How I Spent My Summer Vacations (Portugal to Hungary)
Portugal/AzoresOn Sunday, July 12th, I woke up … but while getting ready for the flight to Portugal the next morning, I never went back to sleep. In Lisboa, my 2nd cousin Teresa Rocha Homem and her husband Antonio Melo met me at the airport. They served as chauffeurs, tour guides and translators. Teresa’s father, Silvano Rocha Homem, is Dad’s 1st cousin. Sometimes staying at their apartment in Lisboa and sometimes at Silvano’s “grand casa” in Cartaxo (45 min. away in the countryside), they treated me to all the sights possible in the 5 days I spent there. Although Lisboa is full of history, crowded cities with bad traffic problems have never interested me. The best sights were found nearby at “Sintra” where a castle dominates a mountaintop surrounded by rich and beautiful homes and great views. A drive along the coast revealed quaint villages and wonderful cliffs similar to the California coast south of Big Sur.
The topless beaches were also a nice surprise! Don’t let anyone ever tell you that the Portuguese girls aren’t pretty. Portugal has its share of beauties. One of them is Teresa’s sister, Ana Rocha Homem. Ana had modeled at one time, but quit because of the constant concern with her looks.
I met another sister, Cristina Rocha Homem, a lawyer and considered the brightest of the family and very pretty, to boot. Finally there was Luis Rocha Homem, the only boy and a very nice person. He is the one that will eventually run the very successful family winery business. I didn’t meet the oldest girl, Isabel. All five of Silvano’s children are married. Ana and Cristina have husbands that are direct descendants of some of Portugal’s oldest noble families. All five also have college degrees; almost mandatory for a person to be successful there unlike in the U.S. Silvano de Abreu Cardoso Rocha Homem, as mentioned, has a really nice house in the small town of Cartaxo. He is semi-retired from his practice as a family doctor, but still works 2 or 3 days a week at home where he has his office. Silvano is a wonderful host. Because of his lack of practice with English he spoke mostly Portuguese with only a few words of English, although at one time he spoke English well. The overall impression one gets by a visit to his home is that you are in the company of a very rich and well respected man who lives in a place that could be described as a hotel with many servants and a music room and dining room fit for a duke.
One can only admire the close relationship of his family who travel every weekend to Cartaxo to visit. The huge house and the winery business come from Silvano’s wife’s side of the family who has unfortunately suffered many strokes and is now practically helpless.
My last day there was on Sunday, July 19th, and I was treated to an extravagant midday meal before flying to the island of Terceira in the Azores where the Rocha Homem (Holmes) family originates from.
There to meet me was Dad’s other 1st cousin, Jose Leal Armas, one of the most important men of the island. Jose is a thoroughly likeable guy. Real down-to-Earth.
Staying at Jose’s modest house and sleeping on a antique bed valued at more than $6,000 US dollars, I was shown the way to the Archives of Angra where I spent 50% of my time digging through old records of the island. If it weren’t for the fact that the archive closed at 5pm, I would have missed seeing most of the sights a normal tourist would see.
Angra is more than 500 years old and is very interesting to see, especially if one’s own family played a part in it’s history. Manoel Joaquim Leal da Roza came here as a rich man from Chile and established the first pawn shop, “Prego,” of the island. This building and several other family homes were photographed. Seeing these tend to bring to life the history of one’s family.
Another benefit from genealogy (besides implementing an “adopt-a-ghost” program on Halloween) is discovering living relatives previously unknown. (As if we don’t have enough already!) Such was the case when I and Jose went to the home of Francisco da Rocha Homem, a farmer in Angra. Jose knew him and called him “cousin” without knowing how they were related. I revealed that they both shared the same great-great-grandfather, Manoel da Rocha Homem born in 1786. So this man is a 3rd cousin to Dad and Jose.
The research done in Angra, which is not even close to being complete, has revealed the oldest member of the Rocha Homem line to be a Joao (John) Bras born circa 1660. He didn’t use the Rocha name, so this is yet another puzzle to solve.
The final portion of my trip was to the island of Pico where the Silveira family (Grandma’s parents) comes from. This was the prettiest of the islands visited. Very lush; green plants were everywhere with the dominant mountain soaring 8,000 feet above the sea, from which the island gets its name. São Roque was my major place of interest, where, on Sept. 17th, 1896, Jose Francisco da Silveira and his new wife Emelia Candida Leal left for America. Grandma was born the next year in Sacramento.
Another village of Pico, Piedade, is where the Leal da Roza family (mentioned above) comes from. With the assistance of the taxi driver hired for the day, I was able to meet a heretofore unknown member of that family, Jose Leal da Rosa, a wine-maker in that village. The connection between our families has not been established yet, but it’s nice to know the name has not died out in its native land.
Hungary/SlovakiaArriving home on Thursday, July 30th at 12:30am, I had 6 days to recover before I was grabbed and thrown onto a plane headed for Budapest, Hungary. Luckily, I was already planning to go there and was fully packed.
Now being a seasoned traveller (my 3rd trip to Europe in two years), I negotiated for free housing in some girl’s apartment in Budapest for the first 3 nights there. The girl is Klara Szmodits, a cousin of Irene Poutinen (our cousin) who lives in Florida.
