THE GOMEZ FAMILY
Gomez Family, Trinidad
Picture taken on the day of Elsie's engagement to Charles Sheppard - 1907
l/r: George, Edith, Elsie, Charlie Sheppard, Joseph, Audrey, Vincent.
Centre: Joseph (Joe) Gomez & Christina (Pereira) Gomez
Front: Ivy & William.
Joseph Gomez and Christina Pereira were my father's maternal grandparents, my great-grandparents.
So far we haven't been able to confirm Joseph's parentage, nor the date of his marriage to Christina. We keep searching and are hoping that we're getting closer! About Christina, we know that she was born in Trinidad on 8 April 1866, the eldest daughter of Presbyterian Portuguese immigrants. Her father was João (anglicized John) Pereira from Portugal, and her mother was Antonia Alexander, born in the island of Madeira. Christina was the eldest girl in a family of six children. Her siblings were (in chronological order) John, Mary, Andrew, George, and Joseph. Of these, only Andrew and her sister Mary remained in Trinidad, while the others emigrated. Mary Antoinette was also known as Marykin, and she married Albert Mendes. This was the start of a family relationship and close friendship with the Mendes family that developed even deeper throughout the years.
In 1888, we find Joseph and Christina living in Arima, Trinidad where their first child was born on 26 May. This baby girl was Elsie Mabel, who was to become my paternal grandmother and matriarch of the large Sheppard family.
A land deed of 1887 in Joseph's name describes him as a Shopkeeper, Port of Spain; other documents throughout his life describe him as Clerk, Merchant, Manager and Draper. The Miller's Public Supply Stores was one of the largest emporiums in Port of Spain established around 1835, when Irishman John Miller left his employment at Wilsons (a large cocoa and sugar agent) and started a business of his own. The firm had a main building on Frederick Street, with branches in Princess Town and Arima. Our Joseph Gomez became the Manager of their Arima branch.
Between 1888 and 1905 Joseph and Christina had four sons and five daughters, the youngest of whom died when she was a baby. It appears that Joseph and Christina moved from Arima to 12 Sorzanoville, Belmont, Laventille where their next three children - Audrey, Joseph and Edith were born. The family then returned to Arima around 1893 and where their home was on Guanapo Street. In July 1900 they lived in Queen Street, Arima. We know this from information on the birth certificates of their last four children. Though we have no photographs, their daughter Ivy wrote this nostalgic poem that paints a vivid picture of her childhood home. This is in a book of poems called Roses in the Rain, published by Ivy in 1976 when she was seventy-nine years old.
(on the happy occasion of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of its becoming a borough)
Dear place of Arima
Thy name, oh how bright;
I can think of thy charms
All day and all night.
T’was at thy fair borough,
I first breathed the air;
And God blessed my childhood
From year unto year.
How pleasant the fruit trees
That grew round my home
To one and to all
That garden said ‘Come’.
The Queen of the Flowers
Grew at our front door
And some of my mothers’ plants
Held me in awe.
Like the rich Joseph’s Coat
And the Red Hot Cat Tail,
And the fair Star of Bethlehem
So mild and so pale.
I loved gazing upward
At the tall willow trees
Swaying and sighing
In the cool evening breeze.
The Church and the convent
How peaceful the scene -
And the reservoir hill
In its glorious sheen.
The echoes that answered
My brothers at play
We found so intriguing
At close of the day.
Arima though long
From thee I did part
Thy joys and thy sorrows
Find a place in my heart.
Joseph, Christina and their children all attended the joyful wedding of my grandmother Elsie to Charlie Sheppard in 1909. It seems that by then they had moved to nearby Sangre Grande where Joseph had started a business. But barely two years after that beautiful family wedding at the Mendes family home at Victoria Square, their lives would change irrevocably.
The New Year 1912 dawned with the shocking news that Joseph had suffered a fatal stroke at his home. Sunday 1st January 1912 must surely have been the darkest day of their lives for Christina and her children. Joseph was just forty-seven years old and the widowed Christina was forty-five.
The newspaper of 8 January describes the sad event.
Here I must pause for a personal reflection on the adage "history repeats itself".
Little did the widowed Christina know then that in 1931 her eldest daughter Elsie would also experience the unspeakable grief of losing of her husband Charlie when he was just forty-five. Nor did my grandmother Elsie know that this would also befall two of her granddaughters. In 1965, Kathleen Sheppard lost her husband suddenly when he was just twenty-eight, five days after the birth of their third daughter. My own husband died suddenly at forty-five, leaving me a young widow with five children in 1984. We know for sure that in times of grief and loss, it is our families who see us through the dark days - and so it must have been for our Christina over a hundred years ago.
As the years went by, the younger children continued their schooling and life carried on. George, who was 15 years old when his father died, became an exceptional student, winning an Island Scholarship in 1916. World War 1 had been declared in 1914 and young George enlisted to serve before starting his university education. During those anxious war years the only communication was by letters that could take up to three months to arrive. This poignant note from mother to son was discovered at the back of a photo mailed by Christina to George while he was in India with the Devonshire Regiment.
In years to come, Christina in Trinidad would also learn of the untimely death of this son, Dr. George Gomez, on the island of St. Kitts when he was only thirty-five. More heartbreak for her and the family.
Sheppard Family Archive
Christina's father had died in 1902, but her mother Antonia lived to be eighty-one. Having contracted pneumonia, she passed away at her home in Sangre Grande on 26 August, 1922. A large number of family and friends attended her funeral, as reported in the Port of Spain Gazette of August 29, 1922.
Sadness enveloped the family once more that year when my grandmother's sister Audrey died in childbirth with her second child just two months after Antonia's death. Courage, faith and the support of family saw them through the awful tragedy.
In her golden years, Grandma Gomez lived in Wrightson Road, Port of Spain. Her youngest daughter Ivy never married, neither did her son Vincent. Vin and his sister Ivy, though they were both deaf, owned and operated The Rite Photo Studio, also in Wrightson Road. Ivy lived with their mother and together they raised Audrey's son Wilfred. Grandma Christina Gomez lived to be eighty-three and knew several of her grandchildren. Hers was a loving, motherly life of resilience.
FOUR GENERATIONS -circa 1911
l/r Antonia (Alexander) Pereira, Jessie (Sheppard) Brash,
Christina (Pereira) Gomez, Elsie (Gomez) Sheppard
The two widows are wearing dresses of traditional black, Christina having recently lost her husband
Christina Gomez née Pereira
Two Gomez sisters Audrey (left) and Edith. Centre is Edith's husband, Thomas McCartney
Many Thanks to Jessie (Hendry) Tamas , Brian Franco, Jenny (Franco) McNamara and other family members for their valued contributions to this story.
~ Valerie Sheppard
1 August, 2021