Thursday, April 27, 2017

Breaking a Brick Wall

It's been a while, I have so many things I could write about. Today I want to write about a new brick wall that's slowly been uncrumbling for me the past week or so. 

I've written about my great grandfather named Primitivo before. You can read more about him here. Records-wise, the man is tricky! Can't tell you how many times, I've reviewed all my records for him & then said to myself "He's killing me". Let me explain why.

When I started my search for him a few years back, I only knew his name was Primitivo Rodriguez, lived in Gurabo & had a son by the name of Antonio Rodriguez Torres. I did know he had other children, I knew most of their names which helped a ton. This helped me locate census records for Primitivo all they way from 1910 to 1940. On these census records, Primitivo is always recorded with the second surname of Cuevas. That second surname was always consistent. This told me that Primitivo's mother, whomever she was, held the surname Cuevas. Then I slowly started to uncover records for Primitivo. This is where the trickiness comes into play. 

I knew from Primitivo's son (my grandfather's) death record that Primitivo's wife was named Maria Ana Torres Torres. So I searched for a Maria Ana marrying a Primitivo Rodriguez Cuevas & came up with nothing. However, I did find a very close match, except the spouse is Primitivo Rodriguez de la Cruz. Close enough, I reviewed it & I was 99% sure this was the same Primitivo. Sure enough, it was but for some reason that  I cannot fully explain why Primitivo's mother is recorded as Maria de la Cruz. There are so many Maria's with that last name but none fit the same profile. That's what's killing me, I don't know for sure. I figured it had to be some kind of error on the recorders part, maybe. Then I learned Primitivo was married once before my great grandmother, to a lady named Manuela Davila. His marriage record to Manuela also has him recorded as "Primitivo Rodriguez de la Cruz". That's twice now. Why the Cruz? I had all sorts of theories running through my mind about his mother. I thought perhaps she was an illegitimate child & sometimes used her mother's surname & other times was recorded with her father's surname. Then I thought, maybe Primitivo had the order of both her surnames mixed up. Maybe she died when he was young, & so he wasn't sure which of her surnames came first. 

Then I tried to examine all the birth records I had for Primitivo's seven children. On these records, the name of grandparents are usually always listed. On them Primitivo's mother is recorded differently for each kid. Most times she is found as Maria de la Cruz. Other times Maria Cruz Cuevas. Every time I searched for either of those two name combinations I came up empty. I felt like I had exhausted all the digital public records I could find with evidence of her.  At this point, I figured to locate more answers, I would have to go downtown to the Family History Library & dig through all the microfilms for this time period & town for myself. Which I dreaded doing, because it's so time consuming. Going through one roll of microfilm has taken me a few hours in the past. Going through several would take me days that I don't really have at this present time in my life.  This happened a few years ago. Every once in a while I would get the itch to search again & every time I came up with no results. It killed me that I couldn't find anything beyond my great grandfather. Why couldn't he been more accurate about his mother's name. Why was he being so tricky? It was frustrating. I knew he probably had siblings, but without the name of his mother I couldn't confirm for sure if they were his siblings.

However for some reason, a few days ago, I did what I had always done before when that itch returned to search for Primitivo's mother. I reviewed all the records I had for him again. Trying to observe closely to see if I had missed anything before.  This time I noticed something that was in plain sight that for some reason I never paid attention to. How could I have missed this? It's just plain foolishness on my part. 

 You can see here that on Primitvo's oldest child's birth record his mother is recorded as "Maria Cuevas Berrios". This is the very first time I have ever encountered the surname Berrios on my family tree. It was exciting & I couldn't wait to search for this new name combination. As soon as I did, I got a few hits. 

Primitivo's mother's name is recorded on all other records, besides Primitivo's as "Cruz Cuevas Berrios". what makes sense to me is that, Maria is probably part of her first name, but since their were so many, many Maria's at this time, she went by the first name of Cruz instead. She was born in Hato Grande, Puerto Rico, which is now known as San Lorenzo, PR. She is the daughter of Pedro Cuevas & Rosario Berrios also from San Lorenzo. She married & had 5 children with Jose Rodriguez Cuevas. 