I was soon heading for the countryside of western Hungary where there are beautiful rolling hills and mountains that are a joy to travel through. For a little danger and excitement, I crossed the border into the new Croatian republic to get my passport stamped. To prove this side trip to those inevitable doubters, I got it all on videotape. The trip lasted a whole 10 minutes, but my passport never got stamped – damn! No gun shots were reported.
Continuing on to Békéscsaba, Hungary to the East, I checked into the Koros Hotel where I stayed last year and where, for $15 a night, one gets a room with a shower and sink but no toilet. I’m becoming a regular there.
One of the main objectives of this trip was to contact living relatives in the towns of Szarvas and Mezobereny where the Liska family has its roots. Re-establishing contact with friends I met last year proved very valuable. In Mezobereny, where grandma Irene (Liska) Specht was born, my elderly friends secured permission for me to look through all the church record books for relatives (information after 1895 not available on microfilm). So far, the most valuable result of this is a gift from an 82-year-old man of a big picture of Irma Liska (this man’s godmother) who was our grandma’s 1st cousin. He also had more family information since he knew many of our relatives. But, sad to say, this branch of the Liska family has no living descendants.
In Szarvas, with the help of my friend Andras Liska (no relation) and his girlfriend who works in the mayor’s office, I looked through secret information for more relatives. In addition, the computer gave me the current names and addresses of the family names I was searching for. In this way, I was able to contact many relatives still living in the town where the oldest known Liskas from Slovakia first settled in Hungary after the Turks withdrew in 1700. These families have remained in Szarvas for almost 300 years!
Among the relatives I met were those with the family name of Pecznik, Brauner, Hlivar and Liska. The 84-year-old man, Gyorgy Hlivar, is the last male with the name and therefore that name in Szarvas will die out. He was particularly happy to meet me and he told me the story of his lands and wealth being confiscated by the communists after WW2. And in the book I am planning in the future, he wanted this fact and his sad life afterwards mentioned. He also told the story of the first Hlivar of Szarvas who was the town’s first magistrate.
The highlight of the whole trip was the discovery of the last related Liska family in Szarvas. Out of all the many Liskas on the huge family tree I made, only this family still has the name of Liska. Surprisingly, one of them, Janos Liska, had seen my photo in the county newspaper from last year’s trip when I was interviewed and was trying to meet relatives. Janos contacted the newspaper, but for some reason the paper couldn’t give him my address. On the Hungarian “Coronation Day” of King Istvan in 1000 A.D., equivalent to our July 4th, the whole Liska family was gathered for a big meeting where I showed everyone the large Liska family tree and took everyone’s portraits. A parting gift of bootleg “szilva palinka” (plum brandy) was received with promises to return there in the future. These Liskas are 5th cousins to us.
The closest relative, a 4th cousin, was discovered by accident while I was looking through the Szarvas church record books. A lady talking on the phone was overheard saying her name was Nobik Erzsebet. Hearing this, I perked up and quickly looked through my notes confirming that the Nobik name was a Liska relative. After the phone call, I introduced himself and showed her my notes hoping this lady would have some information. An Irma Liska had married a Sandor Nobik and these were her grandparents! She was astonished and invited me to her home where we had lunch and talked for many hours (in Hungarian, of course). She was also a 4th cousin from the Pecznik name. So, does that make her the equivalent to a 3rd cousin?! Her occupation is the female equivalent to the priest of the Old Evangelical Church in Szarvas. She had much family information and a few old Liska photos which I copied with my video camera.
With all who met me giving their assurances that they will send photos of any female prospects for my future wife, I finally left Szarvas and headed to Slovakia. Driving on the eastern-most roads possible (within view of Russia), I toured the beautiful hills and valleys of Slovakia. On another whim, I decided to go into Poland where I picked up some teenage Polish hitchhikers returning from camping in Slovakia. After trading for 13,000 Polish zlotys (the equivalent of $1.00) I dropped them off and continued for a few more hours before crossing back over into Slovakia.
In the tiny village of Molca, Slovakia, I found a possible relative named Ondris Pecnik, who is the town official, and his son, Ondris Pecnik, Jr. Finding a lady who spoke Hungarian, I was able to tell Mr. Pecnik why I was there. This man said that the Pecnik family were landowners of this village ever since 1426 according to the records in the local Banská Bystrica archives (the major city nearby). So, there is a very good chance we can trace this family back that far eventually. After promising to return in the future, I again parted company with new acquaintances and headed back to Budapest for one last day.
With the assistance of some friends, I, as Director of the Sacramento Hungarian/American Friendship Society, received permission from the Hungarian National Archives to purchase any of the microfilms of the church record books (the primary source for genealogy research); thus opening up many possibilities in the field of Hungarian genealogy to make money.
During the trip, I decided that in the future (maybe two years from now) I will make an extended visit to Hungary for maybe 3 to 6 months to learn the language well and find a wife. When asked why I want a Hungarian wife, I say because of my interest in Hungarian culture and language and I want any future children to appreciate this heritage as well as the Portuguese and German ancestry. If I married a Portuguese girl, there would be such a dominant percentage of Portuguese that the German and Hungarian ancestry would not likely hold much interest.
I feel most Americans are afflicted with too many ethnic backgrounds, unlike most Europeans, and I prefer to limit the amount of new ethnic backgrounds. But why not marry a German girl? Well, I haven’t yet met any that were appealing (admitting that I really haven’t met many at all). And the Hungarian women are great cooks!