Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hannah's Children -- Eugene Ca Costa

Eugene Da Costa – he never used the middle name, Rodrigues – was born about 1873, the second child and first son of Joseph and Hannah Rodrigues Da Costa. I have not been able to find his baptismal record, but he was most likely baptized in the Catholic Church. I did not, of course, know him, but I imagine from what I’ve found about him, that he wasn’t much like his sister, Ida. Eugene was a character … a man of definite opinions, and involved in several pursuits chief among which was horse-racing. A great deal of what I’ve learned about him I found reported in the Gleaner, for Eugene was an inveterate writer of letters to the editor and did not mince his words.

As I had no pictures of Eugene I had to try and build a picture of him based on whatever information I could find in the Gleaner. Not long after I began searching for information about him I came across a letter of his to the editor of the Gleaner in which he mentioned that he had written a history of horse-racing in Jamaica. This intrigued me and I set about trying to find the book, without success. It then occurred to me that perhaps he had deposited a copy of the book in the National Library of Jamaica, and sure enough he had. I emailed their reference section, told them I was a relative of Eugene’s and asked if it were possible to get a copy of his book. The reference librarian I dealt with very kindly offered to photocopy it for me, for a modest cost, and there it was … a book written by my cousin, Eugene!

There was no cover, so I had to make do with the title page.

Eugene’s reminiscences about horse-racing in Jamaica covered the years 1874 to 1934, and described the early racing days at the Kingston Race Course and then the move to the racecourse at Knutsford Park in St. Andrew.

This area is now New Kingston and the racecourse is now Emancipation Park.

Eugene was very much involved in horse-racing, both as Secretary of the Jamaica Turf Club and as an owner and trainer himself. He was also, according to information I found in the Gleaner, employed by the Jamaica Railway Company (which, sadly, no longer exists) and had an ice cream business at Cross Roads, St. Andrew.

The earliest vital information I could find on him was his marriage on March 26, 1899, to Catherine Rebecca James. At the time he gave his address as Bog Walk, St. Catherine and his occupation as clerk. He and Catherine were married by Father Patrick F. X. Mulry at St. George’s College. They had no children and according to Eugene’s brief obituary in 1951 his wife had predeceased him. I have not been able to find a record of her death.

I found a story in the Gleaner of May 31, 1911, which stated that the City Council had granted Eugene an application for use of the site on the Kingston Race Course to hold a race meeting on two Coronation holidays, June 22nd and 23rd. There were several other stories concerning Eugene and horse-racing in general, as well as numerous letters written by him to the editor of the newspaper about the state of horse-racing in Jamaica. He was somewhat of a combative nature as he was involved in at least two lawsuits, both of which he won.

The closest I got to a picture of the man is this clipping from the Gleaner of June 22, 1939:

Eugene is at the right in front. Like many of the Da Costas he was not tall! To my mind he looks a lot like my father, his first cousin.

A brief story in the Gleaner of December 28, 1945 described Eugene’s visit to Trinidad. Here it is:

On his return from Trinidad Eugene was quoted in the Gleaner as follows:
“The pari-mutuel turn-over in Trinidad in a single day is better than we in Jamaica can do in a single year.”
He went on to say that Trinidad had the power behind it to become one of the best racing centres in the world. “’On the first day of the meeting”, said Mr. Da Costa, ‘the promoters made a net profit of 60,000 dollars’”.

Eugene died July 3, 1951. Here is his obituary from the Gleaner of July 5th:

I was surprised to see that he had attended Wolmer’s Boy’s School as I thought he would most likely have gone to St. George’s. His sister, Ida, must have taken care of the funeral arrangements. From what I’ve been told by Ida’s grandson, Timothy, Eugene was almost like a father figure to Ida’s children so brother and sister must have been quite close

There is no doubt that Eugene knew horse-racing inside out and had many years of experience with the sport in Jamaica. So I am very disappointed that Dr. Rebecca Tortello, in her piece on the history of horse-racing in Jamaica, in the Gleaner’s Pieces of the Past, does not mention Eugene at all.

I hope that this small piece about him helps to make up for that.

Friday, 27 November 2009

All in the Family -- Lay Delegate to Synod

I recently attended the 135th Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara, as a Lay Delegate representing my church, St. Luke’s, in Burlington.

The word “synod” is defined as “a local or special ecclesiastical council, esp. of a diocese, formally convened to discuss ecclesiastical affairs.” The word is derived from the Latin synodus, from the Greek sunodos, syn + hodos, “way” or “course”. The synod is called together by the bishop of the diocese and the attendees are the clergy from the diocese along with representatives from the laity, elected by the Parish.

The 135th Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara took place November 20th and 21st at the Hamilton Convention Centre. This was my first experience representing my church as a lay delegate to Synod and I found it both educational and uplifting. It set me thinking about my family and the fact that I wasn’t the first of them to attend Synod as a lay delegate. In fact at least two of my uncles had done the same and so I set out to find out what I could about their experiences as lay delegates.

The Smedmores and Kingston Parish Church
My Smedmore family had a strong connection to the Kingston Parish Church. The state church, formally known as the Parish Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, is believed to have been built some time before 1699, the date of the oldest tomb in the church today. It is located south of the Parade, in the heart of Kingston.

The original church was destroyed in the earthquake of 1907. Here is how it looked before the earthquake:

The new church was constructed in 1911, as closely as possible on the foundations of the previous church, as a replica of the former church except for the original tower. Instead a new clock tower was erected as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the First World War.

My Smedmore family, who lived at 49 Beeston Street north of the Parade, all attended Kingston Parish Church and whenever I visited them I would go with there them. I was fascinated by the fact that many early burials had actually taken place inside the church, and one could walk over the tombstones with their inscriptions while going up the nave. I particularly remember seeing the tomb of Admiral John Benbow, near the High Altar.

Benbow had been stationed at Port Royal as commander of the King’s Ships in the West Indies in 1697, and again in 1702. During the War of the Spanish Succession he fought against the French under Admiral Du Casse, was wounded and as a result died two months later of his wounds and was buried in the parish church.

Here is a photo of the interior of Kingston Parish Church, showing the High Altar.

My Smedmore Uncles

But back to Synod and my uncles. I was vaguely aware that my uncle Julian had been a Synod delegate, but what about the others? I don’t know if the eldest of the boys, my uncle Victor, who was killed in the First World War, had taken part in Synod. I never heard that my uncle Owen had been a lay delegate. This might be because he was somewhat retiring in nature. He stammered rather badly and this may have been a drawback. That left my uncles Rodney, Lucius and Julian, and so I did a search in the Jamaica Gleaner online to see what I could find out about them.


Rodney definitely was elected as a lay delegate to synod in the parish of Trelawny where he worked as a sugar technologist. He was present at the Synod at St. George’s Hall, Kingston, on February 12, 1947. This Synod was particularly significant as it saw the election of Canon Percival William Gibson as Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, the first Jamaican, and a black Jamaican at that, to be elevated to the bishopric. The article in the Gleaner reports that R. D. Smedmore was one of the delegates appointed to a committee to prepare the voting papers. I know that at the time Rodney was living in Trelawny so he would have been representing his home church, which was most likely St. Michael’s Church in Clarks Town.


My uncle Lucius was never, as far as can see, a lay delegate, but he was very much involved in the life of the Parish Church, serving as Secretary and Treasurer. The one member of the family who served the longest as a lay delegate was the youngest, Julian.


I found several entries in the Gleaner which referred to Julian’s involvement as a lay delegate on behalf of the Parish Church. He was very active in the church and made sure everyone knew it!

So, I came to the conclusion that this was indeed all in the family. Mind you, I’ve come to this important duty somewhat late in life, but I rather think that if my Smedmore family knew of it they would probably be proud and perhaps a bit surprised as in their time there were probably no women in Jamaica elected as lay delegates to synod. In fact, it was not until 1994 that women were ordained as deacons, and only in 1997 were they ordained to the priesthood.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Hannah's Children: David Rodrigues Da Costa -- a Remembrance Day Tribute

Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
Anthem for Doomed Youth – Wilfred Owen
I had meant to write about Eugene Da Costa, the second child of Hannah and Joseph Rodrigues Da Costa, but here we are on yet another Remembrance Day and I find myself thinking about their youngest son, David, who was killed in the First World War.
David is the only one for whom I have baptismal information, thanks to Father Gerry McLaughlin, the Archivist for the Roman Catholic Church in Kingston, Jamaica. He was baptized by Father Joseph Dupont who wrote in the register:

"On the 6th of August 1876 I baptized David Rodrigues Dacosta, born 7th July last, son of Joseph Rodrigues Dacosta and Hannah Lindo. The sponsors were Charles H. Nunes & Josepha Duquesnay."

Apart from that I knew very little about David, discovering bits and pieces of information about him as I researched the family. In searching for information about his older sister, Ida, and her children, I came across an immigration record for young Ida Clementina, age 17, sailing from Liverpool to New York on May 26 1913, going to her mother, Mrs. Ida Couch, at 152nd Street, New York City. Ida gave her address in London as that of her uncle, D. R. Da Costa, 149 Strand. This is how I discovered that David was living in London. Again, when I was following the saga of Ida and Frederick Walter Couch, I discovered them on a passenger list travelling from Jamaica to England in 1892. Listed with them was their infant son, Frederick Joseph, along with a Master Da Costa, age 16, who must have been David. Perhaps he had decided to seek his fortune in England. Strangely enough, his father, Joseph, had named him along with Hannah, as an executor of his will made July 19, 1910, a few months before he died. I wonder why Joseph named David who was living in England, as his executor, rather than his other son, Eugene, who was right there in Jamaica.