Maria Cruz dies at about 70 years old in 1908 in Juncos. Primitivo would of been about 37 years old at her time of death. He was already married to his first wife Manuela & has fathered 5 children at this point. I assume his mother knew them, probably met her 5 grand kids from Primitivo. I wonder how involved they were in each others lives. A part of me thinks they were probably close, but seeing as how Primitivo had trouble recording his mother's full name, maybe they were not. I could be wrong, hopefully I am but I still wonder.

Maria Cruz must have moved to Juncos, sometime before her death. Two years after she dies her husband Jose also passes in 1910. Primitivo is listed as their second child on both of their death records. 
 If there is anything I can pass on from this experience, it would be two things. First don't give up. Sometimes we hit walls, that seem like a complete dead end. It's super frustrating. When these times come up, because they always do, take a break. Even a year long break, but when you get the itch to return & try again, listen to that feeling. 

Second, review is key in these tricky situations. Paying attention to those small details is what will save you when you're stuck. Why this took me so long when the answer was right in plain sight the entire time, I don't know. I even had a cousin in Brooklyn review the same records a few years back & she also missed that Berrios name.

I'm grateful I didn't come up empty this time. Grateful that this part of my tricky search is over. Hoping all the new information I have now on Primitivo's parents & siblings will open more doors for my search into his line. I'm grateful, always grateful.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 22, 1873 -- the offical date

Yesterday we celebrated the abolishment of slavery in Puerto Rico. March 22, 1873, was the official date. It was announced in La Gazeta de Puerto Rico.

This is the link to where the digital version of the article can be found & read.  Click here

The article is in Spanish. I asked a fellow bilingual genealogist friend to help translate it. The translation reads: 

Overseas Minister to the Captain General of Puerto Rico:

The national assembly in its last session has approved unanimously and with enthusiastic acclaim the following Law.

Article 1: Slavery is abolished forever on the island of Puerto Rico.

Article 2: The free are obligated to serve contracts with their current owners or with the state for a time of no less than three years. In these contracts will intervene as caretakers of the freed, three special employees named by the Superior Government as Protectors of the Freed.

Article 3: The owners of slaves will be paid for their value at six months after the Law is published in the Gazeta de Madrid: the owners not wishing to have contracts with their old slaves will obtain a benefit of 25% of their value in any case.

Article 4: The total redeemable value for slaves is set at 35 million pesetas that will be made effective via a loan to be recovered by guarantee of rent by the island of Puerto Rico at a rate of 3.5 million for interests.

Article 5: Funds will be distributed by a Council composed by the Civil Superior Governor of the island, President, Chief Economist, Audience Attorney, three provincial officers elected by local authorities,Syndicate representative of the Capital government, 2 land owners elected by the top 50 slave owners. Decisions made by the Council will be by majority vote.

Article 6: If the government doesn't pay the owners for their slaves, it will have to turn over the title of ownership of the slaves to the owners.

Article 7: The freed will obtain full rights after 5 years of the publishing of this Law in the Gazeta de Madrid.

Article 8: The Governor will dictate the necessary measures to execute this Law, and attend to the needs and benefits and work that the same will require.

Palace of the National Assembly, 22 March 1873.

I was aware that even after slavery was abolished, there was a law in place that still obligated former slaves to work for free for an additional 3 years. However, I didn't realize till today after reading this translation that slaves became indentured servants by law for more likely 5 years. Then being granted the role as Spanish citizens. That would have been in 1878. Owners that refused to keep slaves as workers were given a payoff, but the slaves were taken by the government and given to others as workers. So slaves weren't really freed in 1873 like most people say or think. They weren't freed at all for an additional 5 years. It's heart breaking, but real.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Worker in the Cane

I recently read a biography called: "Worker in the Cane-A Puerto Rican Life History", written by the late Sidney W. Mintz that opened my perspective on living in Puerto Rico in the 1930 to mid 40's. 
The reason I choose to read this book is that my grandfather Antonio (whom you can read more about here), died before I was born. Antonio worked most of his life for an American sugar cane plantation in Puerto Rico that controlled five sugar mills, called Eastern Sugar Associates. 

Although, the book takes place in a different part of the island, the town of Jauca, it still takes place in the same time period my grandfather was alive & working. I only know bits & pieces about my grandfather, which is why I thought reading this would give me more insight into some of the things he may have dealt with.

