Searching For My Afro-Boricua Roots

This post is in memory of my cousin, Serafin Rios Santiago, who recently joined the pantheon of ancestors. It is also dedicated to his daughter, my cousin Carmen, who will carry on his legacy with love. He is our newly-appointed ancestor angel watching over us. Amen!

 

Serafin Rios Santiago (1940-2014)

 

I have always wanted to know more about my Afro-Boricua roots. I knew I had African ancestry on my PR side. But where did my African ancestors come from? Would I ever be able to find out what country/countries they came from or would I be at a loss as to their origins as I am with my African ancestors on my maternal side? Hmmm. Well, thanks to my PR cousins and the wonderful world of genetic genealogy, I have begun to put some pieces together. My family history is slowly unveiling itself to me —not completely, but just enough to put a smile on my face and let me know I am on the right track.

 

Carmen & Me 

I met Carmen last year when she reached out to me after receiving her FTDNA results. We immediately connected with each other and began the task of trying to find out our common ancestor. We exchanged photos of our relatives as well as the locations of our ancestors. Carmen and I are predicted 3rd cousins so we share a set of 2nd great-grandparents in common.

Carmen and Me

I found out that Carmen’s mother was born in the same town, Anasco, Puerto Rico, as my paternal grandmother. Her maternal family was from Greater Aguada in Northwest Puerto Rico which was where my paternal grandmother’s ancestors resided. As an FYI, Carmen lost her mom, Rosa Peres Ponce, when she was very young so she was excited to meet a relative on her mom’s side. I have to say that I was taken back when I saw her mom’s photo as she very strongly resembled my youngest sister Joanna. Even Joanna had to admit that Carmen’s mom looked more like her than her own mother. Clearly, our genes had a story to tell.

 

Carmen”s mom Rosa and Joanna

Whenever someone with the surname Rios popped up on my 23andme DNA Relative list, I would call Carmen to see if that person was also on her list. Imagine my surprise when I asked her if a Serafin Rios Santiago was on her list. “Oh, that’s my dad”, she said. I was shocked that I was related to her dad. I thought I was related to her via her mom. Well, it turns out that I am related to BOTH her mom and her dad. 

Looking at our shared segments in Family Inheritance Advanced, I am sharing a lot more DNA with Carmen than with her father. I am also sharing DNA on completely different chromosomes which indicate that I have a different ancestor in common with each of them. Carmen and I share a Spanish ancestor on her mom’s side.

 

DNA shared with Carmen and Serafin

Once I knew that Serafin was related to me, I knew I had to meet him. Carmen explained that, although he was not in the best of health, I was more than welcome to come over and see him. 

On the morning that I was heading to Brooklyn to see my cousins, I received my AncestryDNA results. I had taken this DNA test to see if I shared DNA with Lee and Carter descendants as my 3rd great-grandmother, Crittie Anna Lee, was said to be the daughter of Charles Carter Lee, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s older brother, and a Black/Native American slave. As my Carter and Lee DNA matches popped up, I couldn’t help to be envious at how easy it was for my Euro DNA cousins to trace their ancestry. Those of us with African ancestry have a much more difficult time doing just that. Well, I certainly hopped on the train to Brooklyn hoping to forget my envy. 

Carmen, Serafin, and Me

Me and Serafin

A kiss for Serafin 

My first impression of Serafin was that he had such a sweet soul and a gentle spirit. Because of his ill health, we didn’t chat for long. However, he did mention his upbringing and then he dropped a bomb— a beautiful bomb. LOL He told me that his grandfather, Federico Cabrera, was a slave until 1873, when slavery in Puerti Rico  was abolished, and that he had been born in SENEGAL. Just like that, my earlier envy flew out the door. Envy who? Envy what? I think the ancestors were sending me a sign that day that all was not lost. Their stories were determined to be told even if it took time.

 

Serafin and I share African DNA on Chromosome 14

 

 

1872 Puerto Rican Registro Central de Esclavos mentioning Federico

 

 

Record in Ancestry.com for Federico Cabrera

 

Federico Cabrera’s Death Certificate 

From what Carmen and Serafin told me, Federico was purchased in Senegal by a Portuguese man and then sold to a Spaniard, Lorenzo Cayol, and shipped to Puerto Rico. Cayol, an immigrant from Spain, was one of the original inhabitants of Barceloneta (Little Barcelona), a town in Northern Puerto Rico. He was also the owner of Hacienda Plazuela, a sugarcane plantation. Federico was one of the many slaves who labored on this plantation.

Lorenzo Cayol’s immigration record

Not only did Cayol purchase slaves directly from Africa, but he also purchased them from other countries in Latin American and the Caribbean. Below, you can see that he purchased slaves from Venezuela and St. Thomas. I have other cousins whose ancestors came from Martinique and Guadeloupe. Puerto Rico was definitely part of the active Transatlantic Slave Trade.

 

Slaves of Lorenzo Cayol

Both Carmen and I have another cousin in common, Dr. Ana Oquendo Pabon, who is my predicted 3rd cousin and possible 2nd cousin to Carmen.  Ana was so kind as to provide more info about Federico to us. In an email, she wrote:

“According to that death record we all have for Federico, he died on the 05 of April 1905 which would have made him born about 1795 not 1820. María Salgado Nieves [Federico's wife] died at 100 years of age on the 26 of June 1907 and her birth as 1807. At the same time, María’s sister Dorotea Salgado Nieves married Zoilo Cabrera who was also born África. I have always suspected he was Federico’s brother. Dorotea died at the age of 65 of yellow fever on the 15 April 1907 (two months before María) and it mentions their parents (Sabás Salgado Cruz and María de la Cruz Nieves).”

So, it is quite possible that Federico had a brother named Zoilo who was also bought in Africa and sold into slavery in Puerto Rico.

When I look at my DNA matches on 23andme, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA, I see the surnames Cabrera, Salgado, Nieves, Cruz and others that may link me to Serafin via his African ancestor. When I see that 1% of my DNA admixture is from Senegal, I now know that this is real. I also remind Carmen that she is only 2 generations from slavery. In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t that long ago. Serafin has now passed the torch to her as keeper of their family history.

