Thursday, July 2, 2015

Those Places Thursday: 87 Years Ago : Angelina Calo embarks on the SS Porto Rico

On June 28, 1927, Angelina Calo walked onto the SS Porto Rico and arrived in New York City five days later. She was 16 years old, and headed for 114 East 119th Street in Manhattan. This was a 3 story multifamily home in Harlem, that served as a boarding house, built in 1920. [1]
114 E 119th Street Manhattan today. Image courtesy Google Maps
 This momentous summer day saw Angelina leave the countryside of Carolina, Puerto Rico for the bustling port of Puerta de Tierra to go aboard the SS. Porto Rico. [2]
Angelina Calo, Line 4- Passenger List, SS Porto Rico

Behind her was a life in rural Puerto Rico as the ship moved away from the edges of the capital in San Juan, and headed for the skyscrapers, tenements and seasons of New York City. Her birth name was Angela, and we knew her as Angelina, Grandma, or Grandma Angie, given that her children and grandchildren were born in New York. Her father, Ventura Calo Birriel was an agricultural laborer, descended from Canary Islanders who arrived in Puerto Rico during the early eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and settled in Trujillo Bajo.

Ventura Calo Birriel (1882-1970)
His maternal great-grandparents, Leandro Birriel and Maria Gil from the the island of Lanzarote  in the Canary Islands gave birth in 1804 to Domingo Birriel Gil, who later married Maria de Jesus Rodriguez, also of Trujillo Bajo. They are my fourth great-grandparents. Domingo arrived in Puerto Rico about 1806, and established residency in Trujillo in 1836, where he became a ranch owner or farmer. This was an extensive migration of nearly 3,000 persons who emigrated from the Canary Islands during the nineteenth century. [3]  While the precise date that his parents arrived in Puerto Rico is yet unclear, later in life his children managed to populate quite a large area of Carolina, with many descendants in barrio Barrazas. 

On 15 September 1870, Domingo and Maria de Jesus' son, Dionisio Birriel Rodriguez married his first cousin, Estefania Fernandez Rodriguez, daughter of Francisco Fernandez and Gabriela Rodriguez.[4]  For now, Ventura's paternal line only goes back two generations and is probably from the Canary Islands as well. His father, Sotero Calo Medero (1844-1902) was the son of Juan Bautista Calo (ca 1820-bef 1887) and Maria Andrea Medero Mojica (1829-1904). Sotero married Ramona Birriel Fernandez, in 1872.  As one researches the certificates of the Puerto Rico Civil Registrations, one realizes quickly that those with the names Calo, Birriel, Medero, Fernandez, Rodriguez in the Carolina area continued to intermarry over time, a common pattern that speaks to the strategy of retaining an economic base tied to bloodlines.

 As for Angelina's mother, Juliana Vazquez, there are a number of stories, some impossible to document beyond an oral history. Juliana was born to Saturnina Vazquez Rivera, a single mother, who died having her in childbirth, and whose death certificate i've not yet found. Saturnina Rivera Vazquez, a native of Carolina or Guayama, was dead by the time her first granddaughter was born in 1912. Julia lost her first child, Margarita Calo Vazquez, four years old, just months before Angelina was born.[5]  She ultimately divorced Ventura, left for San Juan and Angelina remained in Carolina.
Julia Vazquez Rivera (b. 1892)
  By the end of July 1927, Angelina married Ramon Fernandez Matos in New York City, and became his second wife, and mother to his three children from his first marriage.[6] She worked in the garment industry in Manhattan, then centered around the blocks on the west side of 20th- 30th streets. 
Angelina & Ramon in New York City

As her family grew they dealt with the rise of the Great Depression, and moved countless times in an effort to keep a roof over their children's heads. Ultimately they settled in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx where they lived for over three decades, near Southern Boulevard. 

This is where I and my aunts, uncles and cousins grew up, in tenements built at the turn of the century. These were old buildings with small details that spoke to an earlier time, when the neighborhood was home to immigrants from Central Europe. The once largely Jewish and Polish neighborhood churned once Puerto Ricans arrived just a few decades later, bringing changes in the languages and foods available in the neighborhood.  By the 1970s they moved to a small walk up apartment building in Mount Vernon. 
Angelina died on the anniversary of her arrival in New York City, on July 4, 1988. 
Que En Paz Descanse. Semign kakona guari.

