On a Learning Spree Part 5: Genealogy

Me, me, me. I’m the only one who cares about this much detail about my relatives and former relatives. (from my ancestry.com tree)

I realized I wasn’t finished with my “on a learning spree” series of posts (previous ones were on crafts, foraging, the voice, and my darned Apple watch). I’d been postponing writing about the genealogy stuff I’d been working on, because, well, I’m normally one of those people who snoozes when people start delving deep into their personal ancentral history.

It’s always seemed to me that your own family history is mainly fascinating to YOU. I’ve witnessed numerous conversations where people start saying, “My people came over in the 17th Century from France, and then this happened, and then this happened.” The other person then says, “Wow, MY family came from South America and blah blah blah.” No one asks their conversationap partner questions; they just go on and on with the begats like an Old Testament Bible verse.

Okay, so why am I writing about this?

To be honest, I was rather annoyed that I’d heard my whole life that my mother’s maternal line consisted of “pure Spanish blood” and that they “settled St. Augustine.” The thing is, their last name was not a Spanish name; it more closely resembled an Italian name.  So, after Anita got her Ancestry.com membership and began sharing funny things she found, I went ahead and got my own membership. Sucker. I was going to find out once and for all if family lore was right! (Note that I had seen a nice tree a cousin on my mother’s side had made, so I knew some stuff.)

Yep, I soon realized that the stories I find fascinating won’t be that way to all, but they do each contain a little slice of history we can learn from. And here’s my first slice:

What did I find out? I’m descended from Menorcans!

I immediately jumped into my mother’s side, the one with the “pure Spanish blood.” I was relieved to see a couple of Greeks and Italians popping in there, but the most interesting thing was that those “Spanish” people were mostly from a couple of small villages in Menorca, which is an island in the Mediterranean Sea off of Spain. The “Canova” name we were so proud of came from Canoves (accent on the “a”), a Menorcan (or Minorcan) surname.

What happened is many people on the island all went over to Florida on the same boat (the Africa), because an English entrepreneur wanted to settle New Smyrna Beach, but didn’t want to bring actual English poor people over. He felt that they couldn’t take the heat. So, he went looking for heat-tolerant Greek people, but stopped on Menorca, at which point the entire island said, “We’ll go.” (There’s a document referencing this, so I didn’t make it up.)

So, on that side of the family, many surnames (Ruidavets, Canovas, Canoves, Canova) and first names (Antonio/a, Juan/a, or Maria) are repeated, because they came from this group of immigrants, who did, indeed eventually flee the mosquitoes of New Smyrna to settle in St. Augustine.

Maternal great-great grandfather, Rafael Bartoleme Canova (1821-1894). They certainly kept using Spanish-style names well into the 1800s.

I’d always wondered if my ancestors spoke Spanish, and if so, when they switched to English (since they married into families who came from England pretty quickly). I got a clue when I found a document listing all the “English residents of St. Augustine.” It had all the Menorcans listed as English! I guess because the English captain brought them over, they got labeled.

The reason the image cuts off here is that there is no blob down in the Mediterranean where all those Menorcans were. And who are all these Germanic people, I wonder?

Anyway, I found it fairly interesting to learn that a lot of the lines on my mother’s side came from a small number of families from a small island. Oddly, all these ancestors that I’d heard about all my life actually didn’t contribute much to my DNA. That area doesn’t even show up on my DNA chart. That has a lot to do with the fact that they intermarried with English and German people who also settled New Smyrna. In fact, when I went up the “German” side of the family, more Menorcans showed up!

I was also interested to see that the years they showed up were in the 1600s, not when St. Augustine was originally settled by the Spanish. After the 1500s, all the records I could find petered out.

So, I next went to look on my dad’s side…that’s when genealogy stories really surprised me. (to be continued)

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

5 thoughts on “On a Learning Spree Part 5: Genealogy”

  1. Hi, I’m James Menorca from the Philippines, just like you I am fascinated with my ancestry and my origin. Here in the Philippines, Menorca according to our elders started in the island of Marinduque, an island that is conquered by the Spanish and brought Catholicism. I am really glad to know you and read this article. I would like to share this to my Facebook group named “Menorca Clan” so that they can also read and be aware that someone from the other side of this globe is also seeking for the history of his bloodline. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whoa Nellie, Sue Ann. According to a 1913 newspaper article about the settling of New Smyrna, those ancestors of yours were actually tricked by Dr. Turnbull, the man who founded New Smyrna, into being his slaves. Should I send you the article? PM me your email!


    1. I believe I saw that same article. I was just trying to omit the horrible stuff about that Turnbull guy (I have no idea why I was trying to be nice to a dead person). The good news is that they got the heck out of there and ended up doing well.


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