My Dad in the 1940 Census, Aguirre, Puerto Rico

Published Sunday, November 24th, 2019
by family historian Norma (Garcia) Pettit

Dad’s name is different in every census record. In the 1910 census he appears as Oscar Rivera Santana, age 9, Where that surname of Santana came from, I don’t know. Listed as living in the household were his father, Florencio, step-mother, Otilia, and siblings Adela,10, Sinforiano (“Guar”), 7, Neri, 2, and Isidro, 8 months. María, Elena, and Anita were living elsewhere. In the 1930 census, he appears as Oscar Rivera Cruz, 19, which is correct, although his parents weren’t married yet at the time of his birth, so he was officially registered as Oscar Cruz (with only his mother’s surname). This time, Elena and Anita are in the home, Adela and María are living elsewhere, and Angélica, 17 months old, has joined the family.

Here he is in the 1940 census, appearing simply as Oscar Rivera. This information aligns with what Dad had related in his narrative of his life story. In the summer of 1989, during a trip to Puerto Rico, I recorded an interview with Dad and later transcribed it word for word. Here is how he came to be living in Aguirre with these people. For those who can read Spanish, here is a segment of the original transcript.

He had been in a relationship with Paula Rivera (no relation to our family), and she had given birth to a son, Oscar, on September 21, 1939. By then, Dad was working at the sugar mill in Aguirre, as a “cadenero,” attaching heavy chains to the wagons of sugar cane, as described in my March 2017 blog article, “Visiting Central Aguirre.” When Paula’s biological father, a man named Nemesio Ramos Torres, heard from Paula that his acquaintance Oscar, “the fisherman,” was her new man, he invited them to move in with him and his family. He said that he had a large house and had an empty room for them. They just needed to buy a bed. Dad had been living in the barracks for single men, so although he feared that living with Paula might cause him more problems, he agreed to the invitation. As you can see in the census record, the family consisted of Nemesio, his wife, Celia, daughter, Rosa, and son, José Antonio. Paula also had a four year old daughter, Hilda, from a previous relationship. I don’t know how long they lived with Nemesio and family before moving into one of the company houses for families, but the neat thing for me was seeing this census entry and how it corroborated everything that Dad had told me.

Recently, my brother, Ruben García, and my nephew Michael spent a week with me in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. On our second full day there, we set out to find that house in Aguirre, since we had the address listed on the census record: Calle 4, #470. We parked near the Aguirre post office and set out on foot to find Calle 4. Google maps led us to Calle Aquamarina. We couldn’t find Calle 4 anywhere, even though we even stopped to ask the locals. Hot and sweaty, we decided to ask at the post office. They had to know where Calle 4 was! Inside the post office, though, there was a sign on the locked glass door that read, “I’ll be back at 1:00.” It was just past 12:30, and we didn’t want to wait another half hour, but then I heard voices coming from a back room. Talking to them through a wall, I said, “Excuse me, but I just have a  question.” A lady emerged and after I explained our quest, she told us that some years ago, all of the street names and house numbers had been changed! However, she lived on Calle Aquamarina, and she knew that it used to be called Calle 4. Furthermore, she believed that the house we were looking for was a large house that sat on a corner. She said that some residents had kept their old house numbers on their homes. Armed with that new information, we drove back to Calle Aquamarina. After speaking with a neighbor who confirmed that the corner house would have been #470, our mission was complete! The man said that there used to be a large wooden house there, but it had been torn down and replaced with the concrete one shown below.

It was such a blessing to have Ruben and Michael, pictured below in front of the gate to the old sugar mill, accompanying me on this family history quest!