In my quest to learn more about my family history, I decided to do the Ancestry DNA thing, which turned out to be quite fascinating. A lot of the results were expected: the Irish/Celtic, English background went along perfectly with the family narrative, so when I looked at the "trace regions," that brought me some new and unexpected dimensions.
The Scandinavian part wasn't too surprising. After all, with the whole Viking invasion of England way back before Beowulf was written, there was bound to be some sort of Swede or Dane or whatever in my DNA. More surprising was the Asian part--granted it was less than a percent, but it made me wonder what that was all about. And considering that I'm pretty much a Union Jack, the trace amount of Italian and Spanish made little to no sense, that is, until I learned more about my distant Jewish ancestors.
Again, it's just a little bit, maybe a percent is all, however when I researched my family history, that slender Jewish connection made a lot more sense. My 6th great grandfather, Christopher Anthony, has a fascinating family history. He was the grandson of a Mark Anthony, who came to the New World from Genoa, Italy. His father, Marcus Edward Anthony, also hailed from Italy, and traveled with his son to the New World.
As an English teacher, I thought it was hilarious and awesome that I had two Mark Anthonys in my family history, though it turns out that their own background was rather different from the historical man with the same name. After doing a little reading from some credible sources, I learned that the Anthonys were very likely "marrano" Jews, hailing from Spain. During the days of the Inquisition, many Jews pretended to convert to avoid imprisonment. These "conversos," or marrano Jews seemed Christian on the outside but continued to practice Judaism in secret.
Finally, the Jews were expelled from Spain, sending them into yet another diaspora to places like Italy and the Netherlands. The Anthonys follow that same pattern, traveling back and forth between the two nations. When they finally traveled to the New World, they found new anti-Semitism, which drove them to enter the Quakers. Mark Anthony married Isabella Hart, who was from another Sephardic family, though their children and grandchildren didn't necessarily marry into other Jewish families. Over time, as the Anthonys married into the illustrious Ballards, their Jewishness disappeared and their Westernness settled in. By the time my grandfather Burman came around, the Ballards had become Kems, who married the very English Burmans, and the rest is family history.
This is why I love genealogy. Into every corner and niche of ones background, there lies a different story, a new direction, a secret history of sorts. The fact that some of my ancestors were "crypto-Jews" is a badge of honor for me. These were people who did what so many Jews had to do in the past: adapt, adjust, survive. If it hadn't been for their heartiness, I know that I wouldn't be here at all. Every corner of our heritage is important, Jewish or not, so when you find a part of the family that had to fight for its very survival, it has to make you think a little.
In no way do I identify my Irish/British/Catholic self as Jewish, and yet in some way, I am. The fact that my ancestors had to resort to drastic actions, as so many other Jews have throughout history, makes me feel a close affinity to the Jews. My Christianity may have robbed me of my "Jew card," but that connection is there, and the sacrifice that the Jews had to make on a daily basis has become a real part of who I am and who I aspire to be.
For most of my life, I knew only a little of my family history. When I joined Ancestry.com in 2015, I started to see just how extraordinary making those family connections is.