Proof of Life

I'm nearing the end of the summer semester and finishing up my family history project for sociology class.  The assignment was to create a genogram showing four generations on both sides of my family, starting with me, showing traits or threads of commonality that run through the family tree.

A genogram is a pictorial display of a person’s family relationships and medical history. It goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to visualize hereditary patterns and psychological factors that punctuate relationships. It can be used to identify repetitive patterns of behavior and to recognize hereditary tendencies.

As I started my research, I realized that I didn't know very much about either side.  My father was orphaned at age 11 and my mother's side was laden with old wounds and disjointed stories; it never quite made sense to me.  Sure, we'd get snippets from time-to-time when our aunts and uncles would visit or we'd make our summer sojourn to the desert in Arizona, but connecting the dots of our family tree never happened for me or my siblings in a cohesive, comprehensive way.

Consequently, I've felt disconnected from my extended family growing up and as I've gotten older, I've craved deeper relationships with them and tired of the superficial fronts I've maintained.  During the course of this project, so many feelings have been unleashed and the results of my research have produced many surprising facts that I could hold onto. was the main source for my research.  I signed up for their 14-day free trial and ended up purchasing a 30-day renewal of my account for just $19.99.  You can download documents to your own computer and/or print out as you go.  

The first document I discovered was a Petition for Naturalization for my paternal grandfather, Pedro Miguel Vidal Salas-Diaz.  This document had the names of his six children (my father not yet born) when & where they were born; the name of his bride, when & where she was born; and the date & location of their wedding.  It was this document that first revealed that I was of Cuban descent.  This was news to me and I quickly texted a cousin on my father's side of the family.  Of course, she knew this information already because her mother (my father's sister) had a close-knit relationship with her siblings.  I then texted my siblings and shared the news.  Upon further research, I discovered that my paternal grandfather, his parents and his parents' parents were all born in Cuba, with my great-great grandfather being born in the Canary Islands back in 1821.

The Canary Islands, also known as the Canaries, are a Spanish archipelago located just off the southern coast of Morocco, west of its southern border. The Canaries constitute one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and are among the outermost regions of the European Union proper. The main islands are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The archipelago also includes a number of islets: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.

Discovering that I'm one-quarter Cuban was such news.  How in the world have I gone through life not knowing my heritage or ancestry?  I've been mostly estranged from my father since 2001, but prior to that time he told us little about his family.  Mostly, he shared that he was orphaned and raised by his older sister; deposited on the footsteps of the Catholic seminary when he graduated from high school.  He didn't pursue the priesthood and instead married my mom when she was 19 years old and pregnant with me.

By stumbling upon my paternal great-grandmother's obituary, I gleaned that she was one of the first Cuban revolutionists to leave Cuba in 1895 and took sanctuary in British Honduras.  She eventually came to the states via New Orleans and settled in Tampa, Florida.

The discoveries on my mother's side of the family were known to me through overhearing stories and family lore during my youth.  Our great-great-great grandfather was a Captain in the 4th Calvary of the Confederate Army, but now I had newspaper articles to substantiate these stories and a letter written in his own handwriting.

My maternal grandfather was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, which just so happens to be in Grady County, Oklahoma.  My son's name is Grady and this unknown, random fact delighted me.

My son was born on April 26, 2003.  During my research, I learned that my husband's grandfather died on April 26, 1979.  I felt like both of my son's grandfathers found their way into his life and I really appreciated uncovering these little facts.

There is a hotly debated little nugget of family history relating to my maternal great-grandmother and whether or not she is truly 100% Creek Indian.  I found a census from the early 1900's that indicates the "full blood" box being checked for "Creek" indian, but after turning in my project - I've found conflicting documents, as well as names, that I need to further corroborate with family members (the genogram above reflects the "before" findings).  The hunt for information is on and I plan on getting to the bottom of this later this year.

The project was really satisfying and afforded me a way to connect with my family in a non-emotional way.  The proof of life quality to the assignment really resonated with me.  

I finally reconciled my incessant need to document my life, with pictures and words, and accepted this as my way of cataloging the past and preserving it for my son.

And, I'm hoping for an A on my assignment.