The Brickmans, Cronigs and Levines are recognized as the earliest Jews to settle on Martha’s Vineyard, but if Ken Libo’s research findings turn out to be true, then some of the Island’s Portuguese-American ancestors may also have been part of the Jewish diaspora.

Mr. Libo, a National Book Award winner and a scholar of Jewish-American history, told an audience Sunday night at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center symposium, titled The Jews of Martha’s Vineyard, that many Sephardic Jews who escaped from persecution by Catholics and Muslims in Portugal first went to the Cape Verde Islands and the Azores before coming to America.

“It’s hard to establish the Jewish connection, but names that are commonly used by Sephardic Jews are Ben David, Cardoza, Dacosta, Nunez, Pachico, Suarez and Texeira,” Mr. Libo said.

By the end of the evening, Kate Feiffer, an Island filmmaker who directs public relations at the Hebrew Center, broke into a smile of amazement. “I might have married a Jew after all,” she said. Her husband is Chris Alley, a member of a large clan of Portuguese-American Islanders.

But Mr. Libo tempered his remarks by saying, “the question remains unanswered.” The name connection is not clear-cut evidence, he said, because some Jews could have simply taken Christian names.

While one potential story line of the Island’s Jewish heritage calls for more studying, the other stories were well chronicled by firsthand accounts of the Island earliest Jews, recalling life for their families in the first half of the last century and how they built businesses and a religious community that now flourishes.

Oral historian Linsey Lee came armed with tape recordings of interviews she conducted with Anne Cronig, Ida Levine, Dorothy Brickman and Helen Issokson, and while at times the recordings were crackly, the voices themselves were strong, poignant and often funny. Miss Cronig and Mrs. Levine both died last year.

In the tapes, experiences that are nearly 100 years old are brought to life by these archival voices. Among the recollections is the vivid tale of an emigrant named Henry Cronig, who fled Russia in 1903 with the sting of a Cossack’s whip still fresh in his mind. Pogroms were commonplace at that time.

“The Czar had to have a scapegoat, and life was very difficult,” said Miss Cronig. It took two years for young Henry Cronig to save $200 for a ticket to America, steerage class, but when this country boy arrived in New York’s Lower East Side, he yearned for the farmlands.

Ultimately, that led him to a relative in New Bedford where he then saw an ad seeking a farmhand on Martha’s Vineyard. “He landed in Vineyard Haven and asked for directions to Captain Daggett’s farm, where the hospital is now,” said Miss Cronig on the tape. “He was 17 at the time, and Captain Daggett taught him English.”

Throughout these accounts, Islanders are seen helping the immigrants learn English or even secure bank loans. “One at a time, [Henry] brought his brothers over” from Russia, and in 1917, they opened a market on Main street in Vineyard Haven.

By the 1920s, there were six Jewish families on the Island, and while they were all merchants working six days a week — even on their Sabbath — they were together every Sunday.

“You didn’t call anybody to say you were coming over,” recalled Miss Brickman on the recording. Families took turns hosting the Sunday gatherings. “I can still taste Libby Cronig’s egg salad. We used to play cards and go to Tashmoo Park and the boys would play baseball.”

While the Cronig brothers left a market as their legacy, the Brickmans and the Levines began to prosper by selling shoes and other goods. Brickman’s remains, but the Vineyard Dry Goods shop is now a part of Main street history.

As accepted as these names sound now on the Island, there were struggles in the early days to survive and to win acceptance. The children all worked. “You couldn’t afford to hire any help so the children all helped in the business, seven and eight year olds stood in front of the cash register,” Miss Brickman told Linsey Lee in her interview. “You would get home from school and go straight to the store.”

There were culture clashes, Ms. Lee said. Children on Main street would laugh at Miss Brickman’s grandmother, who still dressed as if she were back in Russia, and “there was a certain amount of anti-Semitism” on the Island, according to Mrs. Issokson. “You felt welcome in some places and not in others,” she said.

But this small cluster of Jewish families prevailed, and by the early 1940s as they were joined by others, they staked their claim on a building and then on land for a place to gather and worship. By this time, some of the Cronigs had started up their real estate business, and with their help, a house was bought and moved further up the hill on Center street near Sam Cronig’s apple orchard. “I think the whole thing cost us about $3,000,” said Miss Brickman.

Humor figured heavily in many of these tales. The night Bernie Issokson, dressed as the Brickman’s store Santa Claus, got locked out of his house, or the outrageous yarn about Rose Brickman Levett and her dog, Bullets. Mrs. Issokson told Linsey Lee how Mrs. Levett and Bullets liked to stop in at Yates Drugstore for a milkshake. The dog always got a share of the shake.

“When Rose couldn’t make it, the dog would show up at Yates. He had a charge account there,” recalled Mrs. Issokson. “They knew what he wanted and they’d make it up for him.”

A sense of humor still appears to be in force in the new Hebrew Center. At the end of the evening, someone stood up to ask Rabbi Joshua Plaut how many Jews live on the Island today. The rabbi paused a moment and answered deadpan, “Half of Chilmark is Jewish.”

Actually, with 325 families affiliated with the Hebrew Center, Jews on the Island number in the thousands, he said. And with any more digging by Mr. Libo, that figure could easily go up.