December 7, 2014

Researching Your Puerto Rican Genealogy

One of my pet peeves regarding genealogy is the amount of incorrect data that is floating around on the internet and on Ancestry.  People join the website and simply start clicking away adding ancestors to their family tree without checking the resources or noticing a lack of resources. THAT ISN'T GENEALOGY!!!

I say this in the kindest way but it really bothers me that people are under the impression that genealogy is very easy just by clicking and adding a name on the tree.  What other ancestry trees are good for are simply clues; yes nothing else but clues! You shouldn't automatically add something that Ancestry gave you as a hint. I get annoyed when I see my ancestors being associated to people who have no connection whatsoever to my ancestor. I've seen this on my Bayala and Betancourt line.  Its no wonder why Ancestry can't keep many interested in genealogy.

The Ancestry service should be used as a learning tool. Part of researching your ancestry is reading history books and sources available online. The type of weather and the political situation truly assists in understanding how your family member wound up in a region of the globe or even their living conditions. Keep in mind that although something is written in a book, don't use it as a fact. There are times that people quote things in their book and I've discovered them to be false.

Case in point, I discovered by just looking at the 1910 Census that many Bayala children were living with people with different family names. I also discovered Juan Montañez living with Pedro Bayala but didn't understand what was going on. I then decided to look to see if any hurricanes hit the island, was there some form of disease taking over the villages, the possibilities were limitless.  Well I quickly discovered that Hurricane San Ciriaco in 1899 hit Puerto Rico hard and in speaking to my father that Juan Montañez is actually Pedro's son and his real name is Juan Bayala Montañez; his grandfather. This hurricane was very devastating to the island and what followed was hunger, diseases and many deaths. The hurricane itself killed over 3,000 people but many more died between 1899 and 1910. Many children of these families were impacted in a horrible way with some winding up in orphanages. If you need history on hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico, the following link is a great source to look at:

My second discovery was Oscar Bunker's book on the History of Caguas. The information in that book assisted me in knowing where to look but his book was riddled with errors. There were people who never existed in that book and people whose age didn't add up to being parents of individuals. I couldn't even locate some of the people mentioned as children.  All I can say is I'm glad I asked questions.

So the questions you should ask yourself are as follows. How did our ancestors wind up on Puerto Rico? Which government was in charge of the island? What was the form used to report a birth, marriage and death? When I say form I don't mean an actual form as we would use today to fill out paperwork. In other words, was it a requirement to be born Roman Catholic to be allowed to be on an island? Who was recording births, marriages and deaths? How did the global rules on Civil Registration that took effect impact the island; Puerto Rico wasn't the only island that needed to create official records.  What was the governing country over the island Spain/USA?

Another sources besides just clicking away is referencing church books with many being available online via or even by visiting a local Family Search Library which is located at a local Mormon Church.  There you can order films that are currently not available online by browsing the catalog, view films previously ordered by others, or even view census records at no extra charge.

Some other great databases are Spain's archives:  PARES.ES and Puerto Rico's Archives.

So before you click and add someone to your tree and add to the madness that has gripped many on Ancestry; do your research or you'll be doing a disservice to yourself, family and ancestors.  Until next time and good luck with your research! Its not an impossible task but its a lot of work and rewarding as you learn your history along the way.

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  1. I agree with you about people creating family trees with MAJOR errors. I usually don't add a name until I have confirmed that person with valid documentation. I have a pile of "maybes" on the side which I check on every once in a while. I also read a lot of history books about Puerto Rico and the towns I am researching. It enriches my research and gives me a fuller picture of how my ancestors lived, why they moved and the challenges they faced. I have been researching for 20 years and it is more interesting than ever! Thank you for providing this website. H. Serrano Mendez

    1. My apologies with not responding until now. Yes there are a lot of mistakes out there. I'm hoping that as people discover this blog that they use the tools, suggestions, and weblinks provided. We are all susceptible in making mistakes, myself included, however as long as we all make a concerted effort, I'm hoping that we'll get there one day of having accurate family trees to share. It is always my pleasure to help others. :)

  2. Hello Anna. I am spending more time with my family tree than what I expected. I need information on my great grandmother and great grandfather on my mother's side of the family. I am confronting a coldness with the people at the demographic record and my hometown church. They don't want to give me any information on people that lived on the early 1800's. The problem I have is that I don't know for sure if they were born or lived in Juana Díaz, my hometown or if they did in Coamo and I only have one surname for both of them and no dates. At the church office they told me that I could go to three different churches and I already went to two of them and they don't have anything. Can you give me a tip from where I should look? Thank you and God bless.

    1. Hi Nereida,

      Have you looked online on Familysearch website? Definitely start with Juana Diaz. They have civil registration records that start in 1885 and you can view them for free.

      In addition, you can view church records locally to where you live. You can visit your local FHC. Visit the below link first, it is a blog post on this website. It will tell you the steps you should take.

      Once you reach it and follow the process, then visit the following link which will help you with the above. There are church records for Juana Diaz from 1787 to 1932.

      I believe you're in the group on Facebook for Puerto Rico Genealogy. Share what you are seeking there including surnames so that people can help you. However the above should get you on the right path. :)


    2. Thank you Anna. I am on my way looking at the documents and I think I found my great grandfather. I have to search further but I think he is. Blessings.

    3. Congratulations! Hopefully it turns out to be him. :)

  3. Hi Anna. I have tried the first link but it only has 20 churches and doesn't have the at least three municipalities that I need to research being those places Juana Díaz, Coamo or Santa Isabel (Villalba at this time belonged to Juana Díaz and became a municipality in 1917) but I have found all three of them and I think it was with one of your videos that I learned how to find the rest. The problem is that I need to find ancestors from 1840 going back to 1800 and they don't have it or at least I haven't found them. I will sure share what I'm seeking for on Puerto Rico Genealogy. I thank you very much for your help. Blessings! Nereida 🐻

    1. Sorry I meant to give you a second link for Juana Diaz. I'm posting from my phone but as soon as I get to my computer, I'll post the link here for you.

    2. This is the second link I meant to post. Scroll down and you'll see them. So use the instructions I gave you in the post above and then use this one.


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