Thursday, May 22, 2014

Primitivo Rodriguez Cuevas

My paternal great grandfather is named Primitivo Rodriguez Cuevas.  While growing up, I remember my Dad told me this was the name of his father's father.  Unfortunately my Dad never got to meet him & we all knew so little about him aside from only his name. 

With a little digging I was surprised how much I found for him. He appears on of all the census records available for Puerto Rico which was a huge help.

Primitivo is the son of Jose Rodriguez Cuevas & Maria de la Cruz Cuevas Berrios. He was born some time around 1865 in either Gurabo or San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. In 1885, at the age of 20 he marries his first wife named Manuela Davila. With Manuela he has 5 children, 3 girls & 2 boys.  
The names of these 5 children are:
-Petrona Rodriguez Davila born 1893 in Gurabo dies 1917 in Caguas
-Eusébio Rodriguez Davila born 1894 in Gurabo
-Angelina Rodriguez Davila birth about 1895
 -Antonia Rodriguez Davila born about 1897
-Luciano Rodriguez Davila birth1900 in Gurabo

Sadly after 15 years of marriage, in 1900 Manuela dies at the age of 33 from postpartum hemorrhaging from delivering her last baby. I imagine Primitivo & his 5 children must of been heart broken. So by the 1910 census Primitivo is shown as widowed. He is living in Gurabo with 3 of his unmarried children. 

In 1912 he marries for the second time to Maria Ana Torres Torres from San Lorenzo. With Maria Ana he has 2 boys. The first is my grandpa named Antonio Rodriguez Torres born 1914. You can read more about my grandfather here. Their second son is named Juan Ramon Rodriguez Torres born 1916. Either during Juan Ramon's childbirth or shortly after Maria Ana also dies. The cause of death on her death record states anemia. Juan's birth record states she was already dead by the time of the recording of his birth. 

By 1920 Primitivo moves to San Lorenzo, is living with his son from his first marriage Eusébio, my grandpa Antonio & Juan Ramon. Primitivo is white, can read & write & is working on a farm. 

By 1930 they move back to Gurabo, & he is now only living with his youngest 2 boys from Maria Ana. 

I found a 1935 Agricultural census for him that shows that since 1931 he is leasing a farm that grows tobacco, corn & beans.

In 1935 it doesn't look like much has changed & Primitivo is still living with his 2 youngest sons. In 1937 both of those 2 youngest sons get married. By 1940 Primitivo has the status of divorced. I'm feeling like this is wrong because I have not been unable to track down a third marriage record for him. He's also living with an 8 year old boy that is of no relation to him. I have no clue who the boy belongs to because he has a completely different surname

From what my father tells me, Primitivo moves to New York City sometime in the mid 1940's. For work he drives a delivery truck & dies in a car accident. I haven't had the chance to locate his death record because I have no idea of a death date. My father doesn't remember anything more to give me more leads.

I discovered that Primitivo goes back & forth on how he records his full name. He sometimes goes by Primitivo Rodriguez de la Cruz. However on all the census records he chose to use Cuevas. There is obviously a mix up with the order of his mother's name. My guess is that Maria de la Cruz is her first/ middle name & Cuevas is her last.

With only a name I was able to track down so much information about his life. My Dad was amazed because he wasn't aware about Primitivo's first wife. 

I would love to learn more about why he chose to move to New York so late in his life. It seems like such a big move. Did he go to be with someone? Was he just following the big migration of Puerto Ricans who settled in NY? Did he like the big city after living most of his life in a small country town? I'm sure the culture shock must of been overwhelming. 

I also wonder how he coped with being a singe-father twice in his life time. I imagine that must of been challenging especially since he was the main provider. I'm sure he must of had help in raising at least the youngest 2. Who was it that helped him, I wonder. I've uncovered so much but there are still so many mysteries about Primitivo. I hope to answer more as I continue my search.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Maria de los Santos 1847-1937

My paternal great-great grandmother is named Maria de los Santos. According to her death certificate she was born in March 1847 in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Family does not have birth records that go that far back for the town of Gurabo. This means I'll have to go into a family history library soon to locate her Catholic church record to confirm her birth date & see if I can obtain any more clues about her life or parents. 

Her death record also says she is the natural child of Ramona de los Santos from Juncos, Puerto Rico. "Natural" means her parents were not legally married which is why no father is documented for her. This is the second time I've come across a record with no father. It makes me so sad that there isn't much I can do about it & will primarily just have to focus on the line of her mother since that is all I have to go off. 

