Part 3: Gathering Information & Pulling it all together
Gathering Data: What the Acta de Defuncion tells us
Four key facts can be gleaned from Juana Nepomucena Caban’s 1888 death certificate:
Juana Nepomucena Caban was of advanced age
Juana was widowed
she had 14 children with Carlos Mendez… and,
Carlos’ death preceded hers.
As Carlos Mendez is not in the Libro de defunciones, Registro Civil (Book of Deaths, Civil Register) for Moca or nearby municipalities, he probably died before 1885, the year this record set begins.
However, Carlos Mendez appears in land rentals and deeds for 1851 in notary documents. In Caja 1444 for Moca, he is mentioned as a neighbor in Barrio Cruz in two documents. Still, this bit of information helps place the family in a specific barrio (ward), adds a date, and can help in finding additional documents.
First, review the document in question– what information is there?
What questions do you seek to answer? What’s your research question?
Create a detailed extract, so you can focus in on the relevant details.
Make Your Own Extracts & Transcriptions
Given the handwriting across the documents in the Civil Registers, it’s often easier to refer to an extract than reread a document with difficult handwriting, so…
A good extract contains more than just a name and a date.
The informant (Declarante or Informante) is identified. This could be anyone from a relative, neighbor, doctor or local official, etc. depending on the circumstances.
Witnesses (Testigos) may or may not be relatives. Sometimes they were locals entrusted with signing off on documents and not related to the persons listed.
The informant’s identity can be a clue as to how reliable the information in the certificate is. Depending on the years, a birth, marriage or death record can provide the names of additional family members, neighbors or officials involved in the reporting of the event.
Officials- Before 1910, Juez de Paz (Justice of the Peace) Secretario or Encargados del Registro Civil (Secretary or Clerk of the Civil Register) appear at the start and end of documents.
Knowing who was the official can provide context. This might be connected to the family in some way, particularly if we are studying rural areas. The further back in time, the more likely this is the situation.
Note any discrepancy between the date of the document registration and the date of the event. This can make quite a bit of difference in birth registrations- some people finally had their birth registered as adults. In terms of death records, the deceased is often buried the following day. It is unusual for the remains to be kept beyond 2-3 days prior to interment.
In early church records, the cemetery surrounded the church building, and municipal cemeteries come later. Later in the nineteenth century, cemeteries were moved out of the town centers, and established further away as a better understanding of illness and germs take hold and public health becomes a field of study. For Moca, the church was built in 1853, and the cemetery located a few blocks away. The old cemetery was moved about 1953.
Source the document, so you can locate the original (or its duplicate) in future. If it’s on FamilySearch, copy the Citation and paste it into your notes or genealogy program.
Reexamine the original document periodically– errors can enter when transcribing. You may find there’s a significant detail missed on the initial reading.
If you have access to original documents, learn to do your own transcribing and tackle that document. Just because a person is on someone’s tree, or it’s a database search result doesn’t mean it’s correct. Age, gender even surnames may be incorrectly noted.
Cause of death may point to health issues that run in a family, or mention of accidents, instances of deliberate harm, etc.
Older documents may list paternal and maternal grandparents in series of birth and death registrations.
Here’s my extract, in Spanish.
This level of detail is helpful when you’re researching a brick wall, and notice most of this information doesn’t come up at all on the FS transcription, so definitely check out the document whenever possible.
Juana Nepomucena Caban [Nieves’] death certificate is available on FamilySearch ( & on Ancestry):
Information is knowledge: Reviewing what you’ve got
So, here is someone born near the start of the 1800s, a widow, identified as ‘white’, who had 14 children, ten of whom were still alive in 1888. We also have the name of her husband and the ward she died in.
Her son Jose Sertoris Mendez was the informant, and she was a widow. Note whether there is mention of a will— here, it’s not even mentioned.
Note that in this case, her son Jose Sertoris Mendez, like the majority of people who lived before 1900 in Puerto Rico, did not know how to write, and so, don Alvaro Lopez, signed on his behalf. This too has implications for records.
Who are Juana Nepomucena Caban’s Parents?
Yet, there’s an issue here— Juana Nepomucena Caban’s parents do not appear on the death certificate, which helps to confirm whether she actually is a Caban Nieves. Since she died a widow in 1888, both her death and that of her husband Carlos Mendez predates the first US Federal Census of 1910. As a search of the Civil Registration and the Index up to 1888 didn’t yield her husband, so he probably died before 1885.
What kind of documents are available? There are parish records, municipal documents and newspapers. If possible, secure a parish record from the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Monserrate in Moca. Check other trees, as there’s a chance another descendant may have already obtained one (hopefully with citations).
In this case, my cousin, Rosalma Mendez shared a set of extracts from the baptismal records that helped to fill in details that I’ve kept together with other early records. Working collaboratively, she is also a member of Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos. Before 2008, members of the group made transcriptions during appointments at the office of La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate that we shared with each other. These lists can still contain surprises years later.
Together with the birth year of the youngest child, a date range for Carlos’ death record can be figured out, and also a range for Juana’s childbearing years. Death records in Puerto Rico often have ages that are rounded up, and a largely rural existence paired with high rates of illiteracy meant many literally did not know when they were born.
Remember, since the person reporting is not the person named in the document (it’s a death certificate, right?), there can be errors in the information provided.
Ok, so let’s see what we can find out from records for her immediate family.
According to this Acta de Defuncion, Juana Nepomucena Caban and Don Carlos Mendez’ 14 children in the death record were:
Rita, Felix, Zenaida, Manuel deceased; Carlos, Sertoris, Marcelino, Nepomuceno, Margaro, Asenciano, Adelaida, Dolores, Ysabel y Nemesi[a] Mendez Caban.
