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Actor and blogger Wil Wheaton's partial paternal ancestry has been published online, but his mother Debbie's lineage has not, and is in my opinion even more interesting.

The key to finding Debra "Debbie" Wheaton's parents was a death notice from the Los Angeles Times of 5 Mar. 1981.
O'CONNOR, Norma Aleene (Farrington) age 65. Survived by daughter, Debbie (Rick Wheaton) O'Connor and son, Rory (Dawn) O'Connor; her parents, Flavel and Daphne Farrington; Brother, Floyd and sisters Margie (Huston) and Valerie Jeffers.
Wil's maternal grandfather, Dean F. O'Connor, was born Dwyer F. O'Connor, the son of Francis L. and Susan C. (Gay) O'Connor (they married in Manhattan in 1904). His marriage to Norma was dissolved in Los Angeles County, California in May 1977. In retrospect, the middle name given on Debbie's birth record—"Nordean"—was a pretty good clue as to the identity of her parents.

The full names of Norma Aleene (Farrington) O'Connor's parents were Edwin Flavel Kortright Farrington and Daphne Silvera. Norma was born in Colón, Panama, and arrived at Ellis Island with her father from Cristobal, Panama, aboard the S.S. Panama on 17 June 1920. Flavel was also born in Panama (then part of Colombia); his wife was a native of the British West Indies. One of Wil's second cousins shares this photograph of the couple, and some biographical info:
[Flavel's] parents were well-off; his father was involved in the shipping business in the Caribbean, and his mother was descended from French Huguenots who had settled and become socially and politically prominent on the West Indian island of Montserrat. Daphne Silvera, my great-grandmother, was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1896, the daughter of Theodore, who was the son of a wealthy Jamaican family of Jewish heritage, and Deborah, a woman born on St. Thomas in the (then) Danish Virgin Islands, and whose family were prominent in the Jewish community on the island.
Daphne's parents were living with her and Flavel in Los Angeles in 1930. Her mother, Deborah, was born about 1858-9 in "Denmark." Also living with them was an unmarried aunt, Eugenie R. Pretto, also born in "Denmark." St. Thomas was governed by Denmark at the time of their births, and it is probable that they were born there and not in Europe. This website confirms that they were daughters of Abraham E. Pretto and Rachel Pretto Henriquez of St. Thomas.

If any child born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, and Deborah (Pretto) Silvera was in fact Jewish, then it would seem that her daughter Daphne, her daughter Norma, her daughter Debra, and her son Wil would all be considered Jewish.

Corrections and additions are welcome in the comments.

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Comment by Chris Dunham on July 17, 2009 at 6:24pm
What about Jerry O'Connell? His mother was the daughter of Charles S. Witkowski, who was the son of Polish immigrants. Not sure about his late wife, Florence, though.
Comment by Karen Paul on July 17, 2009 at 4:41pm
Very interesting. Not that many Americans with traceable old-school Sephardic Jewish ancestry these days.

So, this means that three of the four Stand By Me actors were halachically Jewish (River Phoenix and Corey Feldman are also).
Comment by Chris Dunham on July 11, 2009 at 11:39am
Thanks Schelly. I'm wondering how much Wil knows about his ancestry. His great-grandparents were still living when he was a kid, so I would imagine that he is familiar with their Caribbean origins.
Comment by Schelly Talalay Dardashti on July 11, 2009 at 11:34am
Hi, Chris,

According to halacha - Jewish law - Judaism passes through the mother. Thus, the daughter of a halachically Jewish woman is Jewish, her daughter is Jewish, her daughter is Jewish, etc. halachically. While they may have adopted other religions, according to Jewish law however, they would be considered Jewish.

Also be aware that many French Hugenots were really Sephardim who settled in France and became Protestants (many also later went to French Canada) - as it was more acceptable to them after the Inquisition's persecution than Catholicism.

Some Y-DNA and mtDNA testing would be interesting, but only at which in addition to having the largest DNA sample databases in the world, also incorporates the largest comparative Jewish DNA databases. Finding genetic matches to Jewish families today (and also among those of Sephardic/Converso/Hispanic backgroun) would be interesting.

Schelly Talalay Dardashti
Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog
Genealogywise: "Tracing the Tribe" and "Jewish Genealogy"




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