Williams, born about 1776, was a skilled silhouette artist, born into slavery; he and his parents were enslaved by Charles Willson Peale. His parents gained their freedom and Williams grew up working in the Peale family’s Philadelphia Museum, where he learned to prepare and install exhibits. In the summer of 1799, Williams learned taxidermy as an assistant to Peale, preparing birds collected on the New Jersey Shore. In 1801, he worked mounting the skeleton of the mastodon, and in 1803 became a silhouette cutter at the museum, on the second floor of Independence Hall. Williams was literate, probably picked up a bit of Latin, placed his own advertisements in the local newspaper, bought land, owned a home, and was known in the local community.
Williams, the first Black museum professional in the U.S., now has a center and a gallery named in his honor. Moments in his life are illustrated by silhouettes that visitors can see with a penlight as they go through the gallery as seen above.
Today, the Moses Williams Center is the Peale Museum’s teaching gallery and home to the Accomplished Arts Apprenticeship program, which offers training in exhibition preparation and the historic preservation trades. Their recruiting fairs for the program happen the third week of October for this 32 week program. Launched in 2020, this paid apprenticeship consists of “non-traditional mentorship and vocational training in fine art, curatorial practice, art installation, logistics, and historic building preservation to develop transferable skills using arts as the driving force.”
This is a wonderful way to memorialize Moses Williams’ skills, creativity and resilience. It is in stark contrast to the withering account of him and his family given by Rembrandt Peale in “The Physiognotrace.” published in an 1857 issue of The Crayon. My guess is that this was such an awful perspective that Lillian Miller found she could not bear to discuss it in her bibliography for her catalog, In Search of Fame: Rembrandt Peale 1778-1860. While Peale’s account held no expectations for Williams’ person or future, it is, ironically, the main building block for understanding the context that Williams lived and worked in.
Enslavement, the slave trade and Native dispossession are no longer marginal to the story of Peale’s Museum in Philadelphia. Moses Williams is now a very visible ancestor.
See my “Racial Theory, Museum Practice: The Coloured World of Charles Willson Peale.” Museum Anthropology, 1996. You can download a copy here.
This has turned out to be a busy month! I finished my last article for the series on “Reconstructing Missing Volume of the Registro Central de Esclavos, pt 4” for the forthcoming volume 24 of Hereditas: Revista de la Sociedad Puertorriquena de Genealogia. I hope to submit “Looking for Lorenzo Ubiles, Alcalde de barrio Humacao 1873.” for the AAHGS Journal shortly.
I’m happy to announce that on Thursday October 19, 1:30 PM-2:30 EST, I’ll be presenting “El Registro de Esclavos: An archive you need to know”, at “Hidden in Plain Sight: Recovering the erased stories of our ancestors in the United States and the Caribbean”, the 44th Annual 2023 AAHGS Virtual Conference. Excited to be among so many great presentations & presenters that includes friends & family from Black ProGen Live! Sessions will be available until Dec 31.
Here’s the description: The process of emancipation in Puerto Rico formally began in 1868, with the registration of over 30,000 enslaved persons using cedulas, small registration forms 6 x 8” in size. The information on these forms were copied to create the volumes of the Registro de Esclavos, issued in 1872. FamilySearch microfilmed two series of these documents from the enormous collection of Gobiernos Españoles collection. These are now searchable on the FamilySearch site as “Puerto Rico Slave Registers, 1863-1879”. These entries shed light on the identities of people as they transitioned to freedom just fifteen years before the establishment of the Registro Civil (Civil Registration) in 1885 and the formal end of slavery in 1886. The information covers name, origin, parents, partner, children, enslaver, physical details and issues around the purchase of freedom, manumission, or even the death of the person listed. The ages range from days old to persons in their 80s. These documents are useful for identifying family members and confirming their identities and locations pre-1885, and who may not appear in the 1910 census. Recently digitized archives on the Archivo Digital Nacional de Puerto Rico (ADNPR.net) that overlap with the information in the Registro de Esclavos will be covered. This work is a contribution to the ancestors, to help bridge them with their descendants.
