Juan Jose Carrillo & Antonia Maria Figueredo Santana: 6th GGPs
I’m still reeling. This was a momentous week in more ways than one. Recently I was compiling a list of African ancestors from the 1870 cedulas, and my cousin Miguel Valentin forwarded some links on FamilySearch for Carrillos in case they might connect.
Then I saw Liza Ceballos’s post on Facebook on Carrillo and in her search on my Carrillo cluster, she collected a couple of posts that happened to be on my line. I couldn’t believe it, my ancestor Simon Carrillo had siblings and now, the names of his parents were in those baptisms. Although I suspected that this line would be the most likely to have a connection to Africa, my DNA percentages were low, and I wondered if i’d ever have a location.
With the name Juan Josef/ Juan Joseph/ Juan Jose Carrillo, I began my search and there was his death certificate– and I was floored. Above is William Snellgrave’s 1734 map of the region of Guinea that my 6th Great Grandfather was taken from made near the time he was born. To have a location identified is so rare, and unexpected since in his children’s records he and his wife are described as ‘morenos libres‘ literally ‘free browns’.
A Free man, a soldier in the Militia, a landowner and farmer in Rio Piedras with a wife and thirteen children. So many questions, so much joy at finding this cluster of family.
En este pueblo de Nuestra Señora del Pilar y en Gloria de San Juan Nepomuceno de Río Piedras a tres de marzo de mil ochocientos y diez años Yo el Beneficiado Don Manuel Marcelino Martínez Cepeda, Presbítero Cura Rector de él por Real Patronato de cepultura eclesiástico en el cementerio de esta Yglesia e hize los oficios de entierro doble con el lia y misa cantadas al cadaver de Juan José Carrillo mis feligreses, natural de Guinea de edad de sesenta y cuatro años poco más o menos, negro libre y soldado cumplido de la Primera Compañía de Milicias Disciplinadas de Infantería que en común de Nuestra Santa Señora madre yglesia murió en su propia estancia Citio de los Ranchos de mi jurisdicción. Donde administran los santos sacraméntales de penetencia en [ ] y extrema unción: otorgó su testamento a estilo militar el diez de febrero del presente año, por ante Dn Francisco Roman subteniente del Regimiento de Milicias Urbanas de esta Ysla en la Compañía de Guaynabo de mancomún con la esposa el cual dispone su entierro de modo dicho con cuatro acompañados, mandado se celebran ocho misas resadas por su alma y las de purgatorio a nuestra señora del Rosario y del Carmen con tres más que fuera del su testamento en cargo de su hijo Joseph Vicente. Declaró había casado y velado en infacie eccles, con María Antonia de Figueredo, morena libre de este matrimonio deja trece hijos nombrados Simón, Juana Hilaria, Ysabel María, María Magdalena, José Vicente, Miguel, Cacimira, Ambrosía, Félix, Theodora, Roberto, Víctorio y Juan a quienes instituyó por ser legítimos herederos y por sus Albaceas su hijo y Victorio Marín su yerno de que doy fe.
Manuel Martínez Cepeda
In this town of Our Lady of Pilar and Glory of Juan Nepomuceno de Rio Piedras on the 3rd of March one thousand eight hundred and ten years I the Incumbent Don Manuel Marcelino Martínez Cepeda, Priest Rector for him by Royal Patronage for ecclesiastic burial in the cemetery of this Church and made double burial services with the [ ] and sung masses for the cadaver of Juan Jose Carrillo of my parish, natural of Guinea of the age of sixty four years more or less, free Black and soldier of the First Company of Disciplined Militias of Infantry. that in common with Our Sacred Mother Church died on his proper farm Place of the Ranches under my jurisdiccion. Where was administered the Holy Sacraments of Penitence and Extreme Unction: He gave his will in military style the tenth of February of this year, before Don Francisco Roman sublieutenant of the Regiment of Urban Milicias of this Island in the Company of Guaynabo jointly with his wife who arranged his burial so said with four accompanying. mandated that eight prayed masses for his soul and for purgatory to Our Lady of the Rosary and of Carmen with three more besides that of his will in charge of his son Joseph Vicente. Declares having married and veiled in presence of the congregation with Maria Antonia de Figuredo, free brown woman: of this marriage leaves thirteen children named Simón, Juana Hilaria, Ysabel María, María Magdalena, José Vicente, Miguel, Cacimira, Ambrosía, Félix, Theodora, Roberto, Víctorio y Juan to whom he instituted as his legitimate heirs and for his Executors, his son and Victorio Marin his son in law that I bear witness.
Manuel Martinez Cepeda
7th GGPs: Francisco Figueredo & Ana Santana
Antonia Maria Figueredo Santana dies at the age of 100 years in San Juan in 1830. Born about 1730, her parents are Francisco Figueredo and Ana Santana. I’m still researching and it seems she had at least one half sibling. Francisco gained his freedom sometime between 1711 and 1713. Records are fragmentary and i’m searching for more information.
