Massachusetts: Portuguese American Archives

A new archive located at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth may provide information for those of Portuguese Sephardic ancestry.

The location of the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese American Archives is important as it is located between the cities of New Bedford and Fall River, at the center of a region with one of the largest Portuguese-origin immigrant communities.

Indeed, there is evidence that numbers of Portuguese immigrants were of Sephardic converso heritage, although this is not addressed in the archival material read by Tracing the Tribe. See “The Sephardic Connection” below.

Read more about the collection here.

Endowed in 2005 and named for Affonso Ferreira-Ferreira Mendes, a well-known radio personality and producer in Taunton, the archives has been actively collecting, since 1996, records of social, cultural, educational and religious organizations and personal and family papers of the Portuguese community in the United States.

There are 19 collections: Manuscripts documenting local and national Portuguese American families and organizations, photos on a wide range of topics, an oral history collection of 87 interviews(see the surnames), more than 150 boxes of original newspapers from the U.S. Portuguese press, and personal papers collections of local politicians, educators, authors and businessmen. There is information on the Azores and Cape Verde.

In 2007, the Archives received an endowment from Edmund Dinis to establish the Edmund Dinis Portuguese American Political, Legal and Public Service Collection. Later the same year the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores pledged significant funds to support the archives and share digital resources.

The Archives also seeks additional family papers, business or organizational records to be a part of the permanent history of the Portuguese community in the U.S. See the announcement above for more information on contributing material to the Archives.

The Archives is also sponsoring events through December [Note the PDF takes a long time to load], and topics include: Portuguese Ethnic Media: Quest for Survival; Community, Culture and the Makings of Identity: Portuguese-Americans Along the Eastern Seaboard; Recording Oral Histories Workshop; Finding Your Ancestors Workshop on Portuguese genealogy presented by genealogists Cheri Mello and George Pacheco; Our Lady of the Artichokes and other Portuguese-American Stories; Organizing and Preserving Your Family History Workshop; and others.

There are several additional links: PAA Collection guides, Diário de Notícias, Newspaper Digitization Project The Archives has the only complete run (1919-1973) of the Portuguese newspaper Diário de Notícias. Available on microfilm for many years, it is now available free at this link. If you are searching for your Portuguese link, check out the weddings, births, deaths and social gatherings, passenger ship information and ads and photographs; PAA Photographic exhibit.

The Sephardic Connection

Many Portuguese of Sephardic Jewish ancestry came to Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Anecdotal events include families privately visiting synagogues to be married Jewishly before public church weddings. In Providence, Rhode Island, in particular, Portuguese sweet bread looking and tasting exactly like very good challah is found in many bakeries.

The Jewish history in the Azores and Cape Verde is another piece of the puzzle, as was the tragedy of Sau Tome island. When many Spanish Jews escaped to Portugal in 1492, they thought they would be safe. However, in 1497, Portugal began clamoring for them to convert or leave. Because few converted, the plan to force them to convert included removing their children by force and sending them to the inhospitable island of Sau Tome, where many died in the first few years.

It is possible that those of Portuguese converso background may find information on their own families in this collection. The surnames listed on the 87 oral history interviews are found in many Sephardic name sites and books.

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