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My Paternal Grandmother, Matriarch of the Family
By John Vasconcelos

My parents were born on the Island of Flores, Western most of the Azores Islands. Unfortunately, by the time of my first visit there in 1973, all of my grandparents had died. Of my grandparents, the one who I most admire and would like to have known was my paternal grandmother, Maria Laureanna da Trindade. She was by all accounts a remarkable woman. She became the family matriarch by virtue of the fact that she outlived my grandfather, Francisco Vitorino de Vasconcellos by some 43 years, and never remarried!

But that's only the beginning. She was widowed at the age of 52 in 1905 with a family of 18 children (only 10 of which reached adulthood), the oldest a stepson and 17 of which she bore my grandfather with only the aid of a midwife. She was one tough lady! Fortunately, by this time, the older children were able to help out with tending the animals and the fields. Eventually, five of her children (including my father) immigrated to the U.S. with the remainder staying on the Island. I still have several first cousins living there who I visited this past summer. My cousins still tell stories about how she would instruct her sons on which crops to plant in which fields each spring. My favorite aunt Angelina (who was the youngest of her children) had visited her in 1948, a few months before her death at age 95, and said that her sons still would seek her advice on what to plant and where.

One of our family heirlooms is a photo taken in 1920 with my grandmother surrounded by those of her children still living nearby and about 20 of her grandchildren (I wouldn't be born for another 13 years). Of the 30 or so people in the photo, some 9 of my first cousins (ranging in age from about 83 to 92 years) are still living. An interesting demonstration of Darwinian selection, with those who survive childhood seeming to live to advanced ages. My 92 year old cousin and her 92 year old husband are still going strong and even have a large vegetable garden which he cultivates.

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John volunteers as a Portuguese chat host for AOL's Genealogy Forum. John's ancestry originates from the Island of Flores. His Vasconcelos roots go back about 300 years and most likely descends from Martim Mendes de Vasconcellos of Madeira.

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