When my sister’s 10-year old son couldn’t remember the name of his grandfather, who passed when he was just 3-years-old, she decided to reach back into our family archives. Taking out pictures and chess sets, my nephew soon recalled the name of the person seen with him in baby pictures, who he also ‘kinda‘ remembered had showed him how to move those black and white pieces over the green and cream checkered mat.
To my sister’s surprise, in a little pocket of one of his chess set bags, she found a sticky note with writing in pen. It was a draft for a letter our father had wrote to someone in regards to a genealogy workbook he wanted to pay for. He knew it was available free of charge, but was “willing to make a donation to cover mailing cost or any other costs.” What he wrote in the letter impacted us in a profound way. It began like this:
“I have just started to do family genealogy and I am very much interested in your Family Genealogy Workbook. I want to learn about my family heritage, and hopefully this workbook can help, but I plan on starting with this book so that it can help me put together a good gene [tree] so that one day I can pass it on to my son. Hopefully it will get him interested in family history and he will take it even farther.”
When my sister called me to share her find after I came home from work, we both began reflecting on who I have become as a young adult. When my father wrote those sentences around the year 2004 I was an “at-risk” student. I really didn’t have much interest in my family history, or even our Puerto Rican culture. It was as I pushed myself through college that my interest in such issues sparked, coincidentally just before my father’s passing in August 2007.
Not only have I taken an interest in my cultural identity as ‘a Puerto Rican in New York,’ I’ve continued the genealogical work begun by my father. I’ve corrected some of his findings, added on, and have had a most enlightening experience doing so. The things I’ve learned about my ancestors have changed the way I see myself within the context of my family, and within the context of history. Having been able to trace my family tree back six generations, I’ve learned a great deal. As my sister and I reflected on this, we were also conscious that I took on this path after our father’s passing without knowing about the existence of this letter, and without him, to our knowledge, having ever bought the workbook, let alone later giving it to me – I took on this path on my own.
Such discoveries are rare, and I am among the lucky ones able to have such a connection to a most beloved family member. It was a powerful experience learning of the letter through my sister, and I am humbled to know I am on a path of my own making that is in tune with the dreams of my ancestors.
For tips on conducting Puerto Rican family history research, view my article, Discovering My Boricua Roots On Ancestry.com.