Searching Documents for Benejam Ancestors

Julio Ester ‘Ulla’ Rivera, November 2021. Photo courtesy of Julio Enrique Rivera.

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.

Ricardo [Benejam] 22, 3531. Caja 4. Registro de Esclavos, 1867-1876 (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-Z3WY-S?cc=3755445)

I am struck by how fragmented some of the resources available are.

Some of the documents i’m looking at:

Parish records

Municipal Document series – Censo y riqueza de Moca 1850

Cedulas, Registro Central de Esclavos

Registro Civil

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.

References

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.

“Y tu abuela, donde esta? An Introduction to Puerto Rican Genealogy”, Sat 9/25

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Y tu abuela, donde esta? An Introduction to Puerto Rican Genealogy, Saturday, September 25, 2:00pm – 3:00pm

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Lauderhill Towne Centre Library

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).

Visit her website at https://latinogenealogyandbeyond.com

AGE GROUP: | Everyone | Adults |

EVENT TYPE: | Speaker | Online/Virtual | Discussion/Lecture |

TAGS: | Hispanic Heritage |

page from: http://broward.libnet.info/event/5279164

Calling the Ancestors

On the trail of compassion and wonder: a meditation

Lately, I’ve been pondering how a broader historical framework for the genealogies and family histories can make displacement visible, particularly for identities shaped by the experiences of diaspora and migration.

Shouldn’t we ask questions about how beginnings are constructed? What’s the significance of an origin story? Who gets to tell about the dawning of a deeper historical consciousness among people? For whom does this story matter? Stories are containers for memory, with purpose.

I want to speak to the depth of this experience not because this perspective grants a sense of ‘survival beyond the odds’, but because when one listens to the bits of histories encoded in our stories and in the genes of our ancestors, these experiences can instill both compassion and wonder.  

In turn, compassion and wonder feeds the hope of survival, can enable sympathy, free suppressed identities, and through this recognition, foster social change. Our family histories contain worlds within them and perhaps answers that can help us heal in the present. 

2.
So, how best to convey and define this complexity? There are so many questions to consider when pondering how to proceed.  How can we locate and embrace the foundations created by Indigenous ancestors who kept a particular world view embedded in how they lived? Who can guide us on this journey? How do we come to terms when we discover our enslaved ancestors? Of those who were enslavers? 
Our task is to quilt together the narratives of survival and remember those that came before us.

These ancestries, family histories and narratives are more visible today thanks to technologies of social media and the regeneration of concepts out of these deeper pasts. But more needs to be done to  unfold the hidden margins of these narratives and reveal nodes of connections- location, place, time so that you becomes we. We are a constellation of microhistories. 

3.
For many Puerto Ricans / Borincanos / Tainos who identify as the descendants of pre-European Boriken, already a blend of Native and African peoples, there is a growing recognition of self and community that stands in relief to a backdrop of colonization. 
Indigenous identity is long denied because many grew up hearing the stories of extinction, then some deemed it an impossibility because it was not 100%. What happened however is Taino people were not gone, not frozen in time and continue to incorporate change in the present. There’s a culture and the question of language, which doesn’t negate a continued presence. This identity undergoes acknowledgement and recognition both on and off the island with the situation exacerbated by the pandemic. There’s a level of acknowledgment rather than a challenge, and communities that confirm continuity, a slow shift over the decades.  Growth and regeneration continues.

4.
There’s extraction as a process constantly  mobilized by different interests across time. Key to destroying the landscape is forgetting our fundamental interconnectedness from the seemingly inert to overtly active lifeforms. One prays for a respite from the machine of capital, from the desire for gold that threatens El Yunque, a tropical rainforest and sacred space for the Taino people.  The land everywhere needs to heal and needs its stewards.
Historically, assimilation was the order of the day in policy imposed on Puerto Rico, an echo of how the U.S. dealt with the nations contained within its own borders. Assimilation is an old multifaceted story whose journeys can cost us the past, its details trapped in bits of oral history.  What are we remembering? What do our ancestors tell us today?

