Learning about our family history has been something that has intrigued me all my life. I remember as a young child asking my parents, Oscar and Anita Garcia, what it was like when they were children growing up in Puerto Rico. They would share their memories with me and, recently, I discovered an old composition book with my name written on the front where I had taken notes from their stories. I would like to share with you some excerpts from that notebook.
My father’s maternal grandparents were Máximo “Maximiliano” Cruz and Engracia García. Maximiliano was of medium height, about 5’5″, heavyset, white, and had straight hair. They had five children: Nicolasa, Jesús, Emiliano, Alcisclo, and Ana. Nicolasa was white, had dark hair, was of average height, and was slender. Emiliano had reddish-blond hair. Alcisclo was taller, slender, and looked Spanish.
After Engracia died, my father’s grandfather married Genara and they had six children: Agripino, Jesús (yes, another one), Angelito, Carmela, Gilberto and Ambrosio. Ambrosio was the youngest and he was the first one to die of all of his siblings. Carmela had two children who died as adults, long before she did. (Cousin Annie Meléndez, who hosted the 2009 family reunion in Peñuelas is one of her granddaughters. The Feliciano cousins from Chicago are Carmela’s grandchildren through her daughter.)
Ana Cruz García, from the first set of children by Maximiliano, was my father’s mother but also mother to Adela, María, Elena, Guar, and Anita. She was of medium height, weighed about 140 or 145 pounds, was heavyset, had long, dark hair, light complexion, black eyes. She looked a lot like her daughter, María. She wore her hair in a bun. Unfortunately, she died shortly after Anita was born.
In my notebook were notes I had written when I spoke once to María (our Auntie Marie). She told me her mother, Ana, was a widow when she married Florencio Rivera in 1914. Her first husband had died of consumption, but not before they had a daughter, Angélica Lugo. After his death, Ana and Angélica went to live with the Lugos, Ana’s in-laws, who were a wealthy family. Ana was allowed to remain on the ranch but she did not inherit any of it because under Roman law, only blood-related relatives could inherit.
After his mother, Ana, passed away, my father said his sister, María (Auntie Marie) who was four years old at the time, was taken in by a woman named Mercedes. She stayed with her for a long time until she was a young lady, a “señorita.” Then she went to San Juan to work for some Americans.
Florencio went on to marry Otilia Arroyo and they had Carmen Lydia, Vicente Neri, Isidro, Angélica, Delia and Aurea. Carmen and Aurea died at a young age.
When my father, Oscar, was about 9 years old they moved from Peñuelas to Ponce. Vicente and Isidro were born in Peñuelas but Carmen, Angélica, Delia and Aurea were born in Ponce. My father went to school until the second grade in Peñuelas. When he was 9 years old, he started working. He earned ten cents a day from sun up to sun down, spreading fertilizer in the cane fields. During the sugar cane harvest he earned twelve cents helping put the cut cane stalks into wagons and feeding the oxen. He worked up to the age of sixteen and during that time he also learned about fishing. When he left the sugar cane job, he became a fisherman and earned a living until the age of 23 at which time he started working at the sugar cane mill in Aguirre. He stayed there until he was 30 years old. That’s when he joined the Merchant Marines where he worked for the next 25 years traveling all over the world. He retired in 1967 due to emphysema and moved back to Puerto Rico. He bought a fishing boat and lived off that until a vehicular accident in 1970 forced him to quit.
María was the first of her siblings to leave Puerto Rico, finally settling in San Francisco where she encouraged and helped her sisters to come stateside to join her. After World War II ended, when my mother, Ana López Maldonado, was going to marry my father, she traveled by sea to Louisiana and from there took a train to California. She stayed with Auntie Marie and her husband, Achilles Nicholson, until her wedding on April 22, 1946.
As a side note, my father said that María de la Fe Salas was the one who traveled with my mother as far as Louisiana. She was the daughter of some distant cousins of my father. He remembered that she had a horse that was mean and that one time that horse kicked my father and cut him on the chin.
Well, as a family history researcher, I couldn’t leave that information about María de la Fe Salas so vague! Who were her parents? How exactly was she related to my father? It took about an hour, but I found out that María de la Fe’s maiden name was Rivera and that she was the daughter of Regino Rivera Morales and Juana Rivera. Juana’s father was Victoriano Rivera, brother of Manuel Alejo Rivera (father of Florencio Rivera).
In other words, Victoriano was my father’s great uncle, Juana was Florencio’s first cousin, and María de la Fe and dad were second cousins. She was born in Juan González, the barrio of Adjuntas where my mother was born. Her parents, Regino and Juana, were born in Peñuelas. I am glad that they all stayed in touch somehow, in spite of mom and dad moving to Ponce as children. Luckily, I found a picture of María de la Fe Salas among the photographs that I inherited from my mother.