Friday, February 16, 2018

When Tragedy Strikes…

Genealogy can be a lot of fun, discovering your ancestors, their stories, and new information that can tell you more about your past. But there is a darker side to genealogy and that is death. It isn't an easy topic to stomach and as humans we have to deal with this throughout our lives; but as genealogists we have to sort of harden ourselves around the topic of death as it is heavily linked to our hobby/profession. As you dig deeper into your past you begin to uncover the deaths in your family and the different circumstances that may have affected someone's life. Though morbid, I do think it's an important topic to talk about since it does give a glimpse into why certain things might have changed during a person's lifetime. So I want to focus on some things I have discovered myself that have definitely changed the way I have looked at my family.

Losing a parent/spouse

One of the main deaths you see in genealogy is the lose of a spouse or a parent. These events commonly occur and for various reasons, whether it be disease, sickness or accidents. It is never easy losing one but losing both spouse and parent can be especially difficult. I came across this situation with my 6th great grandmother Catalina de Madera Troche.

Catalina lived most of her life in Yauco and potentialy was from Yauco herself or a nearby town. Catalina married Cosme Santana Velázquez around the 1780s-90s. By the early 1800s, Catalina and Cosme had various children from their marriage: Faustino, Anastasia, Benita (5th great grandmother), and Ramona. 1810 is the year Catalina's life would change, specifically the month of June.

On the 13th of June 1810, Catalina would lose her mother Ambrosia Troche del Espíritu Santo, her mother was about 80s year old living a rather long life for the time. Ambrosia was married to Vicente Madera and both were potentially from San Germán, Puerto Rico. I can imagine though Ambrosia had lived long, it was difficult for Catatalina... and three days later the situation would be no easier.

Catalina's husband Cosme Santana passed on the 16th of June 1810. Cosme himself was in his 60s and was the son of Juan Santana and Francisca Velázquez. No cause of death is mentioned on the records so I am not sure what was that caused both of their deaths that year. Equally, Catalina had lost a sister in 1807 and later another sister in 1809. To make matters worse Catalina lost two children in 1813 and 1814. So in the span of of 7 years Catalina lost: two sisters, her mother, her husband, and two children - 6 people in total.

I can only imagine that this was neither easy for Catalina or the family. It makes me wonder how the family was able to deal with these deaths and how they were able to bury the deceased and what kind of financial and economic burden this might have caused the family. Many of my ancestors died and left no will behind to their children or spouses. Which means that each death was a costly or difficult event to swallow financially. I'm not sure how much the cost was back in the 19th century but I can imagine that burying 6 people in the span of 7 years was no easy feat. Catalina herself would go on to pass away in 1822, around the age of 60 in Yauco, Puerto Rico. One can only imagine what type of life Catalina lead towards the end of her own and how these circumstances might have changed the way she interacted with others and just her general outlook.

Infant deaths

Growing up my parents said, "no parent should ever have to bury their children", and this quote comes to mind a lot when I come across infants on deaths records. It seems to be pretty common in the early history of the island and some of the main causes was due to lack of nutrition and/or something as simple as diarrhea. One has to remember that at times like these, access to basic healthcare was difficult when people lived in remote areas of the island such as up in mountains and in smaller towns where maybe a doctor who could help would not be seen until days later when it was too late.

One specific infant death that specifically caught my attention occurred while I was searching through the Salinas records searching for any mention of my Correa ancestors. I came across a death record for a child of Inocencio (also sometimes known as Ignacio) Correa Rodríguez, my 5th great grand-uncle, and his wife Cándida Gómez. What caught my attention was that in 1862 they had lost a child... and another... and another. So at first, I figured that due to lack of nutrition various children of various ages passed. But when I took a closer look I realized that they were actually a set of triplets! I was actually fairly shocked since I had never come across triplets, that I know of, in any of my searches for my family or any others. This makes me wonder how often these kinds of births occurred on the island and how long they lived to adulthood. 

These triplets were:

  • Demetrio, deceased, 23rd of December 1862, one day old. 
  • Juana, deceased, 25th of December 1862, three days old. 
  • Blaviana, deceased, 26th of December 1862, four days old. 
Demetrio Correa Gómez - Defunción 1862 [FamilySearch]

Juana Correa Gómez - Defunción 1862 [FamilySearch]

Blaviana Correa Gómez - Defunción 1862 [FamilySearch]

As you can see each child passed a different day across the span of three days. It makes me wonder what was running through the couple's mind as they went through this tragic event. Were they aware of the situation prior to the deaths? Did they think it would affect all three of their children? How would they have felt in this situation? Out of the 8 children I found for this couple, I can confirm through records that 6 did not make it passed the age of 9 - one child even passed a year later in 1863 after Inocencio and Cándida had lost the triplets. This must have been very difficult for the family and I can't imagine what they had gone through at this time and how it changed their outlook of their marriage and life.


This story I knew fairly well growing up because it had to do with my 2nd great grandfather, Pedro Dávila Ruiz, my own grandmother's grandfather. She was alive when this occurred and so the story was passed down to me directly from her. My 2nd great grandfather was out with his grandson when all of a sudden he heard a screech coming down the street as if a car was dragging a piece of metal, apparently the driver had already hit a fence as he came down the street and was already on the sidewalk. Pedro acted quickly and pushed his grandson out of the way but he himself was hit, the injuries from the hit would ultimately cause his death. He was about 79 years old at the time and passed away in San Juan, Puerto Rico, though Pedro Dávila was originally from Maunabo, Puerto Rico.

