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Our Mystery Man: Florencio Rivera – Part II

In the last article, I explained how I solved the mystery of who Florencio’s parents were, and questioned the possible reasons why my grandfather portrayed himself to his children as having been an orphaned child raised by an aunt and uncle. His mother, María Dominga Maldonado Rivera, did die when Florencio was only ten years old, but his father, Manuel Alejo Rivera Maldonado, died on Dec. 7, 1899.  Florencio was 27 years old by then, married to Felícita Madera Medina, and himself already a father.  I suggested that perhaps Florencio meant that he was left huérfano de madre (motherless) at a young age.  Although unable to prove anything at this point, I can only conjecture that after his wife’s death, Florencio’s father had his hands full with several children and his farm, so he sent Florencio to live with an aunt and uncle.

Times were undoubtedly tough, and I’m sure Florencio didn’t sit around reminiscing about his youth and sharing childhood memories with his children. A few stories were somehow passed down and told to me by some of his daughters. Here is what was relayed to me:

  • Florencio apparently never went to school, but he learned to read and write on his own and was said to have nice penmanship.
  • He was tall and thin, had a light complexion, blond hair, and gorgeous blue-gray eyes.
  • Florencio reportedly either married or took a common-law wife while he was still a teenager. The young woman supposedly died giving birth, and the child died also.  No one knew the young woman’s name, and if he was not legally married, there is no way of tracing this. Her death record would list her by her maiden name and no mention of a husband or of the baby’s father would have been made.

In my genealogical research, I have come across documents showing that Florencio had another family before the one he had with my grandmother.  This is something that my father, aunts and uncles never mentioned, presumably because they didn’t know about it. Florencio was 24 years old (although the marriage record says he was twenty) when he married Felícita Madera Medina on March 10, 1897 in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico.* She was seventeen, and apparently pregnant, since their son, Nicolás died on Nov. 19, 1900, and the death record (a portion of which is pictured here) states that he was three years old.  The record also says that his birth was never recorded in the Civil Registration.  That seems unusual, but who knows? Maybe it happened frequently in those days.

Florencio and Felícita also had another son, Andrés, who was born on Nov. 20, 1899.  I have not yet discovered whatever happened to this child, but his mother, Felícita, passed away at the young age of 23 on March 20, 1901.  The cause of her death is listed as enfermedad común (common illness).**

It is mind-boggling to think of how much loss Florencio suffered in his life before he reached his 30th birthday.  He lost a brother when he was a  young child and another one when he was 13, his mother when he was 10, possibly a teenage woman who was pregnant with his child before his 20th birthday, his father when he was 27, a son when he was 28, and his wife when he was 29.  How does all this suffering and loss affect a man’s character? Was Florencio’s heart hardened by so much tragedy?  Or did it create in him a strength that helped him endure the other hardships that came his way in the ensuing years? Some things may forever remain a mystery.

* Puerto Rico Civil Registrations, Peñuelas, Matrimonios 1885-1910, Image 524.
**, Puerto Rico Civil Registrations, Peñuelas, Defunciones 1900-1907, Image 319