For all the damaged and lost records I have seen for Puerto Rico, it is a miracle to learn their names. I want to thank all those who make the search easier, and possible via transcriptions & indexes- Yvonne Santana Rios, Yvette Izquierdo, distributed by Anna Bayala on her site Genealogia Nuestra, FS, the sharing of information in Facebook groups and list-serves, the DNA matches that come to be friends and family. There will be more to come…
“The question is, who owns the rights to the violence of the past? Is it the victim or the perpetrator? ” — Tamara Lanier, Free Renty
This week, I attended a Together Films virtual screening of Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard, organized by genealogist Nicka Smith. Directed by David Gruber, the documentary covers the years that Tamara K. Lanier contacted and was rebuffed by Harvard University in acknowledging her claim on the image of Renty, her great-great-great grandfather. She launched her lawsuit against Harvard with Attorney Benjamin Crump and Josh Koskoff. Also appearing are author Ta-Nehisi Coates and scholars Ariella Azoulay and Tina Campt, who provide insights into the situation as the legal process unfolds.
The film provides a larger context for the case that traces a larger social shift, one that recognizes the need for reparations and social justice as litigation moved forward. There are interviews with Agassiz descendants and various scholars who believe it’s time for the university to recognize the descendants of the enslaved.
From the perspective of the university, it’s a different frame, where collections and museums are immune to real life claims from people with familial or cultural connections to what’s on display. Yet today, there are many calls for decolonization and requests for the return of objects, which point to multiple instances of theft and appropriation as the mechanism that created many museum collections. Legal structures are created to deal with the situation, such as NAGPRA (the Native American Graves Protection Act).
“If colonialism and ethnographic exploitation depend on appropriation, one must acknowledge that what is taken can always be taken back.” Brian Wallis (1996)
Back in 1996, curator Brian Wallis outlined the problem of knowledge that the daguerrotypes offer within the larger context of slave ownership in the 1850s. He traced the events of their making in Columbia, South Carolina, the culmination of Agassiz’ visit to several plantations in Columbia arranged by Dr. Robert W Gibbes, local doctor and collector. In 1850 the white population of Columbia was 6,000 and its enslaved population was 100,000. These were sites that relied on the use of violence as a means of control. That violence also left its mark across the subjects of Louis Agassiz’ collection of daguerrotypes.
Agassiz wanted images of ‘pure’ Africans to demonstrate his racist theory of polygenesis (multiple origins for humankind), at the bottom of his racial hierarchy. That fundamentally pro-slavery view erased the essential humanity of the enslaved, obscuring what Dana Ramey Berry called their ‘soul value’. The resulting lack of empathy supported the plantation business that underpinned the US economy of the nineteenth century.
In other words, these images are Agassiz’ trophies, his collection of ‘objects’ that reinforce a patriarchal white supremacy tied to a fundamentally coercive practice of image making. Any connection to family and descent of those subjugated becomes fragile if not invisible, a regard not intended to survive beyond the collection.
Here there are no conventions that link Joseph T Zealy’s 15 images to portraits, beyond the fancy leather case and the daguerrotype’s velvet setting. The images were forgotten and rediscovered in the preparation of an inventory at the Peabody Museum in 1975. Tamara Lanier learned of the images in 2011, and realized her connection. They are the oldest images of enslaved people extant, taken without permission, stolen images from subjects made possible by coercive force.
This April, Harvard released the report Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery. In some 60 pages, it outlines how the university profited and erased that history. However, the document is silent on Lanier’s claim to the images of her ancestors.
The report’s first recommendation is to “Engage and Support Descendant Communities by Leveraging Harvard’s Excellence in Education.”  The project of reparations by surrendering the images makes an object lesson in decolonizing the museum, and create common ground with the Descendant Community of which Lanier is part of.
In 2020, I attended a webinar on the Zealy daguerrotypes, an introduction to a new volume of essays, To Make Their Own Way in the World on the 15 daguerrotypes of enslaved people taken by Joseph T Zealy, in South Carolina. I asked the panel: “Can you share thoughts about the Lanier connection to Renty? Mentioned was suspected he survived the Civil War, and what of this personal side of the image?” The question was never considered, and nothing said about Tamara Lanier. The images are instead, objects that are to be endlessly studied, endlessly caught in the frame of enslavement, subjugation and colonization.
Free Renty: Lanier v. Harvard is important to think with in terms of what we do as BIPOC genealogists, as similar dynamics haunt the practice of genealogy. Whose story is being told and where? What do we do with the intersection of state organized violence and the fabric of our family histories? Where is the accountability of the institutions involved in the enslavement of our ancestors? How are communities of enslaved descendants supported or ignored? Who gets to tell the story of Papa Renty and his family?