Worker in the Cane, is a well written biography about a lower-class Puerto Rican man named Juan Eustaquio Zayas Alvarado born in 1908. Juan goes by the nick name of Don Taso, Taso works from the time he is eight years old in a Sugar cane field/ plantation. It explains the struggles Taso faces from early childhood, being fatherless & then loosing his mother early on in his childhood. It was easy to find myself stirred by what I came to understand about life back then. People on the island lived so hard & suffered so much, even for just the basic necessities to sustain themselves, such as food. 

What makes this time period unique is that this was the time that BIG & new political & economic changes were taking place on the island. The island was slowly becoming more developed & modernized with a new American, English speaking twist. This new generation of Puerto Ricans (also now American citizens), were born into a rapid change that served many pros & cons. Medical facilities were improving. education was being made available to everyone regardless of color or class. Transportation & communication was starting to modernize. New religions were allowed to penetrate the island & many for the first time were exploring something other then Catholic traditions. Cane fields were quickly expanding & replacing forests & pastures throughout the island. By this time the United States' introduction of industrial agricultural system was in full swing.  Mechanical devices were essential in the fields & the need for special manual skills declined big time. No independent small-scale haciendas were left. All these small-scale haciendas sold their companies to the US. Many workers were speaking up & participated in work unions & political parties.

These changes were so drastic because before the US occupation, most towns in Puerto Rico moved at a slow pace. Most work was done by hand. I like the way the author Mintz, puts it best in his book, when he says

"One was born to work in the cane, to come to know the feel of dirt in every cane field. One made due without a formal education. One lived in a straw or wooden shack, watched one's siblings be born & die of ill-defined illnesses, ate rice & beans & drank black coffee, eloped with a local senorita at an early age & fathered children in a rapid succession. In 1899 "the Americans" came , & then life rapidly began to change. Older people remember another special period of change, at a time of Emancipation (in 1873). But even the freeing of slaves had been a gradual process compared with what happened after 1899."  

As I read this book & got to know Don Taso & his family. Each chapter made me wonder about how much of Taso's life story relates to my grandfathers. I wonder if he joined any work union or political party. Or what his thoughts were on those who did participate in them.

The book mentions that their were various jobs on the cane fields. Things like feeding the animals were jobs that children took care of (till the child labor laws were created & enforced). The most difficult & dangerous job & also the lowest in pay, was that of cutting cane. That's the job my grandfather held, possibly for most all his life. Wonder if he tried to move up. Or if he felt like this was all he was skilled enough to do. Seeing how it was so labor intensive & low in pay, I imagine he couldn't have been satisfied in this position his whole life. Wish I knew more about his work history.

My father mentioned that when he was in elementary school, him & some of his brothers attended school shoe-less. The school had dirt floors & some of the classes were held outside. He remembers delivering his father's homemade lunches that his mother prepared for his father in the cane fields. He said his oldest brother Efrain, stopped attending school at 4th grade to join his father Antonio at sugar cane work. He remembers his father coming home with a burlap sack around his shoulder full of food from the market after work. Like most in their town, they didn't have indoor plumbing yet. He remembers well having an out house for most of his childhood. His mother walked daily with all the children to the river, to there bath them & do the families laundry. He says that while his mother sat upon a rock by the water to wash, the children played in the water while she worked. With living conditions such as these it's no wonder that once Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917 that so many migrated to the mainland US, seeking a better life.  

I guess I should point out that I know neither Don Taso nor my grandfather Antonio were public figures, nor famous nor distinguished. Instead they were husbands & fathers trying to hold it together for their families, doing whatever was needed to provide. They were forced under these circumstances to be diligent & make the best of the circumstances they were born into. I respect them greatly for that. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rita Torres Rotger 1858–1945

I recently discovered my paternal first cousin 3x removed. Her name is Rita Torres Rotger (sometimes mistakenly spelled as Rolger). Although, a distant cousin, Rita is important to me for a few reasons. The first reason is that, after I discovered her on a 1910 census, this lead me to a relative of Rita's. I wasn't sure how they were linked but, it was easy to notice we had matching information about Rita & her parents on our trees. I sent this person a message & soon later I was greeted with many photos & stories about Rita & her descendants. What a treasure! This is really what contacting people on is all about. Exchanging & sharing information so that we can help one another slowly put faces & stories to each name on our tree. 

