Friday, February 7, 2014

52 Ancestors – #6 José Avilés Magraner (1891-1990?)

My 2nd great grandfather, José Avilés Magraner, has been to me the quintessential Puerto Rican ancestor. Growing up I had always heard José Avilés was tall, white and had blue eyes. Stories were passed down to me about him that turned out to be typical myths heard in stories passed throughout the generations in Puerto Rico (but with him there might be some truths to it). The same way Americans in the United States have stories about European settlers marrying native "Indians", we too in Puerto Rico have similar stories.

José Avilés Magraner [Personal Family Photo]
In Puerto Rico, many Puerto Ricans are told that so-and-so in their family was from Spain and the story of how they came to Puerto Rico, fell in love with a Taíno woman and stayed on the island and had many children. I have heard and seen this story commonly told not only between my own family members but from other Puerto Ricans that I have met. Of course, it is not their fault that they believe these stories. They have been told these stories sometimes from childhood, and who wants to imagine that their mother/father/grandmother is telling them false stories? But these stories are beginning to irk me because they are wrongly telling Puerto Ricans to believe that their ancestors are only from Spain (I too believed these stories growing up and ate them up thinking they were true). Through research I have learned that Puerto Rico is much more than just a place filled with "Spanish" ancestors.

I was told José Avilés came to Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War where he settled in Lares and met a Taíno woman, fell in love with her and had my great grandmother. This was one of the main stories that propelled me into genealogy, wanting to know the truth and wanting to find out more. Knowing that José Avilés lived in Río Prieto, Lares, Puerto Rico where I still have distant cousins I turned to the census records to find him.

The first census record I found was the 1930 census that listed my 2nd great grandfather with his daughter, my great grandmother Rosalia and her brother Pedro. After some initial confusion I found out that his wife at the time Ramona López was actually his second wife and not my 2nd great grandmother, Dionisia González Padilla, who died from Influenza in 1918.

1930 Census- Río Prieto, Lares, Puerto Rico [Ancestry]

I also noticed that my José Avilés had a weird named attached "Magraner". In Puerto Rico, usually the first surname belongs to the father while the second surname to the mother. Therefore, Avilés would technically be his father's and Magraner his mother's. When I asked my great-aunt about her grandfather and brought up the name "Magraner", she told me that the family was actually supposed to be "Magraner Avilés" and that Magraner was the surname of the father. She also told me that his father was from Spain and had come to Puerto Rico during the time of war. So the story was an intergenerational hodgepodge of information. I just needed to find out what was right and what was wrong.

Finding out about the Civil Registry of Puerto Rico in 2010 I was able to search the Lares records for José's birth record. Would it mention his father with the surname Magraner? Now I could strike out one part of the tale, that José was originally from Spain. I was able to find José Avilés' birth record in Río Prieto, Lares, Puerto Rico, where he was born on the 8th of May 1891 and was reported to be born out of wedlock to a woman named María Inocencia Avilés a native of Lares. Nowhere in the record did it mention she was Taíno (and for good reasons because by the 1800s the Taíno population had been integrated pretty well in Puerto Rican society). No father was listed for José and the according to the record the witnesses were Salvador Ferrer and Clemente Millán. 

What's interesting is that by the 1910 Census I can not find a Magraner male to be the potential father of my 2nd great grandfather. Interestingly, the 1920 Census listed my recently widowed 2nd great grandfather living with his brother Lorenzo Avilés and both listed their father's place of birth lists "Spain". Could they have known their father and known of his identity? 

1920 Census- Río Prieto Lares, Puerto Rico [Ancestry]

With research that I did a couple of summers ago in the AGPR in San Juan, Puerto Rico, so far I have lowered the search down to a man named Damián Magraner Morell originally from Sóller, Mallorca. He appears to be living in Río Prieto, Lares, Puerto Rico at the time of José's birth but then seems to have moved back to Sóller during the time of the Spanish-American war. Could the story in my family have changed, instead of coming to Puerto Rico he left it? Interestingly, in a recent conversation with my great-aunt she mentioned that José's father was a married man at the time of his birth. Damián does appear to be married, my guess to a woman back in Spain, in the record I found of him. Both Damián and Lorenzo in their WWI Registration Cards mention working with a "Ramón Magraner" yet there is no man found either in the 1910 or 1920 census records with that name at all. 

No one apparently knows the name of José's father, but maybe it's buried in someone's memory waiting to be dug up. My 2nd great grandfather and his brother Lorenzo both named a son "Damián", could it simply be a coincidence? I have learned that many-a-times, coincidences do happen in genealogy but sometimes things are done conscientiously by our ancestors. 

I have no real way of telling if Damián is Jose's father, or maybe a brother of his seeing as he was one of four brothers to venture off to Puerto Rico. Hopefully I'll be able to test a Y-DNA male descendant and it will tie and trace back to the Magraner family from Sóller. Or maybe more records from Lares will give me some new clues. Much it still to be learned about my 2nd great grandfather. 

José Avilés Magraner [Personal Family Photo]


  1. You're so lucky you have so many photos of your ancestors.

    1. I truly have been blessed Diana to find these pictures within my family (It took a lot of digging to collect them throughout the years). Also, since I'm fairly young compared to most genealogists the generation of my great grandparents isn't so far back into the past. My great grandparents were born anywhere between 1883-1923, most though are closer to the 1910-20s.

    2. Hi luis, I was reading your story reading jose and lorenzo aviles. looking at the 1920 census i can see my grand parents lorenzo and mercedes. are we cusins??

    3. Hi mismopunky,

      If your grandparents are Lorenzo Avilés and Mercedes Vargas, then yes we are related! José Avilés and Lorenzo were brothers. Feel free to email me at if you want to share more information!