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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Diana! The dispensas are held in San Juan in an office called the "Archivo Diocesano de San Juan". I'm not sure if they are only for towns in the San Juan area but I know they have Toa Alta there where my ancestors lived. Most of the dispensas start in the 1840s and they do have useful information! It depends who shows up as witnesses though, the dispensa for my 3rd great grandparents didn't mention new names but it did mention his dad and her mom were siblings, and one of my 3rd great grandfather's brothers came as a witness.