[I would be remiss if I didn't mention the great contribution of Ana and her brother, Padre Jose Antonio Oquendo Pabon. They were the founders of the geographical Proyecto ADN de Apellidos Puertorriqueños (Puerto Rican DNA Project at FTDNA). Ana has been the sole Administrator for the project for over 11 years, recruiting, educating and promoting genetic genealogy. Thanks to their pioneer work, FTDNA finally conceded to adding the Taíno to their Native American ancestral groups for matching and reporting. Their website is Muertito Heaven. ]

 

The Rodriguez Family of Yauco

I have another distant cousin, Alex, whom I am related to on his paternal Rodriguez line. My sister Elisa and I match him, his father, his paternal aunt as well as a couple of his cousins who share the same 2nd great-grandmother, Domitila Rodriguez (1843-1914). Alex’s paternal family was from Yauco which is where my paternal grandfather’s family resided. Yauco encompassed a much larger area in the 18th and 19th centuries. Guayanilla, where Alex’s family was from, was part of Yauco back then. I can trace my Rodriguez line back to the late 1700s-early 1800s to my 4th great-grandfather, Isidoro Rodriguez who was born in YaucoAll of my Rodriguez ancestors are from Susua Alta and Susua Baja, Yauco. 

Yauco County from www.salonhogar.com

Alex told me that we are definitely related on his Rodriguez line though we haven’t found our common ancestor. What he did tell me was that his 2nd great-grandmother Domitila was born a slave. She had twin boys, Marcial and Marcelino, with Alexandre Sallaberry, a Frenchman, who were also born into slavery.

1872 Archivo General de Puerto Rico Slave Record for Domitila

 

1872 Archivo General de Puerto Rico Slave Record for Domitila

Alex mentioned that all his Rodriguez ancestors were owned by a Spanish Catholic priest, Padre Andres Avelino Rodriguez y Pacheco, a member of one of the founding Spanish families of Yauco. They labored on his plantation. Domitila’s mother, Rita Pacheco, was a slave of Andre’s mother, Maria Monserrate Pacheco y Rodriguez. Rita’s mother, Eusebia Rodriguez, and grandmother Maria were also slaves. We don’t know where in Africa the Rodriguez ancestors came from, however, it is this Rodriguez line that is related to my ancestors.

I should also mention that Yauco County was the capital of Boriken, the Taino name for Puerto Rico, when the Spanish arrived on the island. Yauco was governed by Agüeybana, the most powerful Taíno “cacique” (chief) and he controlled all the other caciques on the island. On my Rodriguez side, I also have Taino ancestry. When I look at photos of my great-uncle, Enrique Vega Bonilla, whose grandmother was a Rodriguez, I also see my Taino ancestors looking back at me. One day, I hope I will be able to trace my Taino ancestry as well.

 

Enrique Vega Bonilla, my great-uncle

 

 My Pellot Primos

On AncestryDNA, I have 3 4th cousin Pellot matches and another 7 5th to distant cousin Pellot matches. I also have 2 5th to distant Pellot cousins on FTDNA. All of these DNA cousins can trace their ancestors back to Moca and many have the same ancestors. This tells me that somewhere on my paternal grandmother’s line there is an ancestor that I have in common who was a Pellot. 

My 4th cousins, Ernie and Frances, have told me that the Pellots were slaves on the Hacienda Irurena plantation near Aceitunas, Moca in Northwest Puerto Rico. This plantation was built by three Pellot (Peugeot in a French) brothers in the early to mid-1800s after the Spanish Crown signed the Royal Decree of Graces.  They were from the Basque region of Spain and, in fact, Irurena means “three siblings” in the Basque language. The Pellots purchased roughly 1,300 acres and built a coffee plantation though they raised other crops. Of course, slaves were imported to work on the plantation. 

Hacienda Irurena /Labadie

The Pellots sold the hacienda to another Frenchman, Juan Labadie, who had been the caretaker of the plantation under them. Labadie was married to the daughter of Juan Pellot and a freed slave, Cornelia Pellot y Pellot.

After Labadie passed away in 1893, Cornelia began making plans to build a mansion which was actually built in 1905. By that time, it had become a sugar plantation. After decades of disrepair, the municipality of Moca bought the plantation in 1993. Today it is known as Palacete Los Moreau and was named after Enrique LaGuerre’s novel, La Llamarada. LaGuerre had spent time at Hacienda Irurena and based his characters on a family that lived at the fictionalized Hacienda Irurena.

All of the African ancestors of my Pellot DNA cousins came from the Guinea Coast. In fact, prior to the emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves, there was an area on the grounds of Hacienda Irurena that was called “Petit Guinee.”  Below are the Ancestry.com records for my cousin  Frances’s ancestors Julian and Ana Pellot that indicate that they were from Guinea, Africa.

Julian Pellot’s Ancestry.com Record

Ana Pellot’s Ancestry.com Slave Record

When I look at the surnames on my Pellot DNA cousins family trees, I do see surnames found on my grandmother’s side like, Roman, Soto, Mercado, and Nieves. It is just a matter of time before I find my link to the Pellots.

So, my search for my Afro-Boricua roots will continue….

 

Rev. John A. King: Abolitionist, Preacher, and Planemaker

This blog is dedicated to the memory of the King Family as they were one of Newark’s Black founding families.

In the book, Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism, Richard Newman has a chapter entitled “A Chosen Generation”: Black Founders and Early America. He wrote:

“Black founders” is a fancy term to describe the charter generation of free blacks in early national America. Born in the eighteenth century, some free (like James Forten of Philadelphia)) but many enslaved (like Richard Allen, Prince Hall, and Venture Smith, all of whom struggled mightily for their freedom), black founders came of age just as the American nation took shape….For they were of a generation that first battled bondage in an organized fashion, the generation that created vibrant free black institutions throughout the nation, and that innovated protest tactics—from establishing print as a key form of black activism to aiding fugitive slaves and distressed free blacks to forming the first national conventions dedicated to racial justice and independence—which still held sway on the eve of the Civil War.”

Given Newman’s definition of “Black Founders”, I maintain that the King Family was one of Newark’s Black founding families. I have chosen to focus on Rev. John A. King simply because there is more in the public record on him than his brothers. But, make no mistake about it, the lives of the other King brothers, especially Jacob and Abraham, are also noteworthy.

Over the past few years, my cousin Andrea and I have pieced together the King brothers’ early lives. Based on the 1830 census, John was born about 1790 in Morris County, NJ making him the oldest of Lucy King’s sons. Abraham was born around 1795. Their mother was a slave on Abraham Ogden’s estate in Morristown, NJ. We do know that they were mulatto and, based on his mother giving her 2nd son the name Abraham Ogden King, we assume that their father was Abraham Ogden or someone close to him. Both John and Abraham were also tradesmen which tells us that they occupied a more privileged status among other slaves. We don’t know when they became free or how they learned their trade, but Abraham Ogden’s estate was settled in 1802 and we assume John and Abraham were freed thereafter. Their mother remained a slave while some of their younger siblings were freed under the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804 after completing their service terms.

Sometime prior to 1820, the King brothers met Rev. Christopher Rush, another Black founder. Together with Rev. Rush, they founded the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (now known as the Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church) in Newark in 1822. This church was the first black church founded in Newark and was also considered to be a sister church to the Mother Zion Church in Lower Manhattan that was founded in 1796. Rev. Rush would go on to become the Bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church in 1828. As stated in a previous post, before he left to become a bishop, he sold his land to Jacob D. King who built an Underground Railroad House in 1830.

