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Finding My Grandmother Before I Become a Grandmother

This article is meant to bring encouragement to those searching for long-lost ancestors. Finding my grandmother, who married a sailor in Puerto Rico and then died as a young mother is a dream come true.

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Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Vicki Boartfield
Word Count: 726 (approx.)
Labels: Death Record 
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My grandmother was born in Puerto Rico in 1898. She married my grandfather in 1916, who was in the Navy at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My father was born at Guantanamo Bay in 1917 and received Holy Baptism in 1918 at the U.S. Naval Station at the Bay.

I have been looking for years for missing information about my grandmother, my goal is to find her before I become a grandmother. The only family members who might know anything have all passed away, and the only documents I have are the baptismal record, a wedding photo, and a mysterious postcard dated February 14, 1919 from Boston, Massachusetts that was never mailed. The postcard has a photo of my grandmother and my father as a baby, with a cryptic handwritten message that reads, "Your grandmother died soon after the photo was taken."

In the 1920 U. S. Census, available complimentary through the local Family History Center, I was able to discover that my father, as a baby, was living in a boarding house in Brookline, Massachusetts with another family. So, the mystery continued.

What happened to my grandmother that she had to leave her baby in a boarding house? The postcard suggests she may have died in Boston, and history tells us that the "Flu Epidemic" of 1918 killed thousands of people, especially young people. Could this be the cause?

I went to the Internet to see if I could find passenger lists from Cuba arriving in Boston. It is good that I did not stop there. I LAO looked at ships coming into New York at The Ellis Island Home Page. I found her and my father! They had sailed from Antilla, Cuba on September 30, 1918, arriving at the port of New York. The passenger list was very valuable. It listed her birth date, her place of birth, and indicated that her naturalization papers were obtained in Cuba. It also gave a U.S. address in Illinois. I was onto something!

I also searched http://www.familysearch.org/ and found my grandfather's International Genealogical Index (IGI) record, stating he and my grandmother were married in 1916 in Champaign, Illinois. I then alled the Family History Center to verify the source of that information, as I had always thought that they were married at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The volunteer staff member said that the submittal could be traced through the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, but there was no guarantee that it had been from a family member or that the information was accurate. Data may only be accurate from the perspective of the person submitting the source.

Finally, I decided to try writing a request to the City of Boston for a death certificate for my grandmother. I wanted desperately to know what had happened to her. The only thing I remember being told about her was that she came from a wealthy sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. The picture of her also haunted me in that I looked so much like her! I requested her death certificate through the City of Boston at http://www.cityofboston.gov/registry/registerdeath.asp.

I anxiously waited for the mail. During the holiday season, I always made an extra effort to find her more than at any other time of the year, and my prayers were answered. I received her death certificate following the Thanksgiving holiday. The information it provided was phenomenal. It listed her death date, how she died, the name of the cemetery, where she was living at the time, and her father's name and her mother's name! She had not died of the flu after all, but of tuberculosis and had resided in a special home for treatment. This opened an amazing new door for new research. I found that my great grandfather was from Spain, and my great grandmother was from Puerto Rico, but had a Chinese name. I searched for her obituary and found she died a young woman at the age of 20. I could now honor her and remember her with more information than I had ever possessed.

Genealogy research is a wonderful opportunity to discover our ancestors and families, to honor them, remember them, and cherish their stories. Through passenger lists, U.S. Census records, death certificates, and valuable resources at the Family History Centers, we can put the missing pieces together. For my grandmother's story, perhaps I will someday find a "special" relative in Puerto Rico on a sugar plantation.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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