#ThosePlacesThursday - Geneabloggers

1. 114 E 119th Street, Manhattan, NY. Image courtesy of Google Maps.
2. Angela Calo, Line 4, SS Porto Rico sailing from San Juan PR June 28th 1927, Arriving at Port of NY Jul 4 1927. Number 2, 198 [stamped] NY Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Roll T715> 1897-1957 > Roll 4085 image number 344., accessed 6/29/2015
3. Estela Cifre de Loubriel counted some 2733 persons, 2,068 men and 665 women who emigrated, and estimates there were several hundred more who came to the island.  "282. BIRRIEL, Domingo." Estela Cifre de Loubriel, La formacion del pueblo puertorriqueno: La  contribucion de los Isleno-Canarios. San Juan, PR: Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe., 43, 261.
4. Nuestra Senora de la Caridad y San Miguel, Trujillo Bajo, Matrimonios, 1859-1862, "Dionisio Birriel con Estebania Fernandez, 15 Septiembre 1870." F38 im 43,
5. Acta defuncion, Margarita Calo Vazquez, 14 Mar 1912, Carolina, Puerto Rico, F237 #237 im 541. Puerto Rico, Civil Registrations, 1885-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. 
6. NYC Marriage Index. Calo, Angelina. 30 Jul 1927, Cert No. 24373 (1927), Manhattan. FHL Film 1653271. Italian Genealogical Group. Accessed 27 Jul 2015.  

© Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, 2015. All rights reserved. 
Please contact me regarding permissions & if you're a descendant! 

None of the written content may be used or duplicated without written permission from efsacco at unless restricted to brief excerpts and links and provided that full and clear credit is given. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Calle de San Agustin, No. 92, Puerta de Tierra: Juan y Catalina

Over a century ago, my great grandparents Juan M. Fernandez Quinta, his wife Catalina Matos Maldonado and their eight children lived in Puerta de Tierra, a bustling neighborhood outside of Old San Juan.  This was a shipping destination, and even today, it's where passenger ships disembark hundreds of tourists to visit the oldest part of Puerto Rico's capital. Puerta de Tierra was home to many people who worked as part of the service industry that catered to the needs of the businesses that dominated the city.

Born in Ourense, Galicia, Spain about 1867, precisely when Juan arrived in Puerto Rico is undetermined. In 1910, a census enumerator recorded that he emigrated in 1880, and in 1930, another enumerator recorded his year of arrival as 1887. It's not clear what happened to him over the duration of the Spanish American war that began in 1898, a time when thousands of Spaniards returned to Spain rather than declare fealty to the United States. There is so much that evades me in my search for Juan and his family-- I am still looking for his death record among the thousands of digitized, unindexed pages of the Santurce Registro Civil on FamilySearch. I may never find out where in Ourense he was born.

Initially, he worked as a carrero, a cartman for a local firm, and his wife, Catalina worked as a costurera or dressmaker. Catalina was of Taino descent, born in Rio Grande. Her parents, Telesforo Matos Ramos and Andrea Maldonado Hernandez also lived in Santurce, and they were married there in 1864. Telesforo was born in Rio Grande about 1835, and Andrea was born in Trujillo Alto about 1846. He was a carpenter, and together, Telesforo and Andrea had twelve children, of which six survived to adulthood, four boys and two girls. As adults, the Matos Maldonado children also worked in the service industry of San Juan. The brothers took jobs as laborers and the sisters worked as a dressmaker and laundress,as did others in the neighborhood.

On 7 March 1896, in the parish of San Mateo de Cangrejos in Santurce, Catalina Matos Maldonado married Juan Fernandez Quinta. She also left a little mystery, for both she and her father Telesforo, used his maternal surname of Carrillo and he also served as a witness- Catalina appears as Catalina Carrillo Maldonado. Her parents are listed as Andrea Maldonado and her father as Teleforo Carrillo. Almost a half century later, when she was widowed, she used Carrillo rather than Matos as her surname.

