52 Ancestors Week 15: The Curious Spelling of Jozimas

52 Ancestors Week 15: The Curious Spelling of Jozimas

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Onward to week 15 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge.  This week is all about spelling.  The question was posed as thus: How Do You Spell That? What ancestor do you imagine was frequently asked that? Which ancestor did you have a hard time finding because of an unusual name?

Picture if you will illiterate immigrants who come from a country (Azores) during an era where the world has not caught on to the standardization of spelling.  That immigrant goes to the Kingdom of Hawaii where like themselves there are many illiterate immigrants only they come from a variety of nations.  Then, imagine that a person of any nationality might be the city recorder or census enumerator.  You might have a Portuguese speaker recording Japanese names or vice versa.  You may have someone born in American and well versed in English who has no knowledge of Portuguese, the naming patterns, or the spelling.  Add to that the fact that the person probably did not know how to spell their name either.  Yes, it leads to quite a bit of creativity.

I decided to use my great great grandfather, Jozimas de Braga, for this week’s challenge.  Jozimas is an unusual name even by Portuguese standards.  I have worked in four villages consistently and I have not seen another Jozimas.   That is except for the three other son’s Jacintho and Roza tried to name Jozimas before my Jozimas.  I’ve asked other researchers if they are familiar with this given name.  They have drawn the same conclusion. Jozimas is one of a kind.

This is the portion of Jozimas’ baptismal record that includes his name.  I’ve extended it to show his father’s name, Jacintho, in order to show that they both begin with the letter “J”.  Seems straightforward to me.

Jozimas First Name Example

The next record we have to work with is his marriage record. Jozimas has now become Zosimo.  Comparing the name in the upper right hand corner to his father’s name down near the lower left hand corner, you can see that one starts with Z and one with J.  This could be a possibly clue to the pronunciation of Jozimas or maybe it is a alcunha (nickname).  We don’t know if Jozimas went by Zosimo, only that the priest decided to record it this way on the marriage record.

Jozimas becomes Zosimo

The next example comes from the ship manifest.  This is from the SS Monarch, 1882traveling from Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island to Honolulu, Hawaii.  It is a little difficult to read but you can see the letter is above the line, meanwhile, two lines down, his son is clearly Jose with a “J”.  In this case, he became Zosimas.

Zosimas on Ship Manifest

It looks as if Jozimas settled in with Zosimo/Zosimas.  But wait!  We can see from this marriage recorc, tiny as it is, that the “J” has returned.  The marriage was recorded 22 Dec 1892 at St. Sylvester’s Church in Kilauea, Kauai, HI.  It is of his daughter, Maria (who now becomes Mariam in Latin).  He was recorded as Jozimas Debrado.  Ha!  They Latinized all the names at St. Sylvester’s Church during this time period and they couldn’t come up with one for Jozimas.  They did change his last name to be clever though.

Name of Father on Marriage record

Does that settle the issue?  Is Jozimas once again himself? No.  The family moved to E.25th Street in Oakland, Alameda Co., CA around 1906-1907.  That is where they can be found when the 1910 Census was taken.  It appears my great great grandfather has changed nationalities.  He has become Semas Bragas.  Sounds like a salty old sailor from the village by the sea.

1910 Census Semas Bragas

I’m not done with the variations.  In the 1920 Census, I found Jozimas living with his widowed daughter, Maria “Mary” Pacheco Smith, and her children.  Next door is his  son, Jose de Braga (aka Joseph DeBraga).  The family moved to Spreckels, Monterey Co, California after Maria’s husband, Theodoro Pacheco, and her son, Willie, died.

This enumerator cut to the quick.  No more Jozimas, Zosimo, or even Semas.  My great great grandfather has become James DeBraga.  I do not think he anglicized his name since no one I’ve interviewed and no other record refers to him as James.  I suspect the enumerator said to hell with it with the funny sounding foreign name and decided to call him James. Easier to spell.

1920 Census, de Braga Families

If you think that is the end of the naming patterns for Jozimas de Braga, you are wrong.  His son, Jose, knew that his name was really Jozimas, however,he didn’t know how to spell it.  This is his mortuary record:

Mortuary Record 1922 Jozimas de Braga

Yes, we now have a “u”!  Jozimas became Juzimas in his final records.  And, just to make sure everyone misspelled it from here to eternity, this is the spelling on his tombstone…


There is a lesson here. It’s important to know what a name sounded.  Thank the time to learn enunciation, learn the phonetic spellings, and how letters sound. Knowing that an “x” sounds like “sh” or “ao” sounds like “on” is so helpful. Knowing the sounds will provide clues as to how someone with an untrained ear, unfamiliarity with the language, or little to no education might have spelled it.

Spelling variations are a fact of life.  Even a simple name like John might appear as Jack or Jno in records.  If you keep all that in mind, you will have a better chance of finding your ancestors.

God only knows what problems future genealogists will have with my name!  I still can’t get people to stop calling me Melanie and they insist on leaving out an “s” and “l” in my last name.  It should be fun for the next generations to wort out.

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