The book, edited by Yve Chavez & Nancy Marie Mithlo “examines how creative arts and memory institutions selectively commemorate or often outright ignore stark histories of colonialism.”
My piece for the volume: “Dying to Know You: Critical Insights from a case study of Indigenous Representations in Museums of the Early Republic.” Brings together a lot! I want to thank them for their help in getting this work out. Thanks to Blanca Gordo, who encouraged me to write the essay. Bomatum! (With thanks!)
It’s available for pre-order, with a 30% discount, see flyer for code.
ANUNCIÓS. El alcalde de la Moca ha participado al Excmo. Sr. Gobernador y Capitán General en oficio de 6 del corriente, que en la hacienda de Luis Masconabe, vecino de aquel partido; se ha aparecido un negro natural de Africa, de estatura baja, los dientes de la mandíbula superior apartados y altos podridos, en la inferior uno menos, varias rayas floreadas en el pecho, algunas cicatrices en el cuerpo y la espaldas, dice llamarse Basilio, que es lo único que sabe expresar en castellano, la nariz muy chata, boca y pies chicos, tiene al pie del labio inferior una cicatriz, casi imperceptible y de 20 a 25 años de edad. 
In November 1839 Basilio, a young African man, attempted to gain his freedom. Instead, he was imprisoned at a nearby hacienda in Moca until he was recovered by his enslaver. This announcement for Basilio ran over three days — November 26, 28 and 30 — in the pages of the official government newspaper, La Gazeta de Puerto Rico. The ad describes aspects of his physical appearance, intended to make it impossible for him to escape notice.
According to the notice, a combination of forces were informed about Basilio . The search was authorized by highest ranks of local government, the Mayor, the Governor and Captain General. Why such a representative show of state power? Because he was one of many who decided to escape bondage in Puerto Rico during the 1830s.
Leaving the plantations
On 26 Jun 1838, Ramon Mendez de Arcaya wrote to the Third General Command (Comandancia General de 3er, Departamento Militar de la Isla) to inform them of the recent escapes of groups of five, six and seven enslaved men. They escaped by sea, from the beach Playa de Espinal on the coast of Aguada. Some lived in town without authorization, their enslavers unaware of their location. Mendez was sure they hadn’t punished them for this. 
Moving late at night, they took some of the small boats and canoes to make their way for Santo Domingo, stopping at the small island of Desecheo off the coast of Mayaguez. One group’s canoe failed, and they were picked up by a passing ship. This group he explained, went a distance to escape, as one was from much further away in Moca, and the others from Aguadilla. He suggested he would beef up his night patrols.
By 23 August a several page long notice, listing 12 heads of various military posts in the NW, outlined curfews, necessary permissions for those fishing by boat off the coast, and specified that no enslaved person would be permitted access to a ship or a town after 8PM. The penalty was a fine that doubled with each infraction. [ 3]
Trafficking & stealing freedom
On 26 November 1839, Luis Maisonave Duprey’s Anuncio sat at the top of the notices. The second time it ran, it was preceded by notice of an African man, Silvestre, who escaped from the hacienda of D. Joaquin de Neyra in Loiza. Neyra promised that whoever captured Silvestre would be appropriately compensated. 
An announcement followed for an unnamed Black African man, 40 years old, apprehended in the mountains of Barrio Almirante, Vega Baja. He was sent to the prison in the presidio in San Juan until his enslaver could retrieve him.
Next, is a notice for don Julian Garcia’s desire to purchase an enslaved Black or mulatto child, alive and without defects. After the lost horse and the offer of all kinds of black silk by hat maker Nicolas Martin, comes a notice about an enslaved man imprisoned since the end of July. Juan Jose Alvarez, 34, an enslaved mulatto man from Fajardo, was also sent to the prison in the presidio in San Juan. As with Basilio and Silvestre, the power of the Governor, Captain General and the Mayor were disposed to this arrangement, and note that “the announcement in the Gazette about their capture was so the news reached the owner and he could formally obtain them.”
Above Maisonave’s Anuncio for 28 November, was a reissued public notice from the War Court on the upcoming sale of the enslaved man Francisco on the morning of 2 December, at the doors of the Auditor General’s office in San Juan. Beneath the remainder of the Anuncio, there’s a request for teachers for an elementary school in Guayama for both boys and girls.
After the appeal for teachers, interested parties should ask the female enslaver about the sale of a Black boy 8-9 years old and a Black girl 14-15 years old, via the Gazeta’s office. An estancia for sale in Bayamon and finally, offered for sale is a young Black woman with her newborn. The ad notes her milk is good and abundant, and with her knowledge of cooking, washing and ironing her price is 400 pesos. No names are given, just an address, Calle de los Cuarteles 32, the barracks just beyond the Presidio, an older building that precedes the massive structure built in 1854 that still stands today. These are such brief glimpses of lives processed by a range of institutions that happen to ignore an essential humanity when money is at stake. 
