Family,  How did I get here,  Puerto Rico (in English)

How Did I Get Here: My Genealogy Adventure

August 2020 – This is one of my favorite topics, and one of my favorite hobbies: doing research on my genealogy history. I’ve been looking into it since I was a young girl. It’s been a very interesting research and I’ve found a lot of good information that has surprised me and all of my family.

Of course, when I was young I only had the word of mouth stories from my family. With no internet, no computer, and not even a phone in our house since we lived in a rural area. But listening to our elders tell stories was always entertaining. Maybe that’s how I learned to tell stories: I call it the Alvarado trait, although both paternal and maternal sides had interesting stories. I have to save those stories for another time. I have to write about those in another post.

Of the many things I have to share about my genealogy is that, being from Puerto Rico, beautiful island in the Caribbean Sea, we have a few particular traditions that set us apart from other cultures.  One of our particular traditions is that when women marry, they don’t have to take their husbands’ last name. And when a child is born, the name includes both father and mother’s last names. That’s how my legal last name is Alvarado Barrios. When I’m looking for information about my extended family, I look for my dad’s side: Alvarado Santiago (Cruz) Colón Ortiz, and my mom’s side: Barrios Velázquez Hoyos Colón. Too many? I know. There are more. I’ll tell you in another post.

I’ve had to be very careful when looking for my ancestors, I’ve had to pay close attention to last names, who was married, and who had children without being married and without registering the father’s name. There are a few stories on both sides of my family that are natural children, or not legally recognized or given the father’s last name. One example is my paternal grandmother Narcisa. See how in the paragraph above I put Cruz into parenthesis? That’s because she was legally recognized as Santiago once our great-grandmother married. But all the neighborhood knew that she was the daughter of Don Pablo Cruz.

Great-grandma Petronila (center) with her daughters: Marta (left), my grandma Narcisa (right), and her son Armido (center back)

Since I’ve been doing research for a while, in 2009 I finally signed up for Ancestry.com. I’m a big fan of Ancestry, but let me clarify that I’m only a fan. I have no rights or access to any product, or service or promotions. None. The website allows you to create a free account and you’d be able to create a family tree, but the access to some information and documents is limited. You can choose to pay a monthly fee for a subscription that’ll give you access to more detailed information.

I did sign up and paid for a subscription for a year. I found a great deal of information about my family, especially details obtained from the census. When you look up that kind of information is best if you know where your family is from, and if you know the last names and age of some of them. It’s difficult to know and pick the correct family member when so many people share the same name.

Unfortunately, census are only available as far back as the 1900s. Puerto Rico was first included in the census of 1900. This is because of the relationship of Puerto Rico with the United States. In 1898, after the Spanish-American War, Spain reached an agreement with the United States of America (US), under the Treaty of Paris, in which they ceded Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippines and Guam. Cuba obtained their independence in 1899 and Philippines did in 1946. Puerto Rico and Guam are still under territory clause, as commonwealths of the USA, and are under US laws. Puerto Ricans were given US citizenship rights in 1917. (Information retrieved from Puerto Rico, History and Heritage, Smithsonian Magazine https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/puerto-rico-history-and-heritage-13990189/.

Demographic records from the time period when the Spanish government ruled over Puerto Rico are very difficult to trace. Records from the 1500s to the 1900s, were mainly kept by local churches, as they kept track of baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Some of those records have been lost because of fires, floods, or destruction. If you have the time and the patience, another website I’ve found very useful is FamilySearch.org. This is a nonprofit organization and website offering genealogical records, and education. They have been able to visit different locations and scan documents or take pictures and add to their website. Thanks to Family Search, I was able to get the name of my third great grandfather Nicolás Alvarado. This is a name no one in the family had before!

My grandfather Gaudioso Alvarado (front, first on left) and his adult children. My father Angel next to him (front, 2nd on left).

After a few years as a subscriber, I decided it was finally time to get one of those Ancestry DNA kits. I was curious to know my genealogy and my ethnicity composition. According to information from their website, the Ancestry DNA test is pretty accurate: “Accuracy is very high when it comes to reading each of the hundreds of thousands of positions (or markers) in your DNA. With current technology, Ancestry DNA has, on average, an accuracy rate of over 99 percent for each marker tested.”

Well, being Puerto Rican, I had an idea of the ethnicity mix I’d get in my results. We are a combination of 3 main ethnicities: Taínos, indigenous natives that lived in the Caribbean area- including our Island before the invasion of Spain; Spaniards, who invaded Puerto Rico, colonized and ran the government until 1898; and Africans, brought by the Spaniards as slaves to work everywhere.

