Recently, my cousin Maara asked me to explore her great grandmother’s line, Maria Monserrate Malave Ayala, and that of her first cousin, Maria Angela Malave Vazquez and her husband, based in Barrio Rosario, San German. Among them is an African ancestor, Juan Tomas Gandulla, who lived nearly 90 years and built a foundation for his family. My hope is that further information will come to light concerning his African origins whether through documents, or via the DNA of his descendants- please feel free to reach out.
Most of Tomas Gandulla’s life took place within the boundaries of the municipality of San German, in the southwest of Puerto Rico.
The Landscape of San German
In the nineteenth-early twentieth century, some Gandulla families lived in San German; that of Juan Tomas Gandulla lived in Barrio Rosario Penon, on a peak north of the Pueblo close to the southern wards. Thanks to its elevation, coffee was the crop that dominated the plantations in the area of the time.
Separated by two peaks, and further defined by rivers, both the church and the municipality attempted to provide a separate set of services to those in Rosario Penon, in order to bridge the distance.
This 1888 map from the Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico, created by the Spanish military, illustrates the difficulties of traveling between the barrios of El Rosario on the left and Pueblo de San German on the right. The distance from the town center meant additional services needed to be provided. For convenience, i rotated the map’s orientation almost 90 degrees (E-W than N-S) to make it easier to read. One can note the roads and rivers that cross its areas, and Rosario Bajo on the northwest corner of San German.
Unlike the previous map of San German’s wards, this military map provides a sense of the distances involved and the difficulties of getting through the region quickly before the arrival of the automobile decades later. In this sense the map is also political, given its creation in a period after the Grito de Lares and the Spanish American War, a promise of how far government intervention can reach after the repression ofEl Componte. The costs were high, and my cousin Teresa Vega has written about the death of her grandfather by lynching during the 1880s.
The ward is adjacent to Mayaguez’s barrios of Limón and Montoso, both areas where descendants of collateral family eventually lived. Below, the Google satellite map of the ward gives an idea of the hills that cross through the landscape
As the local population needed a place to worship, the church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario was established along with a Chapel near the center of the ward, with services scheduled to a designated priest’s travel there.. After 1885, once the Registro Civil began, the municipal administration used designated persons to bring the information for vital records from barrio El Rosario to barrio Pueblo to the south of San German.
Tomas Gandulla (1809-1887), natural de Africa
“Tomas Liberto de Gandulla, natural de Africa, de ochenta anos de edad, agricultor, domiciliado en dicho Barrio, falleció a las tres de la manana, del día de ayer en su domicilio a consecuencia de “vejez”.”
Juan Tomas or more frequently, Tomas Gandulla, was born in Africa about 1809, taken in slavery and brought to Puerto Rico sometime in the first few decades of the nineteenth century. His status as a freedman was writ large on the title of his death certificate as “Tomas Liberto de Gandulla” on the upper left of the document.
Note that the Secretario’s name 4 lines above is Don Juan Antonio Gandulla, which may account for why Tomas’ name appears as Liberto de Gandulla. His surname points to a Gandulla owner sometime before the 1870s.
His son Basilio Antonio Gandulla served as the informant. Now married, Basilio was a farmer living in Barrio Rosario, and stated his father’s parentage and situation: “Ignorando sus padres. Que no otorgo una memoria extrajudicial, a los mismo declaro manifestando no saber firmar.” “Parents unknown. Declared that he did not execute a will, and that he did not know how to sign his name.” Regardless of this status, it did not stop Tomas Gandulla from being involved with farming on his own account and having a family.  Neither Tomas, his sons or his first wife appear in the Registro de Esclavos de 1872, so that any record of their freedom predates these forms. An additional search of parish records may yield such information as the Tomas Gandulla’s age at baptism and perhaps additional details regarding his origin. As a farmer or laborer before 1887, he may have owned or rented his land, so there may be deeds or contracts mentioning him in municipal records or within the series of notarial documents at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
Maria Josefa Rivera: first wife
“During the nineteenth century, the genealogy of people of color often comprises a lineage from single mothers, free and unfree.”