As you can see from his death certificate below it mentions that he had trama to his brain and that his death was an accident caused on the street. The description mentions that he was hit/run over by a car, which matches what my grandmother had told me. It occurred at 11:45AM which means that Pedro and his grandson were probably out for a stroll or on the way to get something for lunch, given the time. My grandmother had always lived with her grandfather when she was a girl and has stories of how he was a devoted Catholic and how he was able to tell the time from just looking at the position of the shadows cast by the sun on the ground. My grandmother was only 16 when she lost her grandfather and I can imagine it took a toll on her because this was an accident and not a death that was expected.

Pedro Dávila Ruiz - Defunción [FamilySearch]

Taking one's own life

This topic can be fairly heavy and so if it is something that you are sensitive towards I would skip entirely over this section. This form of death does not come up too often in my tree (this might be the only case that I can remember) and so when I found it I was fairly surprised. This has to do with a direct ancestor of mine, my own 2nd great-grandfather José Miranda Santos, who took his own life. For whatever reason, this happened at the age of 52 having been married at the time and having 7 out of 8 children alive. José Miranda and his wife Ramona Rivera would have been in Orocovis at the time with their children. I wasn't raised around this side of the family so I'm not sure what the circumstances were, my mother however was aware that this was how her great-grandfather had passed. Below you can see that in his death record, he was marked has having been asphyxiated by a rope, it was also marked as suicide and not as an accident or homicide.

José Miranda Santos- Defunción 1938 [FamilySearch]

I know this was probably one of if not the heaviest post I have written but I think to discuss these events, if not it's like trying to ignore the elephant in the room in genealogy. I think it's important to see these kinds of events and interpret how they might have influenced or changed someone's life. Unfortunately we have to go through this quite often and each time it changes our lives. So to look back and see how these deaths changed our ancestors, it can give us a better understand of certain generationally beliefs or certain outlooks obtained by older family members as they went through these deaths. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Puerto Rican Look at : A Generational Exploration of African Ancestry

Recently, I bought a few AncestryDNA test during their Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale. With those tests I was able to add 3 new members of my family to the site: my father, my mother, and my maternal grandmother. I still have one more test left and I'm hoping to test my maternal grandfather, but I'd have to travel to Puerto Rico to personally test him myself. After way a few weeks of waiting for their results to process, I finally received them. Wanting to extract the most information as possible from their results, I decided to do some research ahead of time to have a better idea and understanding of what I was looking at.

Thanks to FonteFelipe's blog on Tracing African Roots I was able to specifically read about "Puerto Rican Results". Amongst his other posts, there are many that are directly tied to Caribbean and Diaspora African DNA results. There is definitely a lot of information there and much to explore about population genetics and the various tribes and countries involved in the Transatlantic slave trade. Since one of my New Year goals this year to learn more about my African roots, FonteFelipe's blog amongst some of the books I have in mind to purchase will definitely help me reach that goal.

My Results

Here is a quick look at my own personal AncestryDNA results taken about 1-2 years ago:

AncestryDNA [Personal Photo]

As you can see, my regions in Africa range from: Mali, African Southeastern Bantu, Africa North, Cameroon/Congo, and Senegal. I was rather surprised when I saw that I had 12% Mali as it is a fairly high number and a big chunk of my African DNA.

Based off what I know about my family, I know that there is mixed ancestry amongst many of my lines in Puerto Rico across various towns, but I have yet been able to pinpoint any slave ancestors inside of the island itself throughout my years of research, and I have traced many lines to the early 1800s late-1700s which will be important later on when discussing African DNA inheritance. The 'People of Color' mixes in my research so far range from "trigueño", "mulato", "pardo", and the occasional "negro" for my ancestors from Salinas. My research shows that those ancestors from Salinas, the Gustave and Lautin lines, came to Puerto Rico respectively from Guadeloupe and Martinique. These lines do carry African genes as both of these 4th great grandparents were slaves themselves on those islands. I'm hoping that by getting my grandfather tested and having both my mother's and grandmother's DNA I'll be able to have a better grasp into the possible regions of Africa (most likely in the western region) that my Guadeloupean and Martinican ancestors' African DNA point back to. 

One important thing to point out is that I am not going to talk much about the "Africa North" segments of my ancestry. The main reason being because most of these genetic leftovers in my and my family's DNA probably point more towards a Southern Spanish influence. There is the possibility of a genetic geneflow from northern African countries down into the Western area of Africa but for now, knowing what we know about Moorish Spain and my ancestors' presence in Andalucía and the Canary Islands we'll stick to the former theory. 

Some Prior Research

In FonteFelipe's blog post about Puerto Rico, he goes into depth using various Puerto Rican AncestryDNA results and textual sources on the Transatlantic slave trade to begin breaking down and analyzing their various results. Using his blog as a jumping point, I was able to look at my family's results through a different lens and begin to better understand slave trading patterns of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. Here are some main points I learned from his post and I hope I am not oversimplifying and/or overstating some of the points (if so, let me know!): 