I should add that around 1820, John married Phebe Beard who was from Delaware. They ended up having 6 children: John Jr., Mary Rebecca, Cornelia, Robert, Edward, and Christopher Rush King. That John named one of his children after  Rev. Rush indicates how close a colleague and friend he considered Rev. Rush to be. Abraham married Mary McIntosh in Morristown, NJ in 1824 and they had 2 sons, Abraham Ogden King, Jr. and William.

The A.M.E. Zion Church in Newark was active in both the Underground Railroad and in the education of all Blacks. By 1826, the Church was teaching Blacks, both young and old, how to read and write. According to the Township of Newark records, On April 14, 1828, Abraham and John walked into the town meeting with a petition asking for funding for a colored school. Please note that this school had already been in existence for years. They were only asking for formal funding from the town. They received limited funding initially and were able to have a formal budget for the school from 1836 onward.

In the early years, the Colored School, as it came to be known, was located first  in the A.M.E. Zion Church and then in the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church. It wasn’t until 1864, when James Baxter became the principal, that the Colored School had their own building. The Colored School lasted until 1909. I should also mention that two of Jacob’s daughters, Marcia and Harriet King, were teachers in the Colored School.

Plaque on James Baxter mentioning the King Brothers

At the same time that the King brothers were educating Blacks, building churches, and harboring fugitive slaves, between  the mid-1820’s and early-1830’s, they were also holding down full-time jobs in the carpentry trade. Abraham was a carpenter and Jacob was a cooper. However, John was one of the four Black planemakers in the United States prior to the Civil War. The others were Cesar Chelor of Wrentham, MA, John Teasman, Jr., a fellow Newarker whose father became the principal of the New York African Free School in Manhattan in 1797, and George Ball of New York City.

You may ask yourself what exactly was a planemaker. Well, in the 18th and 19th centuries, woodworking was a specialized activity. Carpenters, cabinetmakers, and joiners used a variety of tools in their trade.  A “plane” was one such tool that shaved down a piece of wood to a particular thickness. The plane held an iron chisel in a fixed position so the wood could evenly be removed from the surface. There were different types of wooden planes used to create different surfaces. For example, you had utilitarian planes and planes that created moldings and edges.  Hence,  planemakers made planes and they were considered to be toolmakers.  Wooden planes were used up until the Industrial Revolution.

John A. King Wooden Plane in NJ Toolmakers:A Heritage of Quality by Alexander Farnham

After researching John’s career as a planemaker, I have come across a couple of inaccuracies in the public record on him. There have been several websites and articles that list John’s years as a planemaker as only being between 1835-1837. One of the most notable is a website on African-American woodworkers in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the Newark City directory has him clearly listed as being a planemaker from 1836-1846. Since the directory was only published in 1836, he may have even worked earlier than that.  In addition, there was an article written by Ronald Pearson called “Hand Tools: A Significant Find” in The Chronicle of the Early American Industries (Vol.37:49-50) . In the article, Pearson writes about how he acquired an old tool box that had 38 wooden planes, 13 of which were made by John A. King. He hypothesizes that John was only a “jobber” working for two white planemakers, the Andruss brothers. There is no basis in fact for his hypothesis as John was an independent planemaker with his own business. In his later years, he was known to have only worked with James Searing, another Newark planemaker. By not doing the  primary research that would have indicated John’s long career as a planemaker and insinuating that John couldn’t possibly work for himself, these researchers have done a disservice to his memory. Today, they stand corrected.

In the early 1830’s, John become very active in the abolitionist movement and he also became an ordained minister in the A.M.E. Zion Church in Newark at this time. He participated in local, state, and national anti-slavery societies as well as national Negro conventions. Through these activities, he met some of the most well-known white abolitionists of the day like the Tappan brothers and William Lloyd GarrisonIn addition, he also started writing for The Liberator.

He also met more often and socialized with other well-known early Black abolitionists like Rev. Amos N. Freeman, David Ruggles, Rev.Theodore S. Wright, and Rev. Samuel Cornish, who later became a minister at the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church in Newark. In fact, by the late 1830’s, John was also writing for Cornish’s Colored American newspaper.

In his newspaper articles, John addressed the concerns of the day. These included the issue of colonization. In 1816, the American Colonization Society was founded. The Presbyterian Church was a main proponent of the colonization of free Blacks to Africa and later to the Caribbean after 1834. Many free Blacks in Newark, including John, were  vocal anti-colonizationists. Having grown up in the shadow of the Revolutionary War, these people believed that they, too, sang America. It was the US that they called home and they saw all attempts to remove them from the US as nothing more than an extension of slavery’s hand.

The colonization movement hit close to home. In 1839, One of the first ministers of the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church, Rev. T. P. Hunt emigrated to Trinidad with his family and some members of the congregation. In 1841, Rev. Hunt returned to Newark and met with his old congregation and told them what he encountered. Very little was positive for they had been deceived into emigrating in the first place. John then wrote the article below in the Colored American. Please note the resolutions made.

Anti-Colonization article by John A. King

Another topic John was concerned about was the restoration of Black citizen’s voting rights. From 1790-1807,  free Blacks and women had the right to vote in New Jersey. In 1807, the state of NJ, disenfranchised over 3,000 free Blacks and untold number of women. John took note of this Black disenfranchisement  in an article for the Colored American.

 

John A. King advocating for Black voting rights

From the mid-1830’s to the mid-1840’s, John, in addition to continuing to preach at the Newark A.M.E. Zion Church,  was also a minister at the Mother Zion Church in NYC as well as the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Eatontown, NJ which was part of Shewsbury Township back then.  In Carter G. Woodson’s book, The History of the Negro Church, he mentions John A. King as being one of the leaders in A.M.E. Zion Church between 1830 and 1840.

 

John A. King mentioned in Woodson’s History of Negro Churchpapers.

John is also listed in all history books pertaining to the founding of the A.M.E. Zion Church. Moreover, John, Abraham, and Jacob are also listed in the Black Abolitionist Papers which is a testament itself to their abolitionist activities during their lifetimes. I consider this to be an honor.

In 1848, the Newark Daily Advertiser reported a fire at John’s house on 20 Academy Street in Newark.

Newark Daily Advertiser, 3/16/1848

Most of the inside of the house was destroyed. We don’t really know if he was ever able to rebuild his house.

Over a year ago, I also found two articles written in 1849 in the Newark Daily Advertiser that broke my heart. The tears flowed uncontrollably. In January 1849, John’s wife Phebe died which, together with the fire, quite possible made him depressed. It was on April 6th and 7th, 1849, that the Newark Daily Advertiser announced his suicide below.