Thanks to two additional records for Gregorio and Ermenegilda Mendez Caban, the couple’s total so far is actually 16 children. If a child died young, they may not be included among those listed in the parent’s death record, their Actas de Defuncion.
I used FamilySearch.org to locate a number of the records for the children, as these results can be more easily searched than in Ancestry.com‘s Puerto Rico Civil Registration record searches. On the other hand, both sites have family trees, and the large database that Ancestry has may turn something up, so it’s worth checking whether there are sources on the tree.
More questions… questioning death records
When I added the children’s information, I found was that their actual dates are much later than anticipated. This puts in question the 1808 year of birth from Juana Nepomucena’s age on the death certificate as eighty.
According to records, her births happened between 1832-1865. Children who died at young age are often left off the death certificates of their parents decades later, so it’s good to search the surname to find anyone else. Transcriptions for her children’s baptisms added very helpful details.
Ultimately, it turns out Juana’s age in the death record is incorrect, as her last child, (unmentioned among the children in her death record), is Ermenegilda Mendez Caban, born about 1865. Given Ermenegilda’s year of birth, if we use Juana Nepomucena Caban’s 1808 date means Juana was about 57, which is a little beyond childbearing years. The children’s years of birth range from 1832-1865, with a young mother born at ca. 1815- 1820.
How does that extra aging happen? Ages in death certificates are often rounded up, so a person can have an additional 5 to 10 years or more added on to get closer to 80, 90 or 100 years of age. Add the notation that records someone signed on behalf of the informant, is another clue that age can be a relative thing in these documents. The focus in daily life then was not so much on holding written documentation, but was dominated by the rhythm of the agricultural cycle. Much of the population during the nineteenth century was illiterate. Also, there were centenarians— but their records have more consistency in terms of age across time.
A maternal surname still missing…
We still need a record that will estabish Juana’s maternal surname, a big help when one is dealing with multiple families that share the same surname and a popular first name. Unfortunately, the records in the Civil Registers can fail to mention a maternal surname, or lack the name of a spouse or of parents. Depending on the time period, they can provide the names of parents and even grandparents. Having a single surname can be a clue to ethnicity and social status— POC in the earlier run of the Civil Register often appear with a single surname, for different reasons, because of former enslavement or birth to a single mother, or even father.
Thanks to Rosalma, the cousin who shared those transcriptions of baptism records for two of Juana and Carlos’s children- Gregorio and Maria Cenaida (Zenaida) Mendez Caban — we now see conflicting surnames for their maternal grandparents. For Gregorio, the maternal grandparents are Juan Caban and Juana Hernandez, and for Maria Cenaida, they are Juan Caban and Juana Lopez.
Whenever possible, check the original and cross reference to determine whether the error was made in transcription or by the recording secretary or, the informant.
As there are no documents for Gregorio Mendez Caban in the Civil Registration, he probably died at a tender age, and the baptismal record is likely all that’s available on him.
It’s also possible that Juana Nepomucena’s potential mother, Juana Hernandez, has both surnames in question as Juana Hernandez Lopez. Women in records prior to the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century— could appear under either their mother’s or father’s surname, emphasizing the maternal line, or out of paternal recognition later on.
Still, even with the conflicting information, we have the names of Juana Nepomucena Caban’s father and her mother’s first name: Juan Caban and Juana —. As of yet, there is no further information regarding a possible second marriage for Juana’s husband Carlos Mendez.
And here we are…
So, based on two baptismal records, Juana Nepomucena was not a Caban Nieves after all. There is a discrepancy, and whether she was a Caban Hernandez or a Caban Lopez still remains to be resolved. That’s ok.
And often, it can’t be done alone, and best done in community to share the bits that may hold the answer to the mystery. You don’t have to go it alone, so look for groups sharing information about a given geographic area or for Puerto Rican genealogy overall. Ask. Between the years 1850 and 1888, details can certainly change across documents, and that’s why we need to do exhaustive searches.
If you’re related, or have info on Carlos Mendez or Juana Nepomucena Caban, please share!
 APNSMM Bautismos, Libro 15 21/MAR/52 nació: 6/p pg. 15 v; Maria Cenaira HL Carlos Méndez y Juana Caban; Abuelos paternos: Federico [Francisco] Méndez y Rosa Hernández; Abuelos maternos: Juan y Juana López; Padrinos: Silverio Aviles y Maria Adelaida Méndez;
22/MAY/1859 nació 9/MAY días pg. 49v Gregorio HL: Carlos Méndez y Nepoconucema Caban. Abuelos Paternos: Francisco Méndez y Rosa Hernández; Abuelos Maternos: Juan Caban y Juana Hernandez Padrinos: Juan de la Cruz Hidalgo y Maria Adelaida Mendez Transcriptions courtesy of Rosalma Mendez, 2006.
This blog post is the first of a 3 part case study that shows a process of resolving name discrepancies. The sections offer Part 1: An overview , Part 2: Dealing with data and then Part 3: Making sense of the bits — gleaning details and pulling it together.
Part One: An Overview
Today, searching for ancestor matches with DNA cousins involves a more intensive use of records that predate 1885. That’s before the 1910 census and the Civil Registration, which began in Puerto Rico in 1885. Various documents cover births, marriages and deaths, three major life events marked by ritual and documents.
Categories, gender, vital documents
First, think about the ways that gender roles and social expectations can shape the information in these documents. 19th-20th C PR society was stratified, meaning that privilege came with white male property holder status at the top. This wasn’t guaranteed. Status could shift over time, often in response to changes in law and downturns in the economy. And it wasn’t just men. Note that women could own and inherit land and run businesses, so they too may appear in more documents.
