” or “border,” gave rise to a place-name Mark and may have given rise to the Marke and Marks surname there as well.  The surname surfaced in the parish registers of West Buckland in the 1600’s and later was to be found at Odcombe and South Petherton. 

London and Elsewhere
.  Larger Marks numbers have been in London, probably as the result of Jewish immigration

The Bevis Marks synagogue in London, opened in 1701, is the oldest surviving synagogue in England.  But Bevis Marks comes from an earlier place-name and is not Jewish in origin.  A Marks family were members of the Great Synagogue at Dukes Place in the early 1700’s.  The names recorded at that time were Zachariah, David, Solomon and Alexander Marks.  It is thought that Mordecai Marks, who later emigrated to America, also came from this family.

Woolf Marks was a Jewish merchant in London in the early 1800's.  His son David was a rabbi and a leader of Reform Judaism in Victorian times.  His grandsons Harry and Claud both distinguished themselves - the former as a newspaper editor and publisher and the latter as a soldier with the British army during the Boer War.

Lyon Marks, born in London in 1786, was also a Jewish merchant of the early 1800’s.  His son Morris emigrated to South Australia in 1846.  Another Jewish Marks family had settled first in Portsmouth and later in Exeter from whence Joseph Marks departed for Melbourne, Australia in 1853. 

Michael Marks had arrived in England from Belorussia in the Russian Empire in 1882.  He moved to Leeds where he started trading out of market stalls.  In 1894 he started the retail company of Marks and Spencer.  This was taken over and expanded by his son Simon after Michael’s death in 1907.  Simon it was who introduced the St. Michael brand in the store in honor of his father.

America.   Peter Marks, thought to have come from Suffolk and said to have married Lady Betty Hastings, emigrated to Virginia sometime in the 1730’s.  Three of their sons married into notable families: 
  • John married the widow of Colonel William Lewis, the mother of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame.
  • Hastings married Ann Cary Jefferson, the sister of President Jefferson. 
  • and James married Elizabeth Harvie, “one of nine brothers and sisters whose aggregate weight was 2,700 pounds.”  
Hastings died in 1811 in Virginia and his widow moved to Monticello.  John and James migrated to Georgia in the 1780’s.  Their lines were covered in Pettigrew and Brightwell’s 1981 book The Marks-Barnett Families and Their Kin.

The Rev. John Marks was a Baptist minister who was born in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania in 1716. 
In the 1750's he moved to Loudoun county, Virginia to establish Baptist churches there.  Three of his sons fought in the Revolutionary War and were granted lands in Kentucky.

German.  German and Jewish numbers have been much larger than the English numbers among the Marks and Marx entrants into America. 

The Marx name first appeared, generally as Marks, among German arrivals into Pennsylvania in the 18th century.  Included in that number was Nicholas Marks who married Eva Schneider in the early 1700's.  Their descendants migrated westward to Ohio and Michigan.

Mordecai Marks was a Jewish immigrant from London to Stamford, Connecticut in 1729.  At that time he changed his faith to Christian and married. 

The Marks name cropped up in the Jewish community in Philadelphia before and after the Revolutionary War. Levy Marks was recorded as a tailor there in 1760.  Michael Marks, a merchant and saddler, arrived there from London in the 1780’s.  Humphrey and Frances Marks, also from London, made their home in Charleston, South Carolina on arrival in 1783

Marxes began arriving in America around the time of the Civil War.  Aaron Marx, who enlisted as a soldier, and his wife Sarah settled in Baltimore where Aaron was shown first as a peddler and then as a cigar-maker.  Leopold Marks, fleeing conscription in Germany, arrived penniless in New York in 1868.  He managed to make a little money to work his way southward to the Mississippi Delta where he prospered as a general store-keeper and merchant.  The county seat of Marks in Quitman county was named after him.

New York was the hub for many of the subsequent Marx immigrants:
  • Sam Marx - known was Frenchy because he came from Alsace - who was a dance teacher in New York when he married Minnie Schoenberg in 1884.   Their sons were the famous Marx brothers who burst into vaudeville in 1905 and had a long stage and screen career.
  • Jacob Marx who arrived from Austria in the 1890's and started a small wooden toy business in Brooklyn.  His son Louis Marx expanded the business greatly with his brother David and was by the 1950's described as the owner of the largest toy business in the world.
  • a Marx family who came in 1895 and started up a butcher's shop in Brooklyn.   They moved to New Jersey in the early 1900's and, as Marx Foods, have been distributing fine meats over five generations to restaurants across the United States.
  • and another Sam Marx, born in 1902 and the son of a tailor in New York, who made his mark as a screenwriter and producer at MGM Studios in Hollywood.  
South Africa.  Sammy Marks, born in Lithuania, came out to the Cape colony in 1859 and at first made his living peddling jewelry.  He later moved to Pretoria where he was one of the early entrepreneurs at the time of the diamond boom.  He prospered.  In 1886 he built for himself and his family a grand 40 room Victorian mansion.  It soon became well-known to celebrities and dignitaries visiting South Africa.  This house, at Zwartkoppies to the east of Pretoria, has been preserved as a museum.

Australia and New Zealand.  There were Marks and Marx arrivals during the 19th century, from England, Ireland and Germany.  The most notable of these were Jewish arrivals from England, including:
  • Joseph and Julia Marks and their large family from Exeter who came on the Cotfield to South Australia in 1853, moving to Victoria three years later.  Their descendants became the leading wholesale jewelers in the Melbourne area in the 1920’s.
  • and John Marks, a jeweler from London, who arrived in Sydney via New Zealand in 1880.  His son Percy established his renowned jewelry shop on Market Street in Sydney in 1900.   He made his name in promoting the opal gem.  His business has continued through three generations of Marks.
Another Percy Marks in Sydney, born there in 1867, acted from 1912 as the unofficial historian of Australian Jewry. His brother Ernest was a prominent sportsman who was later the touring manager for the Australian teams at the Olympic Games of 1908, 1912 and 1932.

Select Marx/Marks Miscellany

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

Select Marx/Marks Names

Karl Marx, author of the Communist Manifesto and Das Capital, was born in Germany but became stateless and spent much of his later life in London. 
Sammy Marks was a Jewish entrepreneur in South Africa who grew rich during the diamond boom times of the 1880's.
Michael Marks, born into a Belarussian family, was the founder of the British department store Marks & Spencer in 1894.
The Marx Brothers
- Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Gummo and Zeppo - were comedy stars in vaudeville, Broadway, and film from 1905 to the 1940’s.

Select Marx/Marks Today
  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 25,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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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