The Evolution of a Genealogist

In March 2012, I logged onto a free blogging website and wrote:
“This blog is my attempt to chronicle my research. My hope is to help as many people as I can find their roots while exploring my own.”

At the time, I was too embarrassed to use my own name and struggled to find a name for the blog. After a little thought, I decided on “The Creola Genealogist”.

It seemed perfect… at the time. The term “Creola” perfectly embodied with “what” and “who” I was trying to connect- my roots as a “Creola”- a descendant of this mix of “Portuguese and African” people… as I had been told all my life.

In the years since, I have grown to hate this descriptor of my ancestral identity, as if the country of Portugal and the CONTINENT of Africa held equal stature…??? I have been perpetuating a definition that honored the European side in its specificity and dishonored the African side in its ambiguity.

At the time, I also considered “Creola” to be a term of endearment used to describe the women of Cabo Verde without understanding that Portuguese/Spanish colonizers called their offspring with Enslaved Africans “Criolos” derived from the word “criar” or “to breed”. In this way, there is very little difference between “creole” and “mulatto”- derived from “little mule” in Portuguese. Creole is a term of acculturation and assimilation which requires the belief in the superiority of one people over the other. In this case, the superiority of the Portuguese over the Enslaved African. To agree with this is to believe that there is something inherently wrong with my African side and to relegate my ancestors to the status of a breed of animal.

I reject both!

My words should not be taken as an indictment of my “Caboverdeanidade” but as an act of love for my ancestors and my people.

I love Cabo Verde and I love that I am a child of Cape Verdean immigrants. I love Cape Verdean history and genealogy. I love the people of Cabo Verde and the diaspora. I want to continue to share its history and be a witness to that history through my blog and FB pages.

And that is why I cannot, in good conscience, continue to use language that perpetuates a horrific part of our history that continues to manifest itself in our communities today in the form of racism, colorism and any other -ism.

And so, on this day, the 45th anniversary of Cabo Verde’s independence from Portugal, I am declaring myself independent of the term “Creola”!

I haven’t found a replacement name for the blog and I am not in a rush to find one right now. But I would like some feedback and suggestions for what I should rename the blog and FB pages.

Any thoughts?

*** I have been getting feedback on my use of the definition of “to breed” for “criar”. My broader point on the word being used as a term of acculturation and assimilation is being lost in this. I could remove this sentence but would it really change my argument? Would it negate the fact that there is a sense that our “proximity to ‘being Portuguese’” for some of us, captured by the use of the word, creole, feeds into the narrative that we are somehow “better” than people who have no European mixture? Were Creoles not treated differently than people who were not mixed and referred to as “Badius”? Perhaps, regardless of the origins of the word, I should have only pointed out that the racist history of HOW the word was used in creating this narrative would have been more acceptable. But it still does not change my decision to not use the word to title my blog or FB pages.

The Griot’s Song

A Griot is traditionally the holder of oral history. Generations of a family or community’s history is kept and retold by a Griot in the form of a song or a story. It is regarded as an art form that is passed down from generation to generation. To become a Griot is a process. One doesn’t decide to become one, they are born to be Griots. My great-grandmother embodied the role of Griot in every sense of the word. Through her, centuries-old medicinal remedies are still used for what ails us and generations of family history has not been forgotten. She was the bearer of family traditions and the role of teacher was one she took very seriously.

One of my earliest memories is of her crying/speaking, almost as if she was singing, upon the death of a family member. When she cried/spoke/sang, everyone seemed to quiet down as if to take in that person’s life story. It occurs to me now that, much in the way of traditional West African Griots, Bibi was the keeper of our community’s life story. At a person’s passing, she reminded us of who that person was in life as if to tell us to “never forget” through her Griot Song.

I listened to her Griot Song as a child as she recounted stories of her childhood or as she and my grandmother talked of news from “the Old Country”. I listened to her Griot Song as she shared wisdom with anyone who sought her advice for whatever was troubling them. I listened to her Griot Song as she prepared the ingredients for traditional meal such as Canja or (my favorite) Cachupa. I listened to her Griot Song almost every day for the 30 years I was honored to know her.