Yesterday evening, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) hosted Antonio Rocha’s performance of “Voyage through Death to Life upon these Shores”: The Malaga Speaks. Here’s the description of the program, which will soon be on YouTube:
The story of the Malaga, a 19th century ship built in Maine that transported captive Africans, was created and will be performed by Antonio Rocha. Told from the perspective of the ship, Rocha uses song, narration, and mime to weave his way through this historical tale that chronicles the history of the trans-Atlantic human trade and its legacy. Annually, on August 23rd, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) hosts a program to acknowledge this day and the lives of those captive Africans who perished during the trans-Atlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage and the ten million who survived to build the Americas. Through the presentation of this creative work, The Malaga Speaks, MPCPMP offers a broader narrative of connection and the Diaspora – from ship building, to the ocean voyage, to arrival, into enslavement; from Maine, to Africa, across the Atlantic, to Brazil.
Rocha’s performance is a powerful one. He builds and weaves a narrative that reveal layers of history and experiences of the Middle Passage as a knowledge that is both painful and liberatory the deeper he enters into the story of the Malaga. There is a body memory, a visceral space where those who survive decide what they can carry, and what was left by the ancestors for us today.
What are the origins of the Ubiles families of Barrio Mabu, Humacao? This post is part of a larger project that explores the lives of ancestors who lived centuries before in Northeast Puerto Rico. As a genealogist, this was an opportunity to delve into the ancestry of Marie Ubiles, and share more about what documents hold about her ancestors, Juan Lorenzo Ubides Rodriguez and Petrona de la Cruz Amaro. First I needed to explore who were among those who held the surname during the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century in Northwest Puerto Rico. Here is the first chapter of the project.
The locations for the Ubiles family clusters extend across the Northeast by the early eighteenth century.
In Puerto Rico, the surname Ubiles begins with Capt. Miguel Joseph de Ubides y Espinosa, born in 1699 in Puerto de Santa Maria, Cadiz. Son of Juan de Ubides and Ysabel Calderon, it is unclear as to whether his parents came to the island at all. Miguel de Ubides was once a partner and then an enemy of Capitan Miguel Enriquez, the privateer who rapidly ascended San Juan’s social caste, only to be turned upon later. Both Enriquez and Ubides’ were enslavers and slave traders, and here lies the origin of the Ubides of color. Over time, the spelling of those once enslaved changed.
Capt. Miguel de Ubides married Cecilia Sanchez Araujo on 8 July 1720 in the Cathedral de San Juan, and they had at least four children. One reached adulthood, Juan Manuel Ubides Araujo born in July 17341. Unlike many dwellers of the time in San Juan, Ubides lived in a two-story building. It was described by historian Angel Lopez Cantos, and based on a July 1725 inventory of de Ubides’ embargoed property:
Y la casa de fiel ejecutor del cabildo de San Juan, Miguel de Ubides, tambien era de dos plantas. En la anterior había una ‘sala’ que ocupaban mitad del espacio y la otra un ‘aposento’ y una ‘despensa’. Abajo solo había un habitación que servia de tienda y el postal. El hueco de la escalera lo habían tapiado y hacia las veces de ‘almacén2’.
And the home of the faithful executor of the cabildo of San Juan, Miguel de Ubides, was of two floors. In the rear was a large hall that took up half the space, another chamber and a pantry. Below there was a bedroom that served as a store and the post office. The space underneath the stairs was closed off and at times, served as a warehouse.
This lends an idea of the kinds of property and labor that de Ubides used in his business—there would be a need for domestics, cooks, storekeeper, clerk, and porters, all roles that could be done with enslaved workers. This knowledge also represented a route to freedom in early San Juan, if one were able to arrange buying it. To know these aspects of how to run a business oneself meant one could openly support their own families once out of bondage.
