Adding more branches to my family tree; How genealogy helped solve an 80 year old family mystery and helped another find her roots.

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.

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

Origins of Cape Verdean Criolo

Is it possible to learn more about the origins of the Creole spoken in Cape Verde today by studying its history and, more specifically, it’s genealogy? Is it possible that the people who eventually settled on the islands, besides the Portuguese, also brought their languages? Cape Verdeans are not just descendants of Portuguese slave traders and African slaves. In fact, among the white population found throughout its history, we find Spaniards, Italians, French, English and Dutch people, among others and to consider the African impact as a singular influence is incorrect. Among them were Mandigo, Jalofa, and  Fulani, to name a few. Each of the above had their own cultures and languages that is inarguably evidenced in Cape Verde, today.

Creole languages are believed to be the result of the convergence of two languages resulting in a pidgin. One theory is that our Crioulo is a simplified Portuguese used to communicate with African speakers. A second theory is that it is an example of the innate language sense and universal grammar we are all born with as described by Bickerton (1981) and Chomsky (1965). Antonio Carreira (1983) describes the origin of our Crioulo as derived from a Portuguese pidgin spoken in mainland Portugal in the late 1400’s by black slaves brought over from Africa citing “lingua dos pretos” (language of the blacks) in early writings that contain some linguistic features found in Crioulo. Some have also written that early Crioulo is derived from Galician Portguese which is very different for modern Prtuguese. Dr. Marlyse Baptista, a Cape Verdean linguist, calls the above “proto-Kriolu” that eventually traveled to Santiago with the first settlers.

Linguists have then postulated that this “pidgin” was deliberately taught to these black slaves in order to use them as translators on the Guinea coast during the beginnings of the Atlantic Slave trade. For this to have been the beginnings of Cape Verdean Crioulo spoken today would have meant that every early Portuguese (and Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and English) settler spoke the same pidgin and taught this to every black slave brought to Cape Verde.

When you look at the early population of Cape Verde within the first 100 years, we know that among the white population existed a large number of Jews who were either “enticed” to leave Portugal with promise of a part in the settlement of Cape Verde or were exhiled during the Portuguese Inquisitions of the 1490’s onward. There were Conversos, as well as non-conversos, who may have found a place to practice their faith in relative anonymity and isolation. Many were relegated to “ghettos” and not fully accepted into the elite circles. These Jews, mostly men, freely intermingled with the black and mixed populations of the islands.

We also know that at the same time there was disdain among the Portuguese royals of the growing “Crioulo” culture and language resulting in more women (including female Jewish exhiles) sent to Cape Verde and they discouraged the use Crioulo being spoken. They were clearly not proponents of using and teaching Portuguese Pidgin to the population in its reign during the Atlantic Slave Trade. It’s very likely that the Crioulo language that emerged among the mixed people was hugely influenced by the Judeo-Portuguese speakers who were involved in every aspect of Cape Verdean culture.

Take, for example, Papiamento spoken in the “ABC” islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. Speakers of Crioulo easily understand Papiamento and, indeed, it has been documented that Papiamento has its origins based in the creole languages of Cape Verde and the guinea coast. It is also widely written of its Ladino, or more correctly, Judeo-Portuguese origins, as well. The people who settled these islands were the same people in Cape Verde and there are many passport records documenting Cape Verdeans traveling to these islands, among others, during this time period. If Papiamento is based in Judeo-Portuguese then it has to also be assumed that Cape Verdean Crioulo is, as well.

Judeo-Portuguese, just like its Spanish counterpart, Ladino, was spoken by Sephardic Jews in Portugal and Spain. Traces of Ladino is found in most Latino countries, including Mexico, where many Sephardic Jews and conversos were found. Ladino is still spoken but its speakers is dwindling in numbers.Judeo-Portuguese is thought to have died out in the 19th century. It was spoken by Morranos or conversos in Portugal and spread to other countries like Holland, Italy and Northern Germany where these Morranos “re-assumed Judaism” according to http://www.jewish-languages.org. In many places, Judeo-Portuguese speakers were absorbed into the larger Spanish – Ladino or “judezmo” speaking communities. There is nothing to suggest that Judeo-Portuguese was not spoken in Cape Verde.

We have evidence of Jewish ancestry in our traditions of Nodjadu, cemeteries and even towns called Synagogue. Couldn’t it then also be possible to study words used in Crioulu such as “fijo” (son/daughter) which is “filho” in Portuguese and “hijo” in Spanish to show evidence of Judeo influence? Words like “fijo” is used in Ladino where the /h/ is replaced by /f/. I think there is a very good case to be made for the study of Judeo-Portuguese roots in Cape Verdean Crioulo. If this proves to be true then it may open more conversation as to the impact on Cape Verdean culture by Jews from the beginning of Cape Verdean history and not just the influence of those found on the islands from Gibraltar and Morocco since the mid-1800’s.

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