Tomas Gandulla was married twice, first to Maria Josefa Rivera and then to Maria Angela Malave Vazquez. With Maria Josefa, he had two sons, Basilio Antonio Gandulla Rivera (b. 1853), who married Mercedes Velez Candelario and Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera (b. 1854) who married Juana Maria Candelaria. Both couples had large families, Basilio and Mercedes had at least 7 children, while his brother Jose Cecilio with his wife Juana Maria Candelaria had some 10 children between the 1870s-1900s. Although Tomas and Maria Josefa did not live to see their 17 grandchildren, most of them survived to adulthood.
So far, no additional information on Maria Josefa Rivera was found; she was probably born in the 1830s. Given the mention of ‘Liberto‘ on one of Basilio Gandulla Rivera’s documents, indicates he was born into slavery, which means that at birth according to law, his status followed that of his mother, Maria Josefa Rivera. She too was enslaved. Yet both sons and their families are listed as ‘Mu’ (Mulato) in the 1910 census. She could be of African or Afro-Indigenous or of other admixture descent, born on the island or brought there for sale. Perhaps parish documents hold some clues, if not answers.
Maria Angela Malave Vazquez: 2nd wife, May-December marriage
Maria Angela Malave Vazquez (bca 1862) became Tomas Gandulla’s partner sometime mid-decade in Barrio Rosario Bajo and likely, lived in Barrio Rosario Penon, San German in the early 1880s. This was a December-May relationship, as Tomas was 40 years older than Maria Angela. Given that this marriage took place sometime in the 1880s, opens the possibility of yet another wife, given that Tomas’ previous marriage was two decades earlier. Tomas Gandulla and Maria Angela Malave had two children, Juan Tomas Gandulla Malave (b. 1887) and Maria Monserrate Gandulla Malave (b. 1889) who lived to age 44 and died of tuberculosis in August 1933. She was married to Juan Alicea.
Maria Angela Malave died of Cloro-anemia, a form of iron deficiency anemia in 1902 at the age of 40, some three years after the death of her husband Tomas Gandulla in 1889.
La Mancha del Platano: regard & disregard
Questions remain about the relationship between Tomas Gandulla and Maria Josefa Rivera, how they met and what their lives were like building a family during a time of great transition for POC in Puerto Rico. Despite their freedom, traces of resistant attitudes to emancipation can be found within documents.
The birth certificate for Tomas and Josefa’s granddaughter Maria del Carmen Gandulla Velez contains small details that may reflect the microaggressions endured in daily life by the Gandullas because of their ancestry and class. Does even the documentation bear this kind of disregard? Torn and water stained pages full of insect holes pit the tropical environment against paper, weighted by records for a diverse rural population. Advancing the frames of the microfilm shows that the form beneath this page was not filmed, and the start of the document is covered by the stitched slip, “Nacimientos de 1890, Leg. 31 Exp. 81e” from the Archivo Municipal de San German. it is still remarkable that it survived all this time.
For Basilio and Mercedes’ daughter, Maria del Carmen Gandulla Velez, their child’s name may simply appear as Carmen on the left hand margin, despite her full name appearing in the document, a level of care more often taken with people considered blancos of higher status. In his post for the municipality of San German, Juan Antonio Gandulla— “D. Juan A. Gandulla, Secretario”, was tied to the family who once owned Basilio’s father, and insured that there was no mistake between their lines, so that some social divisions continued. Yet additional documentation may reveal the complexity of relationships and networks that sustained families in Barrio Penon and beyond.
