Saturday, 15 August 2015

5 more Thomas'

Thomas as he portrayed himself.

A couple of years ago, my sister broke the news that she had been looking into old family records in a genealogical sort of way, and had discovered that our father's side were from Eastern European stock consisting of Jewish leather-workers who came to the East End of London about 3 or 400 years ago. She has just sent me a load of old birth certificates from places like Southwark and various points East.

I have been a bit busy this week to look at them in detail but, search as I might, I could not see how she came to the Jewish conclusion. There was a brief reference to some seal-skinners down the line, though.

I sent her a text asking how she had come to think that we had - albeit on the paternal side - Jewish heritage, and she said that she thought that our grandmother's maiden name - Durant - was a classically Jewish name, but it turned out to be old Huguenot.

I pointed out that Gran was not on the paternal side anyway, and Sis pointed out that they had been cousins. That was one revelation. I said that newly arrived Jews often changed their names to things that either made them sound as if they had been here for generations - which is why you get so many 'Greens' who are Jewish (Rabbi Lionel Blue's grandfather decided they would be a different colour to all the others) - or they chose something which also advertised their trade or profession, such as Finegold, or Jewell. Sometimes they changed them for other reasons, particularly if they were called 'Lipschitz'.

The other revelation was discovering that both our grandfather and our great grandfather had identical names. This is why it has taken me so long to find out what those names were (I never knew my grandparents, and my father always referred to them using pet-names, which is how we referred to our parents). Thomas James, followed by a very un-Jewish surname. I am keeping up two thirds of a family tradition with this blog.

I have had many Jewish girlfriends over the years, and every now and then, they would give me a sidelong, accusatorial look and say, "Are you SURE you aren't Jewish?"

I went to Egypt in the first wave of tourism when the Israeli border opened up, and the first question I was always asked was, "Are you Israeli?" I am not sure they believed the answer.

My sister was only vaguely aware of the East End brewery which bore our name, but our father had told her about how it was gambled away in one night by his grandfather. I sent her some pictures of old beer bottle labels with the family name on it. I am amazed she did not look for them herself, but she had got the wrong name for the brewery. I would be a rich alcoholic now rather than a poor one, were it not for my great grandfather's gambling addiction. One reference to this in her searches came up with some 'vat-makers' a couple of hundred years ago, and the famous brewery which bought the business, but the significance of this passed her by.

My own research into our family name (not very exhaustive) has indicated that it was a typically West Country one, so I have brought it closer to home by moving to Bath.

I'll give you a clue (no cheating by going to the video-mapping project): I am probably directly related to Sir Frances Bacon's erstwhile secretary (above) as described by John Aubrey - a highly charming rogue and spendthrift who specialised in relieving people of their money by offering shares in spurious enterprises, and who was bankrupted on several occasions, even being imprisoned for it, then bouncing back into favour again. Sounds like my brother.

I am not sure if I can be bothered to go around disabusing everyone who I proudly told of my Jewish heritage. One of them is a very Jewish looking girl who was even chased across the quadrangle of her university by a Rabbi who wanted her to join the Jewish debating circle, just because of her appearance.

She said to me, "Your father? That doesn't count." Well it counts even less now.


36 comments:

  1. It's the way you keep shouting 'Oy vey' and waving your arms around that's the give-away.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So he thinks he's the funny guy already.

      Delete
  2. I hope you're listening to this, Shawn. X

    ReplyDelete
  3. Was that when you were shagging or when you were asking for their contribution to the meal final bill?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mine isn't the only comment that contains racist elements or doesn't chicken soup and kisses count?

      Delete
    2. Only from your mother - like the inheritance of the race.

      Delete
  4. "a highly charming rogue" - nice, and concerning your blooming phantasy in story telling it might be true - but otherwise I think of as a "ehrliche Haut", as we call it (=an honest soul). On the blue-blooded branch of our family genealogy was very easy - they sat for centuries in one county. The other side is much more interesting - they came from Eastern Europe - thus the dichotomy in my soul. PS: for a Huguenot you are very tall.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are an aristocrat, are you not? Easy. Were Huguenots short?

      Delete
  5. Do you find yourself yearning for chicken soup ?!!
    My sister has gone way back in our family history ….. but, my husbands Aunt found out that they go back to Simon de Montford !!
    Does your family go back to the Huguenot silk weavers ? XXXX

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a friend here who is a de Montfort. He is the gayest person you could ever meet.

      Delete
  6. 3 to 400 years is quite a large gap.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We specialise in large gaps. Ask my mother.

      Delete
  7. Q. What is the definition of a Jew?

    A. Someone who's MOTHER was a Jew.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, calm down. I think I have already covered that.

      Delete
  8. My husband's family (my last name) all descended from a single Hessian who did not go home after the Revolutionary war. My daughters tried every romantic notion of the name they could think of, but I took my mother-in-law's clue and traced the name right back to Bohemia. "Bohunk," she always said. Chasing ancestry is a pleasant diversion, but the here and now is more compelling.
    Speaking of here and now, could you make your comment box bigger, there's a good fellow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bigger? How big do you need it? I am at the mercy of Google.

      Beau-Hunk might have been better.

      Delete
  9. Both my parents are descended from fenland people in Lincolnshire for many generations back. But as I was born in the nineteen thirties, although my mother's favourite name was Rebecca, she would not have me christened so because of the rise of Nazi-ism in Germany.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wasn't called Adolph for the same reason.

      Delete
    2. If I was called Maria would it make any difference?

      Delete
    3. Yes it would. I like to know whether I am consorting with Catholics, Jews or Anglicans. I have always held a preference for Jews though. I am drawn to Jewish women.

      Delete
    4. I liked your comment reffering to weaver's comment.

      Delete
    5. Rachel might confuse you then.

      Delete
    6. I think i am getting lost here. You are ok Rachel.

      Delete
    7. I mean my name might have confused him.

      Delete
    8. I think Yael might have meant, 'Are you ok, Rachel?' My daughter is called Hannah. My cousin is called David, and my firstborn son is called Solomon.

      Delete
    9. Ok, I lied about Solomon, but the rest is true.

      Delete
    10. I had worked that out. I just want to know who Shawn is.

      Delete
    11. Shawn is an old (Jewish) flame of mine from almost 40 years ago, who has just re-surfaced in the U.S.A. I recently told her about this blog, but I am not sure she wants to read it!

      Delete
  10. Do you have an aversion to a plump sausage?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Only when offered by you. I listened to Conchita Wurst on the radio this morning, and found him/her to be a charming young thing. If I talked to her on the phone without knowing, I am sure I would sign-up for a shag.

      Delete
    2. She makes a career about being seriously sweet

      Delete
    3. So would I if I were not so salty.

      Delete
  11. At least your family history sounds interesting. I have researched mine and it must be the most boring ever except for g.grandfather who started life as a bargee, then was a drayman for a brewery where he became an alcoholic after too many samples - then did a sharp right and became a tee-total Methodist Minister.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What's dull about that? You have a potted and diverse history right there.

      Delete