  • It seems that on average, Senegal, N. Africa, and Mali were high and/or main ancestral contributions to the DNA gene pool for African DNA in Puerto Ricans. 
  • Senegal and Mali specifically create an "Upper Guinea" Founder effect in Puerto Rico, where the genes were entered into the families' genetic pool early on and kept passing down through the various generations. 
  • South-central Hunter-Gatherers can be from an ancient geneflow from the Pygmy/San people into the Bantu areas. 
  • These higher Senegal and SE Bantu results can be from the 1500-1600s, again causing a Founder Effect. 
  • "Mali" in the AncestryDNA categories is a hard category to fit into a box. From the colonial period, "Mali" DNA can be from Guinea Conakry and Sierra Leone. Some of the slaves from the region were known as "Bambara" and others as "Zape" (these mainly the Temne from Sierra Leone) and there was definitely a presence of these peoples throughout the slave trade in Puerto Rico. 
  • There are three main regions that FonteFelipe works with when looking at the African DNA break down in AncestryDNA, these are: 
    • A) Upper Guinea: Senegal, Mali 
    • B) Lower Guinea: Ghana/Ivory Coast, Benin/Togo, Nigeria
    • C) Central Africa: Cameroon/Congo, SE Bantu, Pygmy/San (South-Central Hunter-Gatherers) 
To have an idea of the regions and the various countries involved* in the Transatlantic slave trade, see below.
*When I say "involved", please take into consideration this does not mean that these countries willingly and purposefully took part. Remember that there are many elements at play such as: colonial powers, brute force, unequal trading, false beliefs, etc.

Having this knowledge in hand I went forward to look into my own family's African results. 

West African Countries/Regions [Wikipedia]

Generational Puerto Rican African DNA Results

In this snapshot of my family's African DNA there are four members shown: Myself, my father, my mother, and my maternal grandmother. I was born in the US and the rest of these members in Puerto Rico, however we are all "Puerto Rican" through Ancestry. I have talked extensively about my family in this blog but TL;DR - my family's results are quiet mixed: European (mainly an influence from Spain and potential countries such as France); Native (Taíno from Borinquen with a potential smidge of Carib/other), Jewish/North African (most likely a remainder of the Sephardic Jews of Spain and the Arab influence in southern Spain), and an west African mix most likely all introduced via slavery. Dividing these last results into the 3 categories mentioned above of "Upper Guinea", "Lower Guinea", and "Central Africa" this is how our results fair: 

African AncestryDNA [Personal Photo]

As you can see our African DNA is sprinkled into each of the three regions but mainly distributes itself into Upper Guinea first and then Lower Guinea, which goes along with what is mentioned in the blog. Interestingly enough I do not inherit any "Lower Guinea" DNA but my dad has only 2% Ghana/Ivory Coast while my mother and maternal grandmother have DNA from each of those regions.

Something important to mention is the odd disproportion of Mali DNA in my genes vs that of my parents. I inherited 12% while my parents only show 2% and 1% and my maternal grandmother herself at 2%. This makes me question my 12%, could there have been an error in that calculation? When you click on "Mali" for my ancestry my range is given as 4%-18%, could there have been an oversight there? I wonder how much of that "12% Mali" might be genetically attributed to other countries nearby. Nonetheless, the presence of the Senegal and Mali like mentioned in the blog might be a result of the Founder Effect of slaves brought onto the island early on. As I've mentioned in this blog and on this post, most of my family has been on the island since the early 1700s and some branches reach the 1600s, so whichever ancestors carry African DNA have yet to be identified as "esclavo" (slave) or even "negro libre" (free black - a term used for descendants of free black persons) in documents. More digging into the church records over time will hopefully begin to divide my ancestors further into more accurate categories. 

Mali Results [Personal Photo]

Looking at the other results, you can see where certain parts of my African DNA are inherited from. For example: it seems that my mother passed on segments of her Cameroon/Congo and SE Bantu genes to me. Something important to also consider is that lower numbers such as 1%, 2%, or 3% may be found in the "trace regions" of the DNA, which means that this might not mean direct ancestry from that country if not a mix already present in Africa before arriving to the New World.

Looking at the results, this makes it interesting to look at my parents' ancestry and their potential slave narratives in their family trees. For example, my father only has about 11% of African DNA on Ancestry (a bit higher than in 23andme). 7% of his 11% is found in the Upper Guinea region and 2% in Ghana/Ivory Coast. (The 1% of Pygmy/San again might be an ancient geneflow influence). Most of my father's families can be found in the mountains of Puerto Rican in areas such as Lares, Adjuntas, Utuado, and Yauco while his paternal branch mainly hovers around Toa Alta and Corozal. This Upper Guinea DNA was probably introduce early on and integrated fairly quickly into the branches of my paternal tree. Both sides of my paternal branches from my grandmother and grandfather carry African DNA so probably various groups from Senegal, Mali, and Ghana/Ivory Coast were introduced to various branches which ultimately gave my dad his 7%. It's also important to note that my father carries an African maternal haplogroup as well, which so far I have traced on paper to the early 1700s in Yauco, Puerto Rico to a woman named "Ana del Espíritu Santo".

Looking towards my mother's side I can make some guesses as to what my maternal grandfather might have contributed. It seems she definitely received some Ghana/Ivory Coast from him and some SE Bantu. No doubt there are probably influences from Senegal and Mali in her DNA from him as well. I'm itching to get him tested because he is my highest African DNA family member. My mother on AncestryDNA has about 35% African DNA and based off his 23andme results I wouldn't be surprised if his AncestryDNA results bring him into the 40% range!