Who was Basilio?
Born in Africa between 1814-1819 as he was 20-25 years of age, Basilio was short man. He is described as having a small mouth, small feet and a very flat nose. Given his age he may have worked some of the most labor intensive aspects of the plantation he escaped from. Conditions were enough for him to decide to chance his freedom.
While the skin of his trunk and shoulders were covered with scars, his chest bore ‘varias rayas floreadas’ a pattern of stripes. This was the result of a coming of age ceremony somewhere in West or Sub-Saharan Africa before his capture. His ‘rayas floreadas’ literally ‘flowering stripes’ were an elaborate pattern that may have combined lines with raised scars to create an effect of rows ready to blossom across his chest, rather than a geometric pattern. These country marks were a feature that would enable a group to read and recognize their relationship. The use of ritual scarification increased as a result of raiding peoples for the slave trade. 
The description of his scars may outline a hierarchy of control, with the scars on his trunk and shoulders likely scarred by inflicted violence. These scars come after mention of those marks that visually identified Basilio as part of a community, perhaps recognizable to other African-born people enslaved on the hacienda. Some probably helped him make his way towards Playa del Espinal in Aguada, to find a way out of his situation before he was caught in Moca.
The announcement mentioned that his lower lip bore a smaller scar, almost faint, and difficult to see unless he was examined closely. The notice is an invitation to go beyond the clothes and orifices to compare the details. Was this scar the trace of an injury? Is this something his enslaver would recall? His teeth were broken, some were missing and others went bad, all testament to his treatment as he came to adulthood. Was he smuggled into Puerto Rico? And for language, the only word of Castillian that Basilio knew was his name, Basilio.
Where was he from? What was his fate that December 1839?
 “III.1 Ramon Mendez, Comandancia General del 3er, Departamento Militar de la Isla, 26 Jul 1848.” Benjamin Nistal Moret, Esclavos Profugos y Cimarrones, Puerto Rico, 1770-1870. Editorial UPR, 1984, 233-234.
”Excelentismo Senor Don Miguel Lopez de Banos, Gobernador y Captian General de esta Isla, 23 Aug 1838.” Benjamin Nistal Moret, Esclavos Profugos y Cimarrones, Puerto Rico, 1770-1870. Editorial UPR, 1984, AGPR, RSGPR, E.23, B.64 (editado), 234-238.
Part 3: Gathering Information & Pulling it all together
Gathering Data: What the Acta de Defuncion tells us
Four key facts can be gleaned from Juana Nepomucena Caban’s 1888 death certificate:
Juana Nepomucena Caban was of advanced age
Juana was widowed
she had 14 children with Carlos Mendez… and,
Carlos’ death preceded hers.
As Carlos Mendez is not in the Libro de defunciones, Registro Civil (Book of Deaths, Civil Register) for Moca or nearby municipalities, he probably died before 1885, the year this record set begins.
However, Carlos Mendez appears in land rentals and deeds for 1851 in notary documents. In Caja 1444 for Moca, he is mentioned as a neighbor in Barrio Cruz in two documents. Still, this bit of information helps place the family in a specific barrio (ward), adds a date, and can help in finding additional documents.
First, review the document in question– what information is there?
What questions do you seek to answer? What’s your research question?
Create a detailed extract, so you can focus in on the relevant details.
Make Your Own Extracts & Transcriptions
Given the handwriting across the documents in the Civil Registers, it’s often easier to refer to an extract than reread a document with difficult handwriting, so…
A good extract contains more than just a name and a date.
The informant (Declarante or Informante) is identified. This could be anyone from a relative, neighbor, doctor or local official, etc. depending on the circumstances.
Witnesses (Testigos) may or may not be relatives. Sometimes they were locals entrusted with signing off on documents and not related to the persons listed.
The informant’s identity can be a clue as to how reliable the information in the certificate is. Depending on the years, a birth, marriage or death record can provide the names of additional family members, neighbors or officials involved in the reporting of the event.
Officials- Before 1910, Juez de Paz (Justice of the Peace) Secretario or Encargados del Registro Civil (Secretary or Clerk of the Civil Register) appear at the start and end of documents.
Knowing who was the official can provide context. This might be connected to the family in some way, particularly if we are studying rural areas. The further back in time, the more likely this is the situation.
Note any discrepancy between the date of the document registration and the date of the event. This can make quite a bit of difference in birth registrations- some people finally had their birth registered as adults. In terms of death records, the deceased is often buried the following day. It is unusual for the remains to be kept beyond 2-3 days prior to interment.
In early church records, the cemetery surrounded the church building, and municipal cemeteries come later. Later in the nineteenth century, cemeteries were moved out of the town centers, and established further away as a better understanding of illness and germs take hold and public health becomes a field of study. For Moca, the church was built in 1853, and the cemetery located a few blocks away. The old cemetery was moved about 1953.
