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  De Castro Story - The de Castro identity

The de Castro identity

  1. Name origins
  2. Family Crests

  De Castro Story - The de Castro identity - Name origins

Name origins

There are various versions of where the name de Castro came from. The Oxford Dictionary of Surnames (1988) does not mention de Castro among its 70,000 surnames but states

Castro - Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Jewish: A topographic name for someone living by a castle or walled town.

The actual origin of the name is known in so much a family that was headed by one Nuno Belchiedes, a German nobleman, came to the Iberian peninsular in 884 and following a series of name changes ended up with one Don Rodrigo Fernandez who had control of the castle and town of Castrojurez (or Castro Xerez) in castile. He started using the name de Castro and is recorded in a number of sources as the first person to do so.

There is a town called Castro in Italy (in the heal of the boot) and there are others , There are also towns of this name in Brazil and Chile. In addition there are at least 20 other towns of various sizes from very small villages to larger towns and cities in Spain and Portugal which start with the name of Castro In most books on early Spain and Portugal the name Castro is attributed to an early Celtic hill top fort consisting of a circular stone fort with low walls surrounded by a ditch. From this structure came the word Castillo or castle in Spanish.

Lesley Clouston in her research found

" Sephardic Jews often took surnames from the towns they lived in, for example Castro comes from the Spanish town of Castrojeriz in Northern Castile, the home of one of the earliest Jewish communities in Spain."

One member of the NZ family relates how on driving through Italy they came across a town called de Castro on the road between Rome and Florence?. There are the obvious references in Spanish and Portuguese history to the family Castro or de Castro both seem to be the same depending on the author and source. In Castile there are a cluster of towns called something de Castro or de Castro something.

Another early reference I can find of the de Castro name in Spain is when Dona Juana de Castro became one of the many mistresses of Pedro the First of Castile this was round 1350. (do not confuse her with Inez and Pedro of Portugal).

"In the meantime Pedro wavered in his fidelity to his mistress long enough to be infatuated with Dona Juana de Castro. Not being able to win her to his desires, he proposed marriage; and the bishops of Avila and Salamanca stooped first to substantiate his pretence that he had not really married Blanch of Bourbon and then to marry him to Juana de Castro. When he had tired of her person, the King told her that his marriage with Blanche was a true marriage, and the other was only a ruse to overcome her scruples. A son was born of this outrageous deception.
When news of this base transaction reached the brother of Juana, Ferdinand Perez de Castro, who was one of the most powerful lords of Galicia, he instantly joined the league of the discontented. A civil war was now commenced."

Charming fellow, mind you there were two parties in most of these affairs....!!

In the English family it is often said that because Solomon's will was in Portuguese and because one of his sons was writing the minutes of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in Portuguese then ipso facto the family was Portuguese. As all the Jewish wills and as all the Synagogue records and services were in Portuguese till the mid 1800's this in fact proves nothing, for both the Jewish families of Spanish and Portuguese origin and the Synagogue used Portuguese in London.

I suspected for some time that the English de Castro family is not one but probably two and possibly three families. They may have been all related. This is covered when we look at the first person that can be identified as belonging to the family. They were all Portuguese/ Spanish Jews. We know who our earliest family member was in England and we think we know who his father was. We do not know when they came to England, we suspect they came from Holland or possibly from France.

In Amsterdam, I tried my wife's patience on day by visiting the Portuguese Synagogue in that City and found in the library a book containing the transcribed records of all the marriages that had taken place in the Synagogue. These were indexed by the given names of the bride and groom as well as the witnesses of the various marriages. With great patience we copied out all the references we could find from the earliest records till the late 1700's (the photo copier was not working). I great high hopes back in our hotel I tried to see if I could find any possible link. I could not, but then there is nothing to say we actually came to England from Amsterdam any way. One day I must go to Bayonne in France and see if any thing exists there that could be examined. There we would be looking not only for de Castro's but also Bravo.

I am certain that it would not be impossible to trace the family from London to Holland, or France but to do so we need to know a little more about Samuel's father as this would provide us with the information especially the marriage contract. However once we get back to Europe then we would have to track back to Portugal etc. There are some very well documented de Castro's in Europe at this time. If and it is a big if we can get back to Europe and connect to a family recorded there then some progress could be made.

I spent some 4 hours in the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam and found a register of all the marriages in the synagogue there. At the time of writing none of the records tied up with any thing I had recorded but as the record indexes were based on the given names of the parties not surnames we could have missed a record. These have yet to be computed with other records of de Castro's I have found on the Internet and something may emerge.

  De Castro Story - The de Castro identity - Family Crests

Family Crests

Among the various papers that have surfaced is a letter already commented on. This is crested and the letter reports the crest is the family crest. The letter is very incorrect in some of its comments about Charles Daniel's past, which are used to explain the crest. It is interesting in that the crest contains the word "Castro".