Newark Daily Advertiser, 4/7/1849

 

Newark Daily Advertiser, 4/6/1849

After his death on 04/05/1849, John’s brother William was left to settle his affairs. It wasn’t until 1852 that his estate was settled.

Estate sale of John A. King’s properties

 

Estate sale of John A. King

In the 1850 census, John’s 2 youngest children, Edward and Christopher, are living with William.

After reading that article, I wondered how often do we consider the needs of those who lead our flock. Do we really know how well are shepards are doing? John was a preacher who comforted and led others. Was he being comforted?  I shed tears for a man who did so much for others, but couldn’t do enough for himself. Tears, tears, and more tears.

I would be remiss if I ended my blog post on this note. Those who know me also know I just won’t do that. I truly believe it is up to those of us alive to give voice to our ancestors, to allow them to speak in a voice that is their own, and to correct the inaccuracies about them. Likewise, I believe it is up to us descendants to remember our role model ancestor, our radiant roots, in a positive light. If we don’t, then who will? So, 165 years after the death of my ancestor, Rev. John A. King, I offer a prayer of remembrance to him.

Dear Uncle John,

I want to THANK YOU for the wonderful life you left behind. It has truly been an honor to retrace your footsteps. You have made us proud to call you an esteemed ancestor. We claim all aspects of your life and the lives of your brothers, as our own now. We exalt you for making Newark, NJ a better place for all African-Americans at a time when we were not considered to be full citizens. That you never gave up the call for equal rights is laudable. Your quest for equality showed us just how much a true American you were and how much you believed in the ideals of the American Revolution—freedom, liberty, and equal rights for all.

I want you to know that you were loved, not only by your immediate family and by us, your descendants, but also, by God. God never failed you–not even in your greatest moment of despair. I pray that you have continued to find comfort in His arms. You served an awesome God — a God that we continue to serve.

God bless you, John, and the legacy you left behind. Continue to rest in peace as we continue to spread your good name and the good deeds you did during your lifetime. You are still loved and remembered.

We call your name, John, we… call… your… name…

Amen!

PostScript:

If I could speak to John, I would tell him that his extended family is still hanging strong in Newark—-right across from where he used to live at 20 Academy St. Our family has never left Newark.

 

My cousin Raymond Armour, Esq.

 

Ethnicity, Admixture and Me

One of the most prominent  features of DNA testing is the ethnic admixture results you get with each test. Now, there has been some debate about the reliability of admixture tests. It is true that no one test will tell you every ethnic group that left it’s mark on your genome. For starters, ethnic groups have changed over time and so have the geo-political boundaries that encompassed these groups. Furthermore, each DNA testing company has it’s own ethnic reference samples with which they compare your genome with and this also influences their results.

That being said, I do find admixture results to be somewhat informative if one’s family history includes the ancestries and geographical locations indicated. As a child of the African Diaspora, I also believe that admixture tests do point to geographical areas where my ancestors may have come from during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. For African-Americans, this is a key reason as to why we take DNA test in the first place. We want to find that missing piece of our ancestral self that was denied to us.

So, Who Did I Think I Was?

Whoever I thought I was pre-DNA test was only a partial portrait of me. I already knew all my usual suspect ancestries by name (i.e., West African, British, Irish, Dutch, German, Eastern European/Jewish, Spanish,and Native American) prior to taking the test so I expected them to show up in my results. And they did. However, it was the UNUSUAL SUSPECT ancestries that caught my attention big time. My post-DNA test results now included Central-South Africa, East Africa, South/Southeast Asia, North Africa, Italy, France, and Scandinavia. Hmmm… Now, I wondered where and when did these ancestries enter my genome. I mean I thought I knew where my African and European ancestors came from. Well, I guess NOT!  LOL Now, I needed to further investigate my new roots.

 

My 23andme Admixture Results

 

My AncestryDNA Admixture Results

 

My DNA Tribes Admixture Results, Pt. 1

 

My DNA Tribes Admixture Results, Pt. 2

 

Unusual Suspect #1: Central-South Africa, East Africa, and South/Southeast Asia

One of the biggest surprises that my family encountered with DNA testing was my cousin Andrea’s family’s mtDNA results. Though my own mtDNA is H1 because my maternal matrilineal line traces back to Ireland, Andrea’s mtDNA, which comes from our shared 2nd great-grandmother, is M23. This haplogroup is found only in MADASGASCAR!

 

My M23 Cousins

The people who made up the original settlers came from East (Indonesia, Oceania, and  Melanesia, ) and Africa (East African and South Africa).  According to a paper written by Cox, Nelson, et. al., 

“The settlement of Madagascar is one of the most unusual, and least understood, episodes in human prehistory. Madagascar was one of the last landmasses to be reached by people, and despite the island’s location just off the east coast of Africa, evidence from genetics, language and culture all attests that it was settled jointly by Africans, and more surprisingly, Indonesians. Nevertheless, extremely little is known about the settlement process itself… Maximum-likelihood estimates favour a scenario in which Madagascar was settled approximately 1200 years ago by a very small group of women (approx. 30), most of Indonesian descent (approx. 93%). This highly restricted founding population raises the possibility that Madagascar was settled not as a large-scale planned colonization event from Indonesia, but rather through a small, perhaps even unintended, transoceanic crossing.”

When I saw all of my admixture results, I knew that my Central-South African, East African, and South/Southeast Asian ancestry could be traced back to my maternal Madagascar ancestors. Out of all the admixture tests, DNA Tribes has the best admixture breakdown. All of my relatives, who have taken the DNA Tribes SNP Analysis, have ancestry from South Africa (Bantu, Pedi, and/or Nguni), East Africa (Somali or Ethiopian), South Asia(India), Southeast Asia (Borneo, Malay, Indo-Chinese), and Oceania (Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Guam).

Here is my 2nd cousin 1XR Mildred’s DNA Tribes Native Population Analysis. Mildred is a direct matrilineal descendant of my 2nd great-grandmother and DNA Tribes has her as being 4.5% Southeast Asian. Her Madagascar ancestry is much clearer— at least I think so.

My cousin Mildred’s DNA Tribes Results

In addition, my maternal family has colonial roots in both New Jersey and New York. Slaves from Madagascar were directly imported into New York City between 1678-1698 and then from 1716-1721. They were also directly imported into Perth Amboy, NJ. In his book, Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in America, Michael A.Gomez writes:

 

Madagascar Slaves in New York

My 3rd great-grandmother, Susan Pickett, was born in Morris County, NJ in 1809. Her mother, a slave named Tun, was born in the late 1700s in either NY or NJ. It is quite possible that Tun’s maternal Madagascar ancestors arrived during one of those two periods. I am now searching for Tun in her slave owner’s records. Apparently she was owned by someone who then rented her out to another master.

