Owing to the circumstances of his mother and father's divorce, Paul knew very little about his Ashkenazi Jewish half, although he was told that his pyloric stenosis (at about the age of 5-6 weeks, and successfully operated on) was a Jewish inheritance. Much later in life, after having been brought up only knowing a few Anglophile American (step-)relatives (he never met any of his mother's relatives), he found out about the extensive Rodker clan - last time he checked, the Rodker family tree showed Paul had 56 2nd cousins - none of which, of course, Paul knew anything about! Paul's maternal ancestry includes Scottish, Anglo-Irish, and a small amount of Scandinavian!
You can walk the Rodker family tree, or at least the part we have figured out, by clicking on
and entering a name to search on (top righthand corner), for instance, Paul Morrison, and hitting ENTER. This software also supports other search criteria and relationship calculations, and even lets you change your preferred language. This is all powered by the GeneWeb program developed by Daniel de Rauglaudre at INRIA, France. Merci, Daniel!
Paul's paternal grandfather, David, together with much of his family, joined the mass exodus of Jews from what is now Poland, most likely to escape the pogroms of the 1880s, moving to England, where the family worked hard and prospered, a number of them as corset-makers. An article in the Journal of the Utah Jewish Genealogical Society, Atsmi uVsari, Issue #24, Dec., 2010, describes the family's early days in England. As far as we know, all the Rodkers in the world are related - the name seems to have been invented for (or by) just this one family! There are now Rodker descendants spread from Vancouver, Canada, to Tasmania - it might be called the "Rodker diaspora"!
The origin of the name Rodker has always been a bit of a mystery, but Paul recently guessed that Rodker might be a name derived from a place, like a number of more common Jewish names such as Berliner, Krakower, etc. Following that model, Paul posited there might be a town named Rodka somewhere in central Europe, and in fact there was a town with that name in what is now Romania, and its official name is now Rădăuți. Interestingly, Wikipedia says
"A Jewish community was present before the Habsburg takeover, and is attested to have been overseen by a starost. Many Jews fleeing the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (as well as other Habsburg areas) from intense persecution and anti-Semitism during the Middle Ages settled in Rădăuţi. The community was allowed a degree of self-administration, and witnessed a period of prosperity and cultural effervescence during the 19th century."
This has now been corroborated by Oliver Rodker, Paul's late half-sister Joan's grandson, who says Joan told him this several years ago. This fact adds a fascinating footnote to the family's history.
There is an interesting article about John Rodker on Wikipedia, mentioning, among other things, that he was a conscientious objector during World War I. He went on the run but was arrested and imprisoned in April 1917. John died in 1955, while Paul was still at university; John was fluent in French, writing regularly for a French literary magazine, and was awarded the Légion d'Honneur posthumously by the government of France for his services to French literature.
Paul's mother, Barbara McKenzie-Smith, was a painter, mostly doing paintings on commission, and a number of her paintings are hanging in various country houses around England, and also in the US. A family tree which includes Paul's mother and many of her ancestors is being maintained by one of Paul's second cousins, Howard Smith, based in Australia. It now goes back 9 generations on Paul's mother's side (to one Thomas Stanger, ca. 1610), and can be accessed starting at Barbara Stanger McKenzie-Smith.
Paul's mother was of Highland Scots and Irish ancestry (Stanger Smith). She always claimed a connection with Ulf, brother-in-law of King Canute, as her paternal grandmother was an Ulph, which comes from the Latinized form of the same name (Ulphus). The Howard Smith referred to above has the middle name Ulph. She was told that the famous Horn of Ulph was connected with this family, although Ulf is a very popular Norse given name, and the Horn is now thought to be connected with a different Ulph. DNA analysis has now corroborated the Scandinavian connection.
She was trained at the Perse School and the Slade School of Art, and as a young person was involved in the Bloomsbury Group. One of her closest friends was the lithographer, Trekkie Parsons, who became the longtime lover of Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf's husband, after Virginia's death. Paul remembers being taken to see Leonard at his house in the country. He was also told that Moura, Baroness Budberg, was asked to be his godmother, as she was a friend of the Rodkers, but Paul has no recollection of actually meeting her, although his half-sister, Joan Rodker, who was sort of the family archivist, knew her well.
Sadly, both of John's daughters have now passed on: Camilla Bagg died on December 1, 2007. She was the second-born of John Rodker's three children, but the first to pass on. Together with Nathalie Blondel, she edited a book about her mother, Mary Butts. John Rodker's first daughter, Joan Rodker, passed away peacefully on Dec. 27, 2010, at the age of 95 after a brief illness.