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.
A few months ago, I discovered that a certain Lady Alice Howard was my 8th great grandmother, married to a William Warriner. Being a good Catholic girl, I had done due diligence and seen "A Man for All Seasons" several times, so I remembered a Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. I was curious: could it be the same Howards?
I love Lady Alice's story (though some of it is left to a bit of speculation and educated guesses). Her father, Lord Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, had been a teenaged father...of an illegitimate daughter. Naturally, he wasn't the first aristocrat to father a child out of wedlock (AHEM...Henry VIII), and what's really interesting was that when she ran off in her late 20's with a commoner, he sent people after her to get her back. Alice managed to escape from him, though, and there's no evidence to suggest that she ever went back.
Lord Charles later went on to become Lord High Admiral, commander of the British fleet when it defeated the Spanish Armada. I wonder what Lady Alice must have thought when she heard about her father's success. Sure, she had moved on, but I like to think that she was at least a little proud of her father.
Lord Charles had a few notable cousins, two of whom became queens of England: Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Unfortunately, they were both executed by Henry VIII. Another cousin, Lord Henry Howard, was also executed by Henry VIII, for the crime of being a Howard. Lord Henry, by the way, developed the English Sonnet, which was perfected by William Shakespeare, and he, along with his friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt, were the first to adapt the sonnet to the English language.
Then there was St. Philip Howard, who had an extraordinary and tragic life, though he ended up as a martyr for the Catholic faith (Lord Henry Howard was his grandfather). Philip had led a materialistic and lavish life through his youth--he married a very devout woman, Lady Anne, but it took him a while to take his marriage and his life seriously. One day he heard St. Edward Campion speak in defense of the Catholic faith, and over a couple of years of thought and prayer, Philip made a full conversion to the Catholic Church.
As Catholicism was illegal in those days (Campion was later martyred), Philip knew that he now put himself and his family at risk. He and Anne, who was pregnant with their son, fled England, but they were arrested before they got too far. Philip, being the cousin of the Queen, was thrown in the Tower of London--his wife was not taken into custody--and he remained a prisoner there for over ten years. Being family, Queen Elizabeth told Philip that he only had to attend one Anglican service, but he refused. He died from the poor conditions in prison, and was canonized along with the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. Among these were St. Edmund Campion, St. Anne Line, St. Margaret Ward, and St. Robert Southwell (who was in the Tower at the same time).
St. Philip is depicted in art with a dog. When he was arrested, Philip was allowed to bring his dog with him into prison, and as it turned out, the dog was a great comfort to him. He lived under the constant threat of execution, so he needed all the comfort he could get. Apparently, he also used the dog as a go-between among other prisoners, including St. Robert Southwell, so this dog became both a companion and a worker.
I love his story, even if it ended tragically, and to find out that there's a canonized saint in the family is an amazing blessing and honor. As I keep digging through family history, I'll post a few more stories! Stay tuned!
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.