Through her Griot Song, my great-great grandparents, Rosa and Antonio, came to life as she spoke about the curls in her mother’s long hair or the gentle way her father spoke to her. I could see Ma Lina, her great grandmother, with the patch over her eye. I knew the worn paths from Cham de Sousa to Tome Barraz and I could hear the Mazurka, Valsa, and polka as people danced at a feast in Cova Rodella. I could hear the waves breaking over the beaches of Furna and Feijao d’Agu and hear the crickets singing while looking up at the ocean of stars on a clear night. Though her Griot Song, what could have been forever lost in the memory of our family, lives on.

In this tradition, I hope to continue her legacy not only of my own family history but for the ancestors of anyone who wishes to remember. The Griot’s Song is for the ancestors yet to be found and remembered, and to remind us of who we are and where we come from.

Me and Bibi

I can still hear her voice though it’s been 15 years since she took her last breath. Her words continue to guide me through my trials, her praises ring in my ears. Her gentle reminders of who I am and where I come from steady my foothold in this world. She was my compass, my foundation. My great-grandmother, Bibi, was the heart and soul of our family. She was Family Griot. As much as I miss her voice, her glare if you dared to do something she didn’t approve of, the melodic humming as she held me in her arms to help me fall asleep, I realize that she is with me everyday of my life. Her song, her Griot Song, continues……

 

 

My son is my uncle’s cousin, lol!

I have a new DNA match on ancestry (which is actually my son’s results) – Antonio Lopes… I have an uncle named Antonio Lopes but when I checked my brother’s DNA test results, he shows as a more distant match… so I figure it’s probably a long, lost cousin on the Lopes side. If it were my uncle Tony, the match would should as a closer match to my brother, right???
So, I sent an email explaining who I was and who my father was and that I hoped to speak with him soon to figure out how we’re related.
I got an email back saying “That’s because I’m your uncle, your father is my brother…”, lol!?!?!
So how is it that my son is a closer match to my uncle than my brother? Well, my uncle and father share the same father but not the same mother. My son inherited genes from both me and his father. So it’s most likely that my son’s father is related to my half-uncle’s mother, my step-grandmother. ( I hesitate to write this explanation this way because in our culture there are no “half” or “step” family members, we’re just family).
So my son is his grandfather’s half-brother’s mother’s cousin, making him my…. son/half-cousin??? Or is it that my son is his great-grandmother’s cousin? Or, maybe he’s related to my paternal grandfather through his dad’s side… because why not. This is Cape Verdean Genealogy after all 🙂
Which means my son is my uncle’s cousin 🤔
I’m still dying!
This song seems appropriate, lol!

The Creola Genealogist

me2
I chose the Dragon tree to represent Cape Verdean genealogy and our family trees. When you look at tree, just as in our family trees, you don’t see individual branches, they look like clusters of strong tangled branches that support green leaves or lily-like flowers. We are the flowers supported by the strength of the branches who are our ancestors.
Like many of us, the Dragon tree can be traced to Cape Verde, Madeira, Morocco, the Azores and the Canary Islands. Like us, it is rare and valued. Like us, it is sturdy. Like us, variations can be found all over the world. And like us, no matter what variation, it is still a Dragon Tree.

Join me on my journey to connect with my roots, discover our history and explore our Caboverdeanidade.

 

CV BLACK HISTORY MAKERS – The Hon. George Neves Leighton

The Honorable George Neves Leighton is the first Cape Verdean-American appointed a federal judge in the United States by President Gerald Ford.
Born in New Bedford, MA to Antonio Neves Leitão and Ana Silva Garcia, natives of Brava, Cabo Verde, Judge Leighton didn’t finish high school in order to work to help his family.
But through his own studying and attending night school, he was able to make his way to Howard University. Marcelino Charles “Big Daddy” Grace helped fund his first year at the university.
After graduating with honors, he attended Harvard Law. During his studies, he entered the US Army in World War II and achieved the rank of Captain. After the war, he finished Harvard Law and moved to Chicago, Illinois where he served as Assistant State Attorney General. He also co-founded the largest predominantly African American law firm in the country as well as serving as the President of the Chicago NAACP. First appointed a circuit court judge in 1964, President Gerald Ford nominated Mr Leighton to the US District Court in 1975. Judge Leighton retired from the federal bench in 1978.
In 2005, the New Bedford postal office was renamed the “ Honorable George N Leighton Post Office Building”. And in 2012, the Cook County Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, Illinois was renamed in his honor to the “ Hon. George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building”.