Unusual Suspect #2: North Africa

Prior to my DNA tests, I only had knowledge of my Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry on my mother’s side. Post-DNA test, I now know that I am also a descendant of Sephardic Jews from Spain. My North African ancestry is from my paternal side. Following their 1492 expulsion from Spain, Jews settled mainly in the Ottoman Empire, Morocco and Algeria, southern France, Italy, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Mexico, Spanish South America, Brazil, Netherlands and her territories (Curaçao, Suriname, Aruba and New Amsterdam) England (as well as English colonies such as Barbados and Jamaica), Germany, Denmark, Poland, Austria and Hungary. So, some of my North African ancestry comes from my Sephardic  roots. But, I also have Puerto Rican ancestors via the Canary Islands which includes the Guanches who are of Berber descent from North Africa.

My DNA Tribes SNP Analysis also includes Fulani ancestry. The Fulani were known to be nomadic and migrated from West Africa to North Africa. This ancestry may come from either one of my parents.

Unusual Suspect #3: France, Corsica, and Italy

French and Italian ancestry is very common in Puerto Ricans. This is due to the Spanish Crown issuing the 1815 Royal Decree of GracesThis decree lasted until 1898 when the US took over Puerto Rico.

Royal Decree of Graces of 1815

King Ferdinand decided that one of the ways to end the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico and Cuba was to allow non-Spanish Catholic Europeans (e.g., the French, Corsican, Irish, and Italians), who swore loyalty to the Spanish Crown, to settle on both islands. These new immigrants were given land grants and papers indicated that they were loyal to both  the Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church. After 5 years, they could become Spanish subjects. It was these immigrants who became the sugarcane, tobacco, and coffee planter class with Africans being the slave labor class.

Part of my French ancestry is due to French immigration to Puerto Rico at this time. (By the way, I have some Puerto Rican cousins with the surnames LeGrand, Betancourt, Poupart, and Ruitort among others.)  However, some of my French ancestry is also due to Corsican immigration to the island. In the early 1800s, Yauco was Ground Zero for Corsican Immigration. Corsica was originally an Italian territory that was lost to France in 1768 as such a lot of Corsican surnames are Italian in origin.

My paternal grandfather, Antonio Vega Bonilla, was born in Susua Alta, Yauco, Puerto Rico as were his ancestors.  On some of my paternal family’s birth and marriage certificates, people with Corsican surnames like Cardi, Bernadini, Filiberti, and Oliveri are listed as relatives who were witnesses to those events. I believe my paternal grandfather’s ancestors intermarried with, or had children by, these Corsican immigrants.

As I communicate with some of Euro DNA cousins, I am also finding that I have French ancestry on my maternal side as well. Some of this French ancestry is from French Huguenots who arrived in the US during colonial times from England. I also have a lot of French Canadian/Arcadian ancestry. I have no idea where this ancestry comes from and I am still investigating.

Unusual Suspect #4: Scandinavia 

When I first received my 23andme results, they only listed Finland as a Scandinavian country that apparently left a mark on my DNA. Say what? On their new Ancestry Composition, this changed to the more general Scandinavian category. When I look at my DNA relatives and Ancestry Finder lists, I see DNA cousins with Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian ancestry. I had no knowledge on either side of my family of Scandinavian ancestry. I found this to be interesting. How did I get Finnish DNA???

Well, it turns out that there was a New Sweden colony that extended from Delaware, Pennsylvania, and up to New Jersey between the years of 1638-1655. Finland was part of Sweden at this time. As a result, a lot of Finnish and Swedish people immigrated to this colony. By 1690, the Swedes and Finns had settled in Cape May, Salem, and Gloucester counties in New Jersey. When I look at my DNA 5th-8th cousins’ family trees on Ancestry.com, I see a lot of surnames from Salem and Gloucester counties in NJ,  but I don’t recognize the names. It may be that I inherited Scandinavian DNA from a slave owner sometime in the colonial NJ era. As this time,  the best I can do is to be on the lookout for any Scandinavian names that pop up in my research on my NJ ancestors.

So where does all of this new admixture analyses leave me? 

My admixture results do not change what I consider myself to be. I will always be half African-American and Puerto Rican. The culture(s) you were raised in do(es) count for something after all. You are not just the sum of your DNA. I think of admixture results as clues to telling me more about my ancestors. By looking at who they may have been and how they ended up in the locations where I found them, I learn more about my family history.  But, admixture results still lead me to look for the paper trail –no matter how elusive it seems– on my ancestors.

 

 

The Underground Railroad House that Jacob D. King Built in Newark

This post is in honor of all my King ancestors. Jacob D. King and his family, including my 3rd aunt Mary Thompson King, stood up against the evil that was slavery in 19th century Newark, NJ and triumphed.

 

Shortly after finding out that Jacob D. King, my 3rd great-uncle by marriage, built his Underground Railroad house at 70 Warren Street in Newark in 1830, Andrea and I set out to find out more about him and his family. After looking through probate records, census records, church records, and newspaper articles, we were able to piece together parts of his life.

One of the first things we found out, via his daughter Harriet Brown’s obituary in a New York Age newspaper article on 9/12/1912, was that the King family had been in Newark since the mid-1700s.

NY Age Newspaper 9/12/1912

However, my 5th cousin Eleanor Mire, who descends from Jacob’s daughter Martha, told me that King oral history has indicated that they were in New Jersey during King Philip’s War (1675-76). From our research, we have learned that King family was in Essex and Morris counties prior to the mid-1700s.

One of the things Andrea and I are doing now is researching the Essex and Morris county’ slave owners who are affiliated with our family — the Ogdens, Riggs, Thompsons, Camfileds/Canfields, Morris families among others. DNA is also confirming the links to these slave owners families. For example, Andrea’s uncle Robert  matches almost 20 centimorgans  with a descendant of Edward Riggs, an original settler of Newark. Newark was founded in 1666 by Puritans from Connecticut which means that our ancestors were probably there close to its founding which makes us one of the oldest African-American families to continuously reside in Newark, NJ from the start.

Jacob was born in Newark on April 6, 1806 to Lucy King. His father was the late sexton of Trinity Church in Newark and he died before Jacob was born. Unfortunately, church records did not record his name.

Jacob’s 1806 Trinity Church Baptism Record

He was one of 5 sons born to Lucy. The others being Abraham, John, Henry, and Charles. She also had a daughter named Venus. We believe that some of  Lucy’s older children were fathered by her slave owner, Abraham Ogden, as she named one of her her sons, Abraham Ogden King. 

Abraham Ogden’s Inventory featuring Lucy King

It should be mentioned that Trinity Church in Newark was founded by Josiah Ogden and was the Ogden family’s home church as well as Hercules Daniel Bize’s church.

