Legacy Tree: Elizabeth’s Success Story

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Family history success stories can be extremely rewarding for all involved. We love being a part of connecting people with their past and introducing them to relatives that they didn’t know.

We recently received a story from our research partners, Legacy Tree Genealogists. They helped Elizabeth, a two-year MyHeritage member, reconnect with her long-lost father. Because she didn’t have the time, she decided to enlist outside help to take her research to the next level.

Names have been changed to protect privacy.

As a child growing up in South Africa, Elizabeth always wondered what had happened to her father. She knew that he returned to Portugal, but had no idea where he lived, or if he was even still alive.

Desperate for closure, Elizabeth enlisted the professionals at Legacy Tree Genealogists to locate any information available regarding her father, Mario, and his family.

Armed with only a few names and dates that Elizabeth’s mother had written down before she died,  the team at Legacy Tree set to work. They knew Mario’s date of birth, the names of his supposed parents and three siblings, and that he had been born in Porto, Portugal. He had lived and worked as a carpenter in Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa, for about 10 years in the 1950s-1960s, but that was all.

The first task was to locate Mario’s birth record. This was no small feat as Porto is not only a city, but a district as well, and it was not clear which legal jurisdiction was the right one. The district of Porto includes 17 councils (cities), each of those includes 12 freguesias (the civil equivalent of a parish), and the record could be in any of some 300 parishes. The team decided to begin in the city of Porto first, and if the record was not there, to branch out to the other parishes. Written requests were sent to each of Porto’s councils, and to every parish in the city of Porto. After many follow-up calls, word came from the jurisdiction of Maia that there was a record matching the one they sought.

Portuguese research can be challenging for a multitude of reasons; one being Portuguese naming conventions. Surnames can be quite flexible in Portugal. Historically, female children were given their mother’s surname, while male children were given their father’s surname. Sometimes children received both of their parents’ surnames, typically with the mother’s listed first. However, this pattern was not always followed and, in some cases, the parents’ surnames were skipped, and the grandparents’ names used instead. As a result of many options, siblings in the same family may have different surnames, although they have the same parents!

One helpful feature of records in Portugal is that historic birth and marriage records often name not only the parents but also the grandparents, which enables family history to be extended relatively quickly and provides multiple names to compare against other records to make sure the correct family has been found. This was the case in Mario’s birth record, which named his parents and grandparents. With these three sets of names to compare information, the research team began looking for the siblings that Elizabeth’s mother had written down.

After time-intensive searching in the civil registrar’s office, the hoped-for records were finally located, but Elizabeth’s mother had been confused: the sisters she had recorded for Mario were, in fact, his daughters from a previous marriage. Whether or not Elizabeth’s mother knew of Mario’s prior marriage is not known.

Legacy Tree Genealogists were able to locate one of Mario’s granddaughters (Elizabeth’s niece) who lived in the area. She graciously met with their research agent in Portugal and willingly shared her contact information. She revealed that not only were Elizabeth’s two sisters still living, but that her uncle and father, though ill, were also alive and in the area.

This proud dad now has four daughters!

Elizabeth is thrilled with her newfound connections:

I really want to thank you all for making this experience such a worthy one. To be reunited and so warmly welcomed by our Portuguese family is a dream come true. My sister and I booked our flights — me from Australia and my sister from South Africa, soon after receiving the wonderful news that our dad was alive. We have met our uncle who is 93 years old, two sisters, a niece, two nephews and a grand-nephew. I also got to celebrate my dad’s 88th birthday on May 9th.

Elizabeth with her uncle who remembers seeing baby pictures of his niece and was so excited to meet her in person.

We feel privileged to be able to help people like Elizabeth find their families, to provide answers to their questions of “Who am I?” and “Where do I come from?” and to help them complete the missing pieces in their lives.

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