Life changed in significant ways in the hundred years between 1800-1900. With enough information we may learn why a family’s fortune rose and fell over time. Some recently freed were able to purchase land and property. Yet laws that limited the ability of people to purchase property increased later in the century. This wasn’t necessarily linked to illiteracy, for in Moca, POC had higher rates of literacy in a largely illiterate society. When tracing formerly enslaved ancestors one needs to review many kinds of documents to see where they may be mentioned.
Ultimately, many different ancestries blended on the island. Still, there can be problems in tracing descent along maternal lines, particularly if one is just focusing on male heads of household. There were many female headed households among African or Afro-Indigenous descended families. Laws enforced the use of single surnames and descriptive terms of color to distinguish free and unfree people from those in power.
Names can change over time. Among the reasons people changed surnames was as a result of parents remarrying, or to recognize paternity by using their father’s surname as a maternal surname. Some simply used a maternal surname to have another identity. You maybe able to find out why and add that story to your family history.
Knowing Where to Go Next
To all of these reasons for potential variations in sources, add the gaps in record sets. A range of techniques is needed to solve these riddles of identity and complete a reasonably exhaustive search.
One helpful book for determining the range of extant records for parishes across the island is Rodriguez-Leon OP’s La Microdemografica Parroquial de Puerto Rico.  Access to these records can vary. Some are microfilmed and while some parishes have refused the filming of their records, there is an effort underway to digitize and centralize records through the Archivo Diocesano in San Juan, and the SPG (Sociedad Puertorriquena de Genealogia) has transcriptions and books available for members (and some transcriptions for non-members).
Four parishes did not film their archives in the late 1980- early 1990s project by the LDS, yet several related sets of parish and municipal were uploaded to the FamilySearch.org site. They’ve reorganized the search page. Scroll down. Note how the database now clusters related resources beneath the search panel. Look at surrounding municipalities as they may have relatives there as well.
Protestant records begin after the Spanish American War. As I’m going to discuss the early to late nineteenth centuries, parish records will be for the Catholic Church, supplemented by available notarial documents. Next, to consider an 1888 death record for Juana Nepomucena Caban who died age 80 in Moca.
 Mario A. Rodriguez-Leon OP’s Los Registros Parroquiales y La Microdemografica Parroquial de Puerto Rico. Centro de Estudios Avanzados, San Juan, PR 1986.
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca 1772 al 2000. 2008, Lulu.com
In this post, I’ll provide the context of a death record for Juana Nepomucena Caban as we start to unpack what appears in this 1888 Acta de Defuncion. Ultimately whatever information is collected, consider it together with any available documentation as you work your way to earlier generations.
Since one document leads to another, the civil registration can be tied to parish records, municipal documents, census, passports, etc. The information these contain, taken together can demonstrate some of the principles of the Genealogical Proof Standard, by examples in the next post. What details can a document provide to help understand an ancestor’s past?
We’ll start with the death certificate, an Acta de Defuncion created just three years after the Registro Civil begins. Will that document establish who are the parents of Juana Nepomuceno Caban of Moca, Puerto Rico?
Context: The Who & Where of Juana Nepomucena Caban’s Death
Early in the morning of 3 May 1888, Jose Sertoris Mendez Caban, a married farmer born in Moca, left Barrio Voladoras and went to the pueblo to report the death of his eighty year old mother, Juana Nepomucena Caban. At 8AM, before the municipal judge Leon Lopez Diaz, and Juan Nepomuceno Miranda and Jose Maria Euche, the judge’s two agents, or actuarios, Jose Sertoris Mendez gave the committee her cause of death, the names of his father and 13 siblings. Locals Avelino Miranda and Jose Cosme Lopez, ‘cigarrero y el segundo panadero’ (‘cigarette maker and the second, bread maker’) served as witnesses along with Jose Quinones, panadero, and Jose F Maldonado, comerciante (businessman).
This offers a glimpse of the local community in Barrio Pueblo at the time. Often, many of the people mentioned are related, with ties to land, local production or commerce, revealed with further research. In the late 18th-early 20th centuries, Barrio Voladoras was a rural area with farms and plantations that provided subsistence crops in addition to luxury crops such as coffee and sugar.
Juana Nepomucena Caban’s parents aren’t mentioned. The details in this document help outline her family, and leave significant questions about her parents. Even the inked over surname seems to suggest doubt. Why didn’t Jose Sertoris mention his grandparents?
This is information that can change the ancestors that connect, and provide previously unknown branches as many learn via DNA cousin matches. With Puerto Rico’s high degree of endogamy, documents can offer clues to chart the connection, and if available, oral history may help to confirm details. Regardless, missing documents can leave one grateful that an ancestor made it into the Registro Civil, which starts in 1885.
If a family had resources, there’s a higher likelihood of locating them in notarial documents (wills, rental arrangements, land sales, enslavement, etc) newspapers (Library of Congress) or dispensations (dispensas) at the Archivo Diocesano in San Juan. Some digitized series and transcriptions are available. These ancestors may be mentioned even if they were not the parties who filed for the documents with the local notary.
When working with record sets and transcriptions, one wants to have access to original records, but the next best thing is microfilm. Currently, the largest collection of documents on microfilm is on FamilySearch.
There are some problems seeing original primary documents in Puerto Rico: many parish records aren’t readily accessible, trying to make appointments at the Archivo General de Puerto Rico or Special Collections at UPR or InterAmericana in a pandemic for starters., Next are the significant gaps for some early nineteenth century records.