Mary Thompson married Jacob King in 1829 in the First Presbyterian Church in Newark, NJ. At the time, my Thompson ancestors were members of the First Presbyterian Church and her marriage to Jacob reflects her family’s membership in his church. However, the King family were founding members of the first African Methodist Zion Church, later known as the Clinton Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church. This church was founded in 1822 by Rev. Christopher Rush, who was one of the first missionaries of the black Methodist movement.

NYPL Digital Collection, Schomburg Center

Bishop Christopher Rush was born in Craven County, NC in 1777. He escaped to New York City in 1798 and became a member of the A.M.E. Zion Church which gave him a license to preach in 1815. He was ordained as a deacon in the church in 1822 was also charged with founding an A.M.E. Zion church in Newark, NJ. In 1828, he became the Bishop of the A.M.E. Zion (aka Mother Zion Church) in NYC. I should also mention that my 3rd great-grandfather’s 2nd wife Rosetta Thompson’s father, Rev. John A. Dungey, was also a founding member of this church as well.

The A.M.E. Zion church, it should be noted, was known for it’s Underground Railroad activity. In addition to Jacob D. King and his family, later Black abolitionists of this church included Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Bishop Christopher Rush advocated helping fugitive slaves escape slavery and he charged the early A.M.E. churches with helping with this task. And they did.

In 1830, Jacob King bought land from Rev. Christopher Rush in the amount of $100. According to the deed, Rev. Christopher Rush was already a resident of NYC. I should mention that Jacob’s brother, John A. King, was a minster in the Newark A.M.E. Zion church.

Jacob D. King’s 1830 Land Deed

It is on this land that Jacob built an Underground Railroad house at 70 Warren Street in Newark. Jacob was a cooper by trade and two of his brothers were also involved in the carpentry field. Abraham was a carpenter and John was a planemaker, one of three African-American planemakers in the United States prior to the Civil War. Their brother-in-law Cato Thompson, was also a carpenter and we assume he learned the trade from his in-laws and also helped to build this house.

After I found the photo of Jacob’s house in Charles F. Cumming’s article, I went to the NJ Historical Society to see I could locate the actual article since Cummings didn’t give the date the article was published. I am so thankful for the staff at the NJ Historical Society, especially James Amemasor.  James has gone above and beyond in helping me find the documents needed for my research. He helped me go through a year’s worth of the Newark Sunday Call  newspaper. Thank God it was just a weekly paper!  On the first day of looking, I didn’t find anything after 5 hours of looking. But, when I arrived back home an hour later, James had left me a message saying that he thought the article on Jacob’s house was in the magazine section. So, I went back a couple of days later. It took a while, but we found the article and James was right. It was in the magazine section and it included 4 more photos! I am so glad I went to look for the source of the photo. I believe my ancestors were guiding me.

Here are the photos of the inside of Jacob’s Underground Railroad house in 1937, a year after Jacob’s daughter Ellen passed away. It should be noted again that this house stayed in the family for 106 years. I wish this house could talk because I would love to hear all the stories that could be told.

Full Sunday Newark Call Magazine Article, 10/3/1937

 

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

My 3rd great-aunt Mary Thompson King’s Dutch oven

Words cannot express how excited I was to see these photos. I ran home and had to tell everybody about this find.

One of my favorite photos is of my 3rd great-aunt Mary’s old Dutch oven. For too long, the role of  everyday, drylongso African-American women has been absent from the historical record as it pertains to the Underground Railroad. Yes, we know about the role of Black men and the role of white male and female abolitionists on the UGRR. But, what about the wives, daughters, and sisters of Black abolitionists?  Weren’t their roles just as important?

I am reminded of a post on my cousin Dawn Terrell’s  Answering The Ancestor’s Call blog, where she writes about an ancestor calling her out to be remembered. When I saw Mary’s Dutch oven, I know she was calling me out and reminding me that she, too, had helped fugitive slaves. We now know that it was Mary and her daughters, and maybe even her sisters, who cooked for the slaves hidden in the basement at 70 Warren Street. They probably also washed and repaired fugitive slaves’ clothes, helped out with childcare, comforted frightened fugitive slaves, and did other things that were typically defined as “women’s work.” I am so thankful for this photo. I may not have a photo of Mary, but praise God I have this remembrance of her and the important work that she was doing along with Jacob and the rest of my ancestors. Praise God indeed.

On a whim, I then went to the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture to see if I could find even more info on Jacob’s Underground Railroad activities. I came across The Black Abolitionist Papers, an account of Black abolitionists from the 1830s until the Civil War. In this multi-volume set, I found the names of both my Thompson and King ancestors. Regarding Jacob D. King, I found the following:

 

From The Black Abolitionist Papers

According to the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper, Jacob was a treasurer in a Relief Association which was a local organization, that assisted fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad.

Weekly Anglo-American Newspaper, 10/15/1859

 

From the time Jacob built his UGRR house in 1830 until the 1860s, Jacob was non-stop in his abolitionist activities. I should also add that, in the article above, Thomas Washington was Jacob’s son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Martha. Hence, King black abolitionism was a family affair

Jacob passed away at 74 years old on 5/3/1880 and is buried in Woodland Cemetery  in Newark. He devoted more than half his life to fighting against the evils of slavery. He is a man who should definitely be remembered. 

Charles F. Cummings Was a Friend of Mine

This article is in memory of Charles F. Cummings, the noted Newark, NJ historian who left behind a trail for me to follow in seeking my ancestors.

I became familiar with Charles F. Cummings a few years ago. We never met in person because he passed away in 2005. But from the start, he was a friend, as Wendy Williams would say, in my head. I remember how we were introduced. I had recently located the names of my two 3rd great-aunts, the sisters of Cato Thompson, and their families. Catherine Hedden was living in 1850 with her 2 daughters and her mother, Ann. Right next door to her was her sister Mary King and her family.

1850 Census Record

I decided to google my 3rd great-aunt Mary’s husband’s name, Jacob D. King, to see if anything popped up on him. I found an article, “The Sounds of the Underground Railroad Resonate Throughout New Jersey” written by Peter Genovese in 2000 that mentioned Jacob.

“The Sounds of the UGRR Resonate Throughout NJ” Article

I can’t tell you how PROUD I was to find this significant piece of my family history. I will be doing the happy dance for the rest of my life. LOL I have to thank Charles for documenting this.

When I first learned that both my 3rd and 4th great-grandfathers were well off in the early 1800s,  I wanted to know about what type of men they were. Finding out that Cato was trained by Jacob and his brothers and that both Thomas and Cato lived right next to Jacob in 1830, meant that they both probably aided Jacob in the building of his house, as well as, the harboring of fugitive slaves on the road to freedom. Thomas Thompson was a well-respected coachman after all.

