Select Wolfe Surname Genealogy

Here are some Wolfe stories and accounts over the years:

Ulf Woulfes in Ireland

The name Ulf derives from the Anglo-Saxon ulf or the Scandinavian ulfr, meaning “wolf.”  Thus the first Limerick Ulf was probably either of native English or of Danish (Viking) settler descent.  The first reference to the name in Ireland occurred in Wexford in a charter of 1177, witnessed by one "Elias, son of Ulf." 

The earliest reference to the surname in Limerick occurred in 1260.  Richard Ulf was recorded there in 1287 and his son Sir Philip became a successful merchant in Limerick City in the early 1300’s.  The Ulf name may have transposed to Woulfe sometime in the 15th century.

General James Wolfe's Ancestry

There have been several versions of the General Wolfe story.  Both the Limerick and the Kildare Woulfes have claimed him; while a virulently anti-Irish biography on General Wolfe by Beckles Wilson published in 1909 denied that Wolfe even had Irish roots.

According to the Limerick Woulfe family tradition, Captain George Woulfe was the son of James Woulfe, the bailiff of Limerick.  Captain Woulfe escaped from Cromwell's general Ireton after the first seige of Limerick in 1651 (it was his brother Francis who was executed) and fled to York in the north of England.  James Wolfe descended from him.  This account first appeared in Ferrar’s History of Limerick in 1765 and was repeated by Maurice Lenihen in his 1860 book Limerick: Its Histories and Antiquities.

Leonard Woolf's Jewishness

The first members of the Woolf family to arrive in England - probably in the late 18th century - lived obscure lives in London's East End.  Leonard's grandfather prospered and moved his tailoring business to the West End.  His father, Sidney, was a lawyer who achieved the high rank of Queen's Counsel but died at the age of forty seven - leaving his widow Marie to bring up a large family on a much reduced income. 

Sidney Woolf had belonged to a Reform synagogue, where he served as warden.  After his death Marie maintained a number of traditional practices, but over the years the family's Jewishness became increasingly attenuated.  Leonard was one of nine siblings, all of whom (apart from an unmarried brother who died young) married non-Jews. 

His own break with religion came early.  At the age of fourteen, he told his mother that he had lost his faith and never wanted to attend synagogue again.  Cambridge confirmed him in his unbelief.

Wolf and Name Variants Coming to America

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Many of these German Wolfs added an “e” to their name and became Wolfes in America.

Jonas Wolf of York County, Pennsylvania

Johann Jonas Wolf was born in York county, Pennsylvania in 1738, the son of immigrant Jonas Wolf, and married Appolona Dick sometime around 1760.  They raised ten children. 

Jonas served as a lieutenant in the Pennsylvania militia during the Revolutionary War.  It seems that he - as part of the county militia - spent most of the war guarding the Revolutionary prison camp near Windsor township. 

Jonas did not live long after the war was over.  He died in 1787 and was buried in the German Reformed cemetery in Abbottstown, Pennsylvania.  His tombstone bore the following inscription in German: 

"Here lies the body of Jonas Wolf, born in 1738 and died on September 7, 1787." 

His age in Church records was given as 47 years, 3 months and 24 days.

Wolfs from Wurttemberg to America

The Wolf family – two brothers and a sister - left their native Wurttemberg in Germany for America in 1854.  The sister later wrote the following on a slip of paper: 

“I Amalie Louise Geister, nee Wolf, was born on May 30, 1840 in Tailfingen, Württemberg.  I came with two of my siblings to America in June 1854.  I was married in May 1864 to Mr. Valentin Geister of Pacific, Missouri where we took up residence.  In September 1884 my husband died and left me behind as a widow with our only daughter.” 

The two brothers, Gustav and Eberhard, ended up in St. Louis, then very much a German immigrant city. 

Gustav was soon running a hotel and restaurant on Market Street and a saloon on South 2nd Street.  However, he died young at the age of thirty in 1860, it is believed of tuberculosis.  And his son Eugene also contracted the disease.  He and his family moved from St. Louis to Denver in 1893 in the hope that the fresh mountain air of Colorado would revive his health.  But it did not and he died there at the relatively young age of 41 in 1901.

Simon Wolf, Friend to Presidents

Simon Wolf’s 1918 autobiography, Presidents I Have Known, was aptly named.  When President Grant named him Recorder of Deeds for Washington in 1869, Wolf became one of the first Jews in the city to hold public office, seven years after he had first arrived in Washington and opened his law office.  In 1881, President James Garfield appointed him Consul General to Egypt.   He counted friendships with Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Woodrow Wilson over his lifetime. 

Wolf proved himself as well an eloquent orator and advocate on behalf of Jewish issues; and, as a columnist for The Jewish Messenger, he would often comment on Jewish life in the capital city.  He was suitably honored in his day.  But, according to the 1987 biography by Esther Panitz, he seems to have left no real legacy on American or Jewish life.

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