If the birth year on Maria's death certificate is correct that would mean that at the time the 1910 census was taken, Maria would be 63 years old. In 1910 Maria is recorded as working, having 10 children, 8 of which are still living & are all living with her in Juncos, Puerto Rico. 
Maria's children are named as:  

Ynes Pabellon de los Santos
Casimira Pabellon de los Santos born 1883-1970
Felipa Pabellon de los Santos born 1884-1969
Ricardo Pabellon de los Santos born 1886-1976
Petra Pabellon de los Santos birth unknown, death 1938
Agustina Pabellon de los Santos
Lorenzo Pabellon de los Santos
Eustaquia Pabellon de los Santos

She also has 3 grandchildren living with her. There names are: Juan Perez Pabellon, Rosario Perez Pabellon, & Justo Perez Pabellon. I know 2 of these children belong to Felipa & I assume the third is hers as well. 

Maria declares the status of single on every census despite the fact that on every birth or death record I found for her children or grandchildren she is stated as married to a Matias Pabellon who is the father of all her children. This is an example of one of the many I've found.

In 1925 Matias dies & in 1935 Maria changes her status to widow. I'm not positive that they were legally married yet. I would assume that at one time they were because of how often I found their names together stated as married. 

In 1920 Maria is only living with one of her daughters, this is Petra, who is my great grandmother. You can read more about Petra here. Along with Petra, Maria is living with 2 of Petra's daughters Jovina & Andrea. At this time Maria would be 73 years old & is no longer working. Petra seems to be the main provider in the home working in a tobacco factory. 

In 1930 Maria lives alone with her granddaughter named Andrea Pabellon. Neither of them work but live right next door to Petra & her new husband. Petra along with her husband are both working, I assume that Petra is still helping her mother financially.

The 1935 census is the last census taken for Maria. At this time she is still living with her granddaughter Andrea & neither of them are working. Two years later in 1937 Maria dies at the age of 90.

Oh what I would give to be able to speak to Maria. I have so many unanswered questions about her & her family. According to her death record her mother Ramona is from Juncos. In 1910 Maria is living there, I wonder if it was to be close to her mother since then Maria is a single-mother. By 1920 Maria moves to Gurabo, I assume to be closer to all of her children that are taking care of her.

I'd also love to know what happened to the 2 of her 10 children she says in the 1910 census were not living. How did they die? How old where they? 

I've also noticed the slave census taken for Puerto Rico in 1872 names various slaves with the last name of De los Santos. I wonder how Maria is related to these slaves since she herself was black. I also wonder if her mother Ramona was a slave. At the time slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico in 1873, Maria would of been 25 years old. I haven't found a Ramona de los Santos on the Puerto Rico, Registro Central de Esclavos, 1872 but have found many Maria de los Santos'. I can't prove that any of these "De los Santos" are linked to my family but seeing as how their are so many & seeing as how my family is black I can only suspect that they are. Maybe with time I will be able to make the connection.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Petra Pabellon de los Santos

My great grandmother's name is Petra Pabellon de los Santos. I have yet to find her birth record. According to her death record she was born on August 5, 1900. I have a strong feeling that this birth date is wrong for two reasons. First, her name was recorded out of order as Petra de los Santos Pabellon. Second, they have her gender incorrect. 

Everything else as far as the name of her husband & parents & race is right.  I'm not sure how all these mistakes came to be but according to the death record the person giving the information for her was named Julio Ortiz. It does not specify if Julio is related or not. I'm guessing he's not but who knows.

Petra was born in Juncos, Puerto Rico I'm guessing sometime around the 1890's. I have searched Juncos birth records for her birth record around this time, before & after & always come up empty. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong but I can't find anything for her or any of her siblings in Juncos or Gurabo, which are the two towns where she primarily lived all her life. 

According to the 1910 census Petra was 20 years old. She is 1 of 10 children born to Maria de los Santos & Matias Pabellon. She is living in Juncos at that time, unmarried with no children of her own.  She lives with her mother & 8 siblings. Along with her other 5 sisters she is a domestic worker that either works from home or works from others homes. 

For some reason her father Matias Pabellon is shown living in the town right besides them in Gurabo, alone. I'm not sure how involved in her life her father was. I'm sure at some point they all lived together. I can't help but wonder why Matias is living alone. Although he does not live far from his children, I know something must of happened to have them apart. 

In July 1912 Petra gives birth to her first child, a daughter she names Jovina Pabellon. After Jovina, Petra has a second daughter in 1913 named Andrea Pabellon, this is my grandmother. You can read more about Andrea here. In 1916 Petra has a third daughter named Jesusa Pabellon. Sadly Jesusa only lives to be 2 years old & then dies on March 1919 from the flu epidemic. 

