Genealogy isn’t just about tracing one’s family back as many generations as possible. It can reunite lost family members and even help people find a heritage they never knew about. Since starting my research I have found and connected with family members all over the country. It got to be that, at one point, whenever my aunt took a call from me, she would immediately ask, “Who did you find today?”! I have become known as the family detective.
I want to share just two of the many stories that have really made the hours of research so worth it.
Since I could remember, Bibi, my great grandmother, spoke about her brother, Julio, who she never saw again after he boarded a ship for America in the late 1920’s. By 1918, Bibi (age 14)her brother, Julio(age 10), and sister, Carolina(age 6) were orphaned when their parents died during the global Spanish Flu epidemic. With only each other to rely on and with the help of their aged great-grandmother, Angelica, the siblings managed to survive their losses but life was permanently changed from the comfortable lives their parents had given them.
During this time, many Cape Verdeans, mostly men, risked everything in search for a better life and means to care for their families in Cape Verde. By the time Julio was in his twenties, he followed in the footsteps of family before him and boarded a ship for America. Bibi periodically heard about her brother through letters sent from America by other family members but they had completely lost touch with Julio until 1965, when a letter arrived from California. This letter included a picture of Julio, his wife, Rovilla, two daughters and two granddaughters.
Time went on and by 1971, Bibi finally arrived in the US – a month after Julio passed away. Bibi never let any of us forget that she had this brother and that somewhere in California we had family.
Fast forward 41 years and after years of researching my family history, I decided, last year (2011) to try again to look for information about Julio. I found an obituary for him from 1971 that listed his remaining survivors. Eventually, I found a tree on ancestry.com that included some of these same names and decided to send this person an email. Later that day, I received a response and by the end of the day, I was on the phone with Julio’s two daughter’s!!! The best part of this is that it was my birthday and I could never have asked for a better gift than to put closure to a family journey that spanned 83 years and 3000 miles.
In 2010, I had autosomal DNA testing called Family Finder through FamilytreeDNA. Among my first matches was a woman named Linda who showed to be a 3rd cousin- we apparently shared a common great-grandparent. When we first spoke I learned that not only did she live in the same state as me but she was also adopted at birth and was trying connect with her birth family. Her mother was an American and she only knew that her father was a black Portuguese man from Falmouth. She had found records of people with her father’s name but they were from the Azores. She was never convinced her biological father was Azorean but rather a Cape Verdean. I assured her that if we were that closely related then he was Cape Verdean since all my great-grandparents were born on the islands.
One year later, I’m excited to say that Linda has made contact with her biological siblings in Massachusetts and speaks with one of her sisters on the phone at least a few times a day! Her father, unfortunately, passed away in 1995 but she now has a much larger family that includes many brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews – and one distant cousin 🙂
In my family, growing up, we were raised to understand that family wasn’t just a set of parents and siblings. Family meant aunts, uncles and so many cousins that after a while you considered and treated everyone like cousins- like family (whether we were sure or not). We laugh sometimes because there are people in our lives that we know as “cousins” but no one had ever explained exactly how we were related. It’s actually fun,now,to be able to explain, for example, that cousins I grew up with and saw everyday, were actually related because their great-grandmother was my great-grandmother’s aunt! That’s how it is in many families, especially Cape Verdean ones. In recent years I have added many, many, many additional lines to my extended family tree and look forward to adding more.