Friday, February 16, 2018

When Tragedy Strikes…

Genealogy can be a lot of fun, discovering your ancestors, their stories, and new information that can tell you more about your past. But there is a darker side to genealogy and that is death. It isn't an easy topic to stomach and as humans we have to deal with this throughout our lives; but as genealogists we have to sort of harden ourselves around the topic of death as it is heavily linked to our hobby/profession. As you dig deeper into your past you begin to uncover the deaths in your family and the different circumstances that may have affected someone's life. Though morbid, I do think it's an important topic to talk about since it does give a glimpse into why certain things might have changed during a person's lifetime. So I want to focus on some things I have discovered myself that have definitely changed the way I have looked at my family.

Losing a parent/spouse

One of the main deaths you see in genealogy is the lose of a spouse or a parent. These events commonly occur and for various reasons, whether it be disease, sickness or accidents. It is never easy losing one but losing both spouse and parent can be especially difficult. I came across this situation with my 6th great grandmother Catalina de Madera Troche.

Catalina lived most of her life in Yauco and potentialy was from Yauco herself or a nearby town. Catalina married Cosme Santana Velázquez around the 1780s-90s. By the early 1800s, Catalina and Cosme had various children from their marriage: Faustino, Anastasia, Benita (5th great grandmother), and Ramona. 1810 is the year Catalina's life would change, specifically the month of June.

On the 13th of June 1810, Catalina would lose her mother Ambrosia Troche del Espíritu Santo, her mother was about 80s year old living a rather long life for the time. Ambrosia was married to Vicente Madera and both were potentially from San Germán, Puerto Rico. I can imagine though Ambrosia had lived long, it was difficult for Catatalina... and three days later the situation would be no easier.

Catalina's husband Cosme Santana passed on the 16th of June 1810. Cosme himself was in his 60s and was the son of Juan Santana and Francisca Velázquez. No cause of death is mentioned on the records so I am not sure what was that caused both of their deaths that year. Equally, Catalina had lost a sister in 1807 and later another sister in 1809. To make matters worse Catalina lost two children in 1813 and 1814. So in the span of of 7 years Catalina lost: two sisters, her mother, her husband, and two children - 6 people in total.

I can only imagine that this was neither easy for Catalina or the family. It makes me wonder how the family was able to deal with these deaths and how they were able to bury the deceased and what kind of financial and economic burden this might have caused the family. Many of my ancestors died and left no will behind to their children or spouses. Which means that each death was a costly or difficult event to swallow financially. I'm not sure how much the cost was back in the 19th century but I can imagine that burying 6 people in the span of 7 years was no easy feat. Catalina herself would go on to pass away in 1822, around the age of 60 in Yauco, Puerto Rico. One can only imagine what type of life Catalina lead towards the end of her own and how these circumstances might have changed the way she interacted with others and just her general outlook.

Infant deaths

Growing up my parents said, "no parent should ever have to bury their children", and this quote comes to mind a lot when I come across infants on deaths records. It seems to be pretty common in the early history of the island and some of the main causes was due to lack of nutrition and/or something as simple as diarrhea. One has to remember that at times like these, access to basic healthcare was difficult when people lived in remote areas of the island such as up in mountains and in smaller towns where maybe a doctor who could help would not be seen until days later when it was too late.

One specific infant death that specifically caught my attention occurred while I was searching through the Salinas records searching for any mention of my Correa ancestors. I came across a death record for a child of Inocencio (also sometimes known as Ignacio) Correa Rodríguez, my 5th great grand-uncle, and his wife Cándida Gómez. What caught my attention was that in 1862 they had lost a child... and another... and another. So at first, I figured that due to lack of nutrition various children of various ages passed. But when I took a closer look I realized that they were actually a set of triplets! I was actually fairly shocked since I had never come across triplets, that I know of, in any of my searches for my family or any others. This makes me wonder how often these kinds of births occurred on the island and how long they lived to adulthood. 

These triplets were:

  • Demetrio, deceased, 23rd of December 1862, one day old. 
  • Juana, deceased, 25th of December 1862, three days old. 
  • Blaviana, deceased, 26th of December 1862, four days old. 
Demetrio Correa Gómez - Defunción 1862 [FamilySearch]

Juana Correa Gómez - Defunción 1862 [FamilySearch]

Blaviana Correa Gómez - Defunción 1862 [FamilySearch]

As you can see each child passed a different day across the span of three days. It makes me wonder what was running through the couple's mind as they went through this tragic event. Were they aware of the situation prior to the deaths? Did they think it would affect all three of their children? How would they have felt in this situation? Out of the 8 children I found for this couple, I can confirm through records that 6 did not make it passed the age of 9 - one child even passed a year later in 1863 after Inocencio and Cándida had lost the triplets. This must have been very difficult for the family and I can't imagine what they had gone through at this time and how it changed their outlook of their marriage and life.


This story I knew fairly well growing up because it had to do with my 2nd great grandfather, Pedro Dávila Ruiz, my own grandmother's grandfather. She was alive when this occurred and so the story was passed down to me directly from her. My 2nd great grandfather was out with his grandson when all of a sudden he heard a screech coming down the street as if a car was dragging a piece of metal, apparently the driver had already hit a fence as he came down the street and was already on the sidewalk. Pedro acted quickly and pushed his grandson out of the way but he himself was hit, the injuries from the hit would ultimately cause his death. He was about 79 years old at the time and passed away in San Juan, Puerto Rico, though Pedro Dávila was originally from Maunabo, Puerto Rico.

As you can see from his death certificate below it mentions that he had trama to his brain and that his death was an accident caused on the street. The description mentions that he was hit/run over by a car, which matches what my grandmother had told me. It occurred at 11:45AM which means that Pedro and his grandson were probably out for a stroll or on the way to get something for lunch, given the time. My grandmother had always lived with her grandfather when she was a girl and has stories of how he was a devoted Catholic and how he was able to tell the time from just looking at the position of the shadows cast by the sun on the ground. My grandmother was only 16 when she lost her grandfather and I can imagine it took a toll on her because this was an accident and not a death that was expected.

Pedro Dávila Ruiz - Defunción [FamilySearch]

Taking one's own life

This topic can be fairly heavy and so if it is something that you are sensitive towards I would skip entirely over this section. This form of death does not come up too often in my tree (this might be the only case that I can remember) and so when I found it I was fairly surprised. This has to do with a direct ancestor of mine, my own 2nd great-grandfather José Miranda Santos, who took his own life. For whatever reason, this happened at the age of 52 having been married at the time and having 7 out of 8 children alive. José Miranda and his wife Ramona Rivera would have been in Orocovis at the time with their children. I wasn't raised around this side of the family so I'm not sure what the circumstances were, my mother however was aware that this was how her great-grandfather had passed. Below you can see that in his death record, he was marked has having been asphyxiated by a rope, it was also marked as suicide and not as an accident or homicide.

José Miranda Santos- Defunción 1938 [FamilySearch]

I know this was probably one of if not the heaviest post I have written but I think to discuss these events, if not it's like trying to ignore the elephant in the room in genealogy. I think it's important to see these kinds of events and interpret how they might have influenced or changed someone's life. Unfortunately we have to go through this quite often and each time it changes our lives. So to look back and see how these deaths changed our ancestors, it can give us a better understand of certain generationally beliefs or certain outlooks obtained by older family members as they went through these deaths. 

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