Conclusions/Take Aways

With this type of research, it's very difficult to really come to conclusions! Ultimately, it's important to see how my African DNA is distributed amongst my parents and what that means for me as their child. Having read FonteFelipe's blog (which I definitely need to go back and read much more of!) there are interesting patterns that are important to take into consideration when thinking of my African DNA and the history behind it. There's a segment in his blog where FonteFelipe talks about Puerto Ricans whose results fall under "African>25%" and "African<35%" and how the "African<35%" seem to have a closer chronological input of African DNA in their genetic pool. This seems to hold true with my own family as my mother who is 36% and her father surely over 35% as well have a genetic African influence from Martinique and Guadeloupe that was introduced into the family in 1895 with the birth of my 2nd great grandfather, Julio Correa Gustavo (50% Puerto Rican, 25% Martinican, 25% Guadeloupean). Meanwhile, my father falls into the "African<25%" groups and his African input seems to be chronologically much older.

There is still much to learn about, research about, and inquire about in my family tree. I hope that as time continues, the African DNA on both 23andme and AncestryDNA become much clearer as it is an important piece for those of us who do not know where our African ancestors come from. Luckily, I think a better picture has begun to be painted in regards to my family's African ancestry with the help of genetic testing and with the help of texts such as books and blogs and primary sources such as the Civil Registry and Puerto Rican church records, thus allowing me to be able to put together a more cohesive picture and story of our past. Excited for what the future holds when it comes to African DNA! 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Genealogical Resolutions of 2018!

2018 [Google Images]

It's been a while since I've posted but I wanted to start out the New Year with some genealogical resolutions that hopefully will kickstart my 2018 genealogical year! So here's a list of 10 things I would love to accomplish throughout the year, whether it's a one time thing or progressively done throughout the year, I've added it to the list in no specific order!

My 10 Genealogical Resolutions of 2018

1. Post more on my blog ─ Looking back on previous years, I've noticed that I've posted much more. With trying to balance work and a personal life, it's hard to add a genealogy blog into the mix. My goal is to hopefully write more about my genealogical searches. Even though something might seem mundane, it could be helpful for someone else to read or even a good note for myself in the future looking back on a search or theory. I want to post in Spanish as well and open up my audience more but also trying to find an easy way of separating yet combining both of those worlds. Any ideas are surely welcomed!

2. Test an Avilés male descendant for Y-DNA ─ I've been wanting to do this one for a while now! I have a few great-uncles and cousins that fall into this category. Problem is most of them still live in the mountains in Lares, Puerto Rico which means I have to make my way over there to see them and ask for some help with the research. Ultimately my goal is to try and find out whether or not Damián Magraner Morell is truly my 3rd great grandfather and use Y-DNA to confirm this. I would need a Magraner descendant to test as well but I'm taking this one step at a time 😉

3. Search more into my Yabucoa roots  This one is tied into another goal a bit more down but I want to search more about my roots in the town of Yabucoa. I was fortunate to visit the town with my grandmother (her birth town) and look around a bit but I want to take a deeper look into my ancestry there. Most of my family is labeled "mestizo", "mulato", or "pardos libres" in this town so I want to see if I can start to identify ancestors that specifically carried these genes and even some who were previously slaves or natives from Yabucoa. With the recent release of Yabucoa church records, I've been slowly but surely making my way through some of the records but since they're mostly not indexed it takes a painstakingly one-by-one view of them to make sure I'm not jumping over any important ones!

4. Learn more about my Correa family ─ Similarly with the release of the Coamo church records on FamilySearch, I need to peruse these books as well for my Correa ancestors. These are a tricky bunch of ancestors because they've moved from San Juan to Coamo and then Salinas, but luckily I've been able to mainly track every generation in those towns. Now the challenge becomes finding them in San Juan and figuring out where their origin lies. Especially since my grandfather's Y-DNA haplogroup is commonly found amongst Jews/Arabs, I'm interested in learning more about this specific line and their journey to Puerto Rico.

5. Read more books in relation to Genealogy, Genetics, Puerto Rico, etc. ─ With work being work, it's been a bit difficult trying to add books into my life. Now that I drive to work, I don't have the luxury of reading on the bus like I did 4-5 years ago. I have to intentionally add time into my day to read or otherwise I'll find perfect excuses for not reading. I want to widen my knowledge more in a lot of different genealogical fields so I'm trying to read some books here and there. I picked one up on native genes/genealogy and need to continue reading! Definitely going to be one of the harder goals since researching comes naturally to me, where as setting aside time for reading is a bit harder nowadays. Hoping I'll even post of the books here if they're good books to read!

6. Continue to help others discover their ancestors ─ This one isn't focused on me (luckily!) but it's something that I want to continue doing which is trying to help others with their research as well. Whether it's getting started, trying to knock down a brick wall, or giving some advice… I want to continue being involved with helping others the same way others have helped me as well. I'm also trying not to limit myself as well, recently I've been helping some friends with Jewish genealogy is Eastern Europe and it's taught me a lot about record searching there and even helping some friends with German/Austrian research as well… which has led me down a dark path of teaching myself to read old 19th/18th century German handwriting (check out Sütterlin to see how insane I am haha).

7. Find an ancestor from Spain ─ No doubt this is a hard one! I think ultimately I still want that "aha" moment where I was able to discover an ancestor by myself from Spain. Finding my ancestors from Guadeloupe and Martinique was an amazing albeit initial struggle to place all the pieces together and highly rewarding. I also think I just want to give myself another place to travel when I return to Spain.

