The surname Câmara is now 527 years old. The first person entitled to use this family name was JOÃO GONÇALVES ZARCO, a Portuguese sailor who used to fight the moors alongside Africa's coast on service to His Majesty, the King of Portugal.
In one of those battles, his ship went astray, arriving by chance in a group of islands located about 400 miles away from Morocco's coast. The largest island was covered by a luxuriant vegetation so Zarco named it Ilha da Madeira (Wood Island). On the shore of that island, he and his crew saw a number of sea lions (in ancient Portuguese "sea wolves") hidden in a cave and they called that place "Câmara de Lobos" (Cave of Wolves).
On his return to Portugal, Zarco reported his discovery to His Majesty. The King then authorized Zarco and his fellows, Tristão Vaz and Bartholomeu Perestrello, to start colonization of these islands. Each of them was in charge of a "Capitania": Zarco in Funchal, Tristão in Machico, and Perestrello in Porto Santo.
Due to the efficiency of those men, in a few decades s riches could be transferred to the Kingdom of Portugal.
King Dom Afonso rewarded those men with noble titles.
On the fourth of July of 1460, His Majesty Dom Afonso of Portugal issued a Royal Decree granting João Gonçalves Zarco the title of Knight and a Coat of Arms and changed his name to JOÃO GONÇALVES DA CÂMARA DE LOBOS.
In spite of the Royal Decree, the family name "Gonçalves da Câmara de Lobos" did not last as such. Zarco's sons and daughters used either "Gonçalves da Câmara" or "Rodrigues da Câmara", being "Rodrigues" Zarco's wife's family name. In the generations that followed, the surname "Câmara" has been combined with many other family names, inaugurating new families, such as "Bittencourt da Câmara", "Cabral da Câmara", "Leme da Câmara", "Monis da Câmara", etc. The original surname "Gonçalves da Câmara" can still be found among descendants of the first Captain of Madeira Island.
The surname "Câmara" made its way through the centuries to reach me on the 20th Century. There were moments when this family name was almost left aside. For instance, an ancestor of mine, a granddaughter of Zarco, CONSTANÇA RODRIGUES DA CÂMARA, married Diogo Cabral. Their two daughters instead of taking their father's surname, preferred their mother's, "Câmara". They were Isabel and PHILIPPA DA CÂMARA. Isabel became a nun, so Philippa was the only one supposed to carry the family name ahead.
Philippa da Câmara and her husband, Francisco Monis, had eight children. Six of them took their grandfather's family name "Cabral". The other two maintained the surname "Câmara", one combining it with "Monis" and my ancestor JOÃO RODRIGUES DA CÂMARA kept his mother's full family name.
For the next two generations, surname "Câmara" was safe. But danger was close when, on the 2nd of December of 1606, MARIA MONIS DA CÂMARA, grand-daughter of João Rodrigues da Câmara, got married to Pero Berenguer de Leminhana, who was of Spanish origin. They had five sons and each of them adopted a different family name, combining their ancestors' surnames:
João Berenguer de Andrada
Pedro Berenguer de Leminhana
Manoel d'Andrada de Leminhana
Bartholomeu de Melo Berenguer
and my ancestor FRANCISCO MONIS DA CÂMARA.
Francisco's son, MANOEL MONIS DA CÂMARA, born in September, 1671, was responsible for taking the surname "Câmara" to Brazil. In approximately 1710, he left Madeira Island and headed for the New World.
At that time, the search for gold was the main activity of Brazilian population. Majority of gold mines were located in Minas Gerais Province of Brazil, where Manoel Monis da Câmara and his cousin Manoel Bittencourt da Câmara settled. The latter found a gold mine and became one of the richest men of that time. However my ancestor, Manoel Monis da Câmara, was not that lucky. But it seems that he had some kind of assistance from his rich cousin so that he was able to buy a farm. He became a farmer and raised his children: Manoel, Anna, Rosa and Josepha. All of them which had the surname "Monis da Câmara".
JOSEPHA MONIS DA CÂMARA got married to maderian Manoel Gomes Rodrigues in 1737. They had eleven children. The surname "Câmara" then faced its almost fatal crisis. Only one of Josepha's sons, Philippe, took surname "Câmara". He would sign a long and pompous family name: "Gomes Rodrigues da Câmara".
Philippe Gomes Rodrigues da Câmara, a farmer and gold miner, died in August, 1818, leaving six sons and two daughters. Again, the surname "Câmara" was in danger. Only one of his sons, my ancestor JOSÉ GOMES RODRIGUES DA CÂMARA, kept the family's full name which has been passed on to his descendants reaching the 20th Century.
My grandfather ILLIDIO GOMES RODRIGUES DA CÂMARA, who was born on the 30th of October of 1879 and died on the 20th of October of 1950, was the last one to bear such a long family name.
My father, myself and my brothers still keep "Rodrigues Câmara". However my father's grandchildren only were give the surname "Câmara".
It took me many years of genealogical research to align all links from me to the first Câmara, João Gonçalves Zarco, the sailor. What was supposed to be my inheritance from him after 500 years? If heritage was mathematical, after 17 generations, only 1/66124th of his characteristics could be detected on me. On the other hand, 1 /3rd of his original family name, "Gonçalves da CÂMARA de Lobos, is still found in my own family name... I am proud of this legacy.