There’s a heavy reliance on transcriptions because of restrictions on other record sets such as notarial records. Unlike other countries, notarial documents have no expiration date in Puerto Rico. As the original documents disappear, transcriptions then become primary sources. That digitized microfilm may be the only copy of records that survived fire, weather, insects and heat over the centuries. It’s still better than having no sources at all.
You’ll want to keep track of your sources so any conflicting information can be traced back, and know its source to avoid repeating an error in the future.
Basically, researching involves cross referencing the information in records, tracking children and tracing collateral lines. Broadening the family tree has the potential to yield some answers, especially when there are several lines with the same surname in an area. In this case, Caban is a surname in NW Puerto Rico that has clusters in Aguada, Moca, Aguadilla and Isabela, made up of different families.
Identity, Names, Surnames
Born in Moca, a municipality in northwest Puerto Rico sometime during the early 1800s, Juana Nepomucena Caban lived through the island’s social and economic shifts. Over the eight decades of her long life, the farms that produced for subsistence and some luxury crops for export, shifted to the rise of coffee and larger sugar plantations . We can glean several facts from her death record of 1888, which i’ll list in the next post.
In the pages of the Registro Civil for Moca, Juana Nepomucena Caban appears as Caban Nieves in her death certificate– but is her maternal surname correct?
Given that there are several Caban lines across the northwest that can differ in terms of ethnicity, endogamy and/or origin, confirm identity with as many sources as possible. As errors do appear in official documents, earlier records may confirm her maternal line. Closer relatives can provide more details than say, a neighbor sent to register a birth or death. Sometimes the relationship is not mentioned, but becomes apparent as you build your tree.
Secondary sources: sometimes it’s the only resource
In this document, the 1888 information can be compared with a transcribed 1859 baptismal record for her son, Gregorio Mendez Caban. In it, Gregorio’s maternal grandmother, (Juana Nepomucena’s mother), is simply identified as Juana Hernandez, wife of Juan Caban— not Juana Nieves.
In fact, thanks to transcriptions by a Sociedad Ancestro Mocanos member Rosalma Mendez, information on another daughter, Zenaida, also lists a variation in an early baptism record. Since this is a transcription of an earlier document, it’s a reason to keep searching and find additional records to confirm her parents identities. More on this in the next post.
Naming patterns: clues in variations
What about Juana Nepomucena Caban’s given name? She can appear in records as Juana, Juana Nepomucena, or simply as Nepomucena, the female version of the name for Saint Juan Nepomuceno. Tracking name variations is helpful for searching. These can include middle names or even apodos, the nicknames used on a daily basis. At times a nickname appears in a record or oral history. First names can repeat in family naming patterns and offer another clue to follow.
Roots like yams, yuca, yautia, malanga known by different names on different islands and continents are central to Puerto Rican foodways and are also tied to a larger history of the slave trade over several centuries. Come with me as I trace yams from the cooking pot out to the hills of Moca and across the oceans to Africa and from Puerto Rico to Cuba.
In March 2007, Lele set up a stand outside his grocery store in Barrio Pueblo, Moca, so that a group of friends could share in cooking and eating the delicious root they dug up in the hills the previous day. ñame (NyAH-meh), a variety of yam, grows to various sizes and has pale yellow or white flesh, or pith. Here Lele made a sancocho, adding oxtail for the broth the ñame cooks in, filled with other roots, herbs and boiled green bananas.
There are several varieties of yam some, like ñame blanco, Dioscorea rotundata is originally from West Africa; other kinds come from tropical Asia, Brazil and other areas of South America. Dioscorea and its varieties is a plant that’s been cultivated for over 5,000 years around the world.
The centrality of yams to the diet in West Africa is reflected in the number of names each one has that gives technical and historical information- in the Cote d’Ivoire, this tuber has 166 names, and in Benin, it has 311. This is a large vine that can reach a height of and takes 6-8 months vegetative cycle with 3-5 months dormancy for the tubers to grow. 
Another key root is yuca, known as cassava. It’s one of the oldest crops on the island, grown in piles of earth called conucos. Grated, used to make cassava bread, flat and baked on hot stones, or, given it’s mild flavor, prepared with other ingredients, be used in stews, roasted or fried.
Ultimately, what’s in a meal made with yams, cassava, green bananas and plantains is a blend of ingredients and cultures brought to the Caribbean over thousands of years and hundreds of miles by different groups of people in systems of intercolonial trade.
Digging the Roots in Moca
I was able to go ñame hunting with my cousin Enrique Rivera in the hills of a farm that his friend owned in the hills of Barrio Cruz. We went down a steep edge, looking for potential spots where vegetation was already cleared. One person searched through brush for the right leaves, and with knives and machetes, we began to carve out the soil to yield the root. Large and heavy with moisture, these roots can easily weigh several pounds.
Peeled, grated, then fried, people make bunuelos de ñame, or have them along with other roots, as in the dish verduras con bacalao, which can include a selection of yuca, batata, malanga, yautia and guineos verdes (green bananas), simply boiled with prepared bacalao (dried cod fish) in or on the side, drizzled with olive oil.
Mash it, bake it, boil it or, sauteed, roots can provide a filling, tasty meal. Know that most of the corn, green bananas and plantain during the 18th & 19th centuries made up a large portion of the diet of our enslaved and impoverished ancestors in the Caribbean.
Wild Yams & Other Naming Practices
Here’s a photo taken in the 1950s of a man coming out of a jungle carrying a large wild yam on his shoulder from the Library of Congress website. (This yam was not eaten, but used as a source for hormones.) Still, it gives an idea of the size these roots can often grow to- and they can reach 130 pounds. In this case, the local name of the yam, ‘cabezo de negro’ demonstrates how ideas around race and labor are linked to food, yet the location where the photo was taken, and the name of the person who appears in the photograph are not mentioned. Names can reflect the inequalities of power, just as the photograph hides the person taking the image and the organization that makes the image possible.
