|Happy 10 Year Anniversary!|
How I Got Started
I will never forget what fueled my now semi-obsessive passion – a photograph, some curiosity, and some elusive stories. Granted, at the time when I first became interested as a kid I had no idea what genealogy was and the internet wasn't even a thing yet, but I wanted to learn about my family. Who was that man in the photo? Why did that woman look native? Were they related to me? What?! My great great grandfather was from Spain and married a Taíno Indian? Why are abuela's eyes green?
I was always curious about my family and our origin; it wasn't until I was 14, however, that I began to search for my roots. I started asking questions but this time expecting answers: Who was my great grandmother? What was her name? When and where was she born? Who were her parents? Initially, I was greeted with a few genealogical-rich responses sprinkled her and there. Oh, that's your great grandmother Epifania Dávila Orozco. She was born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico on the 6th of January 1914. Her parents were Pedro Dávila Ruiz and Francisca Orozco Santiago. However, after a while the well of knowledge in my family began to dry up and I had to turn to records. I wanted to prove whether or not I had Spanish and Taíno blood. Wanted to know where my family was from on the island and where our roots took us back to. I wanted to know where my grandfather's pride of his African roots came from. While working for the NYPL, a co-worker had mentioned that I could access the records from Ancestry.com for free through the Public Library and off I was exploring through Census Records (1910-1930 at the time), as well as WWI and WWII Registration Cards. My mind was buzzing with new names, dates, and places in Puerto Rico.
|Familia Vélez Avilés [Personal Photo]|
What I've Learned
First and foremost – Patience! Don't expect to type in one name and find an extensive tree on your family dating back to Adam and Eve. Especially if you're the first one in your family creating a tree like I was, initially there might not be much. Expect to sit there for hours making sense of dates, names, and relationships. Expect to sift through hundreds and if not thousands of records and turn up empty handed. Expect to feel defeated at times because that one pesky ancestor is hiding somewhere in the records. But also expect pure bliss when finding that one record to connect your lines. Expect happiness and elation when you find a record to prove your theory. Expect to yell and scream with happiness when you've pushed your lines further back. Ultimately, expect to learn more about yourself.
10 years is definitely a lot of time – I have dedicated probably easily over 1,000+ hours (If not WAY more) to researching my family's lines. I regret none of that time, it was time well spent. For the moments I've felt most defeated and hopeless, I learned that I most search harder and find new methods. I also learned that staying optimistic is key! Cooped up in room and sitting there for hours on end to find absolutely not one record on your family can be nerve-racking – but I would do it again any day! I've also learned to be prepared to make mistakes, to back track, and to doubt yourself. Document, document, document! Make notes for yourself and leave clues about records that have been searched or need to be searched. I'm still working on how to perfect these techniques but I'm learning everyday!
My Favorite Discovery
I think hands down my favorite discovery (so far) of all time would have to be discovering my 4th great grandmother Julienne Malvina Lautin. For those of you who might have been following my posts for a while now you know how frustrated at first I was. Records from Puerto Rico mentioned any variation of the name Lautin as Lotten, Lotin, Lote, Lotett, Lotiz, Sotin, Soti. Records mentioned that the family could have been from Martinique, Guadeloupe, England, France, or Saint Thomas. To get an idea of some of the confusion about Julienne and her husband read the post "Tracing a Surname" to catch a small glimpse. With the help of a fellow genealogist I was able to learn about the BNPM which would eventually unlock the mystery of my slave-born 4th great grandmother Julienne and her mother Eglantine. I would discover that Julienne was born in Rivière Salée, Martinique on the 6th of February 1844 on a sugar plantation to an African mother (and likely to an African slave father). Unknowingly, this is where the pride of being negro came from within my grandfather. To learn more about the discovery feel free to read "Sparks, Sparks, Sparks, A-Flyin'".
I think the only other discovery that will top this one is of Julienne's husband Gustave Jean-Charles. I think once I have solved that mystery I'll be eternally happy! Of course there are many more brick walls in my family tree – who doesn't have more than a few good uncrackable walls?! And can a genealogist even be eternally happy?