8. Continue researching the Puerto Rican church records ─ This goal is tied into my #3 and #4 about using the church records to continue my searches in Yabucoa and Coamo but ultimately it's to use all church records to continue finding out more. It's interesting because even some of the church records after 1885 when the Civil Registry took over in Puerto Rico contain interesting pieces of information that otherwise were not included in the Registry. Other towns like Yauco have also been a goldmine of information on my ancestors and I need to keep digging in this records to find out more. And create a better system of what I have seen and what I have not seen so I'm not repeatedly searching the same records over and over again. Also checking neighboring towns is a good idea for finding branches that have gone off to live in neighboring towns that can give me some more insight to my ancestors.

9. Begin planning a trip to Martinique and Guadeloupe ─ This one is in NO WAY going to occur this year but it's something I want to start thinking about more deeply. My goal is to visit these islands sometime when I have vacation but before that I would love to up my French proficiency so that I'm able to travel the island without hesitating to speak with the locals. This would require me to study more French but also start looking into different routes I'd like to take and even possible research while on the islands. These are also costly trips so definitely making sure I'm saving up for them as best as possible to give myself the best genealogical trip while I'm there.

10. Research more into my African/Taíno roots ─ Last, but certainly not least, I want to learn more about my ancestors who were native to Puerto Rico and to the various countries in Africa. A lot of knowledge has been lost throughout the generations of colonialism, slavery, and genocide and it's important to bring that information to the forefront and make sure that I am not only honoring my Spanish ancestors but also those who had to endure so much for me to be here. What regions of the Taíno Cacique systems did my ancestors live in? What was life for my ancestors of color in the 16th and 17th century in Puerto Rico? What was intermarriage like on all levels on the island and what did it mean for them as a community? I know finding out specific African countries is difficult and the closest we've gotten is through the AncestryDNA test but I want to learn more about these ancestors and try to begin pinpointing more about their journeys and lives. It's important to keep these ancestors' names on the tip of my tongue and not just the Spanish towns and last names the majority of DNA resembles.

So for now that's it! It's actually a much longer post than I originally envisioned but glad that I've gotten one foot in the door for the 2018 year! 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

More Pieces... More of a Puzzle!

Recently, I was fortunate enough to meet my half-uncle (linked post!) who we discovered through 23andme. He and his family were visiting New York City and decided to stop by for the day to hang out with us. It was amazing getting to spend the day with new family and my uncle was able to meet two more of his siblings - meaning that he's meet 4 of his 8 siblings so far. One has passed so there are only 7 he can meet in total. With discovering our uncle and talks of the situation my grandmother was in, my family did some digging and came across a few letters she received back in the 1950s. I'm not sure how this person might be tied into our family and who this man may be, but hoping that this blog will bring me luck into finding out more about my grandmother's past!

Unearthing New Clues

Our family started digging around for old possessions of my grandmother and came across a few letters dating back to 1958. The reason these letters might be of importance to our new uncle's life is because these letters were written two years before his birth. These letters occur between my older uncle and my new uncle's birth, meaning it could potentially be one of their fathers. We're not sure of course without DNA evidence but for now it's only a theory.

Once I received the letters via text, I immediately realized something - this man was probably not Puerto Rican! And it wasn't the name that gave it away since I hadn't seen it at that point, but his spelling. I realized that his words in Spanish had mixtures of Portuguese and made common errors found amongst Portuguese speakers when translating into Spanish. So I was immediately intrigued as to who he was and what connection he had with my grandmother. I've transcribed the letters below and have placed them in chronological order for them to make the most sense. I haven't changed any spellings from the letters themselves. We also aren't sure how many are missing and where her written letters are as well, I imagine gone or in the possession on the other end! These letters will make 60 years next year!

Querida Carmen...

Letter #1: 

September 23, 1958 - New Bedford, Massachusetts 

Mi querida Carmen, 

Desejo de esta carta t'encuentre gozando salude junto a tu familia assim mismo como yo boy siempre bueno gracias a Dios. Bien Carmita estoy mucho alegre de recebir tu preciosa carta, que yo estoy loco tambien para encuentre contigo, talbies [tal vez] no seguinte semana boy tomar uno passeio para New York, quiere encontrar contigo para ablar contigo porque yo no puede explicar todas cosas por carta. Yo no boy olvidarte nunca porque yo amo te mucho Carmen. Bien recebi mi corazon cheio de amor e un beso com much recuerdo mi amorita. Ati encuentre querida. Tu Joao J. Graca

Letter #2:

September 30, 1958 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

Mi mas querida Carmen, 

Desejo esta carta te encuentre gozando salude siempre junto a tu familias, que yo boy simpre bin gracia a Dios. Bien yo recebi tu carta que yo fico mucho alegre. Amosita por hora estoy em Philadelphia para embarcar, que yo estoy mas pierto [cerca] New York e mas pierto de tu, bien por caso que yo no embacar até esta fim de semana yo boy para New York. Carmen mi amor yo no puede esperar até cuando puede encontrar contigo quiere te mucho Amosi[ta]... missing words

Letter #3: 

October 7, 1958 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 

Querida Amosita Carmen, 

Com todo mi coraçon que estoy escrebite esta dos palabras [liemia?] para saber de ... Carmen que quire a Dios tencuentre de salude junto a tu nino e mas familias todas. Yo boy siempre bin graça a Dios. Yo recebi tu carta que yo fico siempre alegre porque yo no quiere que ti me olvidar. Bien mi Carmita ainda por tiempo estoy por ca esperando por trabajo por hora vive em un Hotel esperando para un barco, cuando yo boy para o [barco?]...   missing words

Letter 4: 