The sixteenth – seventeenth centuries were a time of smuggling in the Caribbean, as Spain paid more attention to the development of silver mining in the Yucatan and its other colonies. As a result, Puerto Rico was a hotbed of smuggling activity that connected merchants to Curacao, Venezuela and other islands . The ships and cargoes taken as prizes by Spanish and Spanish American merchants were sold in the British West Indies. [See Cromwell 2018]
Miguel de Ubides was involved with Captain Miguel Enriquez, the privateer hired by the Spanish government. Eventually, Enriquez was turned against by the elite of San Juan, disturbed by his rapid social climb and business expansion. Another reason they resented him was that Enriquez was the grandchild of an enslaved woman from Angola, and in a world where the proximity to Europe was paramount, he did not fit in. de Ubides was among those who pitted themselves against Enriquez, and he also suffered the embargo of his property not long after. The larger question is how much of their business was involved with the slave trade. Lopez Cantos suggests that Enriquez’ holdings numbered over 200, including those enslaved who worked plantations. There is only a trace of people held by de Ubides and Enriquez in surviving parish records.
Enslaved Persons Held by Miguel de Ubides
The earliest mention of enslaved Ubides is in the pages of the extant books for Nuestra Senora de los Remedios in Viejo San Juan.
This July 1748 baptism for “Maria Antonia, hija de Antonia, morena esclava de Dn. Miguel de Ubides. Padrino, Joseph Manuel Carrillo3” is among the few documents for the enslaved persons held by Ubides. Antonia’s age is not noted, and she may be anywhere between 12 to 45 years of age, probably born in Puerto Rico.
Maria, a Black woman enslaved by Miguel de Ubides in 1738 gave birth to Joseph, who was baptized on 26 October 1738, and Manuel de Jesus served as his godparent. This entry illustrates how ‘new property’ was registered through parish records. Additional documentation for Maria and Joseph may no longer be extant.
When Joseph Antonio, a formerly enslaved man from St Thomas was baptized on 17 January 1739, Dn. Miguel de Ubides served as his godfather5. Joseph Antonio, a freedman, was baptized together with Antonia, an enslaved woman held by Capitan Andres Antonio. Joseph Antonio’s conversion to Catholicism was an assurance to the Spanish crown of his loyalty . What is unusual in this record is that two men brought two persons to be baptized, one who liberated himself from a British colony and the other, an enslaved woman. Why the double baptism? Were they a couple? There is no additional information to go on. Apparently, Joseph Antonio took the surname of his padrino after 1739- and is the same Joseph Antonio Ubides who dies in May 1770, married to Ana Lerey.
Several people of African descent carried the de Ubides surname in early-mid eighteenth century San Juan. As documentation is scarce, there is evidence of them in parish records. There are several clusters of this surname with a connection by name or association.
How many enslaved persons were held by Capt. Miguel de Ubides is unknown. Given that his property (like Enriquez) was impounded, an inventory was made of his holdings. It is possible that enslaved people appear on these pages, either as a numeric count, or perhaps, a named list. Protocolos from this time period for San Juan are unfortunately, not extant.
If you’re from one of the Ubiles family communities, I hope you’ll share your story.
5. Joseph Antonio, Acta de Bautismo 1739″Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969″, database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6DBL-YF8Z : 15 December 2021), Joseph Antonio Miguel de Ubides in entry for MM9.1.1/6DBL-YF8C:, 1739.
6. Did Joseph Antonio Ubides serve in the military, as many free Black men did in Cangrejos? See: David M Stark, “Rescued from their Invisibility: The Afro-Puerto Ricans of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century San Mateo de Cangrejos, Puerto Rico.” The Americas 63:4 (Apr 2007), 551-586.
In working with the histories of enslaved ancestors, one comes to the questions of survival and resilience in the face of all that bondage could entail. The mid-nineteenth century world of a rural hacienda in Puerto Rico where a young African woman is enslaved, is recreated in the pages of Dalma Llanos Figueroa’s 2022 novel, A Woman of Endurance.
It is an incredibly moving book that takes one through moments in her life, the episodes of violence and trauma, of learning, caretaking and trusting in a world hostile to recognizing the full humanity of the labor that built it. There is the potential for violence at every turn.