Once the 1901 British census became available I went looking for David and found him lodging with one Alfred Collins, an engraver in gold and silver, living at 52 Bromar Road in Camberwell. David’s occupation was given as journalist and author. I was also able to find David on various passenger lists between England and New York as well as Jamaica. In November 1909 David sailed on the RMS Mauretania from Liverpool to New York. He was still lodging with Alfred Collins and his family, and indicated that he was in transit to Jamaica. I imagine that he was going to see his father, Joseph, who was most likely ill at this time, as he suffered from chronic heart disease. David then sailed from Jamaica aboard the ss Clyde on January 19, 1910 en route to New York, intending to return to England. However, he returned to Jamaica on August 6, 1910, sailing from Avonmouth to Kingston on board the Port Henderson. No doubt by this time his father Joseph’s health had deteriorated. Joseph died September 26, 1910.

David remained for some time in Jamaica to help settle his father’s estate because he does not show up in the 1911 census -- his landlord, Alfred Collins, is shown living with his family at 41 Larkhall Rise, Clapham. David himself returns to England on board the Elders & Fyffe ship, ss Nicoya, arriving in Manchester on May 8, 1911.

It was purely by chance that I discovered David’s name on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, near Ieper, Belgium. It is one of the four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders, covering the area known as the Ypres Salient. David was killed on October 13, 1917. According to the information on the site he was a private with the 10th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts. And Derby Regiment). He was 41 years old. I immediately searched for his war record and was fortunate to find both his attestation papers as well as other documents, and also the war diaries of the Sherwood Foresters on the Documents Online section of The National Archives. Curiously, David did not join the Sherwood Foresters but the Royal Flying Corps, on July 31, 1916. He was forty years old and gave his address as 58 Danville Road, Camberwell, London, S.E. He listed his occupation as journalist, was not married and gave his mother’s name – Hannah Da Costa, 54 East Queen Street, Kingston Jamaica -- as next of kin. He was described as 5 ft. 9 inches (the Da Costas are not tall!).

This is the badge of the Royal Flying Corps. According to his statement of services, David remained in England from July 31 1916 till April 27 1917, and then was sent to France from April 28 1917 until his death on October 13, 1917. He was listed as a private, regimental number 41271, in the Royal Flying Corps, military wing, stationed at South Farnborough, as of July 31 1916, then on September 24, 1917, he was compulsorily transferred to the 10th Battalion, Nottingham and Derbyshire Regiment, retaining his present rate of pay, but with a new service number, 72329.

This is the badge of the 10th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters.

Another document in his records indicates that he belonged to Group 41 (Journalist) and had been attached to Balloon Party, and was also attached to 63rd R. N. Div. 1.B.D. for training as infantry personnel. It is not clear to me why he was transferred.

According to the war diaries I found on line the 10th Battalion was stationed in October 1917 outside of Hazebrouck, through which thousands of British soldiers passed en route for Ypres or the Somme. It became an Army Headquarters in October 1914. The war diary for the time of David’s death does not indicate any action on the 13th of October, but that there were casualties on October 12th

It reads as follows:
“The enemy continued their counterattack during the day – all of which were dispersed by M.G. (machine gun) fire and artillery fire. Congratulated on the information sent back to Div. and Brigade. Observation forts were established at CONDIE HQ & MILLERS HOUSES. Number of casualties during the day were officers killed 2, wounded 4, and O.R. (other ranks) killed approximately 15. Wounds 150.”

Perhaps David was among the wounded and died later, but based on the fact that he has no known grave it would seem that his body was not found and he would have been considered killed in action.

This has been a long post but I wanted on this day to remember David Rodrigues Da Costa and his ultimate sacrifice in 1917.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them. " – For the Fallen, Lawrence Binyon

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Sarah Letitia Brown's Commonplace Book Revisited

Back in 2008 I wrote about my great grandmother’s commonplace book, which was found among my mother’s effects after her death. As you will recall, the book was in poor condition, with no cover, torn pages, and acidic damage to the edges of the pages. Here’s what it looked like --

The spine was completely gone, as was much of the stitching, and in fact many pages had come away completely. This picture shows how fragile the edges of the pages had become.

I had become very concerned about the condition of this journal. It represented an important part of my life, a primary document of members of my mother’s maternal family which should be preserved for future generations. But how best to do this?