After reading this quote, I wished that Charles F. Cummings was alive so I could ask him all the questions I wanted to know about Jacob. That could not happen obviously. I reckoned that the next best thing I could do was to read his books to learn about Newark’s history.

One day, when I was at the New Jersey Historical Society, accompanied by my friend Dee Dee Roberts, President of the New Jersey Chapter of AAHGS, I came across his book, A History of Newark, 1666-2002. In his book, there were two articles that pertained to African-Americans in Newark. One article was titled, “Slavery in New Jersey: A Shame that Spanned 3 Centuries,” and it detailed slavery in New Jersey. On the 2nd page of the article, I came across this photo:

Jacob D. King’s Underground Railroad House in Newark, NJ

Woohoo again!Slaves’ Haven! Now, I had a picture of Jacob’s house in 1937. His house stayed in his family for 106 years. As an FYI, Rutgers University, in downtown Newark, was built over the 70 Warren St. location. Thank you, Charles, for including this photo in your book. I did another happy dance in front of Dee Dee then I immediately let Andrea know of my find.

I then came across another Cummings article in the same book, “Blacks in New Jersey: The Journey Towards Economic Freedom.” This article made reference to my 4th great-grandfather, Thomas Thompson.

“Blacks in NJ:The Journey Towards Economic Freedom”

Cummings mentioned Thomas Thompson (though he referred to him as Thompson Thompson) as being “the wealthiest man of color,” according the 1821 Newark Tax Ratable. I was able to confirm his information by looking at the 1821 Tax Ratable.

1821 Newark Tax Ratable

Cummings also listed a number of other Free Blacks in Newark. Over the past couple of years, Andrea and I have been documenting the links between these families via marriages and community building institutions, like the founding of churches, schools,  anti-slavery societies, Masonic lodges, etc. We have also researched the early Black abolitionist activities of this same Free Black community.

I had told someone once that my ancestors were from Newark. They then asked me, “Did your family come after the 1967 riots?” I said, “No.” The next questions was, “So they came up from the South after World War I?” Again, I answered, “No.” I finally had to tell them that we have been in Newark probably since it’s founding. In fact, we are still there. I have a cousin whose law office is on Academy St. in downtown Newark —- on the same street where our ancestors lived in Newark in the late 1700s.

Charles didn’t know it, but as a friend, he has tipped me off about, not only my family history, but also about early Black Newark. He left clues for me and Andrea to follow up on and we have. In the coming months, I will be writing about my ancestors and this early Free Black community in early 19th century Newark. It is my goal to put early Black Newark back on the map as these African-Americans deserve to be remembered.

My Poor 3rd Great-Grandfather Cato

About three years ago, I tracked down my maternal 3rd great-grandfather on my Grandad’s side, Cato Thompson. I found him listed as a being mulatto in every census from 1830-1880 in Newark, NJ. He was also listed in every Newark City Directory from, 1836-1890, as being a carpenter. What I found out about Cato was that he lived between 1809-1891; he was the son of Thomas and Martha Ann Thompson; he owned his own carpentry business; he invested in real estate; he trained carpenter apprentices; and was a very religious man.  Cato was born in and lived his entire life in Newark, before Newark was a even a city.

On a whim, I googled Cato’s name. (By the way, I have found a lot of info on my family just by googling so I highly recommend it.) Lo and behold, it wasn’t long before I hit pay dirt in the form of several newspaper articles. My poor 3rd great-grandfather was robbed! One of the first articles was from a Black newspaper, The NY Freedmen Newspaper,  on January 30, 1886:

 

Cato’s Robbery

My first thought was, “Whoa, my 3rd great-grandfather was rich!” Before I knew of Thomas Thompson, I figured his white father hooked him up real good.  WRONG! It would be another year, before Andrea and I discovered that the Thompson line consisted of mulattos marrying mulattos for generations. My European ancestors on this line enter the family in the late 1600s and early 1700s. We would later learn that Thomas was the richest Free Person of Color from 1806 until his death in the 1830s. It was Thomas’s connection to a network of rich white people in Newark that Cato piggybacked off. But, more on that later.

Getting back to the article, my 2nd thought was, “Cato had servants?” Hmmmm. I remember thinking, did he own slaves at one point? Upon further research, I ruled that out. NJ had instituted a Gradual Emancipation Act in 1804 which would have precluded that. Cato was 77 years old when he was robbed. He lived alone and needed someone to help him. Annie Dutton (not Sutton as reported) was his live-in housekeeper.

On March 26, 1886, The NY Freedmen Newspaper reported the full story:

 

The Real Story

It looks like Annie Dutton was given several opportunities to repay Cato, but she refused. It also appears that she stole an additional $200 over the course of the 3 years she worked for him.

 

Annie Went to Jail

Her sister, Carrie, did plead guilty though.

 

Carrie Pled Guilty

 

I wondered how Cato earned his wealth. Based on several obituaries I found, I was able to put the pieces together. Wealth breeds wealth, for the most part, if the individuals are savvy. And my ancestors were SAVVY! At a young age, Cato learned his trade from his sister’s husband’s family. His sister Mary married into the King family,  another Free Black Newark family made up of carpenters, coopers, and planemakers. In addition, Thomas, his father, was able to refer Cato’s skills, as a carpenter, to the wealthy white families he was affiliated with as a stagecoach owner. Cato then became a wealthy carpenter who was able to invest in real estate at a time when white immigrants, like the Irish and the Germans, were arriving in Newark in numbers starting in the late 1840s onward.

 

Cato’s Obit

To date, Andrea and I have learned that Cato owned a lot of real estate. In addition to inheriting his parents’ home, he owned about 10 other properties. His brother, Thomas Thompson, Jr., also owned two properties which he passed on to Cato’s son, Thomas Thompson III. After Cato died, my 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, inherited some of his property and she, too, lived off the rents as did her son, my Grandpa Green.

Please note that Cato was married twice. Whoever gave the info to the above newspaper had the info wrong. His first  marriage was in 1838 to my 3rd great-grandmother, Susan Pickett. Susan was born around 1809 to a slave named Tun in Morris County, NJ. Since she was born to a slave, unlike Cato, she had to serve her master until age 21, according to the Gradual Emancipation Act.  Susan died in 1854 after an illness. My 2nd great-grandmother Laura was her youngest child. She was around 2 years old at the time of Susan’s death. Cato was left a widower with 6 kids.

In 1856, he married his 2nd wife, Rosetta Dungee, the daughter of Rev. John A. Dungee. Rosetta’s father was a Free Black who was born in Virginia and who moved to NYC in the late 1790s. By 1800, he owned a clothing store in downtown Manhattan and he was a minister who was affiliated with the A.M.E. Zion Church in NYC. At some point, he moved to New Haven, CT to help found the A.M.E. Zion Church there. He met his wife Sarah and Rosetta was born around 1818. Rosetta died of pneumonia in 1880 in Newark, NJ and Cato was once again a widower.