All 3 of these daughters are born out of wedlock. No father is ever recorded for their church or civil records. I wonder if they are all from the same father. Since they were all so close in age I would assume that they are but can't be sure.

By 1920 Petra has moved to Gurabo with her mother & 2 remaining daughters Jovina & Andrea.

In June 1920 Petra marries a man named Vicente Ortiz from Toa Baja.  I assume after their wedding she moves out of her mother's house & they move into their own home because by the 1930 census Petra is shown living with Vicente her first daughter Jovina & 2 new children that she's had with her new husband. The names of her new children from this marriage are first a daughter Filiberta Ortiz Pabellón (born 1922), another daughter Maria Ester Ortiz Pabellón (born 1924 & death 1925) then her only son Luis Ortiz Pabellón (born 1926)

My grandmother Andrea remains living with her grandmother Maria. I assume Andrea & Maria must have been close. I wonder if Andrea stayed to help take care of Maria since Maria would of been in her late 80's by then, or if maybe she didn't get along with her new step-father. 

By 1935 Petra is still declaring the status of "married" but is living alone with her 2 children from Vicente Ortiz. She is working in a tobacco factory. On September 5, 1938 Petra passes away from what I can read lung complications. 

I've thought about Petra lots. I imagine that she must of had a challenging life. She lived in a time where having a child out of wedlock was really looked down upon. She was black & lived in a time where the color of your skin represented more about you then anything else. I assume loosing her third little girl at the age of 2 must of also been very difficult. Then again loosing another little girl at the age of 1 must of been crushing. I wonder how this affected her. She must of been strong. I only wish that there was a photo preserved of her. I would love to put a face to the name I've discovered so much about. 

Understanding Hispanic surnames of 2 last names

Although my roots are from Puerto Rico I grew up in New York. Like most other Hispanics living in the US, I only have ever had to use one last name. What's interesting is that most Hispanic countries use two last names. 

Why two? 
What's the point of having two last names, you wonder? 
Let me explain...

I learned that in Spanish a last name is not called a last name (último nombre). In Spanish, the last name has a name of its own, it is called an apellido. The proper translation to
English is surname. Surname (or apellido) does not mean "last." So, when you talk about someone's last name you talk about their apellidos (surnames) since there are two of them. The two surnames are referred as the first apellido and the second apellido.

Lets take my father's name for example. 
His parent's names are:
Father: Antonio Rodriguez
Mother: Andrea Pabellon 
His proper name in Puerto Rico would be:
Jose Rodriguez Pabellon

The father's last name is always the first surname, the surname that follows that would be the one of the mother. However, if the parents were not legally married then often times the child will only carry one surname & that would be the surname of his mother. 

So, what happens when you get married? 
Like in the US, nothing changes for the husband. However, the wife usually changes her name as follows. Her first surname remains the same (her father's first), but her second surname often changes to that of her husband. Sometimes including the word "de" is added between the two surnames to indicate that the second surname is her husband's. 

Here is an example of my great grandmother's name change during marriage. 
Her name before marriage: Petra Pabellon de los Santos
Father's surname: Pabellon
Mother's surname: de lost Santos

After marriage she dropped her mother's surname & added her husband's name. Her new name after marriage was Petra Pabellon de Ortiz

Now all of Petra's children's names from this marriage would carry the surname of Ortiz first then Pabellon would be their second surname. 

In the US, a family is addressed by the last name of the husband. In Hispanic circles, the family is addressed by the combination of the first surname of each of the partners in the marriage.

It was so confusing to me at first. Keeping all the surnames correct & in order was tricky but makes sense now. It's actually super helpful when trying to trace both of the parents to someone. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Antonio Rodriguez Torres

"People who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They're with us in the grocery store, as we turn the corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles."
-Orphan Train
This is my paternal grandfather. 
 His name is Antonio Rodriguez Torres
Born March 1, 1914 in Gurabo, Puerto Rico
This is one of my most prized photographs.This is the only photo I have ever seen of him. Unfortunately he died before I ever got the chance to meet him. I'm so grateful to at least have this. I love this photo because my grandfather reminds me so much of my Dad. Everything from his smile, to his hands & even the way he is dressed.

Antonio was the first child born to his mother Maria Ana de Jesus Torres Torres. I haven't been able to locate Maria's birth record yet but according to her death record she was born in about 1886 in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. She married my great grandfather named Primitivo Rodriguez in 1912. After Antonio they have one more son together named Juan Ramon Rodriguez Torres born in 1916. I'm not positive but it was either at his birth or shortly after Maria gave birth to Juan Ramon that she passes away from anemia. Antonio would of only been about 2 years old when his mother passed.