It so happened that some of the books in the Mississauga Library’s local history collection were in need of repair and preservation. The Library had dealt in the past with a well-known rare book binder, Keith Felton of Felton Bookbinding, in Georgetown. As Local History Librarian at the Mississauga Central Library I undertook the task of driving to Georgetown with the books which needed repair. (We had previously contacted Felton’s regarding these books and had sent them photos of their condition so that they could give us a quote on the type of repair needed and the cost involved.) As I was going to Felton’s I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to have some repair work done on a couple of my own books. My paperback copy of Inez Knibb Sibley’s Dictionary of Place Names in Jamaica (no longer in print) had come apart -- so much for so-called permanent binding – and I decided to bring along the commonplace book as well to see what could be done with it.

Keith Felton does amazing work and I can’t praise him too highly. The Sibley book was no trouble to repair, but the commonplace book was much more complex. It needed new covers and spine, plus repair to every page in the book by placing tissue paper along the edges of each page to prevent more damage. We decided on a beautiful leather cover with new endpapers. I’m not that knowledgeable about how this preservation work is done. All I can say is, judge for yourself from the following pictures of the finished work, now titled Brown Family Journal.

The photo above shows the journal with new endpapers.

If you need to have any type of preservation work done on your books then I definitely recommend that you get in touch with Keith Felton of Felton Bookbinding in Georgetown. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Frederick Walter Couch Redux

I have just recently received information from someone researching the Couch family which sheds more light … and more confusion … on the mysterious and elusive Frederick Walter Couch. According to the newspaper, the Straits Times, of October 27, 1913, a “Mr. F. W. Couch, of John Little & Co., goes home on leave by the P. & O. Delta Friday next.” The Straits Times is an English language newspaper published in Singapore and was established in 1845 during British colonial rule. John Little & Co. is a chain of department stores located in Singapore, which was also established there in 1845. So, was Frederick Walter Couch employed by them in Singapore in 1913 as a master tailor? Although family story has him decamping to South America, did he perhaps set out for the Far East instead?

We know that Frederick Walter Couch shows up again in Kingston, in 1915, according to his advertisement in the Gleaner, claiming that he and his partner, H. H. Scott, have just returned from the American Military Camps. Where were these camps? I did a bit of searching on line and came up with the idea … which may be completely wrong … that perhaps Frederick made his way to the Philippines, as this was during the Philippine-American War, and there would have been American army camps there. If so, did he then leave there to return to Jamaica?

My correspondent also pointed out to me something I had missed – that Frederick traveled in October 1917 from Kingston to Liverpool on the ss Tortuguero, an Elders & Fyffe “banana boat”. He gave his occupation as “master tailor”.

The phrase “unmitigated gall” might have been invented for Frederick Walter Couch. Who would have thought that he would have returned to Jamaica, after deserting wife and family? And what eventually happened to him? That is something that still has to be researched

Monday, 27 July 2009

Hannah's Children -- Ida Clementina Da Costa

I never knew the children of Joseph and Hannah Da Costa. What I do know about them I have managed to glean from various sources, including the Daily Gleaner, and such genealogy databases as Ancestry and Findmypast. The picture that emerges about Ida, the eldest, shows her to have been a particularly resilient person. She was one of the witnesses when her parents married and would have been about seventeen or eighteen at the time. As the eldest she must have been responsible for her younger brothers. Perhaps she worked with her parents in the Commercial Hotel. At any rate, at the age of twenty-one she married an Englishman, from Cornwall, Frederick Walter Couch.

Frederick Walter Couch, aged 28, arrived in Jamaica in 1886, according to a notice in the Gleaner of November 10th of that year. He left behind him three children and their mother, to come to Jamaica as a master tailor in the employ of Richard Recuero, whose business, El Fenix, was located at 117 Harbour Street.

The item in the Gleaner, which referred to Frederick as “Mr. Crouch, a celebrated Continental cutter”, stated that he had been engaged by the firm of Messrs. Recuero and Co. “for their outfitting establishment which has just been opened at the corner of Temple Lane and Harbour Street.”

We don’t know how and when Frederick met Ida. They were married 6 May 1891 at St. George’s College, then located at 26 North Street, by the Rev. Fr. Patrick J. Hogan, S.J. Frederick stated that he was a bachelor, a merchant, aged 31 … he was actually 33 … father, Frederick Couch, and gave his address as Lilias Cottage, Hope, St. Andrew. Ida was listed as a spinster, age 21, of 101 Harbour Street. No father was named on the record but Joseph Da Costa was one of the witnesses along with an Agnes Maud MacDonald.
Did Ida know that Frederick had been in a relationship in England with a woman named Emily Jane Prout, with whom he had fathered five children (two of whom had since died)? No marriage has ever been found for Frederick and Emily, although she claimed to be his wife on birth registrations of their children. I am sure that Ida as a devout Catholic, as was her mother Hannah, would not have knowingly entered into a bigamous marriage. At any rate, she traveled with Frederick and their first child, Frederick Joseph, born 9 November 1891, to England in June of 1892 and it appears that they stayed with Frederick’s father and mother, Frederick and Amelia, at 19 Westgate Street, Launceston, Cornwall, as that is where their second child, Eugene Adrian, was born on the 21st July 1893. What then does this say about Frederick’s relationship with Emily Jane Prout? Was Ida welcomed because she and Frederick were married?

