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. 
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