Tuesday, May 29, 2007

It's a family thing

Further to my post about Facebook, I've used it as an opportunity to create a group for people with the same maiden name surname as me. Why, you ask? Well, it's a long story. But basically it's sort of an homage to my late father. He used to bang on about how our ancestors travelled to South Africa as French Huguenots, and then set about establishing the wine industry there. And you know how it is when you're a teenager, you couldn't really give a shit about things like that. Anyway, it was important to him and he even sent off for the genealogy paperwork etc. I don't honestly know what happened to it. Rumour has it that in a zealous cleaning fugue state my mother accidentally threw the envelope away.

Fast forward years later, and I started a group on Facebook, and amazingly, all these distant cousins have been popping up with the same family origins, and it turns out the Huguenot Society in South Africa have even published a book about my family, or rather, my familial ancestors. So I've sent off for it and am excitedly waiting to see what the whole story is.

And during all this investigating on my part, a conversation with my sister revealed that my dad was half Jewish. I sort of remember him mentioning it, but I thought perhaps it was only one of his grandparents. Again, just half remembered bits and pieces here and there.

So it turns out my father's mother's parents were both English Jews, and they immigrated to South Africa, where I believe my grandmother and her siblings were born. I think both my grandmother's sisters married into the Jewish faith, and I have absolutely no idea why she didn't. My grandfather was quite dashing admittedly, but from speaking to my Jewish friends it seems quite a big deal to marry outside of the faith, more so if someone doesn't convert, and even more so in that day and age. And my grandfather most definitely did not convert. In fact, my grandmother adopted his religion (a Calvinist faith known as the Dutch reform church), and his lifestyle completely. I think this is another reason I had no idea about her being Jewish. She never spoke of it, and as far as I knew she ran a pretty regular South-African farmer's wife's household, without a Matzo cracker in site.

I think there is a lesson here: Enjoy your parents (and grandparents) while you have them around, listen to all their stories, however boring, and ply them with as many questions as possible about your origins. Because you never know when they'll be taken from you and you'll be at a loss as to what to tell your own kids one day about where they came from.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely post, and an important reminder to make a point of finding out and continuing the family stories to pass on to the next generations. Something a lot of us take for granted.