I am left with a string of questions-- why did father and daughter use the paternal surname of Teleforo's mother, Maria Carrillo Ramos, rather than that of her husband Jose Matos that day in 1896? What documents survive that mention Maria Carrillo Ramos of Rio Grande? When did their son Telesforo move to Santurce, and was it there that he met Andrea Maldonaldo Hernandez, whom he married in 1864?

Santurce lies beyond the outskirts of the islet of San Juan, east of the peninsula that begins with the fort of El Morro and into Old San Juan, La Perla, and  Puerta de Tierra, and it borders the Isla Verde district of Carolina. Crabs are abundant there, which lent the district the name of Villa de Cangrejos (literally town of crabs). A barrio of San Juan, it was originally settled by the Taino and later by fugitive and freed slaves of African ancestry, most from the neighboring Danish and English West Indies. After the 1870s, the area underwent gentrification with the construction of a railroad system and a steam tramway that connected the growing urban areas of San Juan and Rio Piedras. When the Basque engineer Pablo Ubarri was granted the title of Count of Santurce (Conde de Santurtzi) by the Spanish crown, the area was renamed after his title.

Sometime after 1910, Catalina and Juan moved to Santurce, to a different sub-barrio than her parents, who were in Tras Talleres, where many artisans and musicians lived.

Tras Talleres (sub-barrio), Santurce, Puerto Rico. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Catalina's husband Juan was the declarante  (informant) who reported the death of Telesforo Matos Ramos to the local Office of the Civil Register, in March 1920. He knew the names of his father in law's parents, but not of his grandparents. Telesforo, 85 at the time of his death, was widowed since 1917. He lived at 225 Calle La Calma, the same street where the musician Ismael Rivera lived and later proudly sang, ‘yo vengo de Santurce, Puerto Rico de la calle Calma, trayendo para ti linda música.’  By then, Catalina and Juan lived at 44 de la calle Loiza, the main street for the sub-barrio of Loiza in Santurce.

Loiza (sub-barrio), Santurce, Puerto Rico. Image courtesy of

Juan Fernandez Quinta had some measure of success, which enabled him to move his family from crowded area of Puerta de Tierra to rapidly changing Santurce, where he lived out the rest of his life. He went from being a cartman to renting carts to businesses, a key part of moving supplies around the city before the age of the automobile, to a business owner, a comerciante de provisiones. He and Catalina worked together in a store that he owned, selling supplies. One son, Angel, apparently continued the business, at least in part. His name appears in Santurce death records as the person responsible for moving the dead to the funeral home during the 1930s, from avenida San Agustin 54 in Puerta de Tierra. In the tropical heat of Puerto Rico, wakes and burials are still quick affairs, often completed a day after death.

As for Catalina Matos, it's been something of a challenge to trace her after Juan's death in the census, as by 1940, she returned to using her father's Carrillo surname . She supported her family as a skilled costurera (dressmaker). As my aunt Vivian remembers, businessmen from all over San Juan had her make and adjust their suits. She lived a long time after Juan passed, and I got to meet her in the Bronx when I was a child, amazed by this ancient wizened woman seated in my grandparent's apartment when she visited NY. She died there in 1966, 92 years of age.

My great grandmother married Juan just two years before the start of the Spanish American War, and my grandfather was born at the turn of the century.  The events between 1896 and 1900 that involved a change in sovereignty that ultimately resulted in the opportunity of meeting Catalina in my grandparent's apartment, in a tenement in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx so many decades ago.

Acta de Matrimonio, Juan Fernandez Quinta & Catalina Carrillo Maldonado, 7 March 1896. APSMCS, F156 no. 354, im 160., Groupo Editorial EPRL, "Santurce / San Juan: San Mateo de Cangrejos Church."  7 January 2010. Fundacion Puertorriquena de las Humanidades. Accessed 6 April 2014.

"Santurce, Puerto Rico" Accessed 6 April 2014.,_San_Juan,_Puerto_Rico

Javier Rodriguez Galarza, Map of Tras Talleres (San Juan, Puerto Rico), 18 May 2010. Accessed 6 April 2014.