5.
The backdrop of change is a constant. It goes from enslavement to industrialization to a globalization that traps and impoverishes many. Today one can begin to lay claim to this heritage while gaining visibility with less certainty of disenfranchisement. And because of technology, we can make connections with others that increases our chances of survival through the progressively larger gatherings that take place  across the country. 
This connection can be an antidote for the historical amnesia that fades with accountability and the remembrance of survival. Can knowledge stop trafficking? Can memory heal? To receive and share their stories, heal and connect is a blessing. What lessons come from the worlds our ancestors inhabited?  How are you we?

Seneko kakona (Abundant blessings)

Areito, Concilio Guatu-Maku a Boriken, Moca, 25 Nov 2005. Photo; E. Fernandez-Sacco
Courtesy: Martin Veguilla.

Next Week: 6/10: Bound to History – on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Monserrate, Barrio Pueblo, Moca, Puerto Rico, EFS

Have you ever wanted to know more about the woman behind the only slave narrative out of Puerto Rico?

On June 10, 1 PM, I’ll be a guest on Bernice Bennett’s Research at the National Archives and Beyond.

We’ll be talking about Leoncia Lasalle’s & her daughter Juana Rodriguez Lasalle’s account and touch on the larger issues of archives and enslavement. See my recent article in the journal Genealogy, “Bound to History: Leoncia Lasalle’s Slave Narrative from Moca, Puerto Rico, 1945” (2020)

Event link: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/bernicebennett/2021/06/10/bound-to-history-leoncia-lasalles-slave-narrative-with-ellen-fernandez-sacco

Background: Here’s the article abstract::

Abstract: The only slave narrative from Puerto Rico is included in Luis Diaz Soler’s Historia de la esclavitud negra en Puerto Rico (1953; 2002). This article considers this embedded account as part of the literature of slave narratives to address a gap in the literature; this is perhaps due to the account’s singularity and brevity. Beyond this, the other source for understanding the experience of enslaved women in Puerto Rico is through legal and parish documents, generated by a colonial government and church supportive of slavery. As a result, lives under enslavement are quantified statistically, and the lack of oral history or personal accounts hampers understanding of the effects of enslavement from an individual perspective. Documenting such a life comes with its own set of issues, as shown here by demonstrating the limits of various archival resources. There is no one methodology to follow to reconstruct lives and family histories under slavery, an institution designed to prevent the formation of a historical sense of self and agency. Factoring in familial connections makes my own location as a researcher visible, as knowledge is not neutral. Despite its brevity, considering Leoncia Lasalle’s account, and that of her daughter, Juana Rodriguez Lasalle, in terms of its multiple contexts—microhistory, similarities with U.S. and Cuban slave narratives, family histories, and the archive—reveals the constructed nature of the idea of historical knowledge, which also has implications for genealogical practice involved with slavery and life post-emancipation.

Tonight: 4/28: A History Unraveled: Slavery and the Babilonia Family

Please join me tonight on Zoom!

Wednesday April 28, 2021 from 7-8PM– Register via the link below

Independent scholar and genealogist Ellen Fernandez-Sacco will discuss Spain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. She will talk about its connection to her research and how it shapes her family history in Puerto Rico.

https://www.ryehistory.org/events-calendar

The Many Names of Telesforo Carrillo (1845-1920)

Mameyes II, Rio Grande. By badkarmatx007, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54621718

The search for my great great grandfather Telesforo Carrillo began with a fiction of sorts, created by his death certificate of 1920. Here the gap between who he was when he started and who he was at the end of his life widens.

In his death certificate, both a baker and a plumber witnessed the testimony of the informant, his son in law, my great grandfather Juan Fernandez Quinta. 

