Tracking Down a Census Record in Adjuntas

Published Tuesday, January 12th, 2021
by family historian Norma (Garcia) Pettit

My mother was born in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, but moved to Ponce with her family when she was seven or eight years old. I regret so much that I never got to visit Adjuntas with Mom during the years that we were both living in Puerto Rico and she was still healthy.  I have so many questions!

In my genealogical research, I discovered that my mother’s maternal grandmother, Luisa Torres Torres, was living in barrio Juan González. In the 1910 census, Luisa was living with her family in Sendero Palmieri (see left margin of census record below). I asked around on a Facebook genealogy page that I belong to, to see if anyone could tell me where that path was located. A path could have turned into a bona fide road over time, or it could have become overgrown with vegetation if people moved away from the area and abandoned their dwellings to the elements. One person suggested that perhaps Sendero Palmieri was the path leading to the Palmieri-Ferri coffee plantation. I looked at the 1910 census again and several pages after the one on which Luisa appears, there was indeed an entry for the Palmieri-Ferri family, owners of a coffee farm. In fact, my great-grandfather Manuel Maldonado’s occupation was listed as a laborer on a coffee farm. Undoubtedly, he worked for the Palmieri-Ferri family.

 

Searches for the Palmieri-Ferri family revealed that in 1920 there were still family members living on that same property, but by 1940 there weren’t any. There is a street named Palmieri in Adjuntas, but it is in town, not in barrio Juan González. I discovered that Adjuntas had two different mayors with the Palmieri surname, and that there is a health center in Arroyo named after Dr. Julio Palmieri Ferri, but none of these findings helped me locate Sendero Palmieri.

During our fall trip to Puerto Rico, Randy and I booked two nights at an Airbnb lodging in Juan González so that I could at least get somewhat close to where my great-grandmother lived. I wanted to gaze upon the same mountains and valley views that Luisa did. Adjuntas did not disappoint!

But as it turned out, Juan González is a large barrio and we were not staying near where Luisa lived.  At the visitor center by the town plaza, next to the Catholic church, I met with an elderly gentleman, Gumersindo Delgado, who was eager to share his extensive knowledge of the history of Adjuntas.

 

When I explained that I wanted to find out where the Palmeri-Ferri coffee plantation was or had been, he knew exactly where it was. In fact, as a boy, he and his friends once went exploring in that area and were picking some oranges, when a man reprimanded them about trespassing on private property.  The boys argued that the plantation was no longer in existence and the old house had been abandoned; no one would care about a few oranges missing off of the tree. The Palmieri-Ferri children listed on the 1910 census had all moved away. The last to leave were two of the daughters who had moved to town and lived to an advanced age. Gumersindo remembered that they used to like to wear a lot of rouge and lipstick. When people wanted to say that a person was old, they’d quip, “You are older than the Palmieris!”

Santos Palmieri, the father of the family, was born in Corsica, France, and died in 1914. His wife, Magdalena, was born in Lares (as were all of their children) and died in 1915. Three of the sons died while still in their thirties, one daughter for sure got married and moved away, and the youngest, Julio, is the one that became a renowned doctor.  Antonio lived to be 59, but he had gone into a different line of business (grocery/retail), so with no one left to run the coffee plantation, it eventually ceased its operations.  The last two sisters to leave were probably Angela and María, who both died at 85 years of age (in 1972 and 1976 respectively).  They never married.

Randy and I drove out to the area that Gumersindo described—on the 123, just past an automotive body shop. We stopped and I went in to talk to the owner of the body shop, who confirmed that the land on the other side of the road had been the Palmieri coffee plantation. It later was sold to a man named Cheo Rullán, and eventually, for whatever reason, became property of the municipality.  The old house is gone, and most likely so are all of the little houses that were along the Sendero Palmieri enumeration path.

In the photo below, Gumersindo and I are standing in front of an old map of the town’s plaza. In the aerial photo, the Palmieri-Ferri land is right in the middle. I imagine that the Palmieri-Ferri family home stood in the brown clearing. You can see what appears to be a path going through that area. That may have been the Sendero Palmieri.

Life was not easy back then. My great-grandfather, Manuel de Jesús Maldonado, died just 10 months after the 1910 census entry. His death record says he died of liver disease.

In the 1960 census, a widowed Luisa was living in barrio Arenas, in Utuado, with her daughter Mariana, who had married Julio Olivera Vélez. Mariana and Julio already had three children: Julio (7), Carmen (5), and Benedicto (2). Those were my mother’s first cousins, and I knew and spent time with Julio “Yuyo” and Benedicto “Nero” and their families when I lived in Puerto Rico in the 1970s.

As I said, my mother moved to Ponce as a child, as did other relatives of hers, including Yuyo and Nero.  I don’t know how often she returned to Adjuntas after moving to Ponce, but she once told me that she remembered “meeting” her grandmother, Luisa, who she described as white haired and pretty.

Oh, for the ability to go back in time even just for one day! Without photographs of my great-grandparents or the houses they lived in, so much of history is lost, but it was exciting to get at least close to an area where they lived.