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.