Monday, April 23, 2012

ReConstructing/DeConstructing Race

So this post was inspired by my grandfather's results from 23andme and my conversation with him while I had him taking the test.

During Spring Break, I visited my grandfather in Puerto Rico who I rarely see and built up the courage to ask him to take the DNA test. I had to semi-explain (and I say "semi-" because he was semi-listening to what I had to say) about how the exam would help me with my genealogical research. Interestingly, he kept bringing up that he was 'negro' (Spanish for black) whenever I talked about ancestry and our family. My grandfather isn't all THAT black (he does have features similar to that of an African American but a much little complexion in my opinion) and so I found his statement interesting. In many of the photos he sent his mother in Puerto Rico of himself in Georgia during his military training, he always ended with 'tu negrito', an endearing term which translates clumsily to 'your little black one'. Unfortunately, I never got to meet any of my grandfather's parents, and he only had one sister who passed away when he was younger.

Here is one picture that I have of all three of them (my grandfather, his sister and his father) below:

From Left to Right: Luz Correa (great-aunt), Manuel Correa (great grandfather),
Carlos Correa (grandfather)

I would say that my grandfather's family is probably the darkest side of my family from what it seems. My grandmother's would come second with a lot of her ancestors written down as dark, mulatto, etc. But for me what was most interesting is how we decide to construct race or even identity for that matter.

I was raised Puerto Rican in New York and it is what I heavily identify with. I'm not too sure how my grandfather was raised but he always says that he's 'negro'. Who would I be to tell him what he should say? He isn't aware of his genealogy from what I've gathered but maybe he's onto something. My grandfather's line for a long time remained a puzzle shrouded in mystery. With my recent discoveries it seems that his great great grandparents were immigrants to Puerto Rico from Martinique/Guadeloupe (I'm still trying to figure out exactly where they were from and who they were). Maybe they were former slaves looking for a better life or descended from slaves themselves? So maybe my grandfather wanted to keep their stories alive by recognizing that he was 'negro'.

As of today I got my grandfather's 23andme results, which I was super excited to see! Some of the numbers are off because since the database has only a certain number of samples, sometimes the African and Asian percentages of slightly skewed, but here they are none the less:

My grandfather's results

His breakdown by percentage

His African percentage reached 32% which is the highest I've seen so far in my family and his European is at 59% which is the lowest I've seen in my family as well. Granted, from some of the lines I've traced and have gotten helped from others, trace back to ties in Spain like most Puerto Rican families but what interests me the most are the African and Asian percentages. Could his great great grandparents really be descendants from slaves/former slaves in the French islands of Guadeloupe/Martinique? Could they have some other European mixes they are adding to his percentages (from the looks of it there might be some German mixed in there)? What are the stories they carried with them on their voyage to Puerto Rico.

I wish I could show him these results and talk to him more about his family. I image deep down somewhere he has stories he never realized where related to his ancestors. I also hope that what I've found in the paper trail is correct and adds to the story that I have so far. So back to the notion of race, who are we to say where someone fits in? I never thought of my grandfather as 'negro' but he surely does think of himself like that. Which makes me think of how I identify with Puerto Rican rather than American because of where my heritage and identity lies. None the less I'm learning a lot about family and identity through the stories of my ancestors and the paper trails and DNA they've left behind. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Slave Owning Ancestor?

Puerto Rico's history is very interesting because a lot of the inhabitants that have been on the island for a long time (like my ancestors) probably have ancestors that were slaves, and/or ancestors that owned slaves. So far I haven't found any slaves in my family but I do have ancestors that are written down as dark, mulatto, etc. I did find a document stating that my 4th great grandmother was a free person of color but in that same town where she was from (Toa Alta) also lived my 6th great grandfather both from my dad's side of the family.

Juan de Dios Marrero was probably born in the late 1700s in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. I haven't found his birth record nor his marriage record to Rosa de Rivera, the Toa Alta records online don't go that far enough to include them. (Hopefully there are more records in Toa Alta!!) So far, I've found 5 children from Juan de Dios and Rosa; one of them being my 5th great grandmother Estefania Marrero y Rivera. In the baptism records I noticed that for the slaves there was a record for a Jose Quintin Marrero.