Frederick had apparently parted company with Recuero and Company, a provisional order of bankruptcy having been filed against the company according to the Gleaner of October 20, 1891, and had entered into partnership with Octave Lay of 29 King Street.

Ida and her child, Frederick Joseph, must have returned to Jamaica about 1894, as her third child, Violet, was born there, on May 22, at “The Laurels”, St. Andrew. Ida was the one who registered the birth. We cannot be sure that Frederick had returned with them. He certainly sailed from Southampton on November 10, 1894, for New York, but he must have returned to Jamaica some time after that, as their fourth child, Ida Winifred, was born 15 February 1896, also at “The Laurels”. Once again the birth was registered by her mother, Ida. Frederick, meanwhile, was again on the move where his career was concerned. A new advertisement appeared in the Gleaner of April 5, 1895, in which there is no mention of Octave Lay.

The ad is hard to read but the text at the bottom states: “I the original F. W. Couch begs [sic] to notify the public in general that I have no connection whatever with any other firm in the Parade”.
What happened after that to the family is somewhat of a mystery. From what I’ve learned it appears that Frederick deserted Ida and her children and was not heard from for some time. He supposedly traveled to California and may well have been in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake, as a result of which he returned to Jamaica and resumed his relationship with his wife. On 17 December 1907, their fifth and last child, Stanley Noel, was born at 34 Victoria Avenue, Kingston. Shortly after, according to what I have been told, Frederick once again deserted the family, supposedly sailing to South America. No other information about him could be found until the following notice appeared in the Gleaner in July and August of 1915.

This was very curious, as from what I’ve been told, no one ever stated that Frederick had returned to Jamaica and Ida certainly was no longer living with him. Her father, Joseph, had left her £300 in his will, which must have been a great help to her as her situation cannot have been easy. One by one the family left Jamaica. Her daughter, Ida Winifred, traveled to England and spent some time with her uncle, David, in London, and from there sailed to New York where Eugene, her older brother, was living, having gone to the United States in 1912. He became a naturalized citizen in 1922. Ida and Stanley must also have gone to New York at that time although I have not been able to find a record of their sailing, so they probably were not even in Jamaica when Frederick returned. Ida apparently traveled back and forth between New York and Jamaica. I found her in 1921, sailing with Violet and Stanley and by herself in 1924 again traveling to New York. On the 1924 manifest she indicated that she had been living in the U.S. between 1912 and 1924. She described herself on the ship’s manifests on both occasions as a widow … so was Frederick dead, or did Ida consider him to be as good as dead? Again, we don’t know. She and Stanley eventually returned to Jamaica, as did Frederick Joseph and Violet.
By a strange coincidence, Stanley worked for some time at Desnoes & Geddes, bottlers of Red Stripe Beer among other beverages, about the same time that my father, Michael Levy, worked there. Did they know that they were cousins? Who knows? It’s another one of the family mysteries that probably will never be solved.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

To Canada From Jamaica, With Love

Happy Birthday, Canada! You're looking pretty good for 142! Wish we all could age as well.

I speak as an expat Jamaican who has made her home here for the past forty-nine years, more than twice the years I spent in my birthplace. Canada is home to many Jamaicans, expats who came here for many reasons ... perhaps they went to school or university here and decided to stay; they may have married a Canadian, as I did, and thus made it their home. Many Jamaicans came here in the seventies, the unhappy times in Jamaica, when Canada seemed to offer a safe place, a better place to live and raise our children.

Whatever the reasons, many of us have lived here for a long time ... we have adapted, well sort of. I'll never get used to winter. Mon pays, ce n'est pas l'hiver ... give me spring, summer and fall ... but we survive. Sure, we miss the tropical weather, the sea breezes, the easy-going laid-back life ... soon come, mon! We miss the bright colours of the bouganvillea, the poinciana, the flame of the forest. We miss the food ... oh, we can replicate it, but is isn't quite the same. We miss the salt air of the sea, the soft white sand between our toes ...