CV BLACK HISTORY MAKER – Mathias de Souza

matias2

Mathias de Sousa was possibly the first Cape Verdean to set foot in America arriving on the “Ark” as an indentured servant to Jesuit priests who were a part of an expedition led by Lord Baltimore in 1634. I was first introduced to the story of Mathias by Cape Verdean historian, Ray Almeida (1944-2010).

While there isn’t much documented of Mr de Sousa and his Cape Verdean ancestry, I did find some compelling evidence that one of the ships did go through Cabo Verde on its way to Maryland.

The expedition left England in November 1633 with two vessels, the Ark and the Dove. Within a few days, the expedition hit bad weather and the Dove returned to England while the Ark continued. A few weeks later, the ship’s log notes visiting the island of Bonavista/Boa Vista. (Maryland State Archives) It is VERY plausible that Mathias could have boarded the ship in Boa Vista, Cabo Verde. The Ark and the Dove arrived in St Mary’s City, Maryland in February of 1634.

Mathias was one of 9 indentured servants on this expedition and the first Black Marylander. He went on to become the first black man to cast a vote in Maryland and what was to become the United States of America in 1642 as a member of the Maryland General Assembly.

Cape Verdeans have been a part of American History since before there was a United States of America.
I am extremely proud to know that the first black man to cast a vote in this country was a Cape Verdean!

CV Black History Makers: Barzillai Lew.

 
Barzillai Lew, a distinguished American Revolutionary War Hero, was a free born black man from Groton, MA born in 1743 to a “mulatto” slave owned by Capt. Samuel Scripture, named Margaret Lew, native of Cabo Verde.
 
Margaret married Primus in 1742 and had two sons and two daughters, Barzillai being the oldest.
 
Barzillai was an accomplished musician and served as a musician in the French and Spanish wars. Years later he was called to serve as a fifer, drummer and soldier in Capt John Ford’s Chelmsford Militia in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775!
 
He then joined Capt. Joseph Bradley Varnum’s Dracut Militia that was ordered to the “Tyconderoga” in 1777 where Varnum wrote in his diary, “ ‘Zeal is a fifer and fiddler for the grand appearance the day that Burgoyne’s Famous Army is brought in”.
 
This battle was captured in a portrait that sits today in the US State Department Public Room… Yes, a black man of Cape Verdean descent is memorialized in a portrait in the Capital of the United States!!!
 
Not only that…. Duke Ellington dedicated a composition to him called “Barzillai Lew”.
 
Barzillai went on to marrry Dinah Lew and had 5 children whose descendants still live in Massachusetts!
 
If ya didn’t know… Now you know!!!

CV Black History Makers – Paul Gonsalves (1920-1974)

The next time someone asks you what have Cape Verdeans ever done for America, let them know that it was a Cape Verdean-American who single-handedly revived the career of one of America’s most well-known and beloved musicians known as The Duke!

 
Paul Gonsalves was born on July 12, 1920 in Brockton, Massachusetts to Joao Jose Gonsalves (1889-1943) and Maria Vieira Fontes (1888-1973). Mr and Mrs Gonsalves were from Djam d’Noli, Brava, Cabo Verde and arrived in the United States in 1905 and 1913, respectively. The family lived at 50 Sprague St where Paul was the third of four children. He had two older brothers, Joseph and John and a younger sister, Julia. The family moved to 449 Mineral Springs Ave in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1930.
 
As children, Paul and his brothers were taught to play the guitar by their father and formed a band that played traditional Cape Verdean music. This changed when Paul was a teenager and he and his brother went to see the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra in downtown Providence. He became mesmerized by the alto saxophone and decided he was going to find a way to have his father buy him one. For weeks he bewildered his parents by pantomiming playing the saxophone around the house. When one of his friends finally let his parents know what he was doing, Paul’s father bought him a used Melody C Tenor Saxophone for $59 and insisted that Paul pay him back $1 a week until it was paid off. There’s no question his parents were true CV parents!
 