Source the document, so you can locate the original (or its duplicate) in future. If it’s on FamilySearch, copy the Citation and paste it into your notes or genealogy program.
Reexamine the original document periodically– errors can enter when transcribing. You may find there’s a significant detail missed on the initial reading.
If you have access to original documents, learn to do your own transcribing and tackle that document. Just because a person is on someone’s tree, or it’s a database search result doesn’t mean it’s correct. Age, gender even surnames may be incorrectly noted.
Cause of death may point to health issues that run in a family, or mention of accidents, instances of deliberate harm, etc.
Older documents may list paternal and maternal grandparents in series of birth and death registrations.
Here’s my extract, in Spanish.
This level of detail is helpful when you’re researching a brick wall, and notice most of this information doesn’t come up at all on the FS transcription, so definitely check out the document whenever possible.
Juana Nepomucena Caban [Nieves’] death certificate is available on FamilySearch ( & on Ancestry):
Information is knowledge: Reviewing what you’ve got
So, here is someone born near the start of the 1800s, a widow, identified as ‘white’, who had 14 children, ten of whom were still alive in 1888. We also have the name of her husband and the ward she died in.
Her son Jose Sertoris Mendez was the informant, and she was a widow. Note whether there is mention of a will— here, it’s not even mentioned.
Note that in this case, her son Jose Sertoris Mendez, like the majority of people who lived before 1900 in Puerto Rico, did not know how to write, and so, don Alvaro Lopez, signed on his behalf. This too has implications for records.
Who are Juana Nepomucena Caban’s Parents?
Yet, there’s an issue here— Juana Nepomucena Caban’s parents do not appear on the death certificate, which helps to confirm whether she actually is a Caban Nieves. Since she died a widow in 1888, both her death and that of her husband Carlos Mendez predates the first US Federal Census of 1910. As a search of the Civil Registration and the Index up to 1888 didn’t yield her husband, so he probably died before 1885.
What kind of documents are available? There are parish records, municipal documents and newspapers. If possible, secure a parish record from the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Monserrate in Moca. Check other trees, as there’s a chance another descendant may have already obtained one (hopefully with citations).
In this case, my cousin, Rosalma Mendez shared a set of extracts from the baptismal records that helped to fill in details that I’ve kept together with other early records. Working collaboratively, she is also a member of Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos. Before 2008, members of the group made transcriptions during appointments at the office of La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate that we shared with each other. These lists can still contain surprises years later.
Together with the birth year of the youngest child, a date range for Carlos’ death record can be figured out, and also a range for Juana’s childbearing years. Death records in Puerto Rico often have ages that are rounded up, and a largely rural existence paired with high rates of illiteracy meant many literally did not know when they were born.
Remember, since the person reporting is not the person named in the document (it’s a death certificate, right?), there can be errors in the information provided.
Ok, so let’s see what we can find out from records for her immediate family.
According to this Acta de Defuncion, Juana Nepomucena Caban and Don Carlos Mendez’ 14 children in the death record were:
Rita, Felix, Zenaida, Manuel deceased; Carlos, Sertoris, Marcelino, Nepomuceno, Margaro, Asenciano, Adelaida, Dolores, Ysabel y Nemesi[a] Mendez Caban.
Thanks to two additional records for Gregorio and Ermenegilda Mendez Caban, the couple’s total so far is actually 16 children. If a child died young, they may not be included among those listed in the parent’s death record, their Actas de Defuncion.
I used FamilySearch.org to locate a number of the records for the children, as these results can be more easily searched than in Ancestry.com‘s Puerto Rico Civil Registration record searches. On the other hand, both sites have family trees, and the large database that Ancestry has may turn something up, so it’s worth checking whether there are sources on the tree.
More questions… questioning death records
When I added the children’s information, I found was that their actual dates are much later than anticipated. This puts in question the 1808 year of birth from Juana Nepomucena’s age on the death certificate as eighty.
According to records, her births happened between 1832-1865. Children who died at young age are often left off the death certificates of their parents decades later, so it’s good to search the surname to find anyone else. Transcriptions for her children’s baptisms added very helpful details.
Ultimately, it turns out Juana’s age in the death record is incorrect, as her last child, (unmentioned among the children in her death record), is Ermenegilda Mendez Caban, born about 1865. Given Ermenegilda’s year of birth, if we use Juana Nepomucena Caban’s 1808 date means Juana was about 57, which is a little beyond childbearing years. The children’s years of birth range from 1832-1865, with a young mother born at ca. 1815- 1820.
How does that extra aging happen? Ages in death certificates are often rounded up, so a person can have an additional 5 to 10 years or more added on to get closer to 80, 90 or 100 years of age. Add the notation that records someone signed on behalf of the informant, is another clue that age can be a relative thing in these documents. The focus in daily life then was not so much on holding written documentation, but was dominated by the rhythm of the agricultural cycle. Much of the population during the nineteenth century was illiterate. Also, there were centenarians— but their records have more consistency in terms of age across time.
