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DNA Cousins

If you have done your DNA test on Ancestry, you know that you have a list of matches that is broken down into close relatives, first cousins, 2nd-3rd cousins, 4th-6th cousins, etc. Those of us genealogy addicts that are on Facebook refer to the distant cousins as “DNA Cousins”. Back in July, I was contacted by one such DNA cousin, Marisol Colón Santoni, who told me about her friend, Donna Darling, who (like me) wrote a historical novel based in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. However, Donna’s book, The 3 Marias, is set around 1897-1900, while my book, Luisa, is set from 1867-1870. Marisol thought that it would be fun for the three of us to get together and talk about genealogy and our books.

I began messaging Donna through Facebook. Marisol had also told Donna about me, and Donna said that she had bought my two books but had not begun reading them yet. She said, “I’m anxious to read them because my family came from Adjuntas. They had a coffee plantation. I would love to talk to you.”

I told her that I had bought her book and was already on chapter 15 of it, and then I asked her what barrio of Adjuntas her family had lived in. She answered, “Juan González.”

“That’s the barrio my ancestors lived in,” I replied. “Wow. Maybe my ancestors worked for yours! What was your family’s surname?”

At this point, I turned to Randy, who was sitting next to me, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she said that her family’s coffee plantation was the Palmieri plantation?”

Donna’s answer came a few seconds later: “My family surname is Palmieri.”

In January of 2021, I wrote a blog article about my research into where exactly in Juan González Luisa’s family was living. Here is a link to that article: Tracking Down a Census Record in Adjuntas – y la Familia In that article, I included a picture of a page from the 1910 census of Juan González showing that my ancestors were living on Sendero Palmieri (Palmieri Trail), as well as a picture of another page from that same census listing the Palmieri family. I went on to describe the history of that family and what became of them. The Palmieri coffee plantation ceased operating sometime before 1940, and the people who lived along that trail moved away, probably in search of work elsewhere. Who knew that when I did all of that research on the Palmieri family that a few years later I would get in contact with a fellow author who is a Palmieri family member living in Northern California! Donna’s Palmieri ancestors moved to Hawaii around 1900 and then relocated to San Francisco before 1910. Donna and her husband live in Richmond, California.

Donna explained that the branch of the Palmieri that my ancestors worked for were cousins of the branch from which she descends. We checked, and Donna and I don’t show up as matches, but I am a 4th-6th cousin to her grandmother, who was a Palmieri. We also have a lot of common surnames in our trees (Torres, Nieves, Maldonado…). Furthermore, other people who have Palmieri in their family trees show up as DNA cousins of mine. There is definitely a connection, but it probably goes way back.

Sadly, I found a death record for José Maldonado Montero, aged 40, who died on the Palmieri Plantation on July 20, 1897. He was my third cousin twice removed, and he died of anemia. There was a lot of poverty in that area back then, and anemia was a common cause of death, probably as a consequence of hookworm. He left a wife and three children.

From left to right: Norma, Donna, Marisol

In October, Randy and I were dog sitting our grandpup in Concord for twelve days, I took advantage of the fact that we were in the East Bay area and invited Marisol and Donna to visit. I cooked some arroz con gandules and empanadillas de carne. Marisol, who lives in the nearby town of Martinez, brought a green salad and Donna brought an upside down pineapple cake that she baked. We talked about genealogy, compared our family trees, and got to know each other. Marisol and I match as 4th-6th cousins on Ancestry. Both of her parents were Puerto Rican and she herself was born on the island. We had a great time!