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A Story That Makes The World Seem Much Smaller

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

One of my hobbies is researching family history. The death of my father in August 2012 prompted me to start finding out about his German Jewish past and mine. This began in earnest on 28 May 2013 when I joined and set about creating an extensive family tree. Over the next six years this expanded to contain information on more than ten thousand individuals.

As part of my 2018 Xmas present from my daughter and son, I got a DNA test kit offered by Ancestry. I duly sent off the package containing my spit and soon began to receive information, via Ancestry, linking me to distant cousins who’d taken similar tests. This usefully served to confirm some relationships I’d already discovered as well as giving me pointers to the discovery of others which were new to me.

The units used to measure genetic proximity are centiMorgans (cM) named in honour of geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan. On this scale, a link of around fifty cM indicates a fourth, fifth or sixth cousin of which Ancestry found me dozens. If it rises to between one and two hundred cM, this indicates that the person is a third or a closer fourth cousin and I was offered three of these.

The death of my mum in late March 2019 was a stressful time. In early May, needing a break, Gaynor and I took a ten-day holiday in Spain. While we were there, I got a message from a guy in Australia called Paul Waterhouse. He’d recently completed the same Ancestry DNA test as me after receiving it as a present from his wife. He was now getting in touch because Ancestry had notified him of our genetic proximity. When I then looked on my Ancestry site, there he was, with a shared DNA of just under two thousand cM!

Paul had been informed, much to his surprise, that – like me – he was fifty percent European Jewish. His biological father was therefore either my dad or my dad’s twin brother, both of whom were married and living in Bradford in the late 1950s which was where Paul was born in 1959.

We both began making further enquiries. He’d a much older sister who remembered some of the details and I’d a younger one who’d been very close to my mum. Both knew much more than we did, but each had been sworn to secrecy by our respective mothers.

As both of Paul’s parents had also died, there was no one left to be directly hurt by the truth. This, it transpired, was that his mum had had an eight-year affair with my dad, beginning in 1950 just months after my parents’ marriage. This infidelity had then lasted through my birth and the births of my sister and one of my two brothers. Indeed, it had only ended when Paul was conceived and his mum had confessed to her husband. Paul was then born in the same year as my other brother.

Paul (and young nephew) in his Thorpe Edge lounge (c.1985).
Paul (and young nephew) in his Thorpe Edge lounge (c.1985).

Prior to our DNA match-up, Paul hadn’t known the identity of his biological father. Utterly unaware of my dad’s infidelity, I’d had no idea that I’d got a half-brother who’d been living in Australia for the past thirty-five years. However, what makes this whole story truly extraordinary is one further detail.

In the course of our internet correspondence, I happened to ask Paul where he grew up. When he replied that his family had lived on Thorpe Edge, a former council estate, less than half a mile from my home, I asked where.

In his reply, telling me the address, he added that he’d not only lived there throughout his teenage years, but had later bought the house for his mum. The family had sold it about eleven years ago. He didn’t need to tell me that. I already knew it. Why? That’s where my daughter now lives. She rents it from the current owners. Her, her husband and our two grandchildren have been living in Paul’s former home for the past ten years.

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