According to census records my great grandfather does not marry again. This would mean that Antonio & Juan Ramon grew up without a mother. I've often wondered who helped raise them. I feel like there had to be a motherly figure involved that helped watch them while Primitivo went to work. 

Although census records show that Antonio did not attend school, unlike many around him at that time he was able to read & write. I was actually able to locate a social security application for him which shows his signature. It's cursive, neat & beautifully written.  

By June 1937 Antonio is 23 years old when he marries my grandmother Andrea Pabellon, you can read more about her here. I wish I knew how they met. I imagine since they both grew up in the same town that maybe they lived in close distance to each other or maybe they even grew up together.

In the 1940 census he is working in a sugar cane field. My father says this is where Antonio remains working throughout the rest of his life, cutting cane.

Antonio & Andrea stay married for the rest of their lives. However sometime before Antonio's death in January 1978 he becomes heavily involved in alcohol. My dad says sadly Antonio also separates from his wife (although they are never legally divorced) & lives with another woman. 

I asked my Dad to tell me what Antonio was like & he says that he was strict & hard on them when he was little. They had several confrontations where my Dad intervened because Antonio would hit my grandmother. This created a wedge between my Dad & him.

This is all I know of Antonio. I know there is so much more to him then what I've typed. I hope to one day learn more about him.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Andrea Pabellon

This is my paternal grandmother. 
Her name is Andrea Pabellon 
& my search has started with her. 
I've written about her a little in a previous post but I wanted to write more about what I've learned about her life. I only had the privilege of meeting her a few times when I was very little. She lived in Puerto Rico all of her life, so I didn't get to see her very often.

Andrea was born in Juncos, Puerto Rico in March 2, 1913. Her mother is Petra Pabellon de los Santos. Andrea's birth, marriage nor death records ever indicate a father. In the place of a father is states "No Costa" which means there was no father present. Back then this was called a "natural" birth. Which pretty much just means her parents were never legally married. Which is why she carries her mother's first surname of Pabellon.

Later on in life, Andrea sometimes uses the last name of Jimenez. I wonder if maybe that was her real father's last name. No one living remembers & I have no evidence to prove this theory. 

Andrea's family moves & she grew up most of her life in the town right besides Juncos which is Gurabo. Census records show that she grew up with her mother Petra & her mother's mother which is Maria de los Santos. In 1920 Andrea's mother marries a man named Vincente Ortiz. Census records show that Petra moves out to be with her new husband & her 2 new children from this marriage (her only son named Luis Miguel Ortiz Pabellon & another daughter named Filiberta Ortiz Pabellón. However by 1930 Andrea is still living alone with her grandmother Maria de los Santos. I imagine that they must of been really close. In March 1937 Maria dies. 3 months later in June 1937 Andrea marries my grandfather Antonio Rodriguez Torres (read more about Antonio here). About a year later they have their first baby, a son named Efrain Rodriguez. He would be the first born of 14 children, 9 boys & 5 girls.

In January 1978 Andrea's husband of 41 years dies. From what my Dad tells me they were already separated for some time before his death. Andrea goes on to live the rest of her life in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. She dies in January 1990 at the age of 79. 

Since I didn't know her well I asked my father to describe what she was like to me. He says all his memories of her are good. She was kind & a good mother. He remembers that growing up she would do the laundry by the river not far from their house. It was also then that she would bath all the children in the river. He remembers she took them all to Mass on Sundays & she made sure they were all baptized when they were young. I can tell he misses her when he speaks of her. He says they were pretty close. 

Even though I didn't really know her well & only saw her a small handful of times growing up, for some reason, I've always felt a connection with her. This is why I chose her to start with. 

-I would love to learn who her real father was.
-I would also love to know if he's the same father of the 2 other sisters (one younger & then one older) that  Andrea had that also were born out of wedlock before her mother married Vicente Ortiz. I'm hoping that one day & with more digging I'll be able to answer these questions. 

Some Reading

Lately I've been reading lots about Puerto Rico. Sadly, I grew up knowing so little about where my family came from. I remember learning about the Spanish-American war in High School but nothing more. It's also sad that neither or my parents including my Dad who was born & raised in Puerto Rico didn't know much about the history of the island.

With all my new research, I knew that if I really wanted to understand what life was like for my ancestors I would have to read about it. I started by searching on (this is where I usually get all my books). They didn't really have a big selection so I chose books that had the best reviews. 

There were 2 that I felt I got the most learning from. The first one is called Puerto Rico: An Interpretive History from Pre-Columbian Times to 1900
This book was super informative & broke down every bit of history on the island. From the beginning when the Spanish colonists arrived, to revolts against Spain & the process of how the US took over. I read a similar book before this but this book put everything in better perspective for me. It was easy to follow & gave some really good facts. 

