Friday, January 17, 2014

52 Ancestors – #3 Mercedes Ortiz Marrero (1903-1984)

I want to focus on an ancestor in this post that I've been learning a lot about recently through stories. This ancestor is my great grandmother Mercedes Ortiz Marrero. I unfortunately never got to meet my great grandmother but hearing stories about her has gotten me as close to knowing her as possible.

My father's grandparents growing up were always shrouded in mystery as I had never met any of them. I always would hear that his grandmother, Mercedes lived in Carolina and died the same day as her daughter who they called "Tía Toña". At that point I knew so little, and it wasn't until a death certificate, a blog post, and a visit to a museum began to open up this side of the family like I wouldn't have imagined. 

Mercedes Ortiz Marrero [Personal Family Photo]
My great grandmother, Mercedes Ortiz Marrero, was born in Corozal, Puerto Rico (most likely in the barrio of Palos Blancos) according to her death certificate on the 15th of November 1903. Oddly enough, I haven't been able to find her proper birth record. I do however know that her parents were Martin Ortiz Pérez and Antonia Marrero Marrero, both natives of Corozal, Puerto Rico themselves. Mercedes came from a big family, 12 siblings so far counted (13 including her), and was the first daughter born out of all of her siblings. 

In 1910 and 1920, Mercedes was living with her parents and siblings together in a home Martin owned. In 1910, Martin and Antonia's already 10 year old marriage had produced six children ranging from Martin Jr. (aged 9) to Fermina (aged 1) – both Martin Ortiz and Antonia Marrero could not read or write and Martin was employed as a laborer on a sugarcane farm while Antonia was a domestic housewife. 

In 1920, Mercedes was still living at home with her parents and now seven children household (some might have passed away but four more were born). None of the children were able to read or write and it seems that none attended school either. All were unemployed except Martin who was still employed as a farmer on an agricultural farm. 

In 1922, Mercedes' life would begin to change. During this year, Mercedes would marry Alejandro Rivera González (my direct Rivera ancestor) on the 31st of March. Alejandro had been previously married two other times – his first wife Brigida Hernández Vélez passed away, while his second marriage to Petrona Ortiz Nieves ended in a divorce by the Tribunal District on the 17th of February 1922 (he married pretty fast between his 2nd and 3rd marriage). Both of his previous marriages produced three children from each wife. 

I don't know the story of how Mercedes and Alejandro met but I can make a pretty darn good guess with the 1920 Census – Alejandro's older sister was next door neighbors to my great grandmother! Alejandro lived in Toa Alta, an adjacent town, and probably met Mercedes while visiting his older sister. Below you can see Valentina Rivera González living with her husband right next door to my great grandmother and her parents:

Love at First [next-door] Sight!

I'm not sure if Mercedes moved in with Alejandro or lived with her parents until they found a home but in the 1930 census, Alejandro and Mercedes are shown living in La Perla in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They would live here throughout the 1930, 1935 and 1940 Census. Mercedes had eight children (which includes my grandfather, Felipe Rivera Ortiz) bringing the total of children Alejandro had to 14!

Growing up I only knew two stories of my great grandmother – the first was that she had died the same day as her daughter and the second was that she had worked for the mayor of Puerto Rico, Felisa Rincón de Gautier. Who would have thought that these two stories were actually completely true!? Blogging about the mystery of my great grandmother, I was fortunately blessed with the serendipitous meeting of my cousin, a granddaughter of Mercedes. She was able to confirm that my great grandmother had worked for Felisa Rincón de Gautier (The first female mayor in the Americas might I add!) and had passed away after finding out about the death of her own daughter, Antonia Rivera Ortiz, both on the 1st of December 1984. My great grandmother not only worked for the mayor, but they were great friends. She was devastated when she heard about the death of my great grandmother and couldn't believe that she had not only lost a worker but a dear friend. 

Pictured L-to-R:
Ana Rivera, Mercedes Ortiz, Tomasita Maldonado (back row)
Inocencia "Chencha" Maysonet, Felisa Rincón, "Chita" Maysonet, y Julia Cortijo.
Photo circa 1958
[Personal Family Photo]

While visiting the Felisa Rincón de Gautier museum in San Juan, I was able to meet a lady who remembered my great grandmother fairly well and even remembered that she made the best arroz con dulce and harina de maíz desserts, which she made for parties held in the home of Felisa Rincón. When my aunt Toña bought her home in Carolina, her children wanted her to retire and live with Tía Toña which they did until they both passed away.

I have been fortunate to uncover these stories of my great grandmother, giving me a better picture of the woman she was and the life she lived. I have also been blessed with the meeting of my cousin who was able to supply me with stories and pictures, debts I could never repay to her and her family for being the keepers of these important valuable things. I can only continue to pass along the stories I have been given to the future generations and hopefully my own children. This 52 Ancestors Challenge has really gotten me pumped about documenting the stories that go along with my ancestors, I've been so inspired by the other blogs I have been reading!


  1. Fascinating. Was it on this blog that your cousin contacted you? That's very cool.

    1. Yes, she was doing a search on Google of Mercedes Ortiz and came across my blog! Thanks for reading my blog!

  2. I am also Ortiz and I am trying to find my family. My parents were born in puerto rico and i don't know anything about my grandparents.