Javier Rodriguez Galarza, Map of Loíza (San Juan,Puerto Rico) 18 May 2010. Accessed 6 April 2014.

Acta de Defuncion, Telesforo Matos Ramos, 25 Marzo 1920. Registro Civil, Santurce  F75 #206 im 742, Accessed 15 March 2013.

Cesar Colon Montijo, "El Santurce de Maelo.", Accessed 6 April 2014.

© Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, 2014. All rights reserved. 
     Please contact me regarding permissions.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

We Will Be Young Forever...adios Dolly (1923-2012)

What some photographs seem to capture for me at times is the hope and wonder of life, particularly after a difficult period of struggle.  Just after noon one day on a rooftop in the Bronx, family members went upstairs to have their pictures taken. The wind blows and up against the sky, they dance and pose for the camera.

Dolly loved suits and pants, and wore her beau's uniform to dance with her friend on a rooftop in the South Bronx. She was vivacious, loved music, loved to laugh. Even at the end of her life, she was able to toss a criticism that made the victim bust out laughing.

Todo cambia. Just as we are born, we are fated to go one day.

Carmen Gloria 'Dolly' Fernandez Dorrios-Picon de Fuenmayor (1923-28 April 2012)

Dolly in uniform, Bronx, NY 1940s

Friday, April 22, 2011

Buscando muertitos

Searching for my antepasados makes me realize that we are surrounded by the dead-- when we watch films, listen to music, talk about classical works. But what genealogy enables me to do is to find those connected to me by blood. I've found cousins and family ties that resembled the mundillo I studied, a net comprised of individual turns and crossings. Latino genealogy is at a crossroads today, thanks to a growing demographic and the use of digital technologies, and I teach people how to get started.

Buscando muertitos, looking for my dead relatives has given me a lens to consider the past, my relationships, and the randomness of fate. It also enables compassion as one learns of various hardships and struggles that many people shared across different times and places.

When the passport photo of my grandfather and his family was taken in 1926, he did not know what was to come. He would have known that his father had taken chances, as he did in arriving in Puerto Rico from Ourense, Galicia sometime in the 1880s to later become a farmer of coconuts and fruit in the first decades of the twentieth century.  My grandfather was born at the start of the century and details about the life of his father, Juan Fernandez Quinta still remains a mystery.  I know who his parents are from a birth record for his son, Andres Fernandez Matos in December of 1899 in Puerta de Tierra, a barrio of San Juan. Juan was the son of Joaquin Fernandez and Maria Quinta, who probably remained in Spain, and were probably born sometime in the 1840s. What ultimately possessed Juan to leave?

Emigration never stopped in Puerto Rico-- this ebbs and flows across time, from the fifteenth century to the present. 1880 is still late; Ourense is Galicia's only landlocked province, an area one left by foot, train or river at that time. There's another document of my grandfather that says his father was from Santander, but my aunt said Ourense. Could Quinta be Quintela from Quintela de Leirad?  I hope to find another document that will clarify this.

It seems that Juan Fernandez Quinta arrived in Puerto Rico alone, and settled in an area that continued to grow beyond the walls of San Juan.  Modernity soon existed near the port, with the building of the Porto Rican Railroad, begun by French engineers from Marseille in 1888. In 1896, he married Catalina Matos Maldonado in the developing section of Santurce.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

San Juan, Chile, New York

During the 1920s, my grandfather worked as a chauffeur for the president of the Sunshine Biscuit Company in New York. Born in Puerto Rico's Puerta de Tierra, for his siblings the first decades of the twentieth century were a time of dispersal, whether it was via the drafts of the first World War, or to take advantage of opportunity through the latest wave of emigration out from Puerto Rico to New York City.  Like many he made his way to the City, and worked a variety of jobs.  His chauffeur job soon became something more, and he became a personal translator for his boss, who wanted Ramon to travel with him to Chile.

He took his wife Carmen Dorios Picon (1901-1926), from Guayama, and his three children to Valparaiso. Exactly how long they stayed is unclear.