Jose Quintin Marrero who was born on the 31 of October 1817 was the natural son of his mother Marcelina Marrero who in turn was the slave of Juan de Dios Marrero. When I first saw this I was in shock! Could my 6th great grandfather have owned slaves? Being that the town was founded in 1751, I don't think there were too many Juan de Dios Marreros running around Toa Alta. It could be very possible that it could be someone else but the odds are low. Since they don't state Juan's wife's name, I can't be 100% sure that this is the same man.

"Marcelina, mulatto slave of Juan de Dios Marrero" (translated)
When you do family history you always want to think your family wasn't involved in things like this, but with the mentality at the time making slavery OK, a lot of people were involved in it. Hopefully, I'll be able to confirm that this is him because it'll give me more about his life. He must have had either land or property to have these slaves I'm guessing. It's good to see that they at least baptized them. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Paying my Respects

Early I posted about how my dad's cousin found me online through this blog (technology is awesome!). She was able to provide me with pictures, stories and more information about my dad's side which I had no previous knowledge about. It's so crazy to think that just 2 years I had no idea about my dad's paternal side of the family. The information I had stopped with his father and before that there were many gaps, my dad only knew his grandmother's name and not much more. By asking my dad's older sister to see if she knew anything, she was able to tell me the name of Mercedes' husband's name (Alejandro Rivera Gonzalez). This allowed me to find even more information about Alejandro and Mercedes and currently I have the Rivera family traced back a Pedro Rivera Roman born in Toa Alta on August 1st, 1821 and who died on January 11th, 1870. His parents are Jose (Joseph) de Rivera and Gertrudis Roman (who I mentioned before as a free person of color). Hopefully one day I'll learn more about his parents and who they were.

So since I was going to Puerto Rico for Spring break I knew that I HAD to go see the tomb, in Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis, a cemetery located near La Perla and El Morro; places I pass so often when I visit Puerto Rico. I knew the tomb was located near the wall near the ocean (thanks to my cousin's picture) but I didn't know exactly where. After some searching I asked the office where last time the lady was of no help. I mentioned the names to him in the tomb and he told me the last names Rivera Ortiz sounded familiar so he sent me over to Section 2. There I was finally able to find the tomb and confirm the tomb with the picture I had. Here's the tomb, finally after so many years I was able to find it and pay my respects to my great grandparents and two of their children: 

Rivera Ortiz Family Tomb

Familia Rivera Ortiz
Thanks to my cousin's brother the tomb is in tip-top shape and the stones haven't be weathered down like some of the other ones which is very sad to see. Kind of crazy to think my great grandparents were buried here this whole time and I had absolutely no idea. Hopefully one day I'll be able to travel around Puerto Rico and try and find other tombs of my family members. There are currently two I know of that I want to visit: one of my mother's grandmother and the other of my mother's aunt who passed away as a child. Not everyone likes cemeteries and even though tombs can't whisper to you secrets or information, this is literally the closest you'll get the person which gives you a sense of connection and family. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Success with the 1940 Census

Okay, so at first I wasn't too happy about the 1940 Census. It wasn't really available on ancestry.com because they're downloading it now instead of it being available right away since they only got the records at midnight, which is totally understandable. I just want it to see now that next to Puerto Rico it says "in progress". But the NARA website does have the records up but since there are so many people searching the website lags and can be very slow at times.

I decided to look up my family that lived in La Perla in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the 1930 Census. My great grandparents moved there from Toa Alta, Puerto Rico and are actually buried next to the La Perla in the cemetery near El Morro (more on that later since I finally got to find them!). After about searching through some 30 odds records I found my great grandparents living with 5 of their children, including my grandfather. This is the first census he appears on at the age of 3 (and actually my only grandparent on the 1940 Census!).

Here is the snapshot of them living in La Perla also written as "Mercado":

My great grandparents in the 1940 Census
I would say wait it out a bit and try at odd hours of the day to see if you can find your ancestors on the 1940 Census. A lot of people are trying to find people so there is a lot of hype and clogging up the website. But never fear; search and you'll be able to find them. I'm so happy I was able to find someone in my family already and hopefully I'll be able to find some more people soon!!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Testing with GeneTree

So a couple of months ago there was a sale at GeneTree and so I decided to test my Y-DNA to see if I could get closer matches to try and figure out where my Rivera line comes from. Also, I wanted to see where they would place me being that with 23andme my paternal haplogroup is I2a1* which is commonly found in areas such as Eastern Europe, specifically the Balkan region. This to me was very interesting, yet also my specific haplogroup (I2a1*) is said to have originated high in the Pyrenees, the string of mountains which separate Spain from France which to me seems more of a fit for my paternal line.

Here is my 23andme paternal haplogroup depiction:

Haplogroup I2a1*


GeneTree, also stated that my paternal haplogroup is found heavily in the Balkan region as well as Scandinavia. GeneTree identifies my haplogroup as "I-M170". Here are the pictures of the haplogroup:

Haplogroup I-M170 
Haplogroup origin and description

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to trace my paternal line out of Puerto Rico. The farthest I've gotten back is to a man named Joseph/Jose de Rivera who was probably born around the late 1700's in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. His son, my 3rd great grandfather, Pedro Rivera Roman was born on the 1st of August 1821 in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. His mother and Joseph de Rivera's wife, Gertrudis Roman/Romana was written down in her death certificate as a "Free Person of Color" which I don't know what that would have meant during that time and in that town in Puerto Rico. Would she have been born a slave and later freed, or was she always a Free Person of Color? Was she a descendant of Africans, Natives or a mix of either or?Hopefully one day I'll have most of these questions answered along with where my Rivera paternal line originated from, whether from the Pyrenees or somewhere in the Balkan region. And hopefully I'll run into a cousin from my Rivera line that can help me trace my line out of Puerto Rico!

1940 Census!! ONE MORE DAY!!

So I originally wanted to post about this census a long time ago, but with school I never have the time to do  it. Since there is only 1 day left before the 1940 Census is released, I think it's about time I dedicate a post to it!

Tomorrow at midnight the 1940 Census will be released to the public, finally, after 72 years! There has been a countdown clock on Ancestry.com which finally has reached 1 day, and trust me, a lot of people (including myself) are super excited about this census record. 

One Day 'til 1940!!
This record will allow me to see my paternal great grandfather along with a good number of great grandparents who were alive during that time. Hopefully, the census will help me to figure out who was still alive around 1940 and who died between 1930 and 1940. Also to add some new recent branches to my tree. The 1940 Census is a really important document, especially I would say for Puerto Ricans since this is the fourth census record that we've been a part of since Puerto Rico became a US territory. Hopefully this will increase the general public's interest in genealogy and ancestry since they might have known people who were born or alive in 1940. And hopefully some new cousins will join the genealogy bandwagon!

Can't wait until tomorrow! I  just hope the website doesn't crash or slow down too much from the amount of people trying to log on and search for their families. Fingers crossed that the Puerto Rican towns will be put up just as fast as the American ones!

Christmas Miracle

Being a part of 23andme I have been able to read wonderful stories about adoptees finding their families and long lost relatives and distant family members finding one another and sharing their stories and photos. A year ago, scratch that- a day before it happened, I wouldn't have imagined what joy I would be receiving and the new connection I would have.

I was home for Winter break and I was sick in bed watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother. When my phone vibrated that I had received a new email. I noticed that it was from this blog and someone had commented. Little did I know it was my dad's cousin (his grandfather and her mother are siblings)! I didn't know too much about this family except the story of how my great grandmother and her daughter passed away the same day and how I tried to follow what I thought was a myth at the time to my great grandparent's grave. My new cousin was able to confirm that their grave was there but also provided me with pictures of my paternal great grandparents, as well as my great grandmother's mother- something I thought I would never ever have the opportunity to see. Lesson of the day: never, ever give up hope! You never know who's reading your blog, posts, etc or looking for the same person as you are! Thanks to this cousin I learned more about my family for example that my great grandmother, Mercedes Ortiz Marrero, worked for Felisa Rincon de Gautier, who was the first woman to be elected Mayor of a capital city in the Americas!!

Now knowing that the tomb is actually there I can visit it and take pictures and pay my respects to my great grandparents! This truly was a Christmas miracle!