What’s in a name?
However, the terms cabezo, cabezon, can invoke images of retaliation by planters and resistance by the enslaved. In Guillermo A. Baralt’s Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico, African-born enslaved laborers called bozales, were those who “more than the other slaves, resisted the work regime to which they were subjected when they arrived on the island.  Those who rebelled in Bayamon in 1822 and in Ponce in 1826 had arrived only a few months before the conspiracy. The ones who fought most resolutely against their owners for over half a century were the “negros cabezones” [pigheaded blacks]. They included the leaders of the Ponce conspiracy of 1841 and enslaved Longoba nation members in Toa Baja in 1843, along with those in Vega Baja in 1840.”
A bitter reality: sugar production & slavery
This portion of the 1886 Colton & Co. topographic map of Puerto Rico gives a sense of how the proximity of waterways and the free town of Cangrejos to the east likely served as inspiration for those enslaved across Bayamon and beyond who sought self liberation before 1873. The names of wards that dot the map are also those of sugar mills (Ingenios), such as Media Luna in Toa Baja and El Plantaje in Palo Seco.
Sugar dominated the landscape outside of San Juan, a region that extended from Toa Baja and Palo Seco on the west and Loiza, Carolina and Trujillo Bajo in the east. This was the earliest monoculture region on the island, and as such confronted the problems of slave rebellions. 
As Guillermo Baralt notes, “From the time of the first sugar mills were established in Toa Baja, including that of the heirs of Juan Ponce de Leon, the sugar industry had been closely linked to black Africans and their American descendants. As this industry began to develop on a large scale at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, the number of slaves almost doubled, from 208 in 1776 to 410 in 1827.” [5 ]
The increased numbers of enslaved Africans in the hatos of the surrounding area were in part due to Toa Baja’s open involvement in an illegal slave trade during the early 19th century. I delve into details in this blog because one may find their line leads to this region, yet a specific ancestor is not found. As my cousin, genealogist Teresa Vega notes, that today our DNA tests may show connections, yet those direct ties may be to an ancestor we may never know because of the social conditions of slavery. This cultural and economic arrangement aimed to define people as less than, just as in the American South and countries where slavery was legal. Still, small numbers of the enslaved managed to have their relationships and children recognized, and were able to buy their freedom (coartacion). As a result, they stand to appear in more documentation as once owned, as free, and as owners of property.
Spain ended slavery within its own country in 1836, while in the Caribbean, despite signing treaties with England, Spanish ships were liable to be seized and its human cargo confiscated by British patrols if they were determined to be slavers. Yet there were citizens who requested and recieved special licenses to import dozens, or hundreds of enslaved people at a time.
One was the planter and slave trader in Toa Baja, Francisco Soler, owner of Hacienda San Pedro and also Regidor (city councilman) of the Ayuntamiento (municipal government) of Toa Baja. In 1824, Soler had licenses to import 300 slaves and between 1830-1840, he was granted licenses for bringing slaves into Puerto Rico. The argument offered for importing enslaved people for the market was “because one could not depend on the free workers as they abandoned the preparatory tasks for the harvests..”  The lack of confidence in free labor was the explanation offered for why in Puerto Rico, the purchasing of slaves continued right up to the moment of abolition in 1873. [7,8]
As freedom in Cuba was a late arrival in 1886, I expect there were planters in Puerto Rico who took advantage of this situation to transfer their enslaved labor to plantations in Cuba via a network of family connections. As I review the documents tied to various ingenios (sugar mills) in the region, I also see surnames tied to my extended family in the north west- Salas, Quinones, among others.
The trade continued, with the origin of enslaved Africans hidden on documents. This official anti-slaving activity had only a partial effect on reducing the numbers of people transported during the Middle Passage. Afterwards, as availability of enslaved African laborers waned, the price of bozales increased considerably as a result. At the same time, sugar slid in value, and the process was only partially mechanized. To make matters even more pressing, different and more refined sugars entered the market, diminishing the value of Puerto Rican muscovado sugar. 
Similar machines, literally ‘blood mills’ based on older technologies caused workers serious injuries. Notice the woman, who represents the fact that many enslaved workers male and female worked crops from planting to harvest.
A focus on the economy only serves to hide human suffering involved in the production of materials for mass consumption. There’s a shift happening where la otra cara de la historia (the ‘other face of history’) is taking center stage in research and family histories of POC. The panelists on Black ProGen LIVE are part of this shift.
Y como me gusta mi historia negra, asi guanta la azucar.
And as I also like my history black, hold the sugar.*
Resistance and Retaliation: Toa Baja, 1843
The reduced availability of Africans, and the ensuing rise in the price of the enslaved did not mean slavery in Puerto Rico was benign, just as in other places, violence was seen as a means to gain profit. Work regimes were brutal with the rise in sugar, and many situations only became even more desperate. Toa Baja’s open investment in the illegal slave trade, the changes in its boundaries with the formation of the municipalities of Palo Seco on the east and Dorado on the west meant the ensuing loss of wealth was paired with the increased production of sugar with a price in free fall. The situation of the enslaved worsened. Revolt and resistance became a constant.
Historian Andres Ramos Mattei described the conditions the enslaved labored under at an Ingenio (sugar mill):
… and after the labor of cutting cane ended, they were sent to the factory where they were obligated to stay until almost midnight. The freed worked at night and less in the factory because, among other things, the infernal noise and intolerable heat of the same. The inhuman work conditions, the bad quality of life, the lack of infrastructure and the little security before accidents that occur while operating equipment and machinery, that made accidents possible and the deaths of sugar workers. 