He gave details that led nowhere unless one followed the women. I suspected my great grandfather Telesforo might be an hijo natural, a birth deemed illegitimate by law. With his mother listed as Maria Carrillo, the name Maria yielded nothing, so I set it aside until I could find records that encompassed their lives. A century later, this mosaic of relationships becomes a little clearer. 

death certificate for Telesforo Matos Ramos, same person. errors included. FamilySearch.org

Telesforo Matos Ramos
F75 #206 im 742
25 Marzo 1920
Declarante: Juan Fernandez Quinta, casado, proprietario, natural de Espana, casa Num pda 44 de la calle Loiza, Santurce, yerno
natural de Rio Grande, vecino de Santurce
85, blanco, industrial, viudo de Andrea Maldonado, natural de Trujillo Alto, ya difunta
avecinado pda 225 Calle La Calma
causa: senilidad, 10PM 23 Mar 1920,
hl Jose Matos & Maria Carrillo difuntos
que el declarante ignora los nombres de los abuelos del difunto
Testigos: JP Medina, plomero, nat Fajardo & Catalino Gutiérrez, panadero, San Juan Encargado RC: Juan Requena 

The search that never ended

Why was he listed as Matos Ramos? Did my great grandfather misstate his father in law’s name, or did the secretary manage to be distracted and simply entered ‘Ramos’ on the margin? At the end of Telesforo’s life, his parents appear as Jose Matos and Maria Carrillo, both long gone, and that he was their legitimate child. What I eventually learned was much more complicated. With all of the name changes over the decades for his daughter Catalina, my grandfather’s mother.

For a very long time I turned nothing up on Telesforo, so instead I searched records up his grandson, my grandfather, Ramon Fernandez Matos, born in 1900. When I was little, his birthday was celebrated at the end of August, or rather, he celebrated it with his friends. That date didn’t come up in the Registro Civil, and neither did the name.

Ramon Fernandez b. 1901 (standing) next to unknown friend/family , ca 1920, NYC, probably shortly after his first marriage in Nov 1920 to Carmen Dorios Picon. He was part of an earlier wave of Puerto Rican migration to New York City.

Just a month ago, I decided i’d try searching with the Carrillo name, and, lo and behold!! He turned up as Ramon Fernandez Carrillo, and the birth certificate that eluded me for so long finally came up, along with that of another sibling.  Oddly enough, Telesforo and Catalina’s previous son, Andres, appears as Andrea Fernandez Matos, with his maternal grandparents listed as “Telesforo Matos y Andrea Maldonado de San Juan.

A birth date thought to be in August ,was actually in 10 October 1901. Ramon Fernandez Carrillo. FamilySearch.org

Catalina’s Trail

As an adult, my grandfather Ramon used Matos as his maternal surname. I had never heard of Carrillo until I started tracing his mother, my great grandmother, Catalina (1862-1966). She too had several surnames at different times in her life, and it’s still unclear if the additional uses provided some kind of protection or cover for her.

She appears as an hija natural of Andrea Maldonado in the baptismal record of May 1862 from Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Rio Grande⁠1.  She was the first of Telesforo and Andrea’s 13 children, once a costurera, a dress maker who actually cut and made men’s suits in San Juan. She grew up in an area of Santurce that was full of skilled artisans and workers, Barrio Obrero. Telesforo Carrillo was a carpintero, a carpenter and laborer still working the year before he died in 1920 at 75 years of age.

A Glimpse of Youth

Recently my cousin, genealogist Maria Kreider sent me a link to an early record for Telesforo, who turned up in the 1850 Padron de habitantes for Rio Grande.  Filmed by the LDS in 1987, this census record comes out of the AGPR’s (Archivo General de Puerto Rico) collection of municipal documents, here the Alcaldia Municipal for Rio Grande. The files consist of two Cajas, A and B; Caja A holds Cédulas de vecindad y padrones Caja A 1860, 1871, 1875, 1880, 1882, 1888, 1898 Caja B 1860-1870.  In 1850  Rio Grande was  a recent municipality founded in 1840, when it split from Loiza. It was named after the river that joins the Rio Espiritu Santo in North East Puerto Rico, perched between the northeastern coast and the Sierra Luquillo mountains⁠1

Location map of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico Wikimedia.org by The Eloquent Peasant (highlighting) – Own work based on: Puerto Rico municipios locator map.svg by The Eloquent Peasant, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95432903

In 1858, he lived in Barrio San Francisco, which was a portion of the town that has since been renamed. In December 1860, he was living with his grandmother, Agustina Carrillo Santiago, 78 years old as head of household, and he appears as Telesforo Carrillo, 18 years old, working as a laborer. The other person living with them was Estevan Pinto y Estrada, a 75 year old widower. None were literate.

