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Solving Family Mysteries Through Genealogy

A quest to authenticate the oldest oral traditions

The most comprehensive online resource is Family Search, the genealogical website of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Central to the Mormon religion is the quest to “find their ancestors and preserve their family histories,” the website says. LDS librarian Paul Nauta estimates the church has gathered 2.5 million rolls of microfilm from 110 countries, “conservatively, 10 billion names,” including people of all faiths. Most of the microfilmed manuscripts themselves are not on the Internet, but the LDS website has an index of names in the documents. People can order microfilms delivered from Salt Lake City to a local LDS “Family History” center for viewing.

Cuban records are sparse within these Mormon archives. But there are good records for much of Latin America. For instance, a search for “Hernández” in Mexico returns 5,000 ancestral files of Hernández baptisms, marriages, and deaths from Mexican churches—and that's just for individuals whose first name starts with "A." Spain, too, is well represented. But I only have enough information to follow the Surós men of Maçanet and their wives, whose maiden names are preserved thanks to the Spanish two-surname custom.

On the LDS site those maiden names, Isern, Amat, and Buadas, appear most often in Maçanet's home province of Gerona, a region of Spain. But I have yet to find a connection. I also find 188 Suróses. None from Maçanet, unsurprising because San Llorenç’s archives were burned. But I find two men named Salvador Surós in a place called Castanyet.

I load Google Earth: Castanyet is nine miles from Maçanet. Could they be relatives? I e-mail Martí. He replies that his mother’s family—the Surós side—is from Castanyet.

The two Salvadors—this time with the standard “v”—were married in 1713 and 1766, says the online index. Too old to be my Salbador, alive in the 1830s when he signed the land documents. Could they be his father and grandfather? I order the microfilm delivered to an LDS center in New Jersey near where I live. Two weeks later, it arrives.

The reading is difficult. It’s in Catalan, it’s hundreds of pages covering two centuries, it’s handwritten in old script, and it’s so blurry that entire pages are illegible. I cannot find the two marriages referenced in the online index. But I do find a 1720 testament of a man from Castanyet named Joseph Surós. I copy the file and e-mail it to Martí, who writes back a translation:

“Yo, Joseph Surós… sabiendo que nada es más cierto que la muerte y que nada es más incierto que la hora de la muerte… nombro a mi hijo Salvador como albacea de mis bienes”. [“I Joseph Surós …knowing nothing is more certain than death and nothing more uncertain than the hour of death… name my son Salvador executor of my estate.”]

Are they my family? No clues from second surnames— the custom was not universally followed until later. Martí cannot say. He cannot say, either, whether they are his branch. The mystery remains, for now.

La Beneficencia

While the various branches of my mother’s family were coming together in Manzanillo, my father’s family was doing the same 320 miles to the west, in Cárdenas on Cuba’s northern coast.

My dad’s mother was Rafaelita Rodríguez. Of my four grandparents, I have the fewest memories of her: I remember only an old woman bedridden with an ailment similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Abuelita nodded aimlessly and muttered nothings, her mind gone. My grandfather Ramón took care of her until the end. Papi left them behind when he took us out of Cuba, never to see his ailing parents again. This was the price he paid for his children to be brought up in America.

My father, naturally, knew his mom before disease ravaged her brain. What remains for later generations is a photograph of a somber 22-year-old in a wicker settee, leaning forward with her left arm raised as if to start saying something she decided to keep to herself.

Next: Family lore and legal documents help piece the puzzle.>>

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