The person I came into contact with is Rita's great granddaughter Candi. Candi even had photos of Rita to share with me. I just love old photos. Especially if the old photo is connected to me somehow, which is why this one is so very special to me. It's also the oldest photo of an ancestor I now have.
This is Rita Torres Rotger born Feb. 21, 1858 in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. Rita is one of ten children born to Victoria Rotger Caldas & Francisco Torres Villafana. Her father Francisco is my paternal 4th great grand uncle. 

Here is what I know about Rita & her family.  The 1910 census tells me that around 1892, at the age of about 35 Rita marries Miguel Francisco Chiques Marti. (his first surname, originally spelled Xiques, Miguel changed the spelling because no one could pronounce it correctly). Miguel is a widower from Caguas, Puerto Rico & Rita would be Miguel's second wife. Caguas is the town where Rita moves & starts her own family with Miguel. Together they have two daughters. The oldest is Mercedes Chiques Torres born 1893. The second daughter is Rosa Maria Chiques Torres born 1900. How cute are these two sisters?
Records indicate that unlike some of my other ancestors, Rita & her parents were more privileged for this time. Census records show that they could read & write. The younger ones were bilingual & could also speak English. Census records show them living with servants & by the photos you see they dressed nicely & owned jewelry. Besides many photos, when Rita passes at the age of 86 in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, she leaves behind two sets of silver flatware that have an "R" engraved on them.One set was her everyday ware & the other her formal flatware & a pair of her fine linens that also carry her embroiled initials. Below is a photo of Rita & her husband Miguel. You can tell by their clothes this was sometime down the line when she is older & fashion has taken a change. Rita's name has been passed down to every generation after her.

Friday, May 13, 2016

La Gaceta de Puerto Rico

I learned about something not long ago that has really come to value in my research. The Library of Congress has digitally uploaded newspaper articles from a newspaper that ran on the island called "La Gaceta de Puerto Rico". The articles run as far back as the mid 1800's to early 1900's. The link to this can be found by clicking here
It took me a minute to figure out how to navigate their site but, now I have it down.  Once you are on the website, under state choose "Puerto Rico" & in the  search engine besides that enter a name into the search option. I searched many names & found two that have articles about my specific ancestors. 

The first one I found was this one below on my 2nd great grandfather Juan E. Torres Galves & his younger brother Jose Antonio Torres Galves. 
The Translation reads: 

Don José Ramírez Alonso, Judge of first Instance of the City of Caguas and its judicial party

I hereby notify: that don Nicolás Quiñones Cabezudo, neighbor of the aforementioned (city) has filed a motion requesting the recommendation or inclusion of the neighbors of Hato Grande, don Zenón Muñoz Lopez, don Dionisio Gonzalez Lopez, don Eleuterio Lozada y Millán, don Abdón del Valle Rosario, don Juan Eugenio Torres Galves & don Jose Antonio Torres Galves in the electoral census, and since this petition was accepted, with the exception of don Abdón del Valle Rosario, the publication of this intention is ordered, so that the aforementioned constituents or anyone who wishes to oppose the inclusion, may appear to verify it within ten days after this edict appears on la Gaceta Oficial.

In Caguas on the 26th of August 1895.

I was pretty excited about finding this. I'm not positive as to why my 2nd great grandfather & his younger brother were selected to be among those on the electoral census. It must have had some value to it since it was published. Maybe it will be something I can find out later on by researching more about the towns history. 

The second article I found is about my great grandfather named Francisco Jimenez Lajara. 
 Translation to this one is: 

Don Inocencio Gomez, whose whereabouts are unknown, so that within 9 days he should show up before the court to make a declaration in the criminal case against Francisco Jimenez Lajara for injuries to Don Antero Tarazona.
Given in Caguas on the 27th of October 1884.

I couldn't find any more information about the criminal case they are referring to in this. I wish I knew more, but for now it looks like he harmed another guy bad enough for some reason that lead to criminal charges. 

Neither one of these articles tells me more then I already knew about either of them, but's another peek into their lives. Another small glimpse into what life was like for them. I still have more names I want to search for.  