The second book is Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870–1920
I loved this book! 
It's focus is on women & the culture of the island from the late 1800's to early 1900's. It talks about racism, slavery, legal prostitution & what life in general was like for woman that lived on the island back then. Sadly, the lives described seemed so awful even for the higher class woman. It goes into detail about specific court cases that were documented in Ponce. The author does a really good job at giving us a peek of what it would of been like to live there back then. It was a real eye-opener.

If you know of any others that you would want to recommend please suggest them. I would love to look them up.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Where it all begins

For now, I've mainly been focusing on my paternal side of the family. 
This is my father & me. 
He was born in Gurabo, Puerto Rico in 1945
I've always thought he was a handsome guy. 

His mother is named Andrea Pabellon born in Juncos, Puerto Rico in March 2, 1913. Andrea grew up most of her life in the town right besides Juncos which is Gurabo. Here she married my grandfather Antonio Rodriguez Torres in 1937. They both remained in Gurabo all of their lives having a total of 15 children together, 10 boys & 5 girls. Four of these children died before adulthood. One more passed away in his early 20's from a horseback riding accident, his name was Matias Rodriguez Pabellon (not positive on the date of Matias' birth or death). 

I had very little to go off when I started my search. All I had was the information on my father's birth certificate & the little that he could remember of his parents, which was not much. The first thing I did was search for them on census records. Now Puerto Rico only has census records available starting from 1910 to 1940. There was one more census taken before 1910 but I was told that it was destroyed in a fire. I created an account on & found a census record for them from 1940 in Gurabo.
I knew this was them & it felt so good see both of their names on there & to finally have more of a clue. One thing we learned from this is that my father had an older brother that he never knew about. The census record shows a baby boy listed as  Eusébio Rodriguez that was 6 months old. I had my father dig for information on this brother with his siblings but had no luck. Apparently no one, not even his other older brother who is also listed on this census knew of Eusébio. I had a feeling it was because he had died very young, but wasn't sure how to prove it. 
Soon after finding this census I put a post on a message board on asking if anyone happened to have  more info. This kind lady from New York wrote me back & said that I could find everything I needed if I just searched on I had heard about this website but never really put it to use before this.  I didn't realize how valuable this website could be. The few times I was on it on my own I didn't come up with anything. I saw there was a link to Puerto Rico but I didn't notice anything helpful. That's because I was searching all wrong. This lady gave me step by step instructions on how to properly find civil or Catholic church records for all of the towns in Puerto Rico. 

Here are the steps she sent to me in case you need them too: 

Log onto Family (It's FREE!)
Click Search at the top
Scroll down & click Caribbean, Central & South America
Click Puerto Rico under Place
Click Puerto Rico, Civil Registration, 1836-2001
Scroll down & click Browse through 4,587,038 images
Select the town you're interested in
Here you access all available Birth/Nacimientos, Death/Defunciones, Marriage/Matrimonios records.
Always scroll down & check the last entries for Indices of the books in the collection
If there is no index, It may be contained within each book.

Search index under last name for book/year/folio #, then go to that book to pull the record.

After following these steps I was able to find a death record for Eusébio. He was born on October 9, 1939 & his death is recorded as June 8, 1940. Sadly 2 months after the census above was taken this baby boy died only being 8 months old. I don't totally understand the cause of death because it's in a very cursive handwriting that's hard to crack, even for those that do know Spanish well. 

Being able to view all these records in the comfort of my own home was a miracle I never thought I'd have. I assumed all these types of documents were in Puerto Rico or that I would have to travel down town to the family history library. Boy was I wrong & boy was I happy that I was wrong. This has opened up so many doors for my research & will open up many for yours as well.


I am new to genealogy, but eager to make a connection to my ancestors. I know that by following the paper trail they left behind, it will give me small glimpses into their lives. I'm excited to learn about my roots and better understand where I came from. I hope to then pass that on to my children & so forth.

I read a simple but great quote recently that said:  

"Little “snippets” of story fill our everyday lives and they define who we are. Stories help us to find our place – they create the personal history of a family, a community, and a culture." 

- Marian Giannatti
This blog is my attempt to document my journey as I try to untangle my family roots in Puerto Rico. My goal in documenting my discoveries is to help assist others in their efforts to locate their Puerto Rican ancestors. 

From my research I've learned there are not very many resources available for Puerto Rico, unless you know how to look for them. On here I'll be sharing what steps I took to get where I am, in hopes to help others with similar research. I also hope by publicly writing what I know about my descendants that a relative Googling their names will come upon this blog & contact me with more information.