Saturday, January 8, 2011

It's Been All Relative

El Morro
Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

It's been all relative for me these past two weeks.  I've been consumed by the search for relatives on branches of a tree.  There have been many surprises and few disappointments.  The stories have been quite fascinating and intriguing at times.  Romance, heartache, mystery, and death all packed into our family tree.  What a quest it's been.

Josefina and Pablo with Lydia and Zaidy
Bronx, NY @ 1949
Many of the stories that I was told about my family as a child were based on family folklore built on fact.  My grandfather Don Pablo Hernandez Y Soto and his sons Luis and Pablo Hernandez Y Vargas (my dad) kept our heritage and history alive across the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans that separated them from their ancestors.  Within that family and their stories lied a treasure of stories that surpassed any inheritance I could possibly have receive.

My grandfather would love to say his sons "digame con quien andas y te digo quien eres".  The translations means:  tell me who you hang around with and I will tell you who you are.  It seems kind of odd for a family to repeat this unless there was something different about that family.  Apparently, there was a sense of pride that on the surface had no basis but upon further exploration had a trove of clues sown along the way.  It explains why this Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx felt he was different from the rest.

Always a Scholar
Don Pablo, in between his snorts of Don Q rum, told me that his family name had been shortened from Sotomayor to Soto.  He told me that his ancestors were from the part of Puerto Rico just west of where he lived in Rocha (Moca County) Puerto Rico from the Aguada and Aguadilla Area.  Years later, as an adult, I learned that possibly the Sotomayor Don Pablo referred to may have been the same Sotomayor that colonized that part of the island.  Based on my genealogy research, it appears that my grandfather was right.  The Hernandez and Soto's are in fact related to the Sotomayor's and their blood lines date back at least to 1620.

On both sides of my family, wealth and marriage were relative.  In keeping with their traditions of self preservation, intermarriage between Hernandez, Sotomayor, Soto, Vargas, and Gonzalez families persisted for generations.  The same held true for Rios, Roman, Cardona, Fuentes, and Lisboa's.

My mother's father, Jose Manuel Rios Y Roman married Amelia Roman Y Lisboa.  This was his first wife.  They were married for approximately fifteen years and had no children.  Among their household as of the US Census of 1910 were three household helpers, two of whom were cousins of Amelia:  Florencio (Flor) Lisboa and his cousin Leopoldo Matos. Both cousins were of Portuguese and Italian ancestry.

Shortly after 1910, Amelia hung herself with her bedsheets.  The bedsheets may vary well have been a symbol of her barren marriage.  Jose Manuel Rios found her dead upon his return trip from the city.  She was nearly thirty five years old.

 Within a very short time, Manuel married Leonor Lisboa Y Cardona, Flor's little sister, and the cousin of Amelia (deceased) and Leopoldo.  Again Manuel chose to marry within the Lisboa family and Roman (Leonor's mother was Francisca Cardona Y Roman).  Leonor was a child bride at sixteen and nearly twenty years younger than Manuel.  Together they had fourteen children of which thirteen survived.  (Incidently, one of the oldest girls was named Amelia (after Manuel's first wife and Leonor's cousin).  The family maintained its wealth until Manuel's health failed with the onset of Alzheimers.  Eventually the family lost all of its farm and land after his death but his family had enough to survive.

Leo Roman de Hernandez and daughter Lillian Hernandez
Yes, the last few weeks have been relative for me.  In studying my history, once again I have a better sense of who I am and why I am the way I am.  It's comforting to know that I can rely on their strength and dreams to pull me through difficult times.  Not only do I want to succeed but I don't want to let their memory go to waste.  Yes, I am proud of all of them.  I hope you understand why I feel a tad proud of my family and their history.  Truthfully, I never suffered from an inferiority complex as one junior high teacher alleged as she tried to humiliate me.  My ancestors bread my "orgullo" (pride and arrogance) into me.  Quite frankly, I am unrepentant about it.


  1. You are blessed that you can have a fruitful search. Mine would result in an emptiness as my family was decimated by the ravages of WW1, to be then followed by WW2.

    Be proud as I am proud. Members of our ancestors met their time well. I would be blessed if someone said the same of me when I venture into that next phase.

    Pace to you Al.

  2. Thank you....The worse part of the ordeal was the discrimination they faced in the US even though they were always citizens.


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