No date (probably 1958) - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Desejo que tu esta de mejor tu disse no carta passado que tu estaba enferma. Desejo que tu guta de America dice-me no outro carta se te guta de New York. Se yo ves Mario yo lo dise o que selodise. Bien Amosita te puede mi escribir para esta adress ma no estoy sierto se boy estar aqui, ate cuando boy em barco. Yo boy mandar te mi adress de certeza, bien esta adress 

Joao J. Graca
822 N. Broad St. 
N.M.V. Hall
Philadelphia, PA 

Bien recebi un abraso mucho pertado e um beso de tudo mi coraçon. Siempre para tu y siempre com amor. Joao J. Graca 

Hints and Theories

There are a few things that I can easily learn from these letters received by my grandmother:

  • By September 1958 my grandmother was somehow in New York. Not sure with who and under what conditions, but she apparently was here exchanging letters with Joao. From what I've heard she had an uncle who lived in New York around that time so she might have been with him! Joao was aware also of my grandmother's child who was born that same year, from stories I've heard I know my great grandmother did a lot to help out my grandmother with raising her first two children since she was young, so odds are he was in Puerto Rico with my great grandmother and not in New York with my grandmother. 
  • Joao and my grandmother seemed to have had a summer loving, quick fling kind and he was heads over heels for my grandmother... not sure if my grandmother felt the same way since these letters are only one side of the story. The question then becomes, how did they meet? In New York or Puerto Rico? There was also a lot to be discussed between the two since Joao mentions meeting in person and talking rather than over letters. Did they ever get to meet afterwards? 
  • Joao was probably stationed with the Marines in Philadelphia seeing as how he mentions "waiting for work on a boat". I'm not sure if New Bedford, Massachusetts is another stationed city or just a hometown? There's an actual address in Philadelphia to a "N.M.V. Hall" on 822 N. Broad Street. Doing some searches on Google and in some newspapers I couldn't find a mention of a N.M.V. but this little building seems to have hosted a music hall at one point. 

822 N. Broad a few years back [Google]

Circa 1910s, Philadelphia Conservatory of Music [Newspaper]

  • Joao was probably of Portuguese descendant. Based on the name and of the spellings of words in his Spanish such as coraçon > corazón, passado > pasado, graça > gracia, etc. His name Joao J. Graca should be spelled João J. Graça based off what I know of Portuguese. Based off of this information, I can think of three main places his family was from: Brazil, Portugal, or Cape Verde. I have heard of a big Lusophone population in Massachusetts, but now the question becomes, which is the right group? 
  • Who was Mario? My grandmother sent her greetings to someone named "Mario"? Was he a friend of Joao's? A brother or cousin? Where did my grandmother meet him? She must have known enough of him to send her regards in a letter. 
These new letters leave me probably with more questions than answers. Could Joao be alive today? Does he or his family remember Carmen and or have her letters as well from 1958? Could Joao be tied to my family via a son like my half-uncle? There is a lot to theorize and think about and so far the internet hasn't been too much of help. I've tried looking for "Joao J. Graca" both with the Portuguese and American spelling but I haven't come across much. Not knowing an age or place of origin means any and all Joaos can be an option. There are a few that seem promising, like one born in 1938 - just two years before my grandmother, but nothing is certain. 

Here's to hoping that someday more clues will begin to unravel to paint a clearer picture of my grandmother's life before I knew her as abuela

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Family Reunion… 57 years in the making!

I have been pretty quiet here lately since I have been away traveling around Europe (will post about that later) and especially now that I have started work, but I want to blog about something amazing that happened recently! Two weekends ago my dad got a chance to meet his half brother who was given up for adoption. So here's the story leading up to how this amazing reunion came to be… a family reunion 57 years in the making!


In May of 2016, I logged onto 23andme expecting nothing out of the ordinary on my accounts, but shortly realized that my father had a new member on his relative list… a half-brother. At first this was not too shocking since I grew up with a few half-uncles and half-aunts, but when I checked their haplogroups and realized that it was a maternal match and not a paternal match… I, and ultimately my family, was completely surprised. I knew my dad was 1 of 9 siblings and I grew up knowing about each of those siblings, but little did we know that my dad was actually 1 of 10! (the number is either 9 or 10 and I'll get into this debate in a bit which ties directly into this story).

Half-Brother Discovered [Personal Photo]

As you can see, directly after me the highest match my father has is his half-brother at 28.8% DNA shared across 58 segments. And a glance at their X-chromosome shows that they inherited a completely identical X from their mother through which they are related. Also, once I saw they both share the maternal haplogroup L2a1… I quickly knew that this match was through his mother as well.

Completely Identical X-Chromosome [Personal Photo]

When I broke the news to my dad he was a bit shocked. He knew of a half sister from his father's side and grew up with all of his maternal half-siblings… or so he thought. Our first reaction was to reach out to various family members. We called my grandfather, great-aunt, and a few uncles/aunts to see if anyone had any idea of an adoption in our family - specifically in regards to my grandmother. But to everyone's surprise, no one had known that my grandmother had had another child who would end up adopted. Because of the American name, I figured that this sibling was probably born in the USA and left for adoption there. We started to chronologically go through my grandmother's life listing major events and other children's birth years and I remembered hearing from my great-aunt that my grandmother had spent part of the 1950-1960s living in Florida working for a doctor as live-in help there. Could this half-uncle of mine be from Florida himself?

Sharing Maternal Haplogroups [Personal Photo]

I debated whether I should reach out first or give him some time to process this information and wait for his message. But then doubt set in, what if he never logs in again? What if he's not sure how to find/use relative finder? So I bit the bullet and sent him a message. The next day... I had a response! 

Getting to know Charles

As I had suspected, my new half-uncle had been born in 1960 and raised in Florida, which fits the narrative of my grandmother's time there. Though both parties were initially shocked, we chatted back and forth a bit sharing information and pictures of his mother, grandparents, and new half-siblings. We added each other on Facebook and knew we would try to remain in contact. As time passed, my family and I kept trying to dig in more into this unusual and unspoken adoption. 

The reason I say unusual is become Charles was neither the first born nor the last born of the bunch, Charles would be child 3 of 10 and my grandmother would go on to raise all of the children (we thought) she had given birth to. As our family kept thinking and coming up with new ideas, a story I had heard various times through my genealogy searches crept back into my head. 

My dad always told a story that my grandmother had lost a child right after childbirth. This child, a boy, was born alive and my grandmother held him on her chest. The nurses took him off to be cleaned up and that was the last my grandmother saw of him… he apparently had been declared dead shortly after. Hearing this story, I always figured that my dad was 1 of 9 (8 who made it to adulthood, and one who had died in infancy). I had searched for the records of the Civil Registry of Puerto Rico searching for a children born in the 1960-1970s to a Carmen María Vélez Avilés in San Juan, Puerto Rico but nothing was found. And then I began to wonder… could this "deceased child" be the same child who was given up for adoption? What's interesting is that after meeting Charles, he told us that he had been adopted shortly after his birth and that his mother who raised him was told that his bio-mom (my grandmother) had died giving birth to Charles. So as you can see... there is a lot of mystery surrounding this event in my grandmother's life. 

As my trip in Europe came to close, my mother wrote to me and told me that they were on vacation in Florida and my father wanted to meet his half-brother. I messaged back and forth between my parents and Charles and set on a date - Sunday at 2pm! I was excited and a bit jealous that I wasn't there myself to meet this new family member, but happy nonetheless that my family was reuniting with a piece we had no idea was missing. 

A family reunites 

The day of the meeting, my mom and I were in constant contact. Tu padre está nervioso… your dad's nervous she wrote. They were 30 minutes away and both my dad and his brother had texted each other that morning both excited and nervous of what was to come. A little past 2pm I got a FaceTime call from my mother… and on the other end was my newly acquired family members: a new uncle, aunt, and cousins! We chatted a bit and I was happy to see everything was going well - a genealogist's dream come true! 

Really it's thanks to 23andme that my father was able to meet his half brother, and thanks to my parents for testing which helped me with my genealogical journey. Though we had tested years ago (I initially testing around 2009-2010), you never know what your results will show and who they can help out as well throughout time! I am definitely happy that I was able to reunite my father to his brother via DNA!

Here are some pictures of their meeting. I am happy to say my parents got another chance to meet up with my uncle and his family before they left Florida. We are excited to see where our relationship goes next, whether meeting again in New York or hopefully having a chance to head to Puerto Rico for Charles to meet his other siblings and see places connected to his maternal heritage.

PS - Though our families were able to meet, there is still a lot to question about my grandmother's life. We have no idea what conditions or situation my grandmother was under to give up a child for adoption (whether on purpose or forcefully). However, we do know that my grandmother was a young single mother and only had her own mother at home and two siblings, seeing as how her father had died early on in her life. We aren't sure who Charles' father is and we are hoping that with DNA we will be able to find out about more his paternal side of the family and piece together more about this story. We can neither condemn nor forgive those of the past for the decisions they have had to make, especially when we are not in their shoes. Nonetheless, we are happy that though initially separated our families have been able to reunite through the power of DNA!

Brothers José and Charles reunited! [Personal Photo]

My parents and aunt meet their brother and his family [Personal Photo]

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Those Places Thursday – Salinas, Puerto Rico

Finally a prompt I can use on the actual day! This post is similar to Tuesday's prompt so I want to focus on a specific town I visited back in March 2015. One of the main towns I wanted to visit while I was in Puerto Rico was Salinas in the southern region of Puerto Rico. I mainly wanted to visit Salinas because my great grandfather Manuel Correa Rivera was from this town – who was a very hard line to crack! This was also the town my 4th great grandparents Jean Charles Gustave and Julienne Malvina Lautin settled in after reaching Puerto Rico through Vieques and traveling down the eastern coast. So I knew this town meant a lot to my family history and I wanted to set foot here.

My first stop in Salinas was the church which was located downtown. I stopped by to see the church where many of my ancestors had married and were baptized. While there, I started talking randomly to some people who were there setting up for an outside mass. The man had keys to the church so let me in to see this inside which was nice of him. He gave me a quick little tour giving me some information about the church and the parts that were recently renovated. I appreciated the fact that he took the time to give me this little tour though he had something else to do – Puerto Rican hospitality at its best!

Iglesia de Salinas, Puerto Rico [Personal Photo]

Inside the church [Personal Photo]

Cuna del Mojo Isleño - Salinas, Puerto Rico [Personal Photo]
My next stop was heading towards Playita or Playa, the area of Salinas I knew my family had last lived in. I knew distant family had owned a restaurant there named "Ladi's Place", so I headed there with the help of GPS to see if family still lived nearby. We parked the car and headed towards the water to get a view. It was amazing to see how close to the shore things were in this area of Salinas. Literally the ocean was the backyard to many families here!

As I stopped to take pictures we were approached by a woman selling lottery tickets. My grandmother decided to buy one and this is where my genealogical trip took a turn for the best! 

