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Our Mystery Man: Florencio Rivera – Part III

Our Mystery Man Part I established Florencio’s parentage and speculated on the reason he had told his children that he had been orphaned as a child. Part II exposed all of the suffering that Florencio experienced before his 30th birthday: the deaths of up to eight people that were close to him, including a young wife and a toddler son. We ended with the question of whether all this tragedy had hardened Florencio’s heart or had created in him a strength that helped him endure the other hardships that came his way later on in life. The answers may never be fully known, and speculation varies depending on who remembers what about Florencio.

Florencio was born in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico on August 9, 1872, but moved to Peñuelas at some point. I researched all his aunts and uncles on both sides of his family, and only one of them was living in Peñuelas—Victoriano Rivera, a brother of Florencio’s father, Manuel Alejo. If it is true that Florencio went to live with an aunt and uncle following his mother’s death in 1882, Victoriano might possibly be that uncle. That would explain why Florencio was living in Peñuelas as a teenager, where he reportedly got involved with a young woman while still in his teens.

That unidentified young woman is rumored to have died in childbirth, and Florencio’s baby died as well. The only uncle on his paternal side that my father ever mentioned to me was Victoriano, who was actually his great-uncle. Dad said that when he was a child he would sometimes encounter Victoriano on a path in Santo Domingo, the mountain barrio in which they lived, and that he was always a little afraid of the old man.


But back to Florencio…he married Felícita Madera when he was 24 and she was only 17, but she died four years later. They had two sons: Nicolás (1897-1900) and Andrés (1899- ?). I am presuming that Andrés also died very young. He then met my grandmother, Ana Cruz García, while working in the country, on the Lugo property in Las Alturas, Peñuelas. Ana already had a little daughter, Angélica, who was a niece of the Lugos. Angélica is said to have died young, from tuberculosis.

Florencio and Ana’s first child that they presumably had together was Matilde, born on January 27, 1907, but sadly, the baby died on September 23, 1908, just two months after the birth of her baby sister, Adela. (See death record below). It’s amazing to me that none of my aunts and uncles, or even my father, ever mentioned that the oldest child in their family was named Matilde. We were always told that Adela was the oldest. Did they not know about her? It’s seems strange that Florencio and Ana would never have talked to their other children about the first baby that they lost. By now, though, Florencio had lost three (or possibly four) small children. Maybe at some point you just stop talking about the pain.

Florencio and Ana’s surviving children were as follows: Adela (1908-1976), Óscar (1910-1995), María (1912-2009), Sinforiano (1913-1986), Elena (1913-1999), and Anita (1916-1998). Life was simple and poverty abounded, but my father remembered that his mother kept animals and there was always food.  This would all change in 1916.  A week after the birth of baby Anita, Ana Cruz García passed away, and life for her children would never be the same. The saga continues in the next blog.