We glimpse the lives of the women who are working for the big house in different capacities, and Pola makes a transition from working the fields to the sewing room. This and other events ripple through the groups whose lives are not under their own control. Through the figure of Pola, there is healing. Community and love, however vulnerable it may make a situation, is what helps one survive.
The story of Pola takes us through an experience that replicates the experiences of many enslaved women. In Yorubaland, West Africa in 1831, Keera, a very young woman comes to know of her power from her mother. After surviving the Middle Passage and assaults, we come to know her as Pola, with this brief glimpse of life before capture and enslavement in a flashback. The vision comes while she recovers in another hacienda.
Llanos-Figueroa recreates this world vividly, with descriptions of situations that do not shy from the violence of losing children, or finding love and understanding in the middle of a forced labor camp.
Note the cover art, a woman in a silk dress with a pattern on her back that echos the pattern of scars on the back of a painting of Gordon, who served as a Sargent in the Louisiana Native Guards during the Civil War. The painting is based on the cabinet card photo where he reveals his back, and the arrangement of painting, flowers, beads and symbols suggest this is an altar that honors Gordon’s experiences as an ancestor. The fabric of a life.
This is one of the most incredible novels i’ve read, and on my list of key texts for our times.
Available in Spanish as Indomitable. Amistad Publishing.
Last night, Nicka Smith & True Lewis hosted a panel for Special Episode of Black ProGen Live History Unscripted on reparations for African American communities in the US. Among the panelists were Dr. Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell, Ressie Luck-Brimmer, myself, with Teresa Vega, and Robyn Murphy Walker.
A lot has happened over the past five years that is beginning to yield redress for some. However, when the enormity of enslavement, its permutations and contemporary manifestations bear down on family histories, it’s on a collision course with producing documentation to establish identity for a reparations program.
These programs are growing, as are calls for the acknowledgement of harm across a constellation of institutions. Descendants will find genealogical skills key for navigating and reconstructing their family histories in locations across the country. A good part of what we talked about were some of the unforeseen limitations and the fraught emotions a process for engaging reparations can bring up. As True Lewis said, “Think about your family what can you do – as family historians – do to prepare our community and families for what’s to come?”
Those Black ProGen playlists are going to come in handy.
Documentary by Erika Alexander and Whitney Dow on the passage of tax funded reparations program in Evanston, IL. This begins to give an idea of how long this struggle has taken in regard to the passage of H.R. 40, and how this process unfolded in one city despite the pandemic.
Right now i’m looking over this entry for a property sale Aguadilla from February 18541. It’s a lock, stock and barrel sale between first cousins, and the order of importance for the details enumerated is very telling.
It begins with the layout of land in Barrio Malezas, Aguadilla, a 180 cuerda (174.6 acres) property, alongside several other plantation owners. D. Rafael del Valle y Ponce is selling this estate to his first cousin, D Jose Genaro del Valle y Arce. I have distant ties to these families, with Rafael del Valle being my 1C5R and Jose Genaro del Valle my 2C4R. They were close and the relationship chart below outlines the cousin relationship between both men. Note that Rafael was also related to Jose Genaro’s mother, however, this set of relationships (via the Ponce line) is not included here.
Rafael’s father, Nicolas del Valle y Perez de Arce served as Alcalde (Mayor) of Aguadilla three different times, in 1814, 1820-21 and in 1836. Rafael was one of his eight children with Eugenia II Ponce y Perez de Arce (b. abt. 1781).
Rafael’s cousin, Jose Genaro del Valle y Arce (bca 1819) was the son of Antonio del Valle y Perez de Arce (b.1783) and Maria Gregoria de Arce Ponce (1792-1842).
Jose Genaro’s father Antonio, served as Alcalde of Aguadilla just once, in 1837. Clearly, this family possessed a degree of political clout in the municipality. In addition, by having this sale occur within the family, they kept their wealth. As a business practice, endogamy helped to insure trust in partnerships at a time before banks existed on Puerto Rico.
