Until comparatively recently, Naomie Harris had little interest in her family history. Then her mother bought her a DNA kit that revealed she was 48% Nigerian.
“I don’t know why, but it just had such a huge impact on me,” says the actor, who plays Eve Moneypenny in the James Bond movies.
She begins by tracing the family of her father, Brian, someone she’s met just “a handful of times”. Brian, she learns, is the youngest of eight children, whose family moved to London when he was a child.
To find out more, she needs to head to Trinidad, the Caribbean island where her paternal grandparents, George and Barbara, met.
After meeting her uncle, Saba, she learns that her great great grandfather, Charles William Wallace Clarke, who rose to be a high-ranking public official, was a white man, which seems to confirm a family story of Irish ancestry.
In fact, as Naomie continues her research on the island of Grenada, she learns Charles was descended from a Somerset man, James Langdon, Naomie’s 4x great grandfather and an estate overseer in the era of slavery.
It would have been James’s job to mete out punishment. Even after slavery was ended, James continued to be in charge of “liberated Africans”, indentured labourers taken from ships belonging to countries, such as Spain and Portugal, that continued to ship enslaved people overseas.
Her ancestor’s involvement in slavery was “repugnant” but it’s not an unexpected finding.
With some wistfulness, Naomie adds, “I feel a sense of not being particularly connected to my dad’s ancestors”. Will the same be true of her mother’s family?
Naomie’s research here takes her to another Caribbean island, Jamaica. In the capital, Kingston, a shock awaits Naomie as she researches a man who helped raise her and was a father figure, her “dapper” grandfather, Josceyln Harris.
Born in 1921, his mother was dressmaker Syreta Tulloch, but no father is listed on his birth certificate. The Harris surname comes from her grandfather’s stepfather and a later marriage.
“Has my whole life been a lie, basically?” she asks.
She goes to see Syreta’s old friend, Dorothy. But although the two discussed “girl business”, Dorothy has nothing to say on the possible identity of Josceyln’s father.
But this isn’t a dead end in Naomie’s research. Syreta’s mother was called Jemima Pottinger, and while the box for father is left blank on Syreta’s birth certificate, a Henry Tulloch does appear on the certificate as the “informant”.
Henry, it seems was the father and Naomie learns about the couple’s lives in Kingston’s slums, where four of their six children died young.
Going further back still, Naomie travels to Eastern Davis Town in St Ann’s parish.
With the help of records that, chillingly, include listings of enslaved people, she learns that her that her 5x great grandmother was Elizabeth Leevers.
While she seemingly had a relationship with William Tracey Goulbourn, described as “a free person of colour”, Elizabeth was a slave, probably with roots in what’s now, tallying with Naomie’s DNA test, Nigeria.
“I really did not think I would be able to go back that far… It makes me feel really complete,” concludes Naomie, who has found a sense of connection to the past.