The ocean and mangroves [Personal Photo]

As my grandmother bought the ticket I worked up the courage to ask her if she knew of any "Correa" families living in the area. She stated that she herself was a Correa (from Río Jueyes… which is another area my family is from though she didn't want to engage me on her family history) and she pointed across the street and said that the man there was a Correa himself. I was excited because he was probably a cousin as well! We knocked on his door and he came out to speak to us – turns out he WAS a cousin! I think I scared him though when I started rattling off names and relations to his family and mine. He said that if I wanted to learn more, there was a cousin who would know more information about the family and that she was another cousin who lived down the street and was 100 years old. 

100, I thought?! I asked him for her name and was surprised when he said the name, as I already had her on my family tree with the help of census records! We walked over and knocked and luckily she was there! We were let in and we chatted about our family's connections, she showed us pictures, and talked about our family's origin in Salinas. Apparently our family had been one of the first families to arrive in Playa, Salinas, Puerto Rico and helped to settled the area. They had come from Coamo before that which was nice to hear because it is true on paper trail as well! She told me stories of how her father was referred to as "Monsieur" because of his mother's Martinican & Guadelupean mix; her father and my 2nd great grandfather were brothers! 

Salinas, Puerto Rico [Personal Photo]

I was amazed to have met this family and yet kicking myself in the butt for not having a DNA kit with me at the time to see if she was willing to test!! Pro-Tip: Have at least one DNA kit with you as you travel just in case you meet distant family members willing to test! I'm hoping she's still alive and that I can write to them and send a letter over explaining my interest in getting her tested! I imagine her African percentages are higher than most Puerto Ricans seeing as how she is a descendant of slaves on various lines and fairly recently as well. Fingers-crossed she's alive and able/willing to do it! 

My family in Salinas were mainly fishermen and sugarcane workers while they lived there. This statue below is dedicated to those fishermen in Salinas who day-in and day-out worked in the waters to provide for their families. I'm glad I was able to take a picture of his statue while there. Here's to returning to Puerto Rico soon and returning to Salinas!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Travel Tuesday - Lares, Puerto Rico

Late again on this Travel Tuesday and pretty late seeing as how I took this trip last March but I wanted to highlight my quick trip to Lares, Puerto Rico.

Last year in March 2016, for Spring Break, I took a trip to Puerto Rico where I spent time with my grandmother both searching records across the island and visiting various towns where my ancestors had lived. Though my maternal grandmother's family is not from this town she was more than happy to join me on this journey. The drive to Lares was a little over 1 1/2 hours which isn't too bad though most on the island might feel differently since travel is so subjective especially on such a small island.

Drive from San Juan to Lares, Puerto Rico [Google Maps]

Growing up I had heard a lot about Lares, it was the town of my grandmother's mother Rosalia Avilés González who I had the luck of meeting very young in Lares, though I didn't remember much about the trip except her face and taking pictures with her. This is also the town of José Avilés Magraner, one of my ancestors whose story started this genealogy journey. He was the ancestor who was said to be the product of a Spanish man and an indigenous woman, and 13 years on this journey has brought me to understand that his father was actually a Spanish man though his mother was most definitely a mix of typical Puerto Rican genes and not just a Taíno woman as family lore told. 

So needless to say, I was very excited about visiting Lares. 

My Journey to Lares

My Great Grandmother - Rosa Avilés [Personal Photo]

My journey to Lares started not from San Juan but actually in Utuado, since I was there searching for land records for Lares, I actually had to go to Utuado where the records where physically held. Luckily, I was able to find information about Jose's land in Lares and who it went to once he died. I spent most of the day in Utuado searching and then headed over to Lares for a quick stint and sadly didn't have enough time to go to Río Prieto where my distant family lives. Since it was late we didn't want to get caught climbing the various mountainous roads and hills in the dark especially since I wasn't an experienced driver on the roads of Puerto Rico. Most of the things on my trip were easy to find with the help of GPS, though I was told Río Prieto was a whole another beast to handle.

Center Plaza of Lares [Personal Photo]

Most of our time was spent downtown in Lares' center since we didn't want to venture too far off. We walked around the plaza named after El Grito de Lares also known as the Lares Revolt or Uprising which began in September of 1868. In the plaza you can see Lares' main catholic church, the one many of my ancestors were probably baptized and married at. 

Parroquia San José [Personal Photo]

Lares' flag is very synonymous with the Grito de Lares and is very proudly displayed in many parts of the town. We ended up going to one of the heladerías near the main square since the main heladería that was popular for selling interesting flavors was shut down. We got some ice-cream and then walked around the little shops checking out souvenirs. I ended up buying a Lares flag and after chatting with the cashier, we found out that the lady who worked in the shop with her sister actually lived very close to where my grandmother lived in San Juan. 

Bandera de Lares [Puerto Rico]

Steep streets of Lares [Personal Photo]

After that we got in the car and headed back towards San Juan since we didn't want to be out too late and we had already spent most of the day sitting in an office checking old records. It was nice seeing the main part of Lares and my goal next time is to make it up to Río Prieto. We still have family members who live there and own land and they hold various events throughout the year, some around the Christmas/Three Kings' Day celebrations which I would love to be able to attend and actually get to meet many of them. 

It's definitely a town that our family goes back to constantly throughout the year and I'm always a bit jealous when I see my cousins or aunts/uncles head that way but here's to hopefully that I'll be able to join them sooner rather than later.