Friday 25 March 2016

The Da Costas of Jamaica -- Jacob and Selina

Before going further I should explain how I found out about Jacob and Selina in the first place.  The cardinal rule of family history research is that you start with yourself and move back, working from the known to the unknown.  I knew very little about my father’s family because he did not speak much about them. I knew that he had siblings … two brothers, Leo and Joe, and a sister, Essie, and that all three lived in the United States having left Jamaica. My Dad was the one who remained behind to take care of his mother who had been widowed in 1917. I have no idea how she was left financially, but it appeared that my father felt responsible for her and as a result he and my mother postponed their marriage for some time. What I did know about my grandmother Levy was that she had been a Da Costa and had two brothers, Joe and Melbourne.  This I learned from my uncle, Rodney Smedmore, my mother’s brother … certainly not from my father who rarely spoke about his family. At any rate, we had no connections whatsoever with the Da Costas, but did visit my grandmother who lived at 22 Beeston Street, across the way from the Smedmore home at 49 Beeston Street.

Thanks to a friend who discovered an item in the Jamaica Gleaner I had my first clue about my grandmother’s parentage.

So I now had a name for my great grandfather, Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, but at this time I didn’t know who his wife was. However, as I researched the family of Leopold and Alice Levy and found birth records for their seven children (three of whom died in infancy), a name kept cropping up as informant on various registrations, a Selina D’Costa, and occasionally a Mrs. J. R. D’Costa..  Here is the birth registration for the eldest child, Daisy, who was born 23rd December 1886 –

Daisy died 23rd December 1887 and the informant on her death record was Selina D’Costa, grandmother! She was also the informant on the birth registrations of my father, Michael, and his sister Essie, and on the death record for the eldest boy, Lucien, who died in 1890 at the age or two, and there again she is listed as grandmother. (My grandfather, Leopold, was a travelling merchant whose name appears as informant only twice on these events, on the births of two sons, Lucien and Gustave, both of whom died in infancy.)

So, with at least a first name, Selina and the name of my grandfather I had information to give my researcher, Cheryl, to search the Catholic records.
Based on the fact that my grandmother and my father were both Catholic (though my parents had been married in the Anglican Church) it seemed the most likely place to research, and indeed that’s where Cheryl struck gold!
Selina Jane Roberts and Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa were married in the Catholic faith on 18th June 1846 --

"On the 18th of June 1846 Rev. W. Cotham joined in holy wedlock, according to the rules of the Catholic Church, Jacob Rodrigues DaCosta and Selina Jane Roberts, both natives of Jamaica.  In presence of Henry Roberts and Bernard Ripoll."

No mention is made of parents of either the bride or groom.  As I’ve never been able to find a baptismal record for Selina I know nothing about her parentage, though it’s possible that the Henry Roberts who served as a witness might have been a relative. Assuming that Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa was Jewish then there’s no way that they would have been married in the synagogue and so they were married in the bride’s faith.  It was not unusual in Jamaica for Jews to marry outside of their religion, or even to be married in the Catholic faith, nor did they, or any other non-Catholic person marrying into that faith have to convert to Catholicism, but they did have to agree to have the children of that marriage baptized and brought up in the faith. This was indeed the case with the ten children of Jacob and Selina. Cheryl found baptismal records for all ten children. (Later, these records became available thanks to Patricia Jackson who was able to transcribe many of the Catholic records on her website, Jamaican Family Search, now freely available at ) 

Of these ten children the only ones I was able to learn more about were my grandmother, Alice, and her two older brothers, Joseph and Melbourne. Joseph married Hannah Lindo in 1888 and his marriage record shows his father’s name as Jacob R. Da Costa.

So too does that of Melbourne, who married Abigail Henriques DeSouza and later reverted to the Jewish faith. Another record which confirmed Alice’s parentage is the death record for Selina Da Costa who died in 1892 at the residence of her son, Melbourne. 

So, my next project was to find out what I could about my great grandfather, Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa, no easy task, as you will see.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor