Spanish Flu and Tuberculosis in Cape Verde

My great-grandparents, Antonio and Rosa, both died within months from each other in 1917-1918. Antonio traveled regularly between Brava and the US between 1896 and 1917. During his last time here in the US, he became very sick and went back to Brava. Within a few months, passed away on June 17,1917. A few months later, Rosa, collapsed while working in her garden leaving behind Maria, 14 , Julio, 10, and Carolina, 6. All their belongings had to be burned and the children were left with nothing in the care of their great-grandmother, Angelica, who was already well into her 80’s.

Many of the Cape Verdeans who were in the US at that time did become sick in the epidemic that killed millions around the world. Brava was not immune to this and hundreds died on the island before 1920 from the illness. The Spanish Influenza or flu was a type of avian or bird flu that spread within two years mostly affecting young adults between 18-30. My great-grandparents were 28 and 38 years old. Older adults and children did not seem as affected as this age group and died at much lesser rates. A study, in 2009, stated that what actually killed these people was tuberculosis in addition to the flu. Most of the people had already been carriers when they got sick. As a result, many of the people of that time who were exposed but never became sick then may have gotten sick later in life as they aged or had some other type of chronic illness.

My great-grandmother always tested positive on her PPD tests (test for tuberculosis) but never got sick with it. As she became older she did always have a chronic cough that had apparently been the result of tuberculosis which until then was dormant. I spent a lot of time with her after graduate school and since then I have always tested positive on my PPD’s.

I have, apparently, been exposed to the same virus that killed my great-grandparents almost 100 years ago. Itbdoesn’t mean that I am sick or will ever have TB BUT definitely gives new meaning to my research into my family tree. Not only can we inherit genes that dictate what color eyes and texture of hair we will have, but also viruses that wiped out nearly 25% of the world’s population at one time! Wow!


Avelino Barbosa Rodrigues 1900-1929

Isabel Barbosa Rodrigues
Avelino Rodrigues

My great-grandfather, Avelino B. Rodrigues, was born on August 20, 1900 in Pai Luis, Sao Joao Baptista, Brava. He was the son of Rufino Rodrigues and Isabel Barbosa. The eldest of four, he joined his father and two uncles, Benjamin and Manuel, in Providence around 1917. Rufino and his brothers began immigrating to the US in the late 1800’s

His father, Rufino eventually retired back to Brava as well as Manuel, but I have found records of Benjamin as a wounded WWI verteran! By 1921, Avelino was joined by his brother Artur and cousin, Ernesto (Manuel’s son) in New Britain, CT. At some point they even owned a grocery store there.

The three eventually moved to Waterbury, CT to work at the Chase Metal Works factory. It was at that time one of the largest Brass metal factories in the country. They lived at 189 Orange St in Waterbury. Arthur would eventually marry the owner of the home, Rita Spinola, a widow, also from Brava.

December 31, 1922

In December 1922, Avelino traveled back to Brava to marry my great grandmother, Maria. They had been exchanging letters and pictures. He brought her everything she needed for the wedding.They were married on New Year’s Eve, 1922. In February 1923, he boarded the schooner, Volante, bound for the US and back to Waterbury.

American immigration laws started to become more stringent at this time making it difficult for most Cape Verdeans to travel back and forth as much. Avelino was never able to return to Brava or send for his wife and daughter.

On June 24, 1929, Avelino was killed in a factory accident at CMW at 3:45 pm. The hose he was using to clean his machine got caught and he was crushed between the machine and the floor, immediately killing him. He was buried on June 26, 1929 at Calvary Cemetary in Waterbury.

This past February, I was finally able to find and visit his grave. I am the first direct descendant to visit since 1929!

Cape Verdean Genealogy


I have been interested in my family history since as long as I can remember. I was that pesky kid constantly asking questions of anyone who would answer me. Countless hours were spent listening to my grandmother and great grandmother talking about the “old country”. After a while, I could basically tell you anything about the island of Brava, Cape Verde as if I had actually been there. My first trip to CV was in November 2009 with my mother and two children. It was so surreal to actually walk on the same ground that my ancestors walked. I felt like I was truly home. Of course, I had to visit the “Registo Civil” or civil registry where most of the baptismal, marriage and obit records were kept. I started with my grandparent’s baptismal records and went from there. I also visited the national archives in the capital of Cape Verde, Praia. Records prior to 1914 are kept there from each of the islands. After independence in 1975, the CV government started archiving as many of the records they could after the Portuguese left. A lot of records were taken to Portugal, as well as, Brazil. What was left is currently in the Archivo Nacional de Cabo Verde. For me, it was like being a kid in a candy store! There are slave records as well as records of people and ships that left CV for the States as well as England, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few of the places where you can find CV’s of the diaspora. 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.

Joanna Fortes Lima Gomes

Joana Fortes-Lima Gomes
1886 (?)-1961

Joanna, my great-grandmother, was born in Rabil or Boa Ventura on the island of Boa Vista, Cape Verde. I’m actually not sure when she was born exactly but it was between 1876 and 1887. On my grandfather’s baptismal record, she listed her parents as Luis Antonio Lima and Camilla Fortes Lima. I was able to find records from Boa Vista but could not find ther actual baptismal record. She was supposedly 75 when she died in 1961, born in 1886 according to her obituary but her headstone reads that she was born in 1876! If she was actually born in 1886, the Luis and Camilla could not have been her parents since Luis died in 1882 at the age of 56 and Camilla would have been well into her 50’s. The eldest child, Palmira, did have two daughters, Augusta and Antonia, born in 1886 and 1889. Their father was a seminary student. I can see, if Joana was actually “Augusta”, that she could have been sent away because of the shame of being a priest’s child. But I also found a record for a child of Luis and Camilla’s born in 1876 named Querina with no further trace of her,at least not in Boa Vista. Joanna was a very common name at the time and Luis’ sister, Camilla’s sister and a niece were named Joana. My great-grandmother may have been given that name as a nickname.

According to family stories, Joanna was brought to the island of Brava when she was a young child by one of the islands richest residents, presumably to serve as his criada, or house slave. While slavery had been outlawed in Cape Verde since the mid 19th century it was still common practice to have criada’s well into the 20th century. She was described as being dark skinned with bone-straight hair, looking very “Indian”. It wasn’t until very recently that I had even seen a picture of her.

She lived in Cova de Joana until 1916, when she boarded a packet ship to New Bedford, Massachusetts. She had two children by then, Daniel and Raimundo, my grandfather. She had to leave them behind with the intention of sending for them as soon as she could. Within two years she had been able to save enough to send for them but only Daniel made the trip. According to the passenger list, he traveled at the age of 5 with his father, Mercelino Rodrigues, to New Bedford. Raimundo had been left under the care of a woman who had no children of her own and refused to send him to America. He was only two at the time. He eventually arrived in the US by 1959.

Joana met and married an older widower, Manuel Monteiro Gomes from Fogo, on December 18, 1920 in New Bedford, MA. He already had 6 sons and 2 daughters from his previous marriage to Philomena Dias Pena, who had passed away between 1917 and 1920. Manuel and Joana had twins, Edwin and Benvinda, December 14,1921. They lived on Old Onset Rd, until Manuel died in 1942 and Joana in 1961.

Joana was known to be a real firecracker, spending many times at local dances with younger people – giving them a run for their money, apparently. When she was working at the cranberry bogs or picking blueberries and strawberries at local farms, as had most Cape Verdeans living in the Cape had, she was the life of the party, playing cards, telling stories or dancing it up on the weekends.

She died on December 14, 1961 at Tobey Hospital in Wareham, MA after a long battle with Congestive Heart Failure and Diabetes. My cousin Dorothy, Joana’s granddaughter, remembered her very well and even recalled that Joana loved peanut brittle so much that she was actually buried with some at St Patrick’s Cemetary in Wareham.

No doubt, Joana is probably dancing around in heaven, laughing, playing cards and enjoying her peanut brittle.

Origins of the Coelho family

Maria Coelho Rodrigues

My great grandmother, Maria, was the the daughter of Antonio Jose Coelho from Nossa Senhora do Monte, Brava, born in 1879 to Jose Coelho and Clara Duarte of Thome Barraz. I have been able to trace my Coelho line to the late 1700’s to a Manuel Jose Coelho m. Claudina da Graca, of Sao Joao Baptista, Brava. There is also a branch of the Coelho family that was deeded the island of Maio by the Portuguese Royal family. I haven’t actually researched as much about those Coelhos. The Coelho’s of Brava include another Antonio Jose Coelho, born in 1852, the uncle of my great-great grandfather, who was the first Cape Verdean to own a packet ship, the Nellie Mae, that he purchased from John Waters of Newport,Rhode Island. The ship was used to bring food and other necessities from the US to Brava during one of its periodic and severe droughts. The ship was intentionally moored by its captain so he could buy it at auction. Antonio fought this and even brought his case to Presidents Cleveland and McKinley. He had already become one of the wealthiest Cape Verdeans in Fox Point, RI, but he was never able to get his boat back. He died in RI at 92. His grave was recently rediscovered during construction work in Providence and his great- granddaughter is now trying to have it designated a national historic site. There has also been a museum exhibit in RI where children can experience voyages on a replica of Antonio’s ship.

Captain Antonio Jose Coelho

I have always heard stories in the family that the Coelho’s were from the Azores or possibly, Lisbon. I have also heard a story that someone in the family had been able to trace the family directly to Azores however I have not been able to find Out anymore about this.

Antonio Jose Coelho

So, I decided to investigate the actual origins of the Coelho family. I found that the very first person named Coelho was a nobleman named Soeiro Viegas Coelho who had earned the nickname “rabbit/Coelho” because of his stealth-like tactics used to fend of the Moors out of Portugal. He was born around 1160 and his family can be traced to around 940 AD to D. Moninho Viegas. o Gasco born around 940 AD.

So… While it has been difficult to connect the first Coelho’s in Cape Verde to the Azores, it’s nice to have been able to discover the origins of the family in Portugal.

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Cape Verde DNA

 While researching my family tree, I decided to look into genealogical DNA testing. There are different types of testing available. Males are able to have yDNA testing which tests a particular part of the DNA that is passed down from father to son. Females and males can have mTDNA which tests mitochondrial DNA that is passed down from mother to sons and daughters. These two tests will tell you where your genetic line started.

My testing showed that my maternal line goes back 80,000 years to North and West Africa. People who have come up as matches for me are primarily in the Middle East and northern Africa with some in West Africa. The third type, autosomal testing, can tell you your genetic/heritage make-up going back 5 to 6 generations. It can’t tell you whether you inherited any genes from your maternal or paternal side but rather gives overall composition of your background.

Since both of my parents were born in Cape Verde, I of course, assumed that my tests would come back a mix between Portuguese and African. I also assumed that given my and my parent’s skin tone that it would show majority African. I knew that, historically, there were English, French, and Italian people who lived in Brava but never did I ever imagine that my testing would come up as me being almost 70% TUSCAN ITALIAN?!?!? As in no Portuguese genes at all! Lol!

This shows where my genetic background is from.

I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about their heritage to visit

***Since I first posted this entry, I have had the opportunity to connect with many “DNA cousins” through the Family Finder test through, which is their version of autosomal testing. Other people who have taken the same test are listed as matches for me and we can contact one another to figure out our connection. I have connected with many Cape Verdeans as well as people of other ethnicities who are up to fifth cousins (we share the same great-great-great-great grandparents). I also submitted my results to where I am matched with other DNA cousins who took tests with 23andMe and Ancestry. Compared to some others, I don’t have nearly as many matches. I have 24 matches on Family Finder and 135 through Others who have tested have thousands!!!

If you are interested in having your DNA tested, look into the following companies
Ancestry DNA