The statement that D. JA Gandulla, recording the birth wrote near the bottom, highlighted in a detail from the birth certificate below was: “Que es prieta por linea paterna de Tomas Liberto de Gandulla y Ma. Jose Rivera.“ “She is black via the paternal line of Tomas Gandulla’s Freedman and Maria Jose Rivera” As secretary, D. Juan A. Gandulla made sure to record the girl’s paternal lineage as black. Yet this identity was far more flexible than the secretary could have imagined, for in the coming decades, the racial identity of the Gandulla grandchildren is recorded as white.
Maria del Carmen Gandulla Candelario
Tomas Gandulla’s son,, Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera and his wife Juana Ramona Candelario also had a daughter, Maria del Carmen Gandulla Candelario, born in February 1890. In this record, Jose Cecilio appears as Jose Cecilio Liberto de Gandulla, and he reported both the birth and the death of his daughter, who only lived for one day.
Again the same Secretario, Juan A. Gandulla inscribed the information for the municipal series Nacimientos de Barrio Rosario de Penon that year. As Jose Cecilio Gandulla and Juana Ramona Candelario were not yet married, the secretary notes the details of their single status. During the nineteenth century, the genealogy of people of color often comprises a lineage from single mothers, free and unfree:
..comparecio Jose Cecilio Liberto de Gandulla, natural de este poblado, mayor de edad, soltero, labrador y vecino de Barrio Ros.o de Penon de S. German, presentando con objeto como padre ilegitimo declaro que se inscriba que era hija natural de Juana Ramona Candelario, natural de San German de 22 anos de edad, soltera, domestica y avecinada en dicho barrio. Que era nieta por linea materna de Ma de la Cruz, natural de San German ya difunta. y a dicha niña ha puesto el nombre de Ma del Carmen…
So, despite Juan Cecilio’s accounting for his identity as father of Maria del Carmen in person, her surname is listed as Candelario, not Gandulla. By 1909 the law was changed to include details concerning paternity, and many women took advantage of this opportunity to amend the birth records to identify the father of a child born out of wedlock. Still, in other municipalities, a father’s willingness to identify his paternity could be followed by the use of his surname for births out of wedlock.
These details suggests that Maria Josefa/Jose Rivera married her husband while they were both enslaved, because their son, Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera appears as ‘Liberto’ — freedman— in the 1890 record for their granddaughter, Maria del Carmen Candelario. As this happens in 1890, not 1870, why was it necessary to continue mentioning the status? Was there a Jose Cecilio Gandulla blanco? or was it simply pulling rank in the rural society of San German?
While no additional information has turned up on his first marriage to Maria Rivera, it is possible that despite enslavement, they married and had a family before 1873-1876. Maria Rivera was alive at least until 1854, when her second son, Jose Cecilio was born.
In the 1910 census, both Jose Cecilio and his brother Basilio Gandulla’s families were working on a coffee plantation, in Barrio Rosario Penon, on the “Camino de San German a Rosario, sendero del Penon, Rio Abajo” (Road from San German to Rosario, path of Penon, Lower River). Their sons are listed as laborers. Jose Cecilio Gandulla’s death certificate of 1926 lists his occupation as “Agricultor— finca de su padre”, which tells us he worked his father’s farm as a farmer, and likely inherited the farm. Over the course of his lifetime across various census records makes visible the change in economies a decade after the Spanish American War.
By 1930, only Basilio Antonio Gandulla remained, and labor there was now devoted to a different crop, sugar.
During the mid-nineteenth century, the area of San German had the major plantation crops of coffee, sugar along with minor crops that fed the population. Without additional documentation, it is difficult to say what other crops the Gandulla grew besides coffee, or what kinds of situations and arrangements they navigated. By the early twentieth century, social conditions and status changed, and these branches of the Gandulla family continued to grow.
Whether family members worked in the fields, or in the home that served as its administrative center, or labored as service people within the town, the cycles of sowing, tending and harvesting, overlaid by the Catholic calendar structured their lives . As the details across documents show, family histories were determined by shifting conditions of freedom, enslavement and class. In 1910, six grandsons of Tomas Gandulla worked as farm laborers, four granddaughters as domestics, a generation born on the cusp of emancipation.
