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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