I’m the sum of many parts, as are we all, but I’ve always considered myself English through and through. However, there has always been a vague suspicion in our family that the name Goodman, my maternal grandfather’s name, spoke of possible Jewish connections.
Grandad’s nose was seen as a dead giveaway. I inherited it, to my chagrin, and have been teased mercilessly about it all my life. It caused embarrassing problems with those first tentative teenage kisses – I mean where do you put a nose like that – and precedes me wherever I go. I don’t know who the lady in the photo with the equally challenging accoutrement is, but she was awarding Grandad a retirement certificate at Mobbs and Lewis Last Factory in Kettering – it must have been in the late nineteen-fifties.
My uncle managed to trace the Goodman family back to the 1600s in Thorpe Malsor, Northamptonshire – one of my favourite villages – when the name disappeared. He was intrigued by the fact that immediately predating this, a Jewish name, very similar to Goodman arrived in Thorpe Malsor. It begged the question was this a family of Jews that anglicised their name? Were we immigrants for whatever social, religious, economic, or political reason?
However, the trail ran cold at this point and nothing further could be ascertained, until fairly recently when my interest in the subject was re-aroused. About eight years ago, my husband had major heart surgery, and as a part of his recovery programme, we attended a cardiac rehab class. It was in a leisure-centre room with mirrored walls, and the exercises gave time for a bit of clandestine people watching. That was the first time I’d noticed that my skin tone was very slightly different from the ‘pink’ of those around me. I was definitely a yellower/browner tone. It made me rethink my Englishness and made me wonder again about the family suspicions. However, I did nothing more about researching the puzzle.
My husband had always been interested in his ethnicity, so for his birthday this year, I bought him a DNA test kit. I’d always thought he looked Scandinavian – tall with fair hair and blue eyes, so his 40% Viking heritage didn’t come as a surprise. He was also largely English, with Scottish, Welsh, and Irish, and a tiny bit of Italian, and African. A mongrel, as are we all. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to test myself as well. What was I expecting? A tiny bit of Middle Eastern, maybe, with a majority of English mongrel, and the African everyone must have in them somewhere.
Not so. This morning I got the results. I am not who I thought I was.
I am 35% Scottish, Irish, and Welsh – that’s quite a hefty lump – both legs at least. And the rest of me, all 65%, is Western European, as in France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and maybe stretching as far as Northern Italy, Switzerland and Denmark. Not an English bone in my body – not even a meta-tarsal.
This was bit of a shock.
However, it does lend credence to the suspicions of Jewish ancestry, as Goodman could well be an anglicisation of Guttman, Gottman, Godman, or any number of other German names, and there was a large population of Jews in Germany. It’s fascinating to ponder what might have happened to bring my mother’s ancestors from Europe to England’s shores. And maybe I have a little Italian to account for my more ‘olive’ skin tone. My family has already provided novel fodder in the guise of ‘For Their Country’s Good‘ and ‘The Dandelion Clock‘, perhaps there’s another story to be told here?
What’s perplexing me now, though, is my father’s family. Baker seems an inherently English name – what could be more obvious than a baker – and he was proboscisally challenged as well, by the way, so I had no chance in the nose stakes. Baker was a name that has always anchored me deeply and comfortably in my ancient Englishness, so where was your family from, Dad? Scotland, Wales, or Ireland?
I may never know, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. I am a sum of their many parts. I am me – nose and all.
I wonder who you are?