Where Do I Come From: James Shoemaker
Real People's DNA Stories
Bible Studies, DNA Tests, Mother's Nursing-Home Confessions Lead to New Life
NOVEMBER 16, 2013 — Until he took an autosomal ancestry test, James T. Shoemaker had little concept of his heritage. He assumed he was just an average white European American like his Appalachian neighbors.
Although raised in a Pentecostal Church, Shoemaker always felt a strong pull toward Jewish culture. So last year he went to his doctor and asked for a DNA test. "I wanted to see if there were any Jewish lines in my ancestry," he said.
He ended up taking a DNA Fingerprint Plus, a complete analysis of one's genetic ancestry that includes ethnic markers and megapopulation admixture matches.
Fast forward from that first eye-opener and today the 53-year-old Waynesboro, Pa. resident is halfway through a conversion process to Judaism at B'nai Abraham, a Reform congregation in Hagerstown, Md., where he is being mentored by youngish Rabbi Ari Plost.
"I got all three ancestral markers for Jewish I, II and III," Shoemaker recalls, “so I went to see my mother, Jacqueline Rose, at the nursing home in Hagerstown, and she admitted, ‘Well, yeah, my parents, uh, they were both Jewish."
It was the first he had heard of it. “Mom never said a word about having Jewish ancestors. It turned my life around.”
The fact that he got a "double dose" of Jewish alleles in his marker results confirmed the truth of his mother's admission that both she and his father came from Jewish families.
Shoemaker next took a Premium Male DNA Ancestry Test to determine whether his father's Y chromosome line was perhaps Jewish. The results were delivered to him in mid-November.
His particular haplotype did indeed match several other Jewish men, including those with the surnames Brown, Hendrix, Shepard, Getz, Phillips, Lewetag and Sequeira. "The subject’s specific male haplotype (surname line) probably came from Southwest Germany or the Low Lands, to judge from the modal matches and patterns of distribution," according to the report.
As for the surname itself, the Surname History section (included in every Premium Male report, cost $325.00), had some valuable clues for Shoemaker's genealogy.
"Shoemaker is probably a translation of the Dutch or German equivalent Schuhmacher or Shumacher meaning "shoemaker." It is noted as a Jewish family name in Southwest Germany and the Saarland in France, including Lörrach in Baden (Lars Menk, A Dictionary of German Jewish Surnames, Bergenfield: Avotaynu, 2005, pp. 673-74). It could also come from Schuster, a more common Jewish German surname (p. 675)."
A Mason since 1990, and flirting at one time with Messianic Judaism, Shoemaker feels as though his earlier attempts to connect with his Jewish heritage were blind and unguided without the hard testimony of DNA. "All these things I've been interested in with my studies and religious life now fall into place," he said. "I'm finding out why."
What lies in the future? This Pesach, Shoemaker will have an official bar mitzvah, complete with ritual bath and reading from the Torah. He then plans to attend Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. "What I am really looking forward to," he says, "is making aliyah to the Land of Israel."