In January 1853, both Rafael del Valle and Jose Genaro del Valle went before the notary to record an arrangement that gave Jose Genaro del Valle the power to administer the cattle ranch in Barrio Malezas, including the enslaved persons, the animals there, and a house in town. By 11 February 1854, the situation had changed. Rafael’s contract which paid 400 pesos yearly to Jose Genaro, as he points out in the document, was now rescinded3. Next on that same day, the sale of the property from Rafael del Valle to Jose Genaro del Valle was recorded. Jose Genaro del Valle was the new owner.
The property transfer is just a few paragraphs long. Laid out are the names of the other property owners: Antonio Almeida & d. Manuel Badillo on the south along the Royal road of the mountain, on the east with Da. Rosa de Santiago and the Royal road that goes by the front to d. Patricio González, and on the west side, with Da.María Ponce and Da.Josefa Mirle. Wives could also own, manage businesses and inherit property independently of their husbands. Each person ran their own hacienda or estancia that included enslaved ancestors.
Maria Ponce is most likely Maria Eugenia II Ponce y Perez, wife of Nicolas del Valle; Josefa Mirle is Josefa Mirle Gonzalez, wife of Francisco Almeida of Portugal. The baptism record for their daughter Manuela Almeida Mirle of 1817 mentions that she was born in Maleza Alta4, which helps localize the family in a specific barrio. Both the Ponce and Mirle families, like the del Valle, held larger numbers of enslaved people to work their ranches, farms and plantations.
The Valle plantation held some 100 head of cattle, 6 horses and two mares with foals. After the animals were enumerated in the deed, nineteen people held in bondage were listed. The price for the estate was 14,000 pesos macuquina with 2,700 pesos of the total owed to Eugenio Alers, a hacendado who was building his holdings between Aguadilla and Isabela and lending money mid-century to property owners in the area.
Values for the nineteen enslaved persons, which may include at least two clusters of family, were not specified. Two persons on the list survived the Middle Passage, and another was from Costa Firme, Venezuela, pointing to the global connections of these transactions. The rest were criollos, born in Puerto Rico; there were ten male and nine females of different ages, three of them too young to work. They were termed ‘siervos esclavos‘, enslaved servants, perhaps more concerned with running a household and raising livestock. There is no mention of specific duties in the deed.
Aside from two 40 year old men, these ancestors were young, and perhaps some of them made it into the pages of the Registro Civil. If they did, it seems unlikely they used their former enslaver’s surname after freedom.
Say Their Names
Here are the names, ages and approximate dates of birth for these ancestors in Aguadilla in February 1854.
I plan to look back to records from 1822 and then to the cedulas of 1868-70 of the Registro de Esclavos to see if any of these ancestors remained under the control of del Valle family members. Hopefully there is more to learn about them.
1 Haydee E. Reichard de Cardona, Haciendas agrícolas del triángulo noroeste de Puerto Rico, sus dueños e historias. Jose A Amador Acosta, Ed. Editorial HER Historias y Escritos Riquenos, 2020.
2Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia, 1854. AGPR. En Aguadilla 2-11-1854 fol.74 a 76 ante el insfrascripto escribano Real y público y testigos que se expresaran compareció D.Rafael del Valle de este vecindario y dijo que otorga venta Real y absoluta a favor de D.José Genaro del Valle también vecino una estancia en esta juridicción en el barrio de Malezas compuesta de 180 cuerdas colindantes al norte con Antonio Almeida y D.Manuel Badillo, por el sur con el camino Real de la montaña, al este con Da.Rosa de Santiago y el camino Real que pasa por el frente a D.Patricio González, al este con Da.María Ponce y Da.Josefa Mirle incluidas las plantaciones en ellas, 100 cabezas de ganado,6 caballos,2 yeguas con crías y los siervos esclavos Luis natural de áfrica de 30 años,Juana María de 25 años y su hija de un año,Tomasa de 40 años, Luisa de 25 años, Carmen de 25 años con una hija de un año,Demetrio de 12 años, Hermenegildo de 16 años,Paulina de 61 30 años, José de 20 años, José María de 40 años,Tomás de 40 años,Tomasa de 30 años,Antonio de 12 años, Juan José de 16 años,Isabel de 2 años,Manuel natural de costa firme de 4 años,Andrés de 25 años natural de áfrica, una casa de madera y tejemani en la calle principal de este partido con solar de 16 varas de frente colindante al norte con Da.Paula Giménez, por el sur con el comprador, al oeste la calle y al este con otro solar del mismo comprador cuyos bienes le pertenecen por compra hecha a D.José Genaro del Valle según escritura otorgada en Enero 12 de 1853 por la cantidad de 14,000 pesos maququinos y 2,700 pesos quedan en poder del comprador hasta satisfacer la cantidad que el mismo adeuda a D.Eugenio Alers a cuya responsabilidad está gravada la estancia.Fueron testigos D.Ricardo Diez, D.José Trinidad Veray D.Ramón Esteban Martínez.