A maternal surname still missing…
We still need a record that will estabish Juana’s maternal surname, a big help when one is dealing with multiple families that share the same surname and a popular first name. Unfortunately, the records in the Civil Registers can fail to mention a maternal surname, or lack the name of a spouse or of parents. Depending on the time period, they can provide the names of parents and even grandparents. Having a single surname can be a clue to ethnicity and social status— POC in the earlier run of the Civil Register often appear with a single surname, for different reasons, because of former enslavement or birth to a single mother, or even father.
Thanks to Rosalma, the cousin who shared those transcriptions of baptism records for two of Juana and Carlos’s children- Gregorio and Maria Cenaida (Zenaida) Mendez Caban — we now see conflicting surnames for their maternal grandparents. For Gregorio, the maternal grandparents are Juan Caban and Juana Hernandez, and for Maria Cenaida, they are Juan Caban and Juana Lopez.
Whenever possible, check the original and cross reference to determine whether the error was made in transcription or by the recording secretary or, the informant.
As there are no documents for Gregorio Mendez Caban in the Civil Registration, he probably died at a tender age, and the baptismal record is likely all that’s available on him.
It’s also possible that Juana Nepomucena’s potential mother, Juana Hernandez, has both surnames in question as Juana Hernandez Lopez. Women in records prior to the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century— could appear under either their mother’s or father’s surname, emphasizing the maternal line, or out of paternal recognition later on.
Still, even with the conflicting information, we have the names of Juana Nepomucena Caban’s father and her mother’s first name: Juan Caban and Juana —. As of yet, there is no further information regarding a possible second marriage for Juana’s husband Carlos Mendez.
And here we are…
So, based on two baptismal records, Juana Nepomucena was not a Caban Nieves after all. There is a discrepancy, and whether she was a Caban Hernandez or a Caban Lopez still remains to be resolved. That’s ok.
And often, it can’t be done alone, and best done in community to share the bits that may hold the answer to the mystery. You don’t have to go it alone, so look for groups sharing information about a given geographic area or for Puerto Rican genealogy overall. Ask. Between the years 1850 and 1888, details can certainly change across documents, and that’s why we need to do exhaustive searches.
If you’re related, or have info on Carlos Mendez or Juana Nepomucena Caban, please share!
 APNSMM Bautismos, Libro 15 21/MAR/52 nació: 6/p pg. 15 v; Maria Cenaira HL Carlos Méndez y Juana Caban; Abuelos paternos: Federico [Francisco] Méndez y Rosa Hernández; Abuelos maternos: Juan y Juana López; Padrinos: Silverio Aviles y Maria Adelaida Méndez;
22/MAY/1859 nació 9/MAY días pg. 49v Gregorio HL: Carlos Méndez y Nepoconucema Caban. Abuelos Paternos: Francisco Méndez y Rosa Hernández; Abuelos Maternos: Juan Caban y Juana Hernandez Padrinos: Juan de la Cruz Hidalgo y Maria Adelaida Mendez Transcriptions courtesy of Rosalma Mendez, 2006.
This blog post is the first of a 3 part case study that shows a process of resolving name discrepancies. The sections offer Part 1: An overview , Part 2: Dealing with data and then Part 3: Making sense of the bits — gleaning details and pulling it together.
Part One: An Overview
Today, searching for ancestor matches with DNA cousins involves a more intensive use of records that predate 1885. That’s before the 1910 census and the Civil Registration, which began in Puerto Rico in 1885. Various documents cover births, marriages and deaths, three major life events marked by ritual and documents.
Categories, gender, vital documents
First, think about the ways that gender roles and social expectations can shape the information in these documents. 19th-20th C PR society was stratified, meaning that privilege came with white male property holder status at the top. This wasn’t guaranteed. Status could shift over time, often in response to changes in law and downturns in the economy. And it wasn’t just men. Note that women could own and inherit land and run businesses, so they too may appear in more documents.
Life changed in significant ways in the hundred years between 1800-1900. With enough information we may learn why a family’s fortune rose and fell over time. Some recently freed were able to purchase land and property. Yet laws that limited the ability of people to purchase property increased later in the century. This wasn’t necessarily linked to illiteracy, for in Moca, POC had higher rates of literacy in a largely illiterate society. When tracing formerly enslaved ancestors one needs to review many kinds of documents to see where they may be mentioned.
Ultimately, many different ancestries blended on the island. Still, there can be problems in tracing descent along maternal lines, particularly if one is just focusing on male heads of household. There were many female headed households among African or Afro-Indigenous descended families. Laws enforced the use of single surnames and descriptive terms of color to distinguish free and unfree people from those in power.