But we're here, Canada is our home, and we are happy and safe and living in the best possible country on earth. So, Happy Birthday, Canada! And many more of them!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Joseph and Hannah Da Costa

Once again I have been tardy in updating my blog. I feel that I have left Joseph and Hannah Rodrigues Da Costa in limbo while I dealt with other responsibilities. It's way past time to get back to their story -- a story I've managed to piece together using what records I could find about them and their family as well as stories in the Jamaica Gleaner. It's hard to put together a family history when you have no context, only names to go by, so I've been really lucky to find various bits of information in the Gleaner which have helped me enormously.
Joseph was the proprietor of the Commercial Rooms at 101 Harbour Street, as per an advertisement in the 1891 Kingston Directory, which appears on the Jamaican Family Search website as follows:
Commercial Rooms
101 Harbour Street (Upstsirs)
Bar & Billiard Saloon
Joseph DaCosta, Proprietor
N. B. Telegrams received daily, and can be read immediately on arrival. Also late English and American papers.
Telephone 167
Besides this ad he also advertised regularly in the Jamaica Gleaner. One of the earliest ads I found was this one in the February 15th, 1894 Gleaner:

Joseph seems to have imported all sorts of goodies for sale at the Commercial Rooms so he was quite the entrepreneur. Most of the ads I found were of this nature.

How did Joseph come to own the Commercial Rooms in the first place? Well, based on a brief article I found in the Gleaner of January 6, 1886, it appears that Hannah, his wife, was the original owner and Joseph was her manager. (At this time they were not married though they had had three children together.) The report in the Gleaner stated that Hannah, as proprietress of the Commercial Hotel, had appeared in District Court charged with keeping her hotel open later than eleven o'clock and also "unlawfully and knowingly permitting disorderly conduct in the same hotel on the night of the 9th December last." The defence was that on the night in question a large group of disorderly sailors, armed with marlin spikes, had entered the hotel "for the purpose of avenging an insult that one of their comrades had received the night before. Seeing that they meant mischief, Mr. Joseph DaCosta, the manager of the hotel, did his best to induce them to leave quietly." Fortunately the defence was accepted and his Honour decided in favour of the defendant.

Joseph's bravery did not go unrewarded as he and Hannah were married two years later on November 22, 1888, and from then on it is Joseph's name that is associated with the hotel and billiard rooms. Many ads appeared in the Gleaner extolling the various imported foods that Joseph had brought in. Joseph was also involved in horse racing. An ad in the Gleaner in 1891 for the Cumberland Penn Races stated that tickets for the grounds, stands and carriage enclosure could be purchased at the Commercial Hotel, at four shillings and ten shillings and sixpence respectively for the Grand Stand and Special Stand. An interesting sidelight to Joseph's career, particularly as his son, Eugene became quite the turfite and even wrote a book on the history of horse-racing in Jamaica.

Joseph died at the relatively young age of sixty-three in 1910 of chronic heart disease, certified by Dr. F. H. Saunders. His obituary in the Gleaner of September 27th, 1910, referred to him as "well known for his sterling character and his great business ability. All those who came in contact with him -- and his friends were legion -- admired his pleasant disposition, his quiet demeanour, and his charitable qualities."

Hannah outlived her husband for many years, dying at her home in Rae Town on 27 April 1925. Her obituary in the Gleaner spoke of her as charming in her manner and a pleasure to converse with.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Discovering Da Costas: And Joseph Makes Three

Today is Mothering Sunday in the Anglican Church, a day when mothers are celebrated. Mothering Sunday has a long tradition in English customs as it was the day when those in service were given the day off to visit their family, and it was also the day when one returned to the mother church, such as the Cathedral in one's Diocese. Mothering Sunday falls in the middle of Lent and is a break from the abstinence of the season; the tradition is to serve Simnel Cake and give the ladies a flower to celebrate the day. I bring this up because I'm feeling rather guilty for neglecting the family blog I've been mothering these past several months ... so, once again, I'm returning belatedly to the Da Costa story.

In my last post I wrote about Melbourne and his family and how I found out about his parents, Jacob and Selina Rodrigues Da Costa, who were also, of course, the parents of my grandmother Alice. I knew that Melbourne and Alice had a brother, Joseph, but I had not so far done any research on him. I did have a photo of a tombstone in Calvary Roman Catholic Cemetery which was very likely that of my great uncle, Joseph Rodrigues Da Costa.

So I started doing some research on Joseph. I went looking first of all for a marriage record for a Joseph Rodrigues Da Costa, figuring that he would most likely have been married around the same time as Melbourne. I did find such a record, on 22 November 1888, which stated that Joseph Rodrigues Da Costa, a tavern keeper, age 41, son of Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, had married Hannah Lindo, a spinster, age 38, daughter of Jacob Lindo, at 101 Harbour Street (which both had given on the record as their abode), by a William J. Brown, the witness being one Ada Clement Da Costa. It seemed very likely that Joseph was the brother of Melbourne and Alice, as his father was also Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, so the next question was, did this couple have children?

