Saturday, February 22, 2014

52 Ancestors – #8 Bernardina Sepúlveda Román (1803-1893)

I've noticed that I haven't focused too much on my ancestresses that are scattered through out my tree, so I'm going to try and make more attempts to properly include them in this 52 Ancestors series. Especially seeing as they too are a part of my ancestry!

My 4th great grandmother Bernardina Sepúlveda Román was born in Mayagüez around 1803 to her parents, Remigio Sepúlveda Montalvo and María de la Cruz Román Irizarry. Bernardina's family had been in Mayagüez for close to 200 years through her paternal line for three generations going back to her great grandfather Juan Lorenzo Sepúlveda who was born about 1685. Parts of Bernardina's family have been traced to families and towns in Spain thanks to the work of various genealogists who have come before me. Despite being born in Mayagüez, Bernardina would marry and eventually pass away in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. Adjuntas was founded around 1815 and it is possible that Bernardina and her husband were one of the first families to inhabit and help found the town.

We know that in 1829, Bernardina and her husband José María Vélez Pérez were getting married at the church of San Joaquín – they married on the 7th of October.

Parroquia San Joaquín de Adjuntas [Wikipedia]

Bernardina's husband José María was from San Sebastián, Puerto Rico; another town found in the eastern part of Puerto Rico. They could have very likely met in Adjuntas seeing as both of José María's parents died in Adjuntas despite being born in San Sebastián themselves as well. Here is the distance between Mayagüez and Adjuntas, they might have taken a less modern route to get to Adjuntas.

Distance from Mayagüez to Adjuntas [Google Maps]

So far I have that Bernardina's marriage produced 10 children all born in Adjuntas and living in the area of Guaynabo Dulce (which will serve as an important tidbit). Eight of the ten children were daughters and interestingly I descend from one of the two sons; my third great grandfather was named José Severo Vélez Sepúlveda and he was born in 1837 in Adjuntas. I wonder a lot about the social status of these families. Seeing as how Bernardina's family has been on the island of Puerto Rico since the early 1600s I wonder if she was of a higher social caste which was mainly white and well off.

Ward 4- Guaynabo Dulce, Adjuntas, Puerto Rico [Wikipedia]

Bernardina lived well into her eighties and outlived her husband by three years. Her son and my 3rd great grandfather came forth to declare her death. What interests me most about her life isn't about what happened towards the end of it but what happened while she was in her 70s. In 1872, Bernardina Sepúlveda appears as owning 4 slaves on the Registro Central de Esclavos – a year later slavery would be abolished on the island. I was completely shocked by this when I found this out! I couldn't believe that my 4th great grandfather had slaves!! The fact that the slaves were registered in the same barrio where Bernardina lived sealed the deal for me that they were the same women. 

Listed on the registry are four slaves of various ages: The first is Lorenzo (4yrs 2mos.), then Juan (22 ys.), María Tomasa (26 yrs.) and lastly Felipa. (40 yrs.) Felipa is the oldest of the slaves and actually Lorenzo and Juan are listed as two of her children (they seem to be fathered by two different men). Felipa is listed as being 6 feet tall and as a "mulata amarilla", could be she be mixed with Taíno? Only María Tomasa is listed as "negra" while Lorenzo and his brother Juan are listed as "mulato claro". 

Lorenzo, esclavo de Bernardina Sepúlveda [Ancestry]

Juan, esclavo de Bernardina Sepúlveda [Ancestry]

Ma Tomasa, esclavo de Bernardina Sepúlveda [Ancestry]

Felipa, esclavo de Bernardina Sepúlveda [Ancestry]

What would have been their duties? Lorenzo being the youngest and listed as "growing" had no job listed but the rest were listed as "laborers", could they all have worked on land my family owned? Which I imagine wouldn't have been a big plot of land since they had only a few number of slaves? Maybe they had more and little by little gave them their freedom? Some of Bernardina's children were around the same age as María Tomasa, Juan and Felipa; were the children of Bernardina on good terms with the slaves or were they hostile and demanding of them? I wonder a lot about the moral fiber of my family and what type of people they were. Did it ever bother Bernardina that she owned slaves, did her husband agree with it? So far Bernardina is the only ancestor of mine with documented slaves that I have so far, but I imagine there are more out there in my family.

Documents can only teach us so much about our ancestors and their lives. If only we had some diaries or journals to see their thoughts about the times they lived in. We must also read about the history of that period and look at it through a nonjudgmental lens of what the people at the time thought was considered "normal". I'm not justifying slavery and never will, but many fell victims to the institutionalized belief of the system it created and knew no better (luckily there were those who fought the system!). I can neither defend nor justify Bernardina but I can only educate myself about my family's past and learn about the good, the bad and the ugly parts of it. Ultimately, that is genealogy!


  1. Bernardina was my 5th Great Aunt. I descend from her brother, Juan Lorenzo. While the slave owning was disappointing, it was not surprising. Puerto Rico shares the same slave history as the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America. And it also has a history or rascism. I was born in 1963 in NY and I remember being taught to lighten our race by marrying white. I went in the opposite direction ;-). I’ve always looked at Borinqueños as a beautiful mix of many (Taínos/Slaves/Españoles/Europeans) who came before us. Now with DNA, it just confirms it. Thank you for sharing your research!

  2. You and I might be distant cousins. My mother was an orphan, Ethel Maria Sepulveda, born in April, 1923, in Mayaguez. I think her mother's maiden name was Rivera. She and her older brother Eugenio were raised by their aunt, Rosario Sepulveda. The only other thing I know about her family is that she is NOT descended from Enrique and Enriqueta Sepulveda; I compared notes with one of their descendants, and my great-aunt Rosario is a different person than their great-aunt Rosario. Does any of this match your researches? My mother was listed as "white" on all her paperwork, while my genetic profile points to me being 1/16 each Native American and West African.

    1. Hi Marina,

      Currently I do not have a Rosario Sepúlveda in my tree. Do you know anything else about these Sepúlveda? I'll see if I can look into a Rosario Sepúlveda from Mayagüez and see if anything might match up.