For anyone researching their ancestors in Puerto Rico I would recommend searching La Gaceta. You just never know, whether big or small, the mention of their name can be so helpful

Friday, April 22, 2016's Commercial on Puerto Rican Ancestry

Sometime ago I got in touch with a nice lady through a distant cousin of mine. This lady is named Teresa. Along with this distant cousin, she was helpful in answering some research questions for me. Later on I found out Teresa is also the writer of a family history blog that I follow. The link to her blog is here. Teresa is a great writer & offers wonderful tips on how she's broken down some of the walls to her own family research. 

I found out later we were linked by comparing DNA tests & family tree info. We are linked on my LaJara line, on my paternal side. 

Recently, featured Teresa in a commercial. I believe it's the first commercial or public media type recording they've done on someone with Puerto Rican ancestry. It's so well done. I only wish it was longer & more like an episode of "Who do you think you are?".

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marriage Dispensa

Lets break the marriage procedure down for the earlier days in Puerto Rico. 

First thing to understand is that before the United States overtook Puerto Rico, Spain was in power. Spain came hand-in-hand with the Roman Catholic Church. Everyone permanently living on the island (including slaves) were required to be baptized members of the Catholic Church. This requirement, although seeming like an unfortunate event for some, actually comes as a huge help to genealogists. Especially because the parish baptism records will name your slave ancestors by name. Such a blessing to have access to those records.

Getting back to marriages...before a marriage was performed, the standard procedure for most Hispanic countries with Catholic records is this. Both parties involved was to file a marriage petition (expediente matrimonial, información matrimonial, aplicación matrimonial) with the parish priest. This petition would contain proof of good standing in the Catholic Church (usually just the baptismal certificates of the bride and groom), written permission from the parents if the bride or groom was under sixteen (though this age varied), and the priest’s permission for the marriage to take place. 

In addition to this, the marriage parties would also have to obtain any special dispensations or "dispensa" required from a church bishop, for the marriage to take place if the two parties were relatives. It was kind of like a waiver granted to you in order to allow you to legally marry a blood-linked relative.  Now I looked into this to see how closely related the Catholic Church allowed you to marry a relative & this is what I found. 

Parents with children-NEVER 

Grandparents with grandchildren


Uncle / Aunts / nephew/ nieces


Cousins, great-uncle / with nephew grandson or grand daughter

As you can see there were different degrees of relationships. Ultimately from my understanding, no waivers were granted or allowed above level four. 

The reason I wanted to write about this is that I now know of at least 2 pairs of cousins that have married in my family tree. One legally using a dispensa. Which I have yet to find because they are not digital. The other pair of ancestors of mine, only married by common law or by a "consensual agreement" as Puerto Rican census records calls them. 

The first time I realized I found a pair of married cousins on my tree, it made me uncomfortable. Especially since they are directly linked to me, being my 2nd great grandparents. I didn't get it. Now after reading more, I understand the reality that Puerto Rico really is just a small island. I've discovered that most people in those days, less they were really wealthy only left their towns for 3 main reasons. To visit the church to be baptized or baptize your children, to get married & to be buried when you passed on. Aside from this, unless it was work related, everyone seemed to stay put. Which meant you dated & married those around you, & in some cases sometimes those people were your relatives. I heard back in  those days it was actually quit common. 

Another possibility for inter-family marrying is "Para mantener la raza pura" or to maintain a pure race. By pure, they meant white. I had heard of this phrase growing up but it didn't really mean much to me. But now I see how it would of played a part of marrying your relative. Keeping the Puerto Rican race as European or "pure" as they could, meant making sacrifices for a more white future generation. Why? Because that's what was more favorable in those times. It's crazy to think that families practiced inter-family marrying so that no other outsiders could taint their bloodline, but combined with the notion that they never really left the towns they were from, then this starts to make greater sense.

 However, it's also important to know that they had to pay additional for a marriage dispensa. Which maybe why those other married cousins of mine only remained together as a consensual agreement or common law rather than legally married. 

I haven't seen a real dispena document yet but I read that it can be really valuable & gives information regarding each relatives line down back to the common ancestor that connects the two parties together. Sometimes even including a copy of their baptism certificates. It's so fascinating to me. I can't wait to travel to one of these parishes records in Puerto Rico & see one & touch one for myself.