During the harvest break, a group of enslaved Longoba men gathered to play nine pins at a farm in barrio Mameyal for their holiday. There, at the Cantero hacienda, an absentee owner, they quickly planned and executed their takeover of the town of Toa Baja. The group was led by Cornelio, alias Bembe, who complained of ill treatment and lack of food at his master’s hacienda, that of the widow Dona Maria de la Concepcion ‘Concha’ Pasalagua.
What ultimately ensued was the only slave uprising to succeed in its initial moments, yet ended with substantial difficulty by nearly a thousand people including several troops of militias. 
The death penalty in Puerto Rico, 1843
More on the consequences of these acts are discussed in Jalil Sued-Badillo’s La Pena de Muerte en Puerto Rico (2000). All cases of slave conspiracies were handled by military tribunals that condemned and executed those found guilty. In 1826, regulations were passed by Governor de la Torre and ratified in 1829. Punishments ranged from hanging and quartering from 1700s to the 1830s, then by firing squad, garrote and quartering or decapitation; or simply by decapitation, the sentence for three enslaved persons in Fajardo in 1843. 
Those involved with the uprising in Toa Baja came from dona Pasalagua’s hacienda, situated west of the town, a property managed by Pascasio Charbonieu, who married Maria de la Concepcion Pasalagua’s sister, Maria Belen Pasalagua Cordova. 
They were sentenced on the 18 May 1843.
Among the Longoba were:
Bembe (baptized Cornelio)
and others from the hacienda owned by Francisco Cantero.
Five soldiers and Bembe were killed in the fighting. and soldiers were decorated, relatives of those who died received decorations from the government and for a few, even pensions. Below is a chart based on the list of the condemned in Sued Badillo’s La Pena de Muerte.
This portion of the official report, Sintomas de sedicion de esclavos en un ingenio de Toa Baja – (Symptom of a sedition of slaves at a mill in Toa Baja) refers to the extensive networks among enslaved laborers:
…Este Negro ha declarado estar en la conspiración varios Capatares de diferentes Haciendas de Naguabo, Caguas, Mayag.s, S.n German, Penuelas y Loiza, cuyos Priciones he mandado ejecutar por Comisionados especiales q.e les resiban acta continuo sus declaraciones inquisitiva…
..This Black has declared being in conspiracies versus various Overseers of different Haciendas in Naguabo, Caguas, Mayaguez, San German, Penuelas and Loiza, in shackles he sent orders by special Commissioners who received the acts continue their investigative questioning…
I expected to see extensive coverage of the insurrection given the number of persons involved. Yet this is the only notice in La Gazeta de Puerto Rico, the official newspaper of the Spanish government, tied to the uprising of 1843. It is short and simple, a request for bids for the repair of the Casa del Rey in the pueblo– the same building initially taken over by the enslaved laborers just days earlier.
Regardless of the state’s warnings and the penalty of death, resistance to enslavement continued. Executions were completed in public places or at the same haciendas, with enslaved brought from the surrounding area to witness the delivery of a tableau intended as a warning. As the price of sugar dropped, the added pressure placed by rebellion and escape by the enslaved did not end until the legal abolition of slavery in 1873.
The family who owned Longoba people
Persons owned by the viuda Pasalagua and her husband are listed in the Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Genealogia’s Collecion de Genealogia e Historia, Tomo III: Aportaciones de los naciones africanas a la familia puertorriqueña. They were divided by owner, with several enslaved people owned by the widow Pasalagua and the other those who stood to inherit from her deceased husband via the, ‘sucesión de la familia Hernandez.’
Merging of powers
On the first of January 1833, dona Maria de la Concepcion Pasalagua and don Juan Zoilo Hernandez were married in the Iglesia de San Pedro Apostle de Toa Baja. The first of January was a time of celebration, a break between the end of harvest and the start of planting.
The Hernandez family had a tradition of producing sugar in Toa Baja and were connected to the Pasalagua Cordova bride by family, having a dispensation for “3er con 3er con 4to grado de consangunidad”, indicating the pair were second and third cousins with at least one great grandparent in common. 
The parents of the bride, Capitan Infanteria d. Gil Pasalagua and da. Rosa de Cordova and those of the groom d. Francisco Antonio Hernandez and da. Maria de los Angeles Marrero was a union of power and commerce, representative of the island’s shift from military outpost to sugar based economy built on unsteady ground.
Even the notations on the marriage certificate point to uncertainty, observing that the marriage certificate of ‘one Jose Miguel Pasalagua and Regina Pinero were mistakenly entered in the Libro de pardos, and folio 10 corresponds to the present Libro de blancos.” (See below) [12 ] There is no date listed, and the entry bears the signature ‘Marrero’.
The text of the edge note says:
Que la partida de Matrimonio de Jose Miguel Pasalagua y Ma. Regina Pinero queda equivocada ante halla en el libro de pardos el folio 10 corresponde al presente libro de blancos Anotado y debido ante [illeg.]
The volumes for the Iglesia San Pedro de Apostol are not indexed. To be entered in the Libro de pardos (literally The book of browns) was to be officially marked as a person of color in society, so whether this was administrative error, or a corrective to a known situation isn’t clear. Perhaps other documents will shed more light on the situation.
As historians of slavery show, endogamy shaped the lives of the people held in slavery, particularly when small slaveholding is involved. Through marriage and inheritance, the enslaved and their communities faced any number of situations from transfer of household to outright sale and the sometimes lengthy process of potentially purchasing their freedom through coartación (self purchase).