Names can change over time. Among the reasons people changed surnames was as a result of parents remarrying, or to recognize paternity by using their father’s surname as a maternal surname. Some simply used a maternal surname to have another identity. You maybe able to find out why and add that story to your family history.
Knowing Where to Go Next
To all of these reasons for potential variations in sources, add the gaps in record sets. A range of techniques is needed to solve these riddles of identity and complete a reasonably exhaustive search.
One helpful book for determining the range of extant records for parishes across the island is Rodriguez-Leon OP’s La Microdemografica Parroquial de Puerto Rico.  Access to these records can vary. Some are microfilmed and while some parishes have refused the filming of their records, there is an effort underway to digitize and centralize records through the Archivo Diocesano in San Juan, and the SPG (Sociedad Puertorriquena de Genealogia) has transcriptions and books available for members (and some transcriptions for non-members).
Four parishes did not film their archives in the late 1980- early 1990s project by the LDS, yet several related sets of parish and municipal were uploaded to the FamilySearch.org site. They’ve reorganized the search page. Scroll down. Note how the database now clusters related resources beneath the search panel. Look at surrounding municipalities as they may have relatives there as well.
Protestant records begin after the Spanish American War. As I’m going to discuss the early to late nineteenth centuries, parish records will be for the Catholic Church, supplemented by available notarial documents. Next, to consider an 1888 death record for Juana Nepomucena Caban who died age 80 in Moca.
 Mario A. Rodriguez-Leon OP’s Los Registros Parroquiales y La Microdemografica Parroquial de Puerto Rico. Centro de Estudios Avanzados, San Juan, PR 1986.
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 2008, Lulu.com
I’ll be honest, researching this hasn’t been easy. I’ve written on historical moments that make for profound discomfort— early museum exhibits of Native American body parts and remains; the fact that the best known museum owner of his day (Peale) held a nuclear family (the Williams) in bondage, and that eugenics permeates a lot of what went for reasoning and genealogy in the early twentieth century (PPIE) among them.
Now I’m tracing the east coast version of history for the National Genealogical Society, as I did with the involvement and implications of California Genealogical Society’s participation at the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) of 1915. As someone who identifies as Indigenous, of ‘triracial’ descent, this is an alarming and disquieting history that ultimately led to the targeting of populations via law, via extrajudicial acts and other processes. But that’s often hidden from view, left for excavation decades later, with many unaware of such violent activities.
Early genealogical societies were mostly composed of people who suffered from a bad, if not terminal case of negrophobia, today called anti-Blackness. Faced with the diversity that began to surround them, instead of helping, they instead focused on elevating the settlers and confederates, legitimizing theft, slavery and genocide. Such racist beliefs conceived of genealogy as a wall against the Great Migration, Eastern Europeans, Italians, people out of the Caribbean, basically anywhere that wasn’t Northern Europe.
This is part of the early history of genealogy, which was not intended as a practice for people like me; it was a practice tied to documentation rather than oral history; to enslavers rather than the enslaved, not for those living in poverty or those who arrived from other shores.
The 1880s-1910s were the heyday of fraternal, veteran and memorial organizations, and genealogical organizations represented a way of holding on to supremacy by claiming lineages, reinforced by membership in other organizations.
The interconnections between organizations is something that remains to be explored, and some of the links help explain responses to the varying pace of social change and motivations for their choice of organizations. For many of the early founders there’s little information , so that facts are atomized across a variety of archives. Some organizations, like the NY Southern Society, founded in 1882, simply disposed of their archives after it folded in 1972. Information can be scant.
Still, I believe there’s much to be learned simply by following the meetings and overlapping memberships of these organizations. Where these paths lead says much about the history & politics that surrounded the early practice of genealogy and much like confederate memorials, what they tried to deny.
I’ve finally submitted the materials, tables and text to accompany Part 3 of the Missing Registro Central de Esclavo volume for Northwest Puerto Rico to Hereditas. This set of transcriptions of cedulas are from Caja 2 (item 2) of 1870. The essay focuses on facets of the lives of 55 enslaved people held by Cristobal Benejam Suria or Serra in 1870, a Menorcan who arrived in Puerto Rico about 1817. Other family members were also enslavers. Several Benejam family clusters are traced from the cedula through the Registro Civil and census records, to reconstruct some of their history.
As it turns out, when I mentioned my project to my cousin, Julio Enrique Rivera, he mentioned that his dad, Julio Ester Rivera (looking very dapper in the photo above) was a Benejan. His great grandfather was Ricardo Benejam Vargas (1848-1924) born into slavery, the child of Maria Antonia Vargas and Pedro Benejam. This is Ricardo’s cedula of 1870.
I am struck by how fragmented some of the resources available are.
Some of the documents i’m looking at:
Municipal Document series – Censo y riqueza de Moca 1850
Cedulas, Registro Central de Esclavos
What I wish there were more of for NWPR: census, contracts, notary documents; basically a database that can help descendants pull these fragments together.
As for books & articles, am rereading Benjamin Nistal-Moret’s “The Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico” (1985). I’d like to use the tables as a model for what I am working on, which is information missing from the numbers he is using. This was “the first time in Puerto Rican historiography, an analysis of this magnitude has been completed with a computer.” He tells an interesting story about locating a missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos volume at the Library of Congress, microfilming it and returning it during the summer of 1975. As he did his work in the 1980s, his statistical work was entered onto punch cards of a computer program used in sociology. Which volume it was, Nistal-Moret doesn’t say.
I wonder how much archival material was lost, for instance, after the US returned the series of documents of the Gobernadores Espanoles – T1121 Record Group 186- Records of the Spanish Governors of Puerto Rico (impounded on the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1898) were transferred to the National Archives in 1943 and returned to Puerto Rico by joint resolution in 1957. The microfilm of the Registro de Esclavos and the Registro Central de Esclavos are part of that huge series, and NARA has a free version at the link above.
What I try to do in this series of articles are mini-histories of persons that appear on the 6 x8″ cedulas. Connecting someone in 1870 to their appearance in the Registro Civil that begins in 1885. The process takes time, as there is no mention of enslavement, save in the surname ‘Liberto.’ Some take different surnames, while many kept their enslaver’s name, or took that of a different owner when sold before 1870.
Some of the descendants of Luisa Benejan born about 1819 appear among the cedulas of Caja 4 of the Registro de Esclavos, while three appear in the Registro Civil. She doesn’t turn up on the Registro Civil. Still, the documents together reconstruct her family.
Also reconstructed are early family trees for Pedro Benejam of Moca, born about 1817 in Moca, and who partnered with Maria Antonia Vargas, who lived until 1902 and lived in Bo. Pueblo, Moca. Among their descendants is where my cousin Julio Enrique Rivera’s line connects. The families created after emancipation were often female headed households, with daughters that worked in the local service economy, and sons in agricultural labor.
We must continue to say their names.
Ricardo, 22, 3531. Caja 4, Registro de Esclavos, 1867-1876. “Puerto Rico Slave Registers, 1863-1879”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-Z3WY-S?cc=3755445 : 21 October 2021), > image 1 of 1.
Benjamin Nistal Moret, “Problems in the Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico During the Process of Abolition, 1872”. Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Frank Moya Pons & Stanley L. Engerman, eds.Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth Century, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1985, 141- 57.
Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco’s introduction to Puerto Rican genealogy includes an overview of the challenges & opportunities researching ancestors enslaved and free.
Join us for this virtual program.
Y tu abuela, donde esta?: An Introduction to Puerto Rican Genealogy
Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco’s introduction to Puerto Rican genealogy includes an overview of the challenges & opportunities researching ancestors enslaved and free, available resources and strategies for getting started. Bring your questions! Handout available.
Ellen Fernandez-Sacco works to connect people to their ancestors. One of her book projects highlights the connections between slavery, genealogy and family histories in nineteenth century Puerto Rico. She has published articles on American museums, genealogy, eugenics, and the history of mundillo— traditional Puerto Rican lace making. Past President of the California Genealogical Society, she received her doctorate in Art History from UCLA. Her most recent article is “Reconstructing the missing Registro Central de Esclavos for NW PR.” Hereditas (2021).
My mother has made the transition, completing her life on earth. She was 85 years old, almost making it to her 86th; if she had lived just a little longer, she would have welcomed another great-grandchild into the world. Losing her is devastating, and comfort that her suffering has ended. She was my connection to Puerto Rico, madre, madre tierra. She brought me and my siblings into the world, a feat that leaves me in awe of mothers everywhere. It was she who taught me to read by the time I was 3, yet she herself had little schooling, only making it to 4th or 5th grade, and few days in the classroom. She felt the loss of her mother profoundly at age 6, she and her siblings placed with relatives; she then lost her father at age 13. With the money from a settlement that came after being hit by a car, she was sent to New York City. She was part of the post-war diaspora out of Puerto Rico, people streaming to cities for factory work, encouraged by recruiters or family to find opportunities. Her siblings, Alex, Fredy and Maria preceded her arrival, and their lives intertwined against the backdrop of NYC and her 60 year marriage to my father. We are bereft and in grief at her passing, and we send her love, across time and space. Seneko kakona, QEPD
Funeral Details for Luddy Fernandez Babilonia
Merritt Funeral Home
Tuesday, 7 September Visitation, 10:30am to 11:30am Chapel service, 11:30am
Merritt Funeral Home : 4095 Mariner Blvd, Spring Hill Chapel (352)686-6649
Interment at Florida National Cemetery at 1:30pm Florida National Cemetery: 6502 SW 102nd Ave, Bushnell, FL 33513