Recently, at the National Library a Dutch book on such matters was found and in this was perhaps a dozen family crests for the family "de Castro". The cover of this document is a copy of a page from that book) the majority of these referenced the family to Spain and Portugal and the majority followed a basic pattern although there were exceptions. One covered the de Castro's of Amsterdam. The crest sighted locally was nothing like any of the registered ones. It is felt that the identification and explanation of the local crest may throw some light onto the origins of the family however it has been suggested that the crest in question is that of Charles's grand parents and is a mix of the Castro/Lara/Lopez lines again something to be sorted out.

Of the crests sighted in the Dutch book is one that holds some interest, as this is one covering the de Castro family and is for a branch that was from Castile, Portugal and Amsterdam. As this is the supposed path of the family as it moved from Spain to Portugal and thence to Holland then it is just possible that this may be the original Family Crest.

This is a simple shield of silver background with 6 roundels on it 3 per side running up and down the shield. The roundels are in Blue. There is an identical shield for the de Castro's in Aragon, Spain and this has a Red back ground and Gold roundels. It will be worth following the silver and blue crest up to see the origins of this.

For those interested a roundel is a heraldic representation of a Byzantine coin. The colours are also important in that generally the silver/blue represents a Jewish origin and red/gold represents a catholic origin.

The Byzantine coin link suggests that there is a link to the Middle East this could be as the result of a Crusading Knight being there or could be that the family originated there.

Possibly the most exciting thing about this crest and the de Castro one that has surfaced in New Zealand is that the 6 roundels in the crest of the de Castro crest makes up part of the New Zealand Crest. Both have the same colours e.g. the background is silver and the detail is blue. This suggests there is a link between the two so this looks to be genuine crest rather than one invented by some one This is being followed up to see if the crest was ever registered.

A crest can represent a specific family and is handed down to those carrying the family name. Other crests represent the joining of two families or more these crests become in time quite complicated. If the crests found are de Castro crests and one applies to the New Zealand family then quite naturally it could be possible for those still bearing the de Castro name to use this if they desired. It will be necessary to do more research on this subject to confirm this is in fact correct. Now we know that our de Castro branch probably came from Portugal/Spain and that it at some time in the past it converted to the Jewish religion or it already being Jewish it acquired an Iberian surname. We also know that the families usually acquired these Iberian surnames when they were "converted" to Christianity. We also have record of at least one Jewish de Castro family that was living as a Christian family in Portugal and who was forced to escape to France/Holland once his true faith had been found out. Roth in his book " A History of Jews in England" comments on the differences between the original Shephardi Jews (Iberian) who settled in and around the 1650's and the Ashkenazi Jews (Germanic) who came much later. Other than the fact that the two communities did not mix as their form of worship was different, as was their dress and language Roth also points out that they lacked surnames on arrival. On page 200 he states:

" The nomenclature of the new-comers was as characteristic as their appearance. Where as the Sephardic Jews had established surnames previous to their arrival in England. (Generally the Gothic patronymics by their baptised ancestors) this was only the case with their Ashkenazi co-religionists in only a minority of cases"

Thus the Iberian Jews had Iberian surnames that they adopted or were given, or that were given to them when they were forcibly baptised into the Christian church during one of the numerous episodes when this occurred. The Eastern Europeans who had always kept their Jewish populations isolated had not gone into mass conversions; they had preferred to keep their Jews, Jews. Another point to support this adoption of surnames by the Iberian Jews is that almost without exception you can take one of the surnames of the English settlers and go to Spanish or Portuguese history and find that same name repeated in the Titled and important households of those countries. These were people who most certainly were not Jews, if they were then something very odd had been going on in the regions history that has never been reported in any History book. I suspect therefore that either the family in question adopted a locality name E.G. "Who are you?" "We are of the Castle" (de Castro) or as the Jewish population that originally came to the region mostly came as slaves or freed slaves of the Romans then the name could have originated from some former Owner.

In Spanish and Portuguese society it was usual to add the wife's family name after the husbands family name. However if it was felt desirable because of social considerations or in order to continue a family name, which was in danger of becoming extinct, the order could be reversed. Then again in certain circumstances it was felt desirable to put the godfathers family name either first or last. By such a device the name of a family could change over a period of time. Perhaps because of this it is said the Iberian family records are some of the best in the world. Do not forget the reference to a man called Fernandez who was head of the Castro family.

Finally to really stick my neck out could it have been felt that some time in the last two hundred years or so after the family became Christian it helped to add a little lustre to the family name to claim descent from Queen Inez of Portugal rather than from Solomon the Jew of London!

In conclusion all that can be said with certainty is that the earliest ancestor the family can trace its origins to at this time is Solomon de Castro recorded in the Bevis Marks Synagogue in 1710, and that his fathers name is variously reported as being either David or Samuel. Until some person can step back from England and trace where the family came from and get back to Portugal and then complete the 400 year gap back to Inez then all we can say is that there is a family fable that says we came from Portugal sometime before 1710 and that the family may have been connected to the illegitimate Inez de Castro wife/mistress of Pedro first of Portugal. I think one could say that the family came to England between the period 1656 and 1710 possibly from Amsterdam. The family possibly went there after 1600 from Portugal. As the family name de Castro originates in Galacia or Castile in Spain then it was possibly forcibly evicted from Spain to Portugal in 1492.

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