With the assistance of Father Gerry McLaughlin at the Roman Catholic Archives in Kingston, I was able find out more about Joseph and Hannah. They did have children, three in fact, all of whom were born quite some time before the marriage of their parents! The children were Ida Clementina, born 1871, Eugene, born 1873 and David, born 1876. Father Gerry also found a record of Joseph's marriage in the register, in Latin, entered by the Rev. Fr. William Spillman, S.J., as follows:

"A. D. 1888, die 22 Novembris conjuncti sunt in Matrimonium Joseph R. Da Costa & Hannah Lindo a P. Guls. Burns, S. J. praesentibus testibus D. M. Leon, Ida Clement Da Costa. Ex reg. civili G. Spillmann, S. J."

The witness, Ada Clement Da Costa was in fact their eldest daughter, Ida Clementina, who would have been seventeen years old. Why did it take so long for Joseph and Hannah to get married? What was the impediment? That's probably something that we'll never know. Was Hannah Jewish, and was there some resistance on the part of her family to her marrying a Catholic? What evidence I've been able to find shows that Hannah was a devout Catholic, but it's possible that she might have been a convert to Catholicism.

My next step was to find Joseph's death record and see if he had left a will. Success on both counts! Joseph died at 57 East Queen Street on 26 September 1910 of chronic heart disease, as certified by Dr. F. H. Saunders. The informant on the death record was his youngest son, David, who had been living in England but had come to Jamaica during his father's illness. And Joseph did make a will, which was probated in the Supreme Court of Jamaica.

His will gives the definitive proof that he was indeed brother to Melbourne and Alice as in it he left "to my brother Melbourne DaCosta one hundred pounds and to my sister Alice Levy one hundred pounds." He appointed his wife, Hannah as joint executor with his younger son, David; he left £300 to each of his children, and the rest and residue of his estate to his wife, Hannah.

Knowing as little as I did about this part of the family, I wanted to find out more about Joseph and Hannah, and I was fortunate enough to learn more by researching in the pages of the Jamaica Gleaner on line. In my next post I'll describe what I found there.

And now for a little shameless self-promotion. I've just today received an email from Blog Jamaica who are featuring my blog this week! Naturally, I'm pleased!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Discovering Da Costas: Putting the Pieces Together

It's been quite a while since my last post ... other stuff gets in the way ... At any rate I wanted to return to my research on the Da Costa family and talk about how I went in search of them and what I found. It wasn't at all straightforward. Sometimes genealogical research can be very fruitful -- other times not!

In my last post I wrote briefly about my great uncle, Melbourne Rodrigues Da Costa. As I said, I knew of his existence because my uncle Rodney had told me that my grandmother, Alice, had two brothers, Joseph and Melbourne. In my research I found a marriage record for a Melbourne Rodrigues Da Costa to an Abigail Henriques DeSouza. Here is a copy of that record:

The record states that Melbourne Da Costa, age 23, bachelor, small trader, son of Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, married Abigail de Souza, spinster, dressmaker, age 22, daughter of Joseph Desouza, on the 24th of May, 1882, and that the marriage was performed in Kingston by Alexander Robb.The names of the two witnesses are almost illegible; one appears to be Wm. M. Holland. Further research on my part showed that Alexander Robb was a Presbyterian minister. Whether or not they were married in a church was not stated and I'm inclined to think that the marriage probably took place in a home, perhaps the bride's home. Certainly the bride wore a wedding dress. My cousin, Kay, Melbourne's great granddaughter, sent me this photo of Abigail.

Unfortunately, we don't have a photo of Melbourne.

I discovered that the DeSouza family was Jewish, and later on I was able to confirm the fact that Melbourne had been baptized in the Catholic church. Now, I have come across marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics that were performed in the Catholic church, so long as the non-Catholic partner promised to bring up the children as Catholic. But Abigail had no such intentions, and indeed all their children were brought up Jewish and named in the synagogue records.

In looking back at the notes I made at the time I see that I wasn't sure that Melbourne, the son of Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, was my grandmother's brother, because I didn't know her father's name! Alice did not get married in Jamaica, but in Colon. I discovered that later when I was sent a copy of the Gleaner notice of the marriage. I naturally first concentrated on my grandmother's family and found the births of all her children, whose names I did know. An interesting fact started to appear in some of the registrations. (There were seven births, and three deaths.) Two of the births (those of Daisy and my father, Michael), and two deaths (Daisy and Lucien) were registered by Selina Rodrigues Da Costa who, on Lucien's death record in 1887, described herself as "grandmother".

So, now I had another name. Selina Rodrigues Da Costa who had also signed Daisy's birth registration as Mrs. J. R. Da Costa, was obviously Alice's mother. Was the J. R. Da Costa she was married to by any chance Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, Melbourne's father? I then found a death record in 1892 for a Selina Da Costa, who had died at 225 Tower Street. The person registering her death was her son, Melbourne Rodrigues Da Costa, also of 225 Tower Street. Voila!