3 Carlos Encarnacion Navarro, Fondo de Protocolos Notariales, Caja 1289, Serie Aguadilla, Pueblo Aguadilla, Escribano Lcdo. Manuel Garcia, AGPR fol.78 a 78-v, 11 Feb 1854. En Aguadilla 2-11-1854 fol.78 a 78-v ante el insfrascripto escribano Real y público y testigos que se expresaran comparecieron D.Rafael del Valle y D.José Genaro del Valle de este vecindad y dijeron que en Enero 12 de 1853 concedio el primero al segundo poder para administrar la estancia que tenía en el barrio de Malezas de esta juridicción, los esclavos y animales que tenía y una casa en este pueblo señalándole el salario de 400 pesos anuales y rescinden dicho contrato. Fueron testigos D.Ricardo Diez,D.Rafael Esteban Martínez y D.Francisco de Paula Vergara.
4 Acta de Bautismo, Manuela Almeida Mirle, APSCB Libro 5 #944,17 June 1817.
In my recent blog post Yturrino: Looking at a collateral line, I had questions about what kind of business Felipe Iturrino Arzua (1811 -1894) of Anasco was in. While I was able to follow some notary documents that described a string of land purchases in different municipalities, it really wasn’t clear what he had invested in.
These land purchases now make more sense after finding him listed in the 1872 Registro de Esclavos. Yvonne Santana Rios’ transcription of Anasco and Cabo Rojo portions of the 1872 volume led me back to searching the FamilySearch database ‘Slave Registers, Puerto Rico, 1863 – 1879 ‘. I still have no name for the hacienda that these individuals worked, and know more or less where it was located, in barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco. Yturrino and his family lived in barrio Corcobada to the east of Cerro Gordo, and later in a house in barrio Pueblo.
In barrio Cerro Gordo, Anasco, Yturrino enslaved over 20 people, whose cedulas are receipts for the transfer of ownership from the individual slave holders to the colonial government, and they received 120 pesetas per document. The status change to libertos (freedmen or freedwomen) meant rights were established over time.
According to the terms of the Moret Law, these men, women and children entered a contract to work for their former enslavers or for a different plantation owner. They received no pay, but their freedom at the end of three years. For the youngest, this process of manumission lasted until 1886.
Labor: de Esclava/o a Liberta/o
There were a range of tasks, however few were dependent on women becoming domestics in elite households, or took in laundry, or were dress makers. The majority of enslaved women worked as Labradoras, field laborers alongside men. This ran contrary to the ideal of an enslaved person that circulated in prints and paintings, often depicted as male. Men worked as cooks, carpenters and mostly as field laborers in the sugar centrales that grew after the Spanish American war, and women’s labor shifted to the domestic.
While the categories for labor in the documents for the Registro de Esclavos are few, these do not give a precise idea of the range of tasks that a person had, nor how expert they had become. Cerro Gordo was elevated land, better suited for coffee cultivation, and this is likely the crop that Yturrino’s enslaved workers were raising. Given the patterns of inheritance, there is a high probability that the Hacienda de Iturrino in the 1893 Military Map for Anasco to San Sebastian is the same location as in 1870, situated near the streams in the hills that ran between Anasco and Moca.
