Saturday, June 24, 2017

You know what happens when you assume . . .



It makes a mess.

You may have thought I was going to say something else.  Well, that, too.  In this post, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, it not being my intention to embarrass someone who took on a tremendous challenge, and did fairly well with it, all things considered.
 
In my data-gathering activities on St. Augustine, Florida, 1784-1821, I am working in a particular set of documents, using a translation of them.  This was a daunting task for any translator to undertake, and an important one.  The documents in this set are old and brittle, and not available for researchers without some clout.  They are on microfilm and also now digitized.  The ink has faded, the paper has yellowed.  There are smudges and worm holes making parts of them unreadable or at least very difficult to read.  And the most difficult of all is that this entry under consideration is in ecclesiastical Latin.  There are errors in this translation, and some of those errors are based on erroneous assumptions.  Here are some lessons from this finding:

1.      Never assume that, just because a person is mentioned in a record from a particular location, that person actually was in that location.

There is an entry in this set of documents about a baptism, attributing parentage erroneously.  The document attributes the parentage of a person I’ll call B to a couple I’ll call A and D.  This baptism took place in a location in East Florida, more than one day's travel from St. Augustine at that time.  The translator refers us to another set of documents, later and more complete, to another baptism purporting to prove this point.  However, the translator misread the later document, and attributed parentage erroneously, not thinking of the possibility of two people with the same name.  I found that B had a brother named C, but C’s mother was not D.  Not only that, there was another man in these records with the same name as A, whom we will call A-.  A- was the one married to D, and they also had a son with the same name as C (call him C-).  The translator of the earlier set of documents tried to establish that the surname of D was the surname of E and that they were one and the same person, but this is not so because it was A who was married to E, and A- who was married to D.  C- had emigrated to the place where these records were created.  His parents, A- and D, did not emigrate; they stayed in the old country.  Therefore, D could not have been the wife of A and the mother of either B or C.  So even though they are named in a record involving their son C- after he emigrated, A- and D never were in the place to which C- emigrated, where the document that mentions them was created.

2.      Never assume that finding a name in a later record has yielded the person you think it has.

Here, again, we have the phenomenon of two people with the same name.  Both A and A- had sons with the same name; these are C and C-, respectively.  As shown, above, A was married to E and later to F, but never to D.  A- was D's husband.   E died before the year 1780, because in that year, A married F.  At that time and in that place, pretty much the only way A could have had a second marriage was for the first to have been dissolved by death.  Divorce was unthinkable (and not approved by the church), and even a permanent separation prohibited subsequent marriage.  

C- married G in January of 1797.  By August of that same year, they had their first child, a son, baptized.  It is in this document that the name of D is mentioned as the mother of C-.  So the translator of the earlier document looked in a document created 17 years later, found the name and attributed it to the mother of C, when it actually referred to the mother of C-, whose existence the translator had not contemplated.  As for the spouse of D, it cannot have been A.  A married E before 1764, the year that C, their oldest child, was born.  E died, as I said, before 1780, because that is when A married F.  When A died in 1790, he was still married to F, as shown on his death record in the diocesan archives, so he never could have been married to D.  So the man the translator found in the 1797 record was not C, but C-, whose father was A-, not A.  And A- was the one married to D.  You cannot just go shopping in documents for names and settle on one as being the one you are looking for.  This is definitely not a “reasonably exhaustive search,” and one record does not a confirmation make.  More than one record must be found for corroboration or refutation of one’s hypothesis.  There is always the possibility of two individuals with the same name, a phenomenon I have found repeatedly (and frustratingly, many times) among the residents and citizens of St. Augustine.

3.      Never assume that because you found one name in a record, he is associated with the other names you want to associate with him.

In another entry in the same early set of documents in this particular translation, there is mention of a man we will call S.  S is mentioned in a baptism document in this set as the father of the infant baptizand.  The name of the mother is not entered into the record.  This may have been a case of a mother who died in childbirth, but not necessarily, as the record does not mention the man being widowed.  It may have been a liaison that resulted in an illegitimate child and possible embarrassment for the mother and her family.  At any rate, the translator maintains that the mother of the child in this baptism was M, daughter of P.  P was the consort of one of the most prominent men in St. Augustine, who was not married.  The problem with this is that there is more than one man named S, and also that there is no evidence that either M or P was in the particular location covered by these particular documents, a location in East Florida, but outside of St. Augustine by a good distance.  The translator refers to a specific entry in a census done in a much later year in St. Augustine.  All that the particular entry in the census mentions is the children of the consort P and her prominent paramour.  S is not mentioned at all in that census.  M did marry a man of the same name as S (call him S-), but that occurred in 1803.  In the year of the baptism in that earlier time in that place outside of St. Augustine, M, who was 24 in 1803, had not yet been born!  She could not possibly have been the mother of the infant baptizand fathered by S.  Quite possibly S- had not yet been born, either, at the time the translator tries to tell us he fathered the baby in question.  Here again, we have a case of two people with the same name, and again a mistaken assumption and not enough questioning of both the assumptions and the sources.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

So original records are completely reliable, are they?

