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 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.
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.