Friday, May 2, 2014

52 Ancestors – #18 Dionisia González Padilla (1892-1918)

Today's ancestress, my 2nd great grandmother, Dionisia González Padilla is a very interesting ancestor because her death was very different than most of my other ancestors. Dionisia died fairly young at about the age of 26 and it was due to the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Dionisia was born probably in the year 1892 in Lares, Puerto Rico where she lived the entirety of her life. Since she was actually born out of wedlock most of the times she just appears as "Dionisia González". Her parents never officially married and had been together for 19 years when the 1910 census was taken; her mother Antonia González passed on her surname while her father's surname José Padilla, became the second surname on the few documents she appears on.

Lares, Puerto Rico Flag [Google]

Dionisia lived in the barrio of Río Prieto with her parents and five siblings (three were full siblings, and two were half-siblings from her father). According to the census record they lived on rented land and the entire family was unable to read or write - none of the children were attending school as well.

Río Prieto, Lares, Puerto Rico [Google]

A year after the census was taken my 2nd great grandmother would marry José Avilés Magraner, also a resident of Río Prieto, Lares (and also a son born out of wedlock). They would marry on the 22nd of July 1911 in Lares, Puerto Rico. From their marriage, Dionisia would mother four children: Pedro, Rosalia, Pedro, and Natalia. The first Pedro Avilés González passed away at only three months old from bronquitis aguda [acute bronchitis]. 

Dionisia would shortly pass away on the 10th of December 1918 from Influenza. What is interesting is that during this time there was a pandemic occurring which infected more than 500 million people across the world making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. (Wikipedia) Something interesting that the Wikipedia articles states is that: 

"Most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill juvenile, elderly, or already weakened patients; in contrast the 1918 pandemic predominantly killed previously healthy young adults. Modern research, using virus taken from the bodies of frozen victims, has concluded that the virus kills through a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body's immune system). The strong immune reactions of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults resulted in fewer deaths among those groups." (Wikipedia). 

Affected Soldiers in Fort Riley, Kansas [Wikipedia]

I imagine that Dionisia was a part of the healthy young adult group, she would have been around the age of 26 and was raising four children, the youngest Natalia born in November of 1917. I wonder how Dionisia got the virus, who would she have caught it from? The Wikipage states that with the introduction of modern travel, the virus was easier to spread amongst people. Also, the movement of sailors, soldiers, and civilian travelers was a factor in the worldwide spread. It seems that Dionisia died from the second wave of Influenza (also known as the Spanish Flu) which began in August of 1918 and had mutated to a much deadlier form.  

It was possible to survive the influenza and I wonder if José had introduced the flu due to an interesting piece of information on Dionisia's death certificate. Throughout all of José's life he was listed as farmer or laborer on a farm, yet on Dionisia's death record he reported a different profession. The record listed José Avilés as a widower, of the military profession, native of Lares Puerto Rico, living on the street Camp. "Las Casas" in San Juan. 

Death Record 1918 - Dionisia González [FamilySearch]

There is no family lore of José serving in the military (there is however lore that his Spanish father was a soldier), the record even goes on to state that José: was twenty eight years old, white, widower, a soldier in the Company L. No. 374 Camp. "Las Casas"… When and why did José head to San Juan to become a soldier? What's so interesting is that there is a Company Number and everything! Did he temporary look for work as a soldier in San Juan, return to Lares because he was sick and ended up passing it onto his wife? Two years later he is living again in Río Prieto with his brother, sister-in-law, their children, and José's own children. He is employed on a coffee farm as a celador or "watchman/guard". Apparently Camp. Las Casas was the main training base of the "Porto Rican Regiment of Infantry".  I actually just found his name in a book titled "Historia de la guerra del Mundo" by Frank Herbert Simonds.

Company L, Regiment 374 [Google Books]

Looking at his 1917 WWI Draft Registration Card, it states that he has a wife, and a daughter (3 y/o) and son (1 y/o) who solely depend on him (thus if I am correct granting him exclusion from serving). Again he is listed as working on a farm this time with a Ramón Magraner (this name is driving me ABSOLUTELY insane since Magraner is his paternal surname yet no Ramón is recorded living in Lares in either the 1910 or 1920 censuses!!)

WWI Registration Card - José Avilés [Ancestry]

I don't know if José would have introduced the virus to his wife or if it was another person from the town. (Lares is a small mountain town towards the central-west and I don't know how much travel there would have been in 1918). I can't even imagine what José would have felt, he himself was about 27 years old when his wife died and was left with three small children all under the age of 5.

Since Dionisia passed away so early on I have no pictures of her. At that time the family was too poor to afford the luxury of getting photos taken or even affording a camera. It is always interesting to view the lives of my ancestors, but when things tie my ancestors to historical events it is so much more interesting. Digging through some old emails I found some information on the Regiment 374 which José would have been a part of: "In June 1918, the 373rd, 374th, and the 375th, were created. The Puerto Rico Regiment of Infantry provided the cadre for the three. The units were trained in Puerto Rico and ready for overseas deployment when the war ended. All were inactivated in January 1919." What if José would have stayed in Camp. Las Casas, what if he was drafted to war and served overseas? Would Dionisia have lived a longer life? Too many questions I can't even begin to answer from 96 years ago!


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  2. Hello! I found your blog while researching about my Gonzalez family in Puerto Rico. I've hit a wall with my great grandmother Carmen Lopez Y Gonzalez (B:1882 in Gurabo, P.R.) and I only know from her that her mother was Dionicia Gonzalez y Prieta born 1845 (not the same one you have here, of course). I was wondering who the first Gonzalez of the island were and, if you know, where they came from (if from mainland Spain or the canary islands, etc). I know they married also cousins so this part of my family is a big spaghetti mess. And, yes, they apparently were laborers too. There's got to be so much from their life that escapes me! ;(