Additional connections to the family were also created through coercion or consent. Either way, relationships were subject to an imbalance of power and the wishes of the slaveholder. More may be revealed through a combination of DNA and documentation, both oral and historical.
Ultimately, the marriage between dona Pasalagua and her husband did not last long. Don Juan Zoilo Hernandez Marrero died in March 1839, leaving her in charge of running the property on behalf of the estate. She was a proprietor with links to family also invested in the production of sugar, and was one of numerous female slaveowners in 19th century Puerto Rico.
One of the interesting, yet at first puzzling detail is the activity of baptizing the enslaved in groups. The list of people referenced earlier in the SPG’s Tomo III: Aportaciones de los naciones africanas a la familia puertorriqueña show two clusters of people being baptized– one group that belonged to Juan Zoilo Hernandez and the other to his wife Maria Pasalagua.
Here are the baptisms of Antonio, Gabino and Loreto that took place 18 May 1842. The enslaved that belonged to the Pasalagua and Hernandez families appear in the pages of the Libro de Bautismos of San Pedro de Apostol, Toa Baja. They were baptized in groups, and are listed in Libros 8 & 9 of Bautismos; the enslaved were born in Africa, and ranged in age from 10 to 40.
Why baptize adults? A page from Agustin Booth Corbin’s 1844 Book Second: The Spanish Colonies lays out the reasons for religious education and incorporation into Catholicism:
Limiting instruction, also meant to give teachings designed “to strengthen the authority of the masters by accommodating the slaves to submission and teaching them to endure the privations of their transient condition with the resignation that religion alone can inspire…. to encourage the religion which accustoms to submission…”
The 1826 slave code, passed in 1829, was instituted after a thousand people participated in uprisings in 1821 and more after. Article 2 of the 1826 Reglamento sobre la education, trato y ocupaciones que deben dar a sus esclavos los duenos y mayordomos en esta Isla states that the enslaved must be baptized within a year of residence or at most by two years of arrival.
This gives us a window for the purchase of the enslaved owned by the family of Juan Zoilo Hernandez and Maria Concepcion Passalagua.
Hardened beliefs versus flexible realities, denial versus possibility
However, looking back to 1806, self liberation was already a tradition of sorts, that emphasized survival and self preservation were fundamental values, and is part of the larger history of Marronage. Marronage existed in various forms in every slaveholding society in the western hemisphere, with Indian peoples forming the earliest Maroon communities in the Caribbean. As twenty to twenty-five people could run away in a single night, planter families argued they were being ruined by the loss of their human property. 
Document XIII.3 shows a list of 18 individuals who ran away one night in June 1806 from the haciendas of Santiago Rios and the heirs of the Irishman David Quinlan. Among them were men women and children, and they took a piragua or small canoe from Rios’ plantation and made it out by the Boca havana (Mouth of Havana), with machetes and two shotguns. Two had different origins as suggested by their surnames, Manuel Congo and Miguel Franses. 
From Rios Plantation:
Vicente, his partner and Francisco Roman and his partner Manuel Congo, his partner and two children Zeferino Miguel Franses Ignacio Atanacio Juan de la Cruz Juan Pedro
From Quinlan’s Plantation Francisco Juaquin Francisco
By 1812, Santiago Rios was first among the main producers of sugar, together with Juan Ramos, Pablo and Santiago Cordova, Francisco Nevarez, Fernando Davila, Silvestre Roman, Francisco Antonio Hernandez, Jose Rodriguez, Francisco Salas and Jose Garcia. All were prominent political citizens who held posts in Toa Baja’s Junta de Visita, and in 1813, the Town Council comprised Francisco Hernandez as Alcalde (Mayor), Santiago de Cordova, Jose Narcisco Salgado and Francisco Marrero were Regidores; Francisco Salas as Sindico Procurador and Jose Maria Ramirez as Caballero Regidor. They were also important hacendados, (plantation owners). 
One can see that the Hernandez-Passalagua marriage involved Francisco Antonio Hernandez, as father of the groom, and Santiago Cordova, who is likely related to the bride via her mother; Francisco Marrero may have still been Regidor of Toa Baja in 1833.
This union translated into a level of power over those who toiled the land. Despite the interwoven nature of power and sugar production over the lives of the enslaved, they continued to resist.
Calling their names- Restoring the visibility of resistance
Earlier histories of Puerto Rico do not mention the 1843 uprising. Loida Figueroa’s History of Puerto Rico  made an effort to acknowledge the African presence in PR history by designating a separate chapter to cover the history of resistance and racial categorizations, along with the legal structure of the Slave Trade. She provides one of the earliest challenges to the nascent historiography of slavery prior to the work of historians during the 1980s, when the first studies began putting slavery at the center of research.
Yet here, the slave revolt of Toa Baja receives a few sentences noting that “the necessary solidarity did not exist among them all.” Figueroa Mercado adds the observation by historian Luis Diaz Soler, author of Historia de esclavitud en Puerto Rico, who made the remarkable claim that “no racial hatred existed on Puerto Rico.” She strove to point to the paternalistic view that colored some of Diaz Soler’s Historia, which for over 40 years was the only extended work on the history of slavery in Puerto Rico.
Silence on the continuous history of slave resistance in Puerto Rican historiography began to change after the 1960s, in part of public calls for recognition through civil and human rights movements that emerged in the wake of world wars, Jim Crow and mass industrialization. These connections are is what we in BlackProGen are actively working through in our respective blogs.
They Are We: Sierra Leone – Cuba … and Puerto Rico ?