Say Their Names: Enslaved families, children, locations
Below is a list of 20 persons listed on cedulas from 1868 on which D. Felipe Yturrino y Arzua appears as dueno (owner). The oldest was Agustin an 80 year old man born in Africa; the youngest was 2 year old Josefa, born in Cerro Gordo, one of the children of Evangelista and Vicenta. Nearly half of those enslaved were children.
The few families I could trace to the Registro Civil opted to take a different surname; not one kept Iturrino as a surname. Some moved to Mayaguez in the years that followed. With the collapse of coffee prices after the 1870s, sugar plantations soon dominated the landscape.
Should these names be familiar to you, please feel free to reach out.
In trying to assemble a history of an organization from fragments, I’m grappling with slippage, the way that things unsaid haunt every space, how the unsaid is supposed to be gracious, but hides a different cruelty. It’s working with systems that require violence for its completion, a continuation of the machine of settler logics that seek to justify supremacy, enslavement, murder, and rape. Such details are often folded away until a familial connection is revealed.
Often the locations where such decisions are made are often comfortable offices or elaborate desert base locations for remote murder and assaults. It is an awareness that hovers over the question of what a Nation is. And societies aim to define and redefine the boundaries. Such colonizing systems also precede the formation of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) at the cusp of the twentieth century, with its familial connections to the Trail of Tears, multiple plantations and governance.
Knowing my Taino ancestry and the creole blends of various ancestors offers a grounding space when faced with the history of organizations. I’m of Native American descent, honor that and study the various diasporas that structure my family tree. I also descend from the enslaved (Juan Josef Carrillo b. Guinea, 1736-1811) and the enslaver (Capt. Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Hernandez 1749-1828) within a larger context of colonization, as my family is from Boriken (Puerto Rico). Gaining this knowledge took time, research and service.
The awareness of one’s history contrasts with the history of organizations, particularly those involved with issues such as eugenics, segregation and pushing the Lost Cause (an interpretation of the Civil War from the Confederate perspective). This is part of the National Genealogical Society’s early history. On the other side is the history of Federal employment, and the impact of segregationist policies in Washington DC and how James Dent Walker navigated this at NARA (National Archives and Records Association). Ultimately his knowledge and skills helped to broaden the institutional spaces for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) to do their own genealogical research.
I have talked to several Black genealogists about the other part of genealogical research– the emotional labor of dealing with findings, of telling the stories of ancestors who passed through to emancipation. Of their encounters with people who made life difficult by blocking access to resources, often in a multiplicity of forms that reinforced segregation and at its essence denied a full humanity. This is the larger context of doing this work. This too is part of the genealogical journey. Change can feel glacial in its progress.
The Vote of 1960: Looking Back to Move Forward
Here I grapple with the silences and statements made by three white women who took it upon themselves in 1960 to mail over 700 members of the National Genealogical Society and encourage them to protest the changes to the language used to define membership. This happened sixty-two years ago, and it is worth a look back.
During the 1960s the clamor for change, like now, was loudly expressed in civic gatherings across the nation. In some locations, anger ripped across cities in the form of buildings lit aflame, people marched. The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 to work against racial segregation and discrimination across the south and grew into multiple forms. In the south of 1960, many people in power were believers in the Lost Cause and used force to keep people down. And when the Freedom Riders groups arrived in different locations across the South, the use of violence against them by locals and police exploded.
But back to this vote.
This NGS committee, Virginia D. Crim, Bessie P Pryor and Katie-Prince Esker, made the old membership policy explicit:
“the Referendum referred to was held on November  1960. The membership voted on the following:
SHOULD THE NATIONAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY SET ASIDE ITS GENERALLY RECOGNIZED PRACTICE, WHICH HAS BEEN IN FORCE SINCE ITS ORGANIZATION IN 1903, AND ADMIT MEMBERS OF THE NEGRO RACE.” 