Portrayal of Puerto Rican’s top ethnicity combination: Taíno/indigenous (Milton Vazquez), Spaniard (my cousin Alex Alvarado), and African (Ramon Luis Ramos)

When I look at my family’s history, both my grandfathers Alvarado and Barrios come from families with predominantly white complexion skin. Both my grandmothers are mixed trigueñas, or mulatas, with dark complexion skin (see photo above of my great-grandmother and my grandmother). Again, we Puerto Ricans have a range of skin colors in our families, all due to the wonderful mix we have in us.

As I ordered my DNA test kit, my predictions were (as I imagine many Puerto Ricans think) that I’d get a mix of Spaniard, African, and maybe a bit of Taíno, if it showed up at all. I also predicted a bit of Italian because, as I was doing my genealogy research, I discovered that my paternal grandmother’s grandparents were born in Sicily, Italy. That was a big surprise, so I was excited to find out if I got any Italian in my DNA.

Despite the current status of chaos all around the world due to the COVID pandemic, I received my kit in April, followed instructions and sent it back. The package arrived at its destination and it was processed in the anticipated time (around 6 to 8 weeks). Even though I knew I had to wait, I couldn’t help checking to see if the results were in. Opening that tab I felt like when I was in college checking on my grades.

When I finally received my results, I got blown away! I am so excited to share this!

My results displayed in a map

Well, I did not expect what I was reading. I only know one friend who has done the DNA test. I don’t know of any other person. I was really surprised with my results! I saw regions I did not think possible to have in my genealogy.

My results? I got a mix of 23 nationalities! Twenty-three! I saw so many places I was not expecting to see on my list. Ready? Here goes: The ones I expected: Spain 29%, African (7 regions), Indigenous Puerto Rico (and 3 other regions), and Italy 2%.

My top results!

What I didn’t expect on this page? Portugal! Well, this is a country that’s a close neighbor to Spain. So, this means one of my ancestors have origins in Portugal.

What else I didn’t expect? England! Ireland, Scotland, France? These regions I did not even think I was going to see at all, neither with those percentages. What, how, who?

There’s more. Here’s my Italian heritage!

More surprises? Yes, I got more surprises! Well, I also got Basque Country, a region located between Spain and France. I have 2% Italian, one I expected to see higher percentage, but 2% is good enough to confirm my grandma Narcisa’s heritage.

From the African continent, I have connections to 7 regions: Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu Peoples (8%), Nigeria (2%), Mali (2%), Senegal (1%), Eastern Bantu Peoples (1%), Benin & Togo (1%) and Eastern Africa (1%). That adds up to 16 % African, which I expected as a result of the many Africans brought to the Island during the early colonization period.

Of my Indigenous-native heritage, I expected to see some percentage, but I didn’t expect all the regions that actually showed up in the results. I have on my list 4 regions, a total of 11%: Indigenous Puerto Rico (8%), Indigenous Americas – Colombia & Venezuela (1%), Indigenous Eastern South America (1%), and Indigenous Haiti & Dominican Republic (1%). Of course, this must be as a result of the traveling and moving of my ancestors throughout the Caribbean area.

I got more surprises! What? Yes, still more! I kept going down the list, and I kept finding more unexpected regions. I have 1% each of European Jewish, Norway, Eastern Europe & Russia, Greece & the Balkans, and Sweeden.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to get those stories of who came from what region from any of my ancestors or family members. I don’t get to find out from whom or from where my dad got his blue eyes or my mom got her freckles. But I have my story to tell, and my kids do get a story to share.

Another thing Ancestry does is connect your DNA results to people who might be related to you, based on those results and the shared DNA sections. I have only confirmed three people I know in real life who are part of my family. But many people do their DNA testing and don’t have trees created.

Family trees help us connect with one another. As Ancestry matches the names in each tree, their system is able to identify similarities. It actually helps us connect with family members that are looking for that same connection, that many time we didn’t know anything about them. I have a few stories to tell you about that too.

I’ll keep doing my research. I’m looking for my Alvarado roots and present day family connections. Next census results, from 1950, will be published in the year 2022. Results get published every ten years, from 70 years back. I’m looking forward to that one, since my parents and uncles will be listed on that one!

If you have the chance, I suggest you do the DNA test. You may be surprised like me. You can confirm your family’s genealogical heritage, as I did. This is a story I did not expect to turn into an adventure! I’ll tell you more very soon! Meanwhile, it’s time for my cup of coffee. Salud!

Para versión en Español, vea https://fullofcoffeeblog.com/como-llegue-aqui:-mi-aventura-genealogica/

I'm a Puerto Rican living in Florida. Mom, Blogger, and Writer! Fan of coffee, baseball, books, sweet romance novels and Hallmark movies, and of course, my beautiful Puerto Rico.

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