The descendants of the Ganga-Longoba in Cuba kept their traditions alive. Australian historian Emma Christopher filmed the celebration held by descendants whose enslaved ancestors labored at the Santa Elena plantation in Perico. She then screened the footage in various sites in Africa, trying to determine the origin of the traditions, sung in Banta, a language almost extinct nearly two centuries later.
This led Christopher to film the documentary They Are We — the title based the words uttered by the villagers in Sierra Leone upon seeing the film of Afro-Cuban community members and their traditions. Eventually, a small group of descendants was able to travel to Mokpangumba, Sierra Leone to confirm family ties and celebrate their return home some 170 years later.
The ancestor who carried the tradition to Cuba was stolen from a village in Sierra Leone and arrived in the 1820s. Josefa Ganga lived to see the abolition of slavery in Cuba in 1886. She brought with her songs and dances in Banta, traditions for a secret society devoted to healing, on to her daughter and granddaughter. The centrality of music, oral poetry, literal and oral history in maintaining memory exists across the Caribbean, with opportunities to reconnect these ties. As with other communities in the New World, African and Indigenous women transmit values through story-telling, poetry, song and dance.  For Josefa Ganga, formerly enslaved on a sugar plantation early in the nineteenth century, cultural practices offered the gift of resilience. The site these ancestors worked was known as the Ingeniero Santa Elena.
Could this community in Perico, Cuba have connections to the Longoba nation members who were bought and sold to planters in Toa Baja? While the Longoba in Puerto Rico are mentioned in the historical record, their place of origin is not named. As I noted earlier in the article, ‘Longoba’ is used as a descriptor and for one man involved in the uprising, as a surname, Enrique Longoba.
Also in Toa Baja is the Ingeniero Santa Elena, which operated from 1790. Made of pink brick, the buildings are part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as the only surviving 18th century sugar mill on the island.
This description from 1902 provides insight into the workings of the mill. Perhaps the map of the property lends an idea of how overwhelming the site was, and the ease with which those who wished to steal themselves could plan their escape by reaching the waterways. And they did.
Given the proximity between Cuba and Puerto Rico, and Toa Baja’s open involvement in the illegal slave trade, it’s likely they shared the families and traditions ripped from Upper Banta Chiefdom of Mokpangumba, Sierra Leone over 170 years ago.
Worlds in a bodega
Many in Moca know how to differentiate the leaves of different varieties of plants and roots and where they grow. As a small child in the South Bronx, I learned the varieties from the refrigerated bins in bodegas, with my mother teaching me which root was which from the different shapes and skins. We bought cilantro, recao and tiny sweet red bonnet peppers, all packed in tiny brown paper bags to carry home for her sofrito for our next meal.
Embedded within the foodways that cross our paths are stories of healing and survival, carried by voices over time. 
* “I like my history black… hold the sugar” A shout out to Joseph McGill, of The Slave Dwelling Project whose organization works to preserve slave dwellings across the US. Part of this work takes a simple visceral act of sleeping in extant slave dwellings with a group of people to connect with this fundamental and foundational history.
 Jalil Sued-Badillo, La Pena de Muerte en Puerto Rico: Retrospectiva histórica para una reflexión contemporánea. Puerto Rico: Editorial Centenario SA, 2000, 46-47
 Fernando Pico, Al filo del poder: Subalternos y dominantes en Puerto Rico, 1739-1910. Puerto Rico: Editorial UPR
 Francisco Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” Puerto Rico: Cinco Siglos de Historia, 414.
 Baralt, Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico 60
 Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” 414; Baralt, Slave Revolts in Puerto Rico.
 Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” 414.
 Quote from Andres Ramos Mattei Ramos,
“…y después que terminaba el corte diario de caña, se dirigían a la fábrica en donde los obligaban a permanecer hasta casi la medianoche. Los libres rehusaban trabajos de noche y menos en las fábricas debido a, entre otras cosas, el ruido infernal y el calor insoportable en las mismas. El trabajo inhumano, la mala calidad de vida, la poca infraestructura y la poca seguridad ante los accidentes en el manejo de los equipos y la maquinaria, hacia posible los accidentes y las muertes de los trabajadores del azúcar.”
Andres Ramos Mattei, La hacienda azucarera: su crecimiento y crisis en Puerto Rico (Siglo XIX), San Juan: CEREP, 1981. Quoted in German Diaz Maldonado, “Rebeliones de negros esclavos en Puerto Rico durante el primer tercio del siglo XIX: ensayo historiográfico.” 20 May 2016. Academia.edu.
 Scarano, “En peligro la libertad de todos.” 414
 APISPA, Toa Baja. Libro de Matrimonios, F57
[12 ] APISPA, Toa Baja. Libro de Matrimonios, F57
 APISPA, Toa Baja. Libro de Bautismos, 8B (1835-1843) 251v
 “10 Julio 1806, Noticia de esclavos profugos.” (10 July 1806, Notice of Runaway slaves), Document XIII.3, Benjamin Nistal-Moret, Esclavos profugos y cimarrones: Puerto Rico, 1770-1870. Editorial UPR, 1984, 242-243.
 Baralt, 90
 Loida Figueroa Mercado, “Chapter XII 1. The negro element in the formation of the Puerto Rican nation.” History of Puerto Rico: From the beginning to the 1892. NY: L.A. Publishing Company, Inc. 1977, 247-275.
 Sociedad Puertorriqueña de Genealogia’s Catalogó de Africanos
 Mary E. Modupe Kolawole, “An African View of Transatlantic Slavery and the Role of Oral Testimony in Creating a New Legacy.” Anthony Tibbles, ed. Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity. National Museums and Galleries of Derbyside, 1994, 105-110.
Note: This is an updated version of an earlier blog post on El Orgullo de ser Mocano.