SURRY — She grabbed a shawl and said to follow her down the street. Approaching the last house on the right, she called out, “Maria da Luz, Maria da Luz!” Maria stuck her head out of the front door and listened while the neighbor asked if she knew anyone related to Manoel Francisco Ramos. Speaking in Portuguese, the Azorean woman replied “I have an uncle named Manoel Francisco Ramos.”
Maria’s husband Mário, having followed the exchange, promptly fetched some of his wife’s old family papers and Surry resident Wayne Smith’s paternal forebears were referenced among the documents.
“Maria and I looked at each other and she called me ‘Primo!’ [cousin) and I called her ‘prima!’ I had found my family in The Azores.”
Back in 1988, that magical moment occurred in the small parish of Flamengos near the port town of Horta on the island of Faial in The Azores. Smith had hoped and fantasized about it for decades. And it made worthwhile the two weeks he had spent searching graveyards and poring over 18th and 19th century baptismal, marriage and death records in the town of Horta. Deciphering the faded, slanted cursive script had not been easy.
Luckily Smith is comfortable speaking Portuguese as well as French, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, American Sign Language and Scottish Gaelic. He earned his Ph.D. in Taiwan Sign Language and taught 33 languages for decades at the former Learning Unlimited Language School in Surry.
“If anyone questions the value of learning a foreign language, I’m here to tell them that without that skill, traveling in a foreign land can be pretty limited,” relates the 69-year-old linguist. “It opened so many doors during this trip: making my way around the island, doing research in the historical archives, and eventually meeting family members. This was the perfect way for me to celebrate my two life-long passions: language and genealogy.”
These days, though, the latter passion, has taken over the former language school where fat French, Chinese and Spanish dictionaries and other related material compete for space with binders of correspondence and archival documents springing from his continuing investigation into his origins. On his computer, programs and web services track his various digital searches.
Last month, Smith shared his findings and search methods at the invitation of the Hancock County Genealogical Society at its regular meeting at the Ellsworth Public Library. His presentation was titled “Climbing a Portuguese Family Tree, Searching for Ancestors of Francisco Manoel Gaspar.”
Founded in 1986, the society meets the first Saturday of the month in the Riverview Room at the library. Admission is free and newcomers are welcome.
Besides the hunt for his great-great-great-grandfather, Francisco Manoel Gaspar (1790-1871), who first settled in Surry in 1816, Smith also spoke about other key moments and breakthroughs in his lifelong genealogical quest.
Smith got interested in family history during his childhood. At age 10, he was living in Florida and an aunt came to visit. He pulled out a tape recorder and started taping her as she rattled off names and stories about uncles, aunts, grandmothers and other family members in Surry, where his father had grown up.
“I was trying to draw these little trees to make sense of it all. I guess that’s how it all started,” he recalled. “I still have the recording.”
It took nearly half a century, but it was a DNA test that finally enabled Smith to determine who his great-great-great grandparents were in the Smith family line that he had traced to the Penobscot County town of Newburgh. The near-perfect match that surfaced was with a James P. Shaw in California. Family Tree DNA uses “genetic markers” to identify how many chromosomes individuals have in common. These markers are collected in batches of 12, 25, 37, 67 and 111.
Shaw and Smith had zero “genetic distance,” according to the test results. Put another way, they had all their chromosomes in common. Of the many connections Smith has discovered, Shaw is the only one with that distinction.
It turned out the Californian’s family were originally from Etna, which is just a 30-minute drive from Newburgh. Smith since has been to to that Penobscot County town and is searching for potential relatives there.
His mother’s family has equally occupied Smith and took him across the Atlantic to Northern Ireland and the County Down village of Killinchy. At the hamlet’s Presbyterian church, he found his maternal family’s plot where his great-great-grandmother Ann (Marshall) Gibson and her four children were buried.
Smith lives on the same property where Francisco Manoel Gaspar built a small log cabin on the west side of Patten Stream in Surry. Married in 1819, Gaspar and his wife would have 11 children. The land was granted to him by the Jarvis family and it was local landowners Edward and Frederick Jarvis who ultimately vouched for his character and sponsored him to become a U.S. citizen in 1837.
Smith is still piecing together why Gaspar settled in Surry — more than 2,000 miles away from The Azores. The port city of Horta was a pit stop for trans-Atlantic schooners to replenish crew and supplies.
“Family legends indicate that my great-great-great-grandfather Francisco Manoel Gaspar might have been hired to work on one of these ships as early as 1807 when Napoleon was active in Europe and Portugal was drafting troops for its army,” Smith said. “Francisco apparently decided this was the time to leave.”
Whatever the reason, doing all the research and then being guided by the local priest’s sister to his cousin Maria’s home home in the Flamengos parish on the island of Faial was a great adventure and a treasured memory.
“This was the perfect way for me to celebrate my two life-long passions: language and genealogy,” Smith said.
To trace your family, visit ancestry.com, FamilyTree.com or 23andMe.com.