I have had some knotty problems to work out in my St. Augustine project.  This is one of the most amusing, to me.

I have a file on a fellow named Jose Manuel de Cala, and his wife, Francisca Rosy (or Rosi, the Spanish expression of the Italian name Rossi).  Francisca presents the problem, or, rather, the identification of her parents does.  It appears, deceptively, like there was a bit of Oedipus Rex here.

In the petition filed by Jose Dulcet for permission to marry Francisca, her first of three marriages, she is shown to be the daughter of Jose Rosy and Francisca Sans.(1)  Likewise, in the original record from the St. Augustine diocesan archive of that marriage, she is again shown to be the daughter of Jose Rosy and Francisca Sans. (2)  Again, on the original church record of her second marriage, to Francisco Sanchez, her parents are listed as Jose Rosy and Francisca Sans (wait for it; we're getting there).(3)

Okay, so there is all this evidence that Francisca's parents were as we have hashed out here.  However, when it came time for her to enter her third marriage, she having buried two husbands (life was riskier in those days), her father's name is suddenly Cayetano.(4)  On her death record, as well, the same name is recorded as Francisca's father.(5)  Both of these are original records.

So I dug further, in a translation I have of the church records of the San Pedro parish in New Smyrna, the plantation of Andrew Turnbull, where numbers of Minorcans, Italians, Greeks, and a few other nationalities were in conscripted labor growing and processing indigo.  I found a Cayetano Rosy, born 1 November 1773, baptized 2 November 1773, son of (are you ready?) Jose Rosy and Francisca Sans.(6)  I also found Francisca Rosy, born 31 January 1780, baptized 6 February 1780, daughter of (yes, you're right) Jose Rosy and Francisca Sans.(7)  There is another Cayetano Rosy there, too, but he was older, and married to someone else, not to Francisca Sans.  At least I was relieved to find that Francisca's brother had not married their mother!

Heed the warning: even an original record can be dead wrong!


1.  Petition of Jose Dulcet for permission to marry Francisca Rosy, Matrimonial licenses, Reel 132, Bundle 298R9, No. 89, East Florida Papers.

2.  Marriage of Jose Dulcet and Francisca Rosy, Ecclesiastical Records of the St. Augustine Diocese, White Marriages, Book 1, 1784-1801, 131-132, entry 148, http://vanderbilt.edu /esss/spanishflorida/index.php.

3.  Marriage of Francisco Sanchez and Francisca Rosy, Ecclesiastical Records of the St. Augustine Diocese, White Marriages, Book 1, 1784-1801, 23 [no entry numbers],  http://vanderbilt.edu /esss /spanishflorida/index.php.

 4.  Marriage of Jose Manuel de Cala and Francisca Rosy, Ecclesiastical Records of the St. Augustine Diocese, White Marriages, Book 2, 1802-1832, 99, entry 108, http://vanderbilt.edu /esss /spanishflorida/index.php.

5.  Death and burial of Francisca Rosy, Ecclesiastical Records of the St. Augustine Diocese, Deaths, Book 2, 1809-1882, 17-18, entry 34, http://vanderbilt.edu /esss/spanishflorida/index.php.

6.  Leonard J. McCown, compiler, Father Pedro Camps' Golden Book of the Minorcans (Irving, TX: self-published, 2003), 16.

7. Leonard J. McCown, compiler, Father Pedro Camps' Golden Book of the Minorcans (Irving, TX: self-published, 2003), 39.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Casa lóbrega (Bleak House)

I am having to take a break from work, because I feel like I've been reading a Spanish version of Charles Dickens's Bleak House.  If you have never read Bleak House, I advise against it.  I have read it, and it's a slog.  It is the story of a lawsuit that drags on for years and years, involving inheritance and the squabbles produced at times by such matters.

In 1806, Agueda Seguí, citizen of St. Augustine, Spanish East Florida, died at the age of 80.  Her third husband, Juan Capó, followed her in death two years later, at 96.  What occurred after that sure reads like Bleak House, especially when the story is found in some eighteen pages of cramped, crabbed, two-hundred-year-old handwriting that suffers from fading, wormholes, bleed-through, and smudges.

Juan and Agueda both died intestate.  Thus, an administration was conducted, to see what the contents of the estate were, what they were worth, and how they would be distributed.  Agueda's three daughters from a previous marriage and Juan's three sons from a previous marriage entered into a squabble over the few simple belongings of the deceased couple, who had no children together.  The sons claimed exclusive rights to all the belongings, never mind Agueda's contribution to the 23-year marriage.  The daughters, of course, felt cheated.  And thereby hangs the tale which, like Dickens's story, does not seem to have reached a true resolution, except that the governor told the sons that they could do nothing more than liquidate the assets of the estate, rather than taking and using the property, which included 8 slaves.