Paul went on to study at the Boston Conservatory of Music and he began a career playing with the Phil Edmund Orchestra and other big bands led by the likes of Duke Oliver and Henry McCoy that were dominated by Cape Verdean-American musicians, including Joe Livramento and others. But as happened to many young men in those days, his career was put on hold when he was drafted into World War II in 1942. Sergeant Gonsalves served in the Quartermaster Corp in India and Burma. When he returned home, he started playing with The Sabby Lewis Band in Boston, where he caught the eye of the one and only Count Basie. After spending a few years playing with Basie he later joined Dizzy Gillespie until he disbanded the group in 1950.
 
The story goes that Paul was down to his last $7 when he decided one night to head down to the Birdland in New York where, as luck would have it, he met Duke Ellington. The next day, Paul Gonsalves was playing in The Duke’s Big Band.
 
At the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, Paul managed to get on Duke’s bad side by missing practice and being late for the performance along with a few other musicians. The Duke’s idea of punishment took the form of having Paul play a solo to “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” and not stop. So Paul played… and played for 27 Choruses!!!! The crowd included many of Paul’s family and friends who urged him to keep going and deliver the performance of a lifetime. The Duke was back and within weeks, this recording became the Duke’s biggest selling record and he was even put on the cover of Time Magazine!
 
Paul Gonsalves and Duke Ellington were best friends until they died within days of each other in 1974. His life story can be seen in a stage play by Arthur Luby, called “Paul Gonsalves Life on the Road: A Play in One Act”.
 
The recording of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” from the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival can be heard here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vnrNWyvI-U The solo begins at 3:45.
To see Paul Gonsalves play his famous solo during a later TV recording, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbjzfZSmQMM
 
I have to add that in doing research on my daughter’s paternal family tree I found that her paternal great grandfather, John Ellington, was kin to one, Edward Kennedy Ellington, also known as Duke Ellington. Since Paul Gonsalves is related to me on my maternal great-grandmother’s side, my daughter, Nia, is related to BOTH Paul Gonsalves and Duke Ellington!!!
 
If ya didn’t know…Now ya know!!!
 

CV Black History Makers : The Honorable George S. Lima (1919-2011)

George
The Honorable George S. Lima, Tuskegee Airman, Civil Rights Activist, and Rhode Island State Representative, was born to Ana Morais Silva, native of Rabil, Boa Vista and Manuel Duarte Lima, native of Quemada, São Nicolão, Cabo Verde.
Mr Lima was one of eight children born in Massachusetts to the couple who arrived in the United States around 1900.
In 1939, George attended North Carolina A&T State University on a football scholarship where he met his wife of 55 years, Selma (Boone) Lima. It was during his time here that he learned to fly planes just in time to join the Tuskegee Airmen at the break of World War II. Lieutenant Lima was one of 60 black officers who risked court martial in 1945 protesting segregation at an officer’s club on an air base in Indiana. The facility was desegregated 3 years before President Truman ordered the desegregation of all US Armed Forces in 1948.
After the war, Mr Lima finished school at Brown University where continued to play football, study sociology, founded the University’s first chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and eventually started a family in Rhode Island. An Ivy League degree in hand, Jim Crow and racial segregation could not keep Mr Lima from rising through the ranks of local AFL-CIO to eventually become the first Black Man to sit full-time on the State Workers Union.
President John F. Kennedy appointed him to head the New England branch of VISTA, a National Service program before becoming the President of the local NAACP of Providence in 1963 where he was instrumental in beginning the push for a fair housing bill which he would later pass while serving two terms as a Rhode Island State Representative.
After retirement, Mr Lima formed the Black Air Foundation, later named the George S. Lima Foundation, which aims to introduce minority youth to flying.
My cousin and filmmaker, Napoleon X, turned Mr Lima’s life into a PBS documentary, “Black Men Can Fly: The Story of George S. Lima”. https://youtu.be/J6PsHQHWFpo
George S. Lima’s legacy continues through his children and the foundation in his name. He was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2012 and in 2014, the city of Providence named the George S. Lima, Sr Memorial Park.
If ya didn’t know… Now ya know!!!!