Writing Juan Tomas Gandulla back into history was part of a larger research project for Maara Vazquez., “Finding Maria Monserrate Malave.” March 2018.
A great place to begin understanding what’s at stake with writing the Gandulla back into history is Milagros Denis, review article, “The Problem of Slavery in the Puerto Rican Societ: , Reseña de “Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico” de Luis Figueroa, “La esclavitud menor: la esclavitud en los municipios del interior de Puerto Rico en el siglo XIX” de Mariano Negrón Portillo and Raúl Mayo Santana y “Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico” de Guillermo Baralt. Centro Journal [en linea] 2009, XXI (Sin mes) : [Fecha de consulta: 2 de abril de 2019] Disponible en:<http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=37721248012> ISSN 1538-6279
Centro Geográfico del Ejército, Itinerario de San German a El Rosario por la altura (1888). Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico. https://archivonacional.com/PL/1/1/1290
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ7-VWTG : 17 July 2017), Juan Tomás Gandulla in entry for Juan Tomás Gandulla, 20 Dec 1887; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV1Y-RP5L : 17 July 2017), José Cecilio Liberto Gandulla in entry for María del Carmen Candelario, ; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJZ-PMJ6 : 17 July 2017), Maria del Rosario Varquez Y Acosta in entry for Maria Malavé Y Varquez, 19 May 1902; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJ7-V8M3 : 17 July 2017), María Malavé in entry for María Monserrate Gandulla Y Malavé, 19 Jan 1889; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-82XH : 16 July 2017), Jose Cecilio Gandulla Rivera, 25 Nov 1926; citing San Germán, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
21 Replies to “African Ancestors in San German: Juan Tomas Gandulla and his Family”
This article is well written and very informative. I love it!
Mil gracias Brenda! So glad you enjoyed it!
I want to thank you for all the information you shared reg: Juan Tomas Gandulla
I am one of many grandchildren of Juan Tomas Gandulla Velez, son of Basilio Gandulla Rivera, son of Juan Tomas Gandulla.. We did not have any information on my grandfathers ancestry.. Thank you once again.
Carmen, you’re so welcome! So glad I could share some details from your ancestor’s journey, thanks for letting me know.
Thank you for my family history of The Gandullas!
Wow that’s my grandfathers uncle Juan Tomás Gandulla .. my grandfather hipolito Gandulla was a veteran
Glad you found the page!
Wow, this history is amazing and extremely surprising. Thank you for writing this.
You’re so welcome Carmen- Thanks for reading!
Ellen, thank you for this. My grandfathers name was Hipólito Gandulla Gandulla b 1924. His dad was Ramon Velez Gandulla. I’m assuming his mom was Martina Gandulla Candelario being that I always knew my grandfathers dad married his cousin which is why he carried double the last name. She died and Ramon Velez raised my grandfather and his sisters, Maximina Gandulla b 1926, Ana Luisa Gandulla b 1921 and Maria Elisa Gandulla b 1929. If you’re able to verify this, could you update the genealogy chart? Not sure who Antonio is but I asked around and I’m sure my oldest uncle must know. My grandfather had 10 children and built my grandmother a house on his families land in barrio duey bajo (San German). So happy I found this to share with my family.
Hello Carolina! Maximina is my paternal grandmother and Ana Luisa is my great aunt!
*** updated *** Ellen, thank you for this. My grandfather’s name was Hipólito Gandulla Gandulla, b 1924. His dad was Ramon Gandulla Velez. I’m assuming his mom was Martina Gandulla Candelario being that I always knew my grandfather’s dad married his cousin which is why he carried double the last name. She died while my grandfather was going is what I was told and Ramon Gandulla Velez raised my grandfather and his sisters, Maximina Gandulla b 1926, Ana Luisa Gandulla b 1921 and Maria Elisa Gandulla b 1929. Ramon Gandulla Velez (my grandfathers dad) also had another daughter from a different woman, her name is Inocencia Gandulla, b 1932. If you’re able to verify this, could you update the genealogy chart? Not sure who Antonio Gandulla is but I asked around and I’m sure my oldest uncle must know. My grandfather had 10 children and built my grandmother a house on his families land which had to have been passed down in barrio duey bajo (San German). So happy I found this to share with my family.