For awhile, there was a debate in my family over which one of Cato’s wives was my 3rd great-grandmother. We confirmed that all his kids were from Susan. In fact, when he married Rosetta, she was overwhelmed with being a new wife to a man who already had 6 children —- so overwhelmed that she initially RAN AWAY, but she did come back. Here is a classified ad that Cato placed in the Newark Daily Advertiser on December 4th, 1856.

 

Rosetta Ran Away

When Cato died, he was once again had housekeeper issues. Poor Cato! He had employed Hannah Vanderveer as a housekeeper after the Annie Dutton fiasco in 1887. When he died in 1891, unbeknown to Cato’s 5 living children, Hannah went to court and filed a “claim for dower.” She claimed that she was married to Cato for three years which, of course, caught his children by surprise. Believe me, both the NY and NJ press had a field day with her claim. Some of the headlines at the time included, “Now She Says She Was His Wife” (NY Herald Tribune, 9/7/1891), “The Queer Proof of Marriage” (NY Herald, 9/7/1891), and “Hannah Vanderveer Shows It to Prove a Marriage with Cato Thompson. (Newark News, 9/7/1891).

 

Hannah Claims a Dower Right

It turns out that Hannah lied to the court. She said they had been married 3 years when Cato died, but she produced a marriage certificate that was 25 years old indicating her marriage to a “Thomas Creignton.” She had the nerve to say that Cato went by “Thompson Cato” and that the old minister who married them wrote down Creighton instead of Cato. Pul-Leeze. I do give her an A for audacity as well as effort. It took some time to think up that hot mess of a lie. LOL

Not wanting to create a stir, however, his children settled with her:

 

Hannah Drops Her Claim

 

From our research we discovered that Cato was first married in the white First Presbyterian Church in Newark in 1838 to Susan. Sometime after their marriage, they joined the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Street. Cato was a member and benefactor of this church until the day he died. His funeral also took place in this church.

 

Cato’s Funeral Announcement

 

After Cato’s died, his death announcement made several national Black newspapers, like the State Capital newspaper out of Springfield, Illinois (9/26/1891), which simple announced:

 

Cato Thompson, 1809-1891

 

In researching my Grandad’s family, I’ve learned so much about him. Most importantly, why he walked so upright. Given the family background, he had — and I have —generations of Black male ancestors, aided by their wives, were businessmen and property owners. They were the best role models for him and his descendants.

By the way, there was never anything poor about Cato. He lived a rich life and left us with an even richer legacy.

On Discovering My Boricua Branches

When I first took my 23andme DNA Test a year ago, I knew that I would find some of my father’s relatives. This was always a dream of mine. To my surprise, I learned that Puerto Ricans have taken DNA tests at a much higher rate than others—at least it seems that way to me. I was told that years ago there was a study done to see if living Puerto Ricans still had Taino ancestry and this led to more Puerto Ricans taking DNA tests in general. Out of the 1200 total DNA cousins on 23andme, I would easily say almost 900 are Boricuas.

My 23andme DNA Results

My AncestryDNA test shows that, out of 1800 matches, 900 are my Puerto Rican DNA cousins. On FamilyTree DNA, out of 152 matches, 145 are Puerto Rican. Yes, I think I found my dad’s side alright.

In January 2013,  I only knew the names of my dad and his parents. I went on Ancestry.com and quickly found the names of my great-grandparents. But, it was my young DNA cousin Luis Rivera who  helped me immensely. Luis waded through the un-indexed Puerto Rican Civil Registration Records on www.familysearch.org and found birth, marriage, and death certificates that took my paternal family tree back 3-4 generations. I am so grateful to him for not only finding documentation on my ancestors, but also teaching me how to search for them. I once asked him how I could repay him for helping a newbie like me and he said that he was paying it forward as someone had done the same for him. So, too, will I pay it forward then. Each one, teach one is a great motto to live by.

I sent out invitations to share genomes with all 1200 DNA relatives — oh, yes I did–and I am sharing with 400+. With the help of those 400+ DNA cousins, I have been able to start learning about his family history. Thanks to Gedmatch I can see who is related to me on my paternal grandmother’s side vs. my paternal grandfather’s side. Since I know where my grandmother’s relatives were born and what towns they lived in,  I can also narrow down the connection even further. Even though doing Puerto Rican genealogy research does has it’s own problems –for instance, same family surnames on each side, high intermarriage rate among cousins, lost records, etc.–I have been able to make several discoveries with help from my Boricua cousins such as finding out:

  • Some of my ancestors on my abuela’s side were originally landowners from Spain in NW Puerto Rico
  • Her side also had French, Portuguese, Italian and Senegalese ancestry
  • Some of my abuelo’s ancestors were slaves on a Spanish Catholic priest’s plantation in the early 1800s in Yauco
  • Abuelo’s side also had Corsican ancestry
  • Some of my ancestors fought in El Grito de Lares
  • I have ancestors who were Spaniards from the Canary Islands as well as the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the Guanches .
  •  Every name on my dad’s side had Sephardic Jewish origins, even my own surname Vega.

I think finding out that my ancestors had Sephardic ancestry was the biggest surprise of all. I knew I had Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry because a maternal great-grandfather was half Cuban/half Eastern European Jew, but I had no clue as to my dad’s ancestral origins. Thanks to my cousins Rosa, Frank, Rudy, Carmen and others, I am learning about this ancestry now. I really don’t worry about the DNA cousins who never respond to my invitations because I am too focused on the ones who do. The funny thing is that when I compare my Boricua cousins to each other, we all share a lot of the same cousins.

2013 has been the best year ever for me. This was the first year that I have met in person some of my NY Puerto Rican cousins and I have spoken to many more. I joke with my cousin Raul that he will always be remembered as my first “live” Puerto Rican cousin. LOL On our first meeting, he took me to a Mormon Family History Center in Queens to show me where I could find Puerto Rican microfilms. He is just as crazy about genealogy as I am and he is one of many cousins who shares my passion in genealogy.

Raul and me on our first meet-up

I have truly been blessed in ways that I never dreamed of growing up. I can’t help to think of how happy my dad would have been to know that I am in touch with his side of the family. Though I only knew my dad for ten years, I find comfort in knowing that I will get to know my cousins for much longer. And I do have some pretty cool new cousins. Like branches on a tree, I will grow with them. Yes,God has been so good to me.

 

Raul, Carmen, Me, and Roberto

 

From Left to Right: Rosa, Lita, Frank and family, Rudy, Sam, Doni and family, Michael and his mom, and Jennifer