This has been quite a busy week for genealogy breakthroughs for me! I happened to obtain the death certificate of my great great grandfather Samuel Aston who had been born in Wales and died in Scranton, PA.To my surprise, his mother’s maiden name was listed on the document.This has been a buried secret for quite a while.
I began researching my family history about four years ago.This was after I had learned about genograms in a psychology class. At that time I knew nothing about any of my great grandparents and their family trees. Four years later, I can see that they happen to span the globe both here and abroad. Originally, I didn’t even know their names. And now this week, I held in my hands a certificate with the big reveal in terms of connecting to my Welch roots: On my maternal side, my great great great grandmother’s maiden name was “ISRAEL.”
Knowing just about next to nothing about the history of Wales, my computer and I swung into overdrive. I quickly discovered a family tree at ancestry.com that had a line of “Israels” that looked similar the information on the Astons I have been accumulating. An e-mail and a day later, I was in contact with a lady, a distant cousin, who has also been researching the Aston family and knows something about my great great great grandmother “Anne Israel.” In fact, she has been searching for her.
Her maiden last name was Israel.
“Israel.” My mind quickly went to the thought, “Jewish?”
Bible verses such as Isaiah 43:1 started flowing through my head: But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.
I also thought about what a neat coincidence that I was given the middle name of Rae, myself. And always thought that my maiden name was one letter off from containing Israel in the middle of it: NatalIERAELane. Although the Rae actually comes from my paternal grandfather Raymond. The meaning of the name Rae,“little lamb”, is special to me. It is a comforting image in the context of the Great Shepherd.
The Daddy of them all.
So I was actually hoping for an Old Testament Hebrew connection. However, according to my Welch distant cousin: “The Israel’s were members of The Welsh Chapel and as they were Nonconformists it was quite common for the father to give his forename to his children to use as their surname, hence the birth of the Israel surname in this family tree.” This was a practice known as Patronymics.This was done as a form of rebellion against the Church of England.
So the Daddy of them all had the first name “Israel”. This is still quite interesting to me, because quite literally my family members and I all became “Children of Israel!” But she added that she was only able to trace back to the 1700s with this name and has been searching for the last 10 years. I found on another website that this Israel family may have originated in Russia before they came to Wales. So my computer will be surfing over the next few years to learn more about this Welch Chapel and the Nonconformists.
Welsh Roman Catholics!
But serendipitously as I looked over my Welch distant cousin’s genealogy in search of Jewish roots, immediately I was captivated by another research discovery: The Astons were actually Roman Catholic! According to my foreign cousin, “They were Roman Catholics and the children I have christening records for were all christened at RC churches”. That possibly includes my great great grandfather Samuel Aston, siblings, and his father from what I can determine so far. These are sweet words to a Roman Catholic convert! I read from another source that only 5% of the Welch population is actually Catholic today.
Genealogy is healing.
I cannot say that these long gone family members were saints or sinners. In the words of my cousin across the big pond, “some of them were a dodgy sort.” And many here can testify these days that so were many of their descendents!
What is very healing about genealogy is that we can look at the saints and scoundrels in light of history. The paper trail seems to take the edge off of any hard feelings. Such an approach, to me, is a healing salve to emotional wounds that span generations and continents. But for now, I am in search of some more documents, more certificates, more churches, more stories, and perhaps even some canonized saints!