You’re so welcome Carmen!
Antonio Gandulla Gandulla died at the age of 5 (1934-21 Nov 1939), which may be why he was not remembered by later family members. You can see his death certificate here: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJX-DGL7
As the blog post is focused on Juan Tomas Gandulla, I didn’t do the rest of the descendants past his grandchildren, which are quite a few. I found a birth registration for Ana Luisa Gandulla, but not the other two sisters you mentioned. Thanks for sharing the post!
This was so cool for me to read, he is my great great great grandfather, my great grandma Alicia Ramos’s grandpa! I was wondering if there were any pictures of him and his family so I could see what my family looked like? Also, was his last name given from the plantation name or from his “owner”? I would love to learn more and I thank you for this information! Also, My great grandmother married her cousin Ismael Sanabria who’s grandfather claimed to be a Ballestar and was also enslaved, do you know of the name?
Antigonie, Thanks so much for your comments! It’s so rewarding to have descendants reach out after finding the post. As for photographs, that’s difficult– many people had their photos taken much later (1940s), as it became more affordable. There may be pictures on Ancestry trees, so look there. There may be an extant cedula from the Registro Central de Esclavos with some physical details on him; besides that there may be notarial documents at the AGPR. Another suggestion is to find the WW1 Draft cards for his sons, which will have descriptions of them on there. You can access that on FamilySearch.org (free, just register for an account if you haven’t already) or Ancestry or Fold3. Yes, the Gandulla surname is from the enslaver- and that’s another part of the history that needs to be explored.
As for Ballestar, Ballester, yes i’ve heard of the name. Finding the information means working backwards from known information, so you know you’re working on the right person. I don’t see anything coming up for the 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos on Ancestry, but that just means the persons could have been manumitted before 1872, or 1870. Try to ask elders what they know of them (record it on your phone if you can), often oral history will have valuable clues you can work with. The other question is how the surname came about, was it really the enslaver’s or they decided to take it on to define themselves. Try to get specific- which municipality was this? Which barrio? I hope this helps– feel free to reach out if needed.
Thank you Miss Ellen! I just saw this but I will definitely follow your instructions and let you know what more I discover !
Hello Ellen! Thank you so much for this incredible piece. Maximina Gandulla who was mentioned in one of the comments was my paternal grandmother and I knew her sister Ana Luisa growing up. She lived in Mayaguez. It seems that she may be related Ramon Gandulla Velez making him my great grandfather and making Juan Thomas my great great great grandfather (I think). Again thank you so much for doing all of this and I cannot wait to show my father this!
Orlando, tia Chima (Maximina) was my dear great aunt and I spent so much time with her. Her house was and still is just below the hill from my grandmothers house (Hipólito’s house) and we all loved her dearly. She loved white rice and it’s what she always made, she had roosters and hens and guavas and oranges. I visited her almost daily when I lived in PR since it was a literal few steps away. Tia Luisa’s house is across the street as well.
Hola Orlando! Am so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s so rewarding to see descendants respond to Juan Tomas Gandulla’s story. Thank you so much for letting me know.
Orlando, would love to connect on FB! I think I may have some photos of Tia Chima I can dig up. (Maximina) my name is Carolina Salcedo. My moms name is Esther Gandulla. There is one living sister left that I see annually that was Tia Chima’s half sister, Inocencia, she is on FB as well.
My name is Isabel Martinez, my mother’s name is Inocencia Balea her maiden name was Perez Gandulla . My moms brothers name was Antonio Perez Gandulla. I have been working on a family tree.