Ramon Fernandez, Passport photograph with Bobby, Sylvia & Dolly, 1926
Carmen was pregnant and she died together with the baby on 20 November 1926. Ramon went from what promised to be a growing family, to losing his 25 year old wife and fifth child, a daughter named Violeta.  Now he was a widower with four small children to care for, and he had to find help. He left the two youngest daughters, Silvia and Carmen, both toddlers, with his parents in Puerto Rico, and took his son Rafael with him to New York City.

Thus began Moncho's search for work in the garment district of Manhattan, and he became an elevator operator. He hardly had money, and wore the same suit all week, save for the day it was in the cleaners. My grandmother was born into the short-lived marriage of Ventura Calo and Julia Vasquez in Barrio Barrazas, a rural section of Carolina largely settled by families from the Canary Islands. At some point, she too left the island for New York City, where she met my grandfather on a bus. She was young, and impressed that he wore a suit, she thought he had to be doing pretty well for a single man, but little did she know.

What Angelina Calo discovered was that Ramon was a poor widower with four children, two of them almost half her age. In 1927, they married in Manhattan, and promptly added two more children to their new family. With the Great Depression came the birth of my father, who slept in a drawer that served as a makeshift crib. My grandmother worked as an operator in the Garment District, until she had another child. It wasn't easy, and they made it through difficult times. He worked driving trucks, cabs and buses over time. The truck came in handy as they moved countless times in an effort to maintain a roof over their heads when the rent came due. Finally they settled in the South Bronx, in an tenement building at 1022 East 156th Street, in Mott Haven.

Despite being a functional illiterate, my grandfather had a photographic memory, a skill prized in numbers running, since there was no incriminating list of bets to carry. He was able to recall many details, yet remained largely stumped by newspaper articles. Angelina and my dad, unsure of how well he could actually read, put him to the test. Moncho was adept at repeating back what he heard, and now forced to read a new article out loud, his secret was out. He could make out little of what was on the page.  Later in life, I recall how he spent a part of the morning perusing the illustrated pages of the NY Daily News and NY Post while eating pan y aguacate at the kitchen table.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ramon 'Moncho' Fernandez Quinta (1900-1974)

This is my grandfather, Ramon Fernandez in a postcard photograph from the early 1920s.  I'm not sure who the seated gentleman is, who appears to be in his early 30s.  An indoor wooden chair was brought out to a shady patio where they were photographed together, and Ramon's arm, draped behind the man's left shoulder suggests more than a casual friendship, possibly a brother in law.

Ramon Fernandez Matos was born in 1900 in Puerta de Tierra, a neighborhood adjacent to Viejo San Juan in Puerto Rico, the fifth of ten children born to Juan Fernandez Quinta and Catalina Matos Maldonado.  His father was born in northern Spain, either in Ourense, Galicia or Santander, Spain, but so far, he is the only person with this surname in Puerto Rico since his arrival in 1887. By 1920, his family moved from  Calle San Agustin in Puerta de Tierra to Santurce; Juan was doing well at this point, since he had a servant living in the household, along with his, wife, six children, his brother in law Etanislaus Matos and Luis Gomez, another relative.

A decade later, Ramon's father Juan was a supplier, a commerciante de provisiones, and his wife Catalina worked the counter. There were three daughters at home, along with three grandchildren, two of them Ramon's daughters with Carmen Dorios Picon, Silvia and Carmen. For Ramon, the twenties proved a horrifically difficult period of time, that went from hope to loss and hope again once he returned to New York.

More than just Fernandez

I'm sitting in Craig Siulinski's Blogging 201 class at the California Genealogical Society today and decided to start another blog, this time for my paternal side of the family. If you're interested in my maternal side on the west side of the island, please visit Babilonia Family History.

Among the surnames are: Fernandez, Calo Birriel, Vazquez Rivera, Matos Maldonaldo, Matos Ramos, Fuenmayor, Jimenez. What we have in common is Manhattan, the east side of Puerto Rico and the twentieth century. We are not bluebloods, nor descendants of conquistadors, but Indians and emigres and slaves... in other words, survivors.