My Worst "UH OH" Moment
|Ramona Rivera Rivera [Personal Photo]|
One of my worst (well, worst is a heavy word but I'll use it) "Uh Oh" moments happened while researching Ramona Rivera Rivera, my 2nd great grandmother. At the time I was researching her I was using only the census records and stories -- my grandfather originally said her name was "Ramona Rivera Rodríguez". So I found a woman with the same name, from the same town, and around the same age to match the information I had on my 2nd great grandmother. I began to build this branch with the information I had discovered. When I found out about FamilySearch I quickly began to continue researching the line and didn't really bother to backtrack and see if I had the right woman (a bit naïve I know). It wasn't until I found my great grandmother's (Ernestina Miranda Rivera) birth record in Vega Baja that I realized I had the wrong woman and wrong line. I had been able to extend this other woman's line for a good 3-5 generations on various lines and with the help of another genealogist she was able to provide information from the family's origin outside of Puerto Rico. Again, things happen for a reason and I definitely learned a lesson from this experience – always double check your sources and cross-reference with other information on your tree. In Puerto Rico, since both surnames are used it's usually a bit easier to avoid these issues but when you work with common names like Juan, María, José and common surnames like Rivera, Rodríguez, Ortiz -- then it's more likely to have to double check!
Here's a quick post from 2011 where I talked about clearing up this little mix-up!
Words of Advice
Advice for novice genealogists or for anyone wanting to get started in general? I would say document your family's stories first!! This is something that I'm actually going back and doing now! At first I sat and listened to others and only pulled out important information like names, dates, and places. But over the years I began to notice that even the smallest details or the family stories turned myths had some sort of truth or clues in them. Now when I ask my family about a certain ancestor I make sure to document what they told me even if they were unsure. Not only does this help for referring back to previous conversations but you never know when that person will leave this Earth. Listening to a story is a wonderful thing but when you try and recall details it might get foggy and you yourself unknowingly add twists to the story. Did she say this or that? Also, documents can't tell the full story of your family! And that's why stories, anecdotes, and family lore are important to your search. You never know if what you were told was fiction is actually reality. Never doubt the power of storytelling!
If I Could Tell Myself Something 10 Years Ago
If I could go back in time and talk to myself 10 years ago when I first began my search I would have probably told myself to record stories. I have definitely learned and done a lot in the 10 years I have done genealogy, I have cold-called relatives and cousins I never really knew and have asked all the important questions about my family even when sometimes the answers weren't so direct and informative. I would definitely tell myself to record some of the stories from older family members and ask them everything I wanted to know. The good thing however is that I'm fairly young and have enough of my family around to ask questions and start recording. The bad thing is that many of them are in Puerto Rico! Hopefully in the coming years (as early as this summer -- starting with my grandmother), I'll begin to record short interviews with my family members where I'll be able to ask them questions and record their answers. This will not only give me information to have for years to come but also an audio file of the voice of my family members. I wish I would have started early on so that I could have gotten the chance to interview my great grandfather before he passed away. Audio recordings will definitely add another layer to my researching and family tree.
Hopes, Dreams, and Aspirations
I hope to continue doing genealogy for another 10 years (and hopefully even 50+ years)! I have thoroughly enjoyed searching for my family's past and learning the stories of the people that have contributed to making me who I am today. I aspire to becoming a professional genealogist one day with a focus on Puerto Rico and potentially the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe since I have ancestors from there, meaning I would also have to brush up on my French (another aspiration!). I would love to tie in my obsession for genealogy with my everyday life/profession. I don't know where my life will lead me but I know that having genealogy there with me will make me a happier person. I would love to become an expert on Puerto Rican Genealogy and help others discover their past and ancestors. I dream of traveling around Puerto Rico discovering the lands my families lived, worked, married, and were born on – I have only seen a limited amount of Puerto Rico and I dream of visiting the different municipalities my ancestors lived on and the churches they would have attended and married in as well. I dream of visiting Rivière Salée, Martinique, Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, and other places my ancestors immigrated from. I hope to find new names in my family tree, meet new cousins, and hear new stories. I dream of connecting Eglantine to a country and tribe in Africa.
These have been a great 10 years and can't wait for the next set of 10 years to roll by -- here's to 2024, my 20th anniversary of genealogy!