Our Mystery Man: Florencio Rivera

Published Friday, October 16th, 2015
by family historian Norma (Garcia) Pettit

florencio_rivera_maldonadoThe greatest challenge in my genealogical research has been the unraveling of the mystery surrounding my grandfather, Florencio Rivera Maldonado. By several accounts, he was said to have been orphaned as a boy and raised by an uncle and aunt, who supposedly took over the farm that Flor’s father left behind. Reportedly, Florencio was also left with a slave, who he set free because he was afraid of him. I was also told that Florencio had only one brother (Juan), who died as a child.

When I first asked my dad what he knew about his father’s childhood, it turned out to be very little. He did not even know the names of Florencio’s parents. Uncle Isidro later told me that the names were Manuel Alejo Rivera and María Dominga Maldonado (information that he had gotten from his mother, Otilia Pacheco). However, I was faced with the question of whether these people were his birth parents or the uncle and aunt who had raised him. It became even more confusing when I began to discover baptismal records for a number of children of Manuel and María Dominga. Since I had been told that Florencio had only one brother, I was sure that these people must be the aunt and uncle and their children.

Then the mystery was solved (sort of) when I at last found the baptismal record for Florencio, stating that he was born on August 9, 1872, and was the legitimate son of Manuel Alejo Rivera and María Dominga Maldonado. Paternal grandparents were José de los Santos Rivera and Cipriana Maldonado. Maternal grandparents were Felipe Maldonado and María Polonia Rivera.

Florencio Rivera Maldonado letterFlorencio’s siblings, then, were Rómulo (b. July 6, 1862; d. Dec. 25, 1878), María Soledad (b. July 15, 1864; d. unknown), Dionicia del Carmen (b. Feb. 20, 1867; d. Sept. 4, 1898), Juan Antonio (b. Oct. 7, 1869; d. unknown), Pedro José (b. Apr. 3, 1875; d. July 10, 1876), and Juan Julián (b. Feb. 28, 1877; d. Dec. 31, 1885).

This last brother, Juan Julián, is probably the brother that he mentioned to his children in later years, who died when Flor was at the impressionable age of 13.  Why he never mentioned the other ones is not known.  He would have been 26 years old when his sister Dionicia del Carmen died, but perhaps he was not close to her.

Recently, I came across the death record for Florencio’s father, Manuel Alejo Rivera (see portion of record at right).*  He died in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 7, 1899.  Florencio was 27 years old by this time, married to his first wife, Felícita Madera, and the father of a baby boy, Andrés Rivera Madera.  In fact, Florencio was the one that reported his father’s death—see where I underlined his name.

Why then did he tell his children that he had been orphaned as a child?  The only possible explanation that I can come up with is that since his mother died on Oct. 21, 1882, when Florencio was just ten years old, maybe he told his children that he had been orphaned from his mother (huérfano de madre). Quite possibly, his father had sent him to live with an aunt and uncle because he had his hands full with several other children. If this was the case, history repeated itself a generation later when Florencio farmed out some of his own six children after the death of his second wife (my grandmother), Ana Cruz García.

*Source:  www.familysearch.org; Puerto Rico Civil Registrations 1805-2001, Guayanilla, Defunciones 1894-1911, Image 1512.