Proving We Exist, Even If the Internet Doesn't Think We Do

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, Latina.com staffers have taken to ancestry.com for more insight into their families and heritage – while blogging about their findings. Here’s one staffer’s experience.

When I started this project, I was excited about what I might find. I knew it would be difficult to get any new or revealing information about my family because we are the first generation in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, but I was hopeful that there'd be some record of us out there. Sadly, this was not the case.

I immediately shared my login information with my sisters so that we could all fill out the family tree with the fragmented information we each had. This was when one of my sisters broke the news: she had already tried Ancestry.com a long time ago and ended her subscription because there wasn't any information on our family. "How could that be," I wondered. We have the entire world at our fingertips thanks to the power of the internet, and there wasn't anything? I was convinced something would have magically changed since then, so we kept at it. 

The more we tried, however, the more frustrating it became. Every single "hint" the site gave us about a person who might be in our family was actually from Texas or Puerto Rico or had lived in New Jersey before any of us even came to this country. We knew immediately that these people weren't related to us. My parents don't have too many answers about our ancestry, but the one thing everyone in my family knows is that we are Dominican as far back as anybody can remember. At times it felt like we were the only Dominican family to ever even use Ancestry.com, that's how seldom D.R. showed up on any results. 

The process of filling out the tree was also challenging. For a long time in D.R., your actual day of birth wasn't the day you received your birth certificate, so my parents and most relatives have two separate birthdays. Were we supposed to fill out their real birthday or the date on their birth certificate? And which of those two dates have we been celebrating as birthdays this entire time? "Was Papi actually born in April or June?"

Then there was the whole issue of illegitimate children, which is also much more common than anybody ever wants to discuss. How do we account for those kids when there's no label for "mistress"? Does anybody know what it says on their birth certificates? "Does anybody even remember the mother's name?" We ended up simply ignoring those people (sorry guys!) because we didn't know what to do with them. It probably wouldn't have made a difference anyway, though, given how little information there was on the relatives we actually knew about.

I hate to say it was a waste