Initially, the National Genealogical Society voted not to open their doors to Black genealogists, a policy held for over 50 years. The then new president, William H. Dumont realized this couldn’t last, and the language that defined who could be a member was changed after James Dent Walker, a NARA civil servant and genealogist applied for membership in 1960. He wasn’t specifically named in newspaper coverage, although the Washington Post’s description leaves no doubt it was Walker.  Walker himself never discussed the challenge he set by applying for membership to NGS. He continued to forge an incredible path forward.
Ultimately, Walker became part of NGS’ board, and a nationally recognized genealogist, researcher, lecturer and archivist in his own right, known for his work in African American genealogy. A little over a decade later, he founded the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (Today the African American Historical and Genealogical Society), AAHGS.org that has chapters across the country.  This institution proved a necessary space for Black genealogical practice over the decades.
The Press & The Committee
The Washington Post’s article, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” of 4 November 1960 asked “Is a Negro to join the searchers for the Nation’s family trees? The National Genealogical Society is in a tizzy…about 50 members who felt “controversy threatened to engulf the NGS” proposed a racial restriction clause in their constitution.” Those opposed to admission said “Negroes…have nothing in common with us, genealogically speaking.” Those who favored change in policy “point out the Society is national, educational and scientific; that it is not to be confused with patriotic organizations; that in the pursuit of science there is no room for discrimination…” 
Looking beyond the fight over NGS membership, this was a time when nationally, thousands took part in multiple Civil Rights actions in former slave and free states pushing for change. The stakes were high, and some died while others were seriously injured in these actions that insisted on equality. Don’t forget that Black women finally got the right to vote five years later, in 1965.
While these NGS committee members didn’t go out and physically attack BIPOC [Black, Indigenous People Of Color], what actions did they take to maintain white supremacy beyond this administrative act, beyond the organization? Almost always, the families of those who owned forced labor camps from the founding to the third quarter of the nineteenth century are automatically absolved by the focus on the inhabitants of the big house, their genealogy. This telling of local histories goes together with gatekeeping and acts of genealogical segregation of the last century. How far did this committee take their views?
Virginia Crim was also a member of the DAR, where she served as a vice regent for the Columbia Chapter in 1956. She was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, established in 1894, and served as a chapter delegate at their convention, held 9 November 1960.
The UDC, a Neoconfederate organization, pursued fundraising for monuments, lobbied legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, denied the violence of slavery, and shaped the content of history textbooks. They insisted on a Lost Cause framework that buttressed Jim Crow laws. They were supportive of the KKK.  This contributed to the structural racism that constricted the opportunities and lives of many BIPOC. This too is a legacy of harm linked to NGS’ history in the twentieth century.
Why this history matters
How much does this history matter? In Richmond, Virginia, at 1:30AM on May 30, 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd and police violence, the anger of some protesters focused on the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, set the UDC facade on fire, and covered confederate monuments in graffiti. The process of removing these monuments across the South accelerated after the protests that erupted in so many locations in the wake of Floyd’s murder.
It shows that representation matters, that there was so much more than what those statues and laws attempted to assert. The implications of this event was global. The times had indeed changed, the demand for systemic change is beginning to be heard. It’s also here, with us, with the DEI Committee, to bring such connections forward, to heal. I have stepped down in order to finish my projects. In the meantime, i’ve joined AAHGS.
And this sea of data generated by institutional conditions washes upon us as we write our microhistories, family histories, genealogies and record the voices of those with ties to these events. Masinato (Peace)
 Virginia Crim, Bessie P. Pryor, Katie-Prince Esker, Committee Circular, November 30, 1961 [30 November 1960], NGS Archives. Thanks to Janet Bailey, NGS Board Member for locating this document and additional resources for research.
 Rasa Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” Washington Post, November 4, 1960.
 Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue.”
 Ned Oliver & Sarah Vogelsong, “Confederate memorial hall burned as second night of outrage erupts in Richmond, Virginia.” Virginia Mercury, 31 May 2020.
 Balthazar J Beckett, Salima K Hankins, “Until We Are First Recognized As Human: The Killing of George Floyd and the Case for Black Life at the United Nations.” International Journal of Human Rights Education, Vol 5:1. https://repository.usfca.edu/ijhre/vol5/iss1/4/
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…