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

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

Some Amazing Things You Can Learn in the Registro Civil

If you’re doing Latinx genealogy tied to the Spanish empire, you’ll eventually hit a version of the Registro Civil, the Civil Register for births, deaths and marriages that keep track of the population. Depending on the country, these volumes of vital records begin in different years, and are incredible sources of information… depending on how well the person reporting the death knew the family.

Once you become more familiar with these volumes, you’ll notice shifts in the formatting as it goes from completely handwritten (for better or for worse) to progressively printed forms for entry. The forms evolve as the legal system evolves, with different requirements specified and vetted over time.  Ok so stay with me– while this is an example from Puerto Rico, there’s a bigger lesson about details here for you to think about.

Variations, Forms, Changes…

Recently, someone asked me about an ancestor tied to the Muniz line, and if you do genealogy, you know one person is never enough. So here’s an example of two 1917 death certificates, with significant differences in the  information given  by the Declarante (Informant). It’s a great example of the variations in registering information on life passages.

On the left, is the certificate for Petronila Aviles Gonzalez ( -1917), and on the right, Faustino Muniz Mendez (1877-1917).  For Petronila, the informant is the child of the deceased. Basically her son,  Basilio doesn’t know the names of his grandparents (pink arrows).  For Faustino, the informant is a sibling of the deceased. His brother Casimiro knows the wife, her age, the names of their seven children and… and this is a big one, the names of his paternal and maternal grandparents.

L- Petronila Aviles Gonzalez R- Faustino Muniz Mendez Acta Defuncion, 1917, Registro Civil, Moca, Puerto Rico [details w arrows transcribed below]
You can see these records on FamilySearch at https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-NCNT 

https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-NCNP

Details That Matter

In Petronila’s certificate, her son, Basilio Soto Aviles, is the informant, and his relationship comes later in the document. “Los abuelos paternos y maternos no lo conoce el declarante segun informa.” Translation:  “As the informant states he doesn’t know the names of his paternal  and maternal grandparents”

On the right, in Faustino Muniz Mendez’ certificate, his informant is his brother Casimiro Muniz.  Casimiro is able to name Faustino’s wife, his seven children, his parents, his mother’s parents and his father’s parents.  There are 16 people listed on his death certificate, and only 3 are listed in the transcription on FamilySearch. Good luck finding it by search- Muñiz is spelled Muñez.

In case you can’t read the image for Faustino’s certificate above, the red arrows point to significant information:

1. Casimiro Muniz mayor de edad, casado, de profesion labrador natural de Moca, PR y avecinado en el barrio de Cuchillas de Moca, PR…

2. Que era casado con Maria Hernandez, natural de Moca, blanca, de treinticinco anos de edad de cuyo matrimonio tuvieron siete hijos, seis que viven Amador, Martina Muniz y Hernandez, Toribio, Lauro, Telesforo, Francisco, Eulogio, los que residen en el barrio Cuchillas y este llamado Pablo difunto. 

3. Que era hijo legitimo de Eusebio Muniz y Paula Mendez, hoy difuntos

4. Abuelos Paternos: Manuel Muniz y Felipa Perez, naturales de Moca blancos y hoy difuntos

Abuelos Maternos: Juan Mendez y Maria Perez, naturales de Moca, hoy difuntos

So we know how old his wife was, that they had some 7 children, one no longer living, and where his grandparents on both sides were from.

Benefits

It pays to go beyond the transcriptions on FamilySearch and Ancestry. That way you can avoid situations like having a parvulo (infant)  listed in your tree as your great grandmother because you didn’t take the time to read the original document.  Thanks to Casimiro’s statement, we have three generations on one document, and the information brings us closer to the early 1800s.  Don’t take the notations for race literally, use it as a prompt to learn more about how people are categorized by official services.

  • notice patterns in family names
  • find different barrios (wards) that the family lived in
  • determine an end date for grandparents based on mention of whether they are alive or have passed away
  • another point of origin for your family, either on a local level or internationally
  • you may also find unexpected details such as additional marriages or living arrangements, recognized or unrecognized children

Caveats

Most of this information is not transcribed on Ancestry or FamilySearch.

Not every certificate from the Registro Civil has this range of information, it varies by year, with some decades offering up more data than others.

Next for my Geneabuds…

Feel free to watch the upcoming episode #72 of Black ProGen LIVE with hosts Nicka Smith & True A. Lewis— coming up on Tuesday 13 November 2018:   Life After Death: Getting More With Death Records – click here to watch live on YouTube.  Tune in & discover the leads you can gather from obtaining, reviewing and distilling death records.  I’ll be on the panel!

Hasta luego!