Lorenzo Capó, who may have been Juan's nephew or cousin (I have yet to determine the family relationships here through original documents, but I'm working on it) was asked to be the administrator, and he must soon have realized what a mess he had walked into.   He petitioned Governor Enrique White to appoint an impartial expert for the evaluation of the estate.  The governor responded with two appointees -- Bartolomé de Castro y Ferrer, a lawyer, and Martín Hernández, the city's master carpenter.

There is a silver lining, however:  Genealogical information.  A whole boatload of it!  Death records, marriage records, baptism records -- all are referred to in this long file, with certifications by various priests stationed in St. Augustine over the years.  The children of each are identified, along with the husbands of the daughters, which makes them a little easier to trace, though the task is generally easier in Spanish documents (and those of other Romance-language countries) anyway, because they tend to identify women by their maiden surnames rather than their married names.  English-based documents tend to forget women's maiden surnames, making them much harder to trace.

In this file also is a chilling look at the institution of slavery, practiced in Spanish Florida.  There is a list of the inventory of slaves, including children.  One four-year-old is assessed at 100 pesos.  Another, a six-month-old little boy who was ill, is assessed at 30 pesos.  These eight human beings were the costliest, and most valuable, assets of the estate.

The file also contains a glimpse of the daily life of this couple, who did not have much besides their slaves.  The inventory of their house and its meager contents takes up barely half a page, and the house ends up being valued at 104 pesos, 3 reales, 1/2 maravedí*.

Though this real-life Spanish version of Bleak House is difficult to slog through, the gems and nuggets contained in it are worth the slog.

[*  The peso at the time of this inventory, 1809, was roughly equivalent to the U.S. dollar.  8 reales made up 1 peso, and a maravedí was around 1/30 a real, of less value than a U.S. penny.  The value of the house comes to, in round numbers, $1616.22 in 2016 U.S. dollars.  The sick little enslaved boy's value comes out to $466.22, and the healthy four-year-old girl to $1554.05.]

[Estate of Juan Capó and Agueda Seguí (Administration), Testamentary Proceedings, Reel 142, Bundle 312, No. 4, East Florida Papers.]

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Another Disambiguation: Three Miguel O'Reillys in St. Augustine!

In 1788, there were three men named Miguel (Michael) O'Reilly in St. Augustine, Spanish Florida.  Their disambiguation was necessary to identify the one who was a witness to the petition of Guillermo (William) Gernon and Isabel (or Elizabeth) MacEnery for permission to marry, filed 17 December 1788.(1)  In his witness statement, the particular Miguel O'Reilly stated that he was 31 years old.  According to the 1793 census, there was a Miguel O'Reilly in St. Augustine who was either married or widowed, with three sons, a businessman or trader (tratante in Spanish).(2)

The most well-known man of the same name was the Irish assistant priest at the Catholic church.  He would have been 36 years old in 1788, the year of the above petition.  He died in 1812.(3)  As a Catholic priest, he was, of course, single.  He can be ruled out.

Another Miguel O'Reilly was a single young man, according to his death certificate, 25 years old at the time of his death, possibly in some sort of industrial accident.  He would have been either 22 or 23 in 1788, too young to be the witness to Gernon's petition.  Nothing else is known of him besides his marital status, his age at death, and his date of death, 28 November 1791.(4)

The third Miguel O'Reilly, the businessman, self-described as above as 31 years old and shown to have children, signed his name to the petition of 1788.  At that time, many men, especially those of importance or substance, added a flourish to their signatures, known as a rubric.  Father Miguel O'Reilly, the priest, had a rubric which was complex, with an ornate flourish at the end.(5)  His handwriting differs significantly from the signature on the petition, and he has already been ruled out.

Miguel O'Reilly the businessman had a rubric which was simple and quick to execute, indicative of one who deals with a considerable amount of paperwork, as seen on his signature on the 1788 petition.  The Miguel O'Reilly who witnessed Guillermo Gernon's petition in 1788 was the businessman O'Reilly.

(1)  Petition of Guillermo Gernon for permission to marry Ysabel Mac-Enery, Matrimonial licenses, Reel 132, Bundle 298R9, #31, East Florida Papers.  (Names are as they are in the document.)
(2) 1793 Census, Reel 148, Bundle 323A, East Florida Papers, f. 135v.
(3)  Michael V. Gannon, The Cross in the Sand (Gainesville:  University Press of Florida, 1965), 116.
(4)  Death certificate of Miguel O'Reilly, Death records, Book 1, 1784-1793, Ecclesiastical Records of the St. Augustine Diocese, Vanderbilt University (online).
(5) For an example of Father Miguel O'Reilly's rubric, see any of the church records, Ecclesiastical Records of the St. Augustine Diocese, Vanderbilt University, (online), between 1784 and 1812.