Selina DaCosta is described as a widow in this record, so the next step was to find out more about her late husband, Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa.

And here I'd like to digress and go into my favourite genealogy gripe or whine ... all this would have been so much easier if I had had access to census records in Jamaica! The census is a wonderful genealogy resource -- it places the whole family together in one place at one time. In England and Canada it was taken every ten years on the ones, beginning in 1841. (In Ontario the nominal census, where everyone in the household is named, begins in 1851.) In the United States censuses go back even further and are taken in years ending in zero. The U.S has released censuses up to 1930; in the United Kingdom they are available up to 1901 and in Canada up to 1911. There are no nominal censuses of this nature for Jamaica! A few censuses exist, mainly early ones, but mostly what censuses exist are purely statistical in nature. Madeleine Mitchell, in the revised editon of her book, Jamaican Ancestry: how to find out more (Heritage Books, 2008), reports that censuses were taken, but that the schedules with household names do not appear to exist. Jamaican genealogists would kill to have those censuses!

In the mean time I was fortunate enough, thanks to a good friend, Dr. Anthony MacFarlane, a convert to Judaism, to get hold of copies of the records of the two synagogues in Jamaica, the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue (Sephardic) and the English and German Jews synagogue (Ashkenazi). In searching through I found a Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, son of Joseph Rodrigues Da Costa and his wife, Esther Lazarus, who was born 12 October 1821, and who died 19 November 1871. This Jacob was buried in the Jewish cemetery. Was he the husband of Selina Da Costa? I searched for a marriage but without success. Nothing showed up in the Jewish records, the Church of England parish records, nor in the Dissenter marriage records. That left one possibility. Since both Melbourne and Alice were apparently Catholic then maybe Jacob and Selina were married in the Catholic church. However, the Catholic records have not been microfilmed by the LDS, so my only recourse at that time was to seek the help of the Archivist of the Archdiocese in Kingston, Father Gerry McLaughlin.

In my next post I'll continue with the saga of the Da Costa reseach.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Discovering the Da Costa Family

When I began researching my family history I knew little or nothing about my father's mother's family, the Da Costas. I knew that my grandmother's maiden name had been Da Costa. What little I knew about her family came from my Uncle Rodney, whose facts weren't always accurate. As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, he claimed my grandparents, Leopold Levy and Alice Da Costa, had been married in Haiti. Thanks to Madeleine Mitchell, who found a notice of their marriage in microfilm of the Gleaner, they were married in Colon, Panama. Here is the notice from the Gleaner of July 23, 1886:
The reference to Haiti was not entirely without some validity. When Essie, their fourth child, was born in 1891 Leopold was listed on the birth record as being in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his occupation being given as "accountant".
At the time I was hearing about my grandmother's family from Uncle Rodney I did not know her father's name ... that came much later ... and Rodney didn't know it either. He did know that Alice had two brothers, Joe and Melbourne, but nothing else about them. As for my father, Michael, he never spoke of his family and when I was younger I didn't ask the questions I should have of him. There seemd to have been some sort of estrangement between my mother and her mother-in-law. I gather there was resentment on my mother's part that she had had to wait quite a long time to marry my father as he was helping to pay off the mortgage on the house at 22 Beeston Street. I got the impression that my father's family was not well off. My grandfather, Leopold, was a travelling man, supposedly an oculist, but in all the records I found which mentioned him that occupation was never given. I found such occupations listed as "book clerk", "accountant", "book-keeper". I know that he went to Colon, Port-au-Prince, and Havana, and no doubt to other places in Central America and the Caribbean. He seems to have rarely been at home, though often enough to father seven children. Leopold died in Cuba in 1917 and my father's two brothers and his sister emigrated at various times to the United States, leaving my father as sole support of his mother.
When I finally did get around to working on my Da Costa family I had very little to go on but the names Joseph, Melbourne and Alice. I was fortunate enough to find a cousin here in Ontario, also from Jamaica, who turned out to be the great granddaughter of my great uncle, Melbourne Rodrigues Da Costa. She had done quite a bit of research herself, questioning family members and recording all she had found. Curiously, I knew nothing about her family, and she knew nothing about mine. My cousin, Kay, is Jewish, and it appears that Melbourne embraced the Jewish faith as a result of marrying Abigail Henriques DeSouza who was Jewish. They were married in 1882 by a Presbyterian minister, Alexander Robb. As Melbourne was Catholic and Abigail was Jewish, neither could have been married in the faith of the other.
It is an interesting picture. Joseph, Melbourne and Alice were all baptized in the Catholic faith, and the children of the former and the latter were brought up in the Catholic church, but Melbourne's nine children were brought up in the Jewish faith. Religion brings people together and it can also keep them apart. I am sure that the reason I know so little about my Da Costa relatives has a lot to do with that.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor