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The Madeiran Connection – part 5


Fri, Mar 23. 2012

by Oswald Fereira

Tracing one’s Portuguese lineage is an arduous task. One would think that it should be easy, given that ships’ passenger lists and immigration records must exist somewhere. The question is where are they? I have tried without much success.

There are complicating factors such as many of the Portuguese names in St Vincent are now anglicized, and without access to the ships’ passenger lists and immigration records, we cannot ascertain with full accuracy the names of the original migrants. We are in many cases assuming.{{more}} Without the original details, it makes it near impossible to trace the family lines beyond the original migrants from Madeira, if one could reach back that far! Also, the early Portuguese migrated between the islands, particularly to Trinidad, and even to the USA. I have searched the Ellis Island immigration records and found some SVG Portuguese who migrated to the USA. However, many of the records list a name, but no record of original residence, and many of the listings that gave Trinidad as place of origin could have been a SVG Portuguese who may have migrated to Trinidad and lived for a short time and then went on to the USA or perhaps a SVG Portuguese who had to go to Trinidad to get the boat to the USA.

The early Portuguese used a very limited range of names, and used them over and over, generation after generation. So John begat John, begat John, begat John; and Manuel begat Manuel, begat Manuel, begat Manuel; and Joe begat Joe, begat Joe, begat Joe. And if Manuel’s brother Joe begat Manuel, he would be called “Mannie Joe” to distinguish him from Mannie’s son Mannie, who by the same convention would be “Mannie’s Mannie”. The early Christian names would have been truly Portuguese, so John would have been Joao; Joseph would have been Josefa; Emmanuel would have been Manuel or even Manoel; Henry would have been Henriqe; Anthony would have been Antonio; Mary would have been Maria; Lucy would have been Lucia or Luciana; and there would have been the female forms of male names, for example, Manuela and Joachina.

As well, the children would have given names and they would grow up with another name, so a child known all her life as Rose could be really Mary Magdalen and a male known as “Mikey” could be really John, or someone known as “Johnny” could be really Henry. The early Portuguese also had a habit of calling the wife by the husbands’ first names so the wife of Joachim DeSouza would be “Miss Joachim”, the wife of Manuel Fereira would be “Miss Manuel” and the wife of Augustus “Gussie” Martes would be “Miss Gussie”, and so forth. And let us not forget the outside children. Some carried the Portuguese name while others carried the name from the other side of the family. This makes it hard to trace ancestors who are really kin. It makes for a difficult time in tracing family history without understanding these naming conventions and knowing the alternate names. Oh what a tangled web they weaved!

To understand Portuguese surnames, we must also understand Portuguese naming conventions. In Portuguese tradition, a child usually carried at least two surnames, that of the mother and that of the father. So for the sake of illustration, if a Mary Cabral was married to a Manuel Pinto and had a son Joseph, he would be Joseph Cabral Pinto. And if a Joachina DeSousa was married to a John Fernandes and had a daughter Paulina, she would be Paulina DeSousa Fernandes. And if Joseph married Paulina and had a son John, he would be John Fernandes Pinto or even John DeSousa Fernandes Cabral Pinto. This custom of carrying multiple surnames may explain why some early SVG Portuguese were known by multiple last names. For example I know of a Ribeiro who was widely known in my village as “Mr. Antigo” and another Ribeiro who was known as “Mr Gracie”. And there are the Windward DaCostas who are also know as “Cross”.

Furthermore, the prefixes D’, De, Da, and Dos are sometimes not considered part of a Portuguese surname. So in Portuguese tradition someone named DosSantos may be simply Mr. Santos and a lady named D’Andrade is simply Miss Andrade. But in St. Vincent we would say Mr DosSantos and Miss D’Andrade.

Some of the current Portuguese surnames in St Vincent have remained true. However, many have been altered most likely because they were anglicized. Cabral, D’Andrade, DaCosta, DaSilva, DeFreitas, DeNobriga, DeSousa, Fernandes, Miguel, Pereira, Ribeiro, Texeira have remained unchanged. Alvis was probably Alves; Agrilla was probably Agrela; Corea was likely Correia; Cross was likely Cruz; DaBreo was likely D’Abreu; DaSantos was DosSantos; Daise was most likely Diaz; DeCaul was probably DeGaul; Ferreira was changed to Fereira to match Gouveia: Jardine was Jardim; Pereira; Francis was probably Francisco or even Frances; Gonsalves was originally Goncalves; Govia was likely Marks was originally Marques; Olliviere was most likely Ollivera, Sardine was Sardinha; Veira was Viera; and then there were names like Antigo, Antoine, Castelo, Gracie, and Nieves that have disappeared except that Castelo remains as an East Indian name. Names such as DaBriel bear little resemblance to any common Portuguese surnames.

Furthermore, a Portuguese name in St. Vincent does not necessarily indicate a Portuguese blood line. Many of the East Indians in St. Vincent have taken Portuguese names. Unfortunately, the East Indian indentured labourers did not fare well in St. Vincent. We could even deduce that they may have been mistreated. Their culture was completely eradicated. When I was growing up in SVG, I never knew an East Indian family who made roti. We had to import roti from Trinidad. There are no Vinci East Indians of the Hindu persuasion, and curry was not an East Indian thing – we all cooked with curry. Apparently, the early East Indians were encouraged, perhaps influenced or forced to become Roman Catholic or Anglican and when baptized, the children took on the surnames of their God parents. So there are East Indians by name of Cabral, Pereira, DaSantos, Medica – the Roman Catholics; and King, Williams, Harry, Thomas, Deane, Jack, Sutherland, Samuel – the Anglicans. So, two blood brothers could have a different surname and a different religion. The closest relic to a true East Indian name in St. Vincent may be Latchman. The name Medica is intriguing because there are no Portuguese named Medica in St. Vincent.

All these need to be considered in any attempt to trace a Portuguese heritage. The main drawback is access to archived records of births and marriages as well as the ships’ passenger lists and immigration records from the 1800’s. Without these no trace can be complete or even approach full accuracy and access to family lines in Madeira and Portugal would be impossible – believe me, I tried and I have been rebuffed. I was told that the Portuguese names in St. Vincent are so common in Madeira that without specifics as to dates and places of birth in Madeira, the authorities in Madeira would not be able to help. I have often wondered if there are Portuguese in Madeira today who have heard of their former relative migrating to the Caribbean and may be trying to find their descendants – there must be. I even placed an article in a paper in Madeira and nothing resulted.

Therefore, this has been my contribution to tracing the Portuguese heritage in St. Vincent. I do not claim that it is totally accurate. Rather, is my best guess from my limited research and from stories that have been passed down and is therefore subject to further verification. So if anyone has a different perspective I ask that rather than rebuke me, please share your information and let us have a healthy discussion. My view is that it is important that it be documented and hopefully someone else will be willing to research the archives for further clues and continue this discourse. I am throwing it out as a challenge for someone to take up the torch and complete this work. Find the historical records and build on this. In the meantime one untapped resource is the stories that have been passed down through generations. It is therefore important that we speak freely among ourselves to share these stories because they may be lost for good after this current generation. So share, you may be surprised how many relatives you may find. Anyone can contact me in this regard and I will be willing to share any information that I may have. I can be reached by e-mail at

Lastly, I believe that our best hope lies in the archived records and I implore the powers that be to make those archived records widely accessible, and to do so they need to be available electronically. The books of records are slowly being destroyed and records lost when they continue to be accessed manually. In this modern age these records need to be converted into electronic form and the originals stored in a climate controlled environment where they can be preserved. The electronic copy can be accessed widely and by selling or licensing access to them, it will become another revenue source for the government. Furthermore there may be many agencies who are interested in helping to preserve these documents for posterity and who may be willing to assist to have them preserved and made electronically accessible. Let us get this done before our history is forever lost.

P.S. My thanks to the Searchlight for publishing this series. I hope that it was of some interest, especially those who have an interest in history and to anyone who has a Portuguese ancestry.