Augustina Carrillo, cabeza de casa, Diciembre 1860, Telesforo Carrillo y Estevan Pinto y Estrada. Barrio San Francisco, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. image 94, Film # 008138873  FamilySearch.org  https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-XQ9Q-6?cat=605453

The next page is even more illuminating.

Poblacion de Color, Nacionales, Clasificación y Edades y Profesiones, casa de Augustina Carrillo, Barrio San Francisco, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Dic 1860. FamilySearch.org

This was a household of Free People of Color, two of them widowed, all born on the island. What I learned about Augustina is that at an advanced age, she took care of her grandson, Telesforo, not yet the legal age of adulthood. His youth meant that her daughter, Maria Ysabel Carrillo, had already died- she does not turn up in this series of documents. So far, the man listed as Teleforo’s father, Jose Matos, only appears on his death record. Agustina Carrillo Santiago (1765-1865) herself was unmarried. This is two generations of a female headed household. Besides Maria Ysabel, she had Julian Carrillo b. 1840 in Rio Grande, who later married Petronila Caraballo Hernandez bca. 1845.

Estevan Pinto Estrada was the widow of Toribia Perez, who died before 1860; his relatives also married Carrillos. Whether he was a partner to Agustina or a boarder in the home are questions that may never be answered. As Free People of Color they would have had access to the courts and to town councils, but still carried a liability as ultimately one could not transcend their class or condition. [Kinsbruner 38; 43-44] What more could I learn of their origins?

Losing Elders, Losing Family

The incredibly fragile pages from la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Rio Grande of 15 May 1865 holds three deaths tied by blood and location. On the upper left is the record for Augustina Carrillo Santiago, and on the facing page, is that of Estevan Pinto Estrada. Below him is the record for Gregorio Carrillo, Agustina’s grandson, the child of Julian Carrillo and Petronila Caraballo. None were able to accept the sacraments before dying, indicating a sudden death. There are more Carrillos and Pintos in adjacent pages listed in this volume of Entierros (Burials).

Agustina Carrillo Santiago (upper left), Estevan Pinto Estrada (upper right), Gregorio Carrillo Caraballo (lower right) Defunciones, Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. May 1865. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:WG7D-392M

So far I have found no additional information on what took place whether a fire or epidemic took their lives. They are among my Afro-Indigenous ancestors, part of an ongoing ethnocide as the government ended the use of the term’Indio‘ and instead reduced them to colors, uncoupling any political recognition of the local from a longer, deeper history of living on Boriken.

I found Agustina in an 1827 baptism for Maria Nonanta Bartolome Robles at the Parroquia del Espiritu Santo y San Patricio of Loiza, Puerto Rico. On that date, both Agustina and her brother Pablo Carrillo served as godparents, and were identified as ‘Morenos libres” or ‘Free Coloreds’.

Conclusion

Maria Kreider’s gift of sending me the 1860 Padron that listed Agustina and my second great grandfather Telesforo led me to my fifth great grandparents, Simon Carrillo and Josefa Santiago. who were probably born in the 1760s, in Loiza. From what I have seen, there are three clusters of families with the Carrillo surname in the early nineteenth century: Spanish emigres, Afro Indigenous creoles and African descended free and enslaved.

Among the oral history I heard, Catalina Carrillo, great granddaughter of Simon and Josefa maintained an altar, and included among the statues was the figure of an American Indian. However manifested, the woven syncretism of her belief system remembered Native ancestors, never forgotten as part of a local, spiritual sustenance. All of these layers are hidden behind the multiple descriptions and names of Telesforo Carrillo over the arc of his life.

1 “Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QPY5-47DP : 9 April 2020), Andrea Maldonado in entry for Catalina Maldonado, 1862.

1 Wikipedia contributors, “Río Grande, Puerto Rico,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=R%C3%ADo_Grande,_Puerto_Rico&oldid=997405229 (accessed January 5, 2021). R%C3%ADo_Grande,_Puerto_Rico

“Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:WG7D-392M : 9 April 2020), Esteban Pinto, 1865.

“Puerto Rico, registros parroquiales, 1645-1969”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:W649-8WPZ : 14 November 2019), Josefa Santiago in entry for Agustina Carrillo, 1865.

Jay Kinsbruner, Not of Pure Blood: The Free People of Color and Racial Prejudice in Nineteenth Century Puerto Rico. Duke University Press, 1996.

It’s America: Everyday is Black History Day.

4 African American Women on the steps of Atlanta University. Du Bois et al, LOC.

Oh, America. The labor, sweat and blood that went into the infrastructure of this country, into its buildings and roads is a history, that for 400 years was presented as someone else’s. All of this effort, excellence, and memory can’t be crammed into the shortest month of the year– nor can it be recounted on one day.

Regardless, we need to honor those that came before us, and one way I can think of is to find those ancestors embedded in the shadows of a suppressed history. It takes time and work to find the details , but it’s so worth it.

Juneteenth Flag. Wikimedia Commons.

As I write this on Juneteenth, I see it as a very different day this year because so many decided to stand over the last month, right after the lynching of George Floyd. His death was a catalyst, a wake up call for the complacency with an investment in death. On Black ProGen, we have talked about the crushing effects of structural racism on BIPOC families, which in turns shapes the documentation that we can access to research the lives of our ancestors.

Virginia Arocho Rodriguez (1920-2007), granddaughter of Dionisia Leoncia Lasalle & daughter of Juana Rodriguez Lasalle, Moca, Puerto Rico, 2006.

I was honored to speak the names of Leoncia Lasalle, Dionicia Rodriguez Lasalle, Juan Tomas Gandulla and Tomas Gandulla yesterday on the Juneteenth Celebration held by Black ProGen Live with host Nicka Smith, True A. Lewis, Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell and James Morgan III, all bringing knowledge to a lively discussion on different dimensions of what gets folded into Juneteenth, the effort, the freedom and the struggle. It makes one pause how much sitting on knowledge played into this all, how much hiding of violence, how much denial, how much disregard was surmounted in pressing for equality.

I am honored to work on the ancestors of Orlando Williams, whose struggle for justice and recognition of the humanity of his uncle, Claude Neal lynched in Florida in 1934 continues to this day. On Tuesday he will speak before the Jackson County Commission to why the tree where his uncle died needs to be preserved. But that is not the only part of that history– there is the fabric of family that continues to sustain that can’t be obscured by becoming a statistic, number, or symbol. These are ancestors we work with, whose memory we keep alive.

Honor the resilience, the survival and desire channelled into seeking social justice, building institutions, creating communities, for no one can live this life alone. May we persevere and lift our ancestors stories into the present, because we are so in need of those stories in these times– aptly named by Rev. William J. Barber II as the Third Reconstruction, preceded by the Second Reconstruction of the 1960s-70s and the First Reconstruction of the 1860s-70s.

As Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Happy Juneteenth!

Seven Points for Teaching POC Genealogy

family photographs
Three photo postcards from Mayaguez Puerto Rico from the early 1900s, two toddlers flank a young girl.
Three photo postcards from Mayaguez, ca 1910.

It seems almost weekly, we see articles describing tone deaf and racist approaches to the teaching of slavery, on which the foundation of this country rests, and maintains today. Part of the problems rests on the disconnect between this history and how and what we learn, together with where and who delivers a particular narrative about the past. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in response to the recent spate of incidences in schools across the country, issued a report with seven common problems in teaching about slavery, which I rewrote here to apply to genealogy.

1. We understand that slavery is not a universal experience for POC, but it is the fact of how this nation was founded. We seek to research, learn and understand the roles and experiences of families and communities within these systems.

2. We acknowledge that flaws are embedded in particular understandings of American history, and that by understanding their role in impacting family history, we can also work towards change.

3. Enslavement is an American institution that crosses time and place. It existed in all colonies and states at the time of the signing of Declaration of Independence, and its principles continue to be bound with the economic fate of the nation today.

4. We speak to the ideology of white supremacy, and point to its outline and role of eugenics within the formation of genealogical practice. We also consider the perpetuation of slavery within forms of structural racism today, that connects past and present.

5. We deal with traumatic experiences as part of our history; the focus within our approach is on resilience and survival.

6. Genealogy and family history are contextual practices- we seek to incorporate the scope of POC experience by not divorcing it from the cultural currents and practices of the time.

7. Our focus on the lives of POC decenters white experience, and instead references a framework of relevant political and economic impacts in the time leading up to and beyond the Civil War. African American institutions provided structure and opportunity, thereby affording a way out of no way.

These two quotes, from a speech made by James Baldwin in 1980 still resonate today when thinking about family histories, genealogy and their use in interpreting the larger context of living and understanding the past:

“I want to suggest that history is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”

“You got to find out the reality which surrounds you. You got to be able to describe it. You got to be able to describe your mother and your father and your uncles and your junkie cousin. If you aren’t able to describe it, you will not be able to survive it.” “Black English: A Dishonest Argument.” Randall Kenan, ed. James Baldwin,  The Cross of Redemption, Uncollected Writings. 2010. 

Resources

Teaching Hard History: American Slavery. Tolerance.org PDF. SPLC, 2018. https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2018-02/TT-Teaching-Hard-History-American-Slavery-Report-WEB-February2018.pdf

Teaching Hard History: Podcast – Seasons 1 & 2 https://www.tolerance.org/podcasts/teaching-hard-history/american-slavery

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, “Can Genealogy Be Racist? Identity, Roots & the Question of Proof.” Blogpost, 22 March 2018, Latino Genealogy & Beyond.com. https://latinogenealogyandbeyond.com/blog/can-genealogy-be-racist/

Beyond Transcriptions: Jose Antonio Caban Nieves and his five wives

Detail: Barrio Naranjo. Centro Geográfico del Ejército, Itinerario de Moca a Añasco, 1893

What’s in a name?

How many Jose, Maria and Juans have you come across in your tree? Frequently repeated first names can reflect religious preferences, as in Saints Day names or Marian names. The repetition of names can also be a simple preference due to precedents within families or by popularity.
 Sorting out whether a name that keeps cropping up are made up of one or multiple first and last names requires caution as one seeks the supplemental evidence that adds weight to a proof. Even better is locating a document where the informant knew quite a bit about the deceased, to the point of citing several marriages, parents, children or grandparents. There are documents that just begin to knock some brick walls down– and this 1904 document provides just such a moment. 

The son who remembered 

When Jose Antonio Caban Nieves died in 1904, his son, Lorenzo Caban Babilonia was able to recite the names of all the women in his father’s five marriages. Now both of Lorenzo’s parents were gone, as his father  contracted a severe intestinal illness, that resulted in his rapid demise.  How long Jose Antonio’s condition lasted went unmentioned in his death certificate.  Such details are included in more recent certificates, after 1935.

Wives, children and memory 

Jose Antonio Caban Nieves lived long enough to be a 70 year old man who had 16 children, most of whom survived to adulthood. His marriage with Pascasia Babilonia,  was likely the longest of all. Remarkably, his son Lorenzo Caban Babilonia (1866-1946) listed the  names of the children from each marriage.  This also reflects an oral practice of transmitting names and committing them (successfully) to memory, so Lorenzo’s feat was part of learning one’s own family history. We know it’s oral, because at the end of the document, is stated “..firma el Comisonado y los testigos por el declarante no saber firmar, le hace a su ruego..” the Commissioner and witnesses signed on his behalf, because the informant does not know how to write. His father left a will, so there’s additional documentation in the Protocolos Notariales at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico.
As it turns out, NONE of the additional 14 people linked  to Jose were indexed in FamilySearch— another reason why it’s worth checking the original document. 

Detail, Acta de defuncion, Jose Antonio Caban Nieves, F186 #12   1904 image no 1236. Registro Civil, Moca, FS.org
  • Parents:  Marcelo Caban & Ynes Nieves
  • First Marriage: Pascasia Babilonia [Quinones]
  • 10 children, only 8 mentioned: Lorenzo,  Juana, Bibiana, Calista, Ricarda, Anastasio, Juan y Segundino Caban Babilonia.
  • Second Marriage: Felipa Marrero [Hernandez]
  • 3 children: Cleofe, Adelaida & Antonia Caban Marrero 
  • Third Marriage: Juana Babilonia [Perez]
  • 1 child: Juana Nieves Babilonia
  • Fourth Marriage: Evangelista Ortiz [Perez]
    No children
  • Fifth Marriage: Sinforosa Soto [Hernandez]
  • 2 children: Luis y Marian Caban Soto 

What this also tells us is that childbearing proved deadly for some partners. With so many little ones, a widower’s impulse to find another wife was imperative. Here potential mates seem to be in the area of Barrio Naranjo, where farms and plantations of relatives and associates were nearby. Most people were born at home, and infant mortality was high. These births were not for the most part, attended by doctors but comadronas or midwives, used their knowledge to bring the next generation into the world. By the 1930s, comadronas (midwives) had formal training, although the knowledge of delivering babies was known among women long before. The difference was a decline in the number of mothers lost to infeccion puerperal – puerperal fever.

For his first marriage to Petronila Pascasia Babilonia Quinones (1846-bef 1886), my research revealed there was at least one additional child. Petronila, as she mostly appears in documents, was the daughter of Francisco Babilonia Acevedo & Maria Bibiana Quinones Vives, owners of Sitio de la Ranchera during the time of her birth.

Multiple connections emerge from these marriages and children. His siblings also tended to have large families, without additional marriages. HIs older sister, Evangelista Caban Nieves (1818-1916), who married Jose Soto (ca 1813-1906) and had 15 children with him. His brothers Marcelino (1833-1914) and Manuel de Jesus Caban Nieves (1846-1886) married two sisters, the daughters of d. Antonio Perez Gerena and da. Manuela Babilonia Lorenzo de Acevedo. Marcelino married Cirila Isidra Babilonia Perez ( 1834-1911) with whom he had 11 children. Manuel de Jesus married Damiana Babilonia Perez (ca 1835-1888) they had 6 known children.

If you’re related to them, you’re related to me via Manuela Babilonia Acevedo, my GGG aunt and her parents. There are probably additional links via the Caban and the Nieves lines, as well, however that connection remains to be determined, partially caught in gap of missing records for first decade of the early nineteenth century. Going beyond the transcriptions in search results can definitely offer a researcher advantages.

References

Centro Geográfico del Ejército, Itinerario de Moca a Añasco, 1893. Archivo Digital National de Puerto Rico, https://archivonacional.com/PL/1/1/1385

“Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-F8D7 : 17 July 2017), Pascasia Babilonia in entry for José Antonio Caban Y Nieves, 27 Jan 1904; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, “Don Miguel Babilonia (1743-1823) and his Descendants: From Mallorca, Spain to Moca, Puerto Rico.” Hereditas, 16:1, 2015, 6-47; 35-36. https://bit.ly/2Y31yiT

A Bonilla Family Tree: Context, Resistance & Reading Indigeneity

Barrios of Yauco: Red indicates Barrios where Bonillas were based

My latest blog post, is a Guest Post: A Bonilla Family Tree, is about the reading the larger context of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s life and family. This is one of my prima Teresa Vega’s ancestors, who was lynched in Yauco in 1890. Radiant Roots Boricua Branches is her blog. Appreciate this opportunity to delve into her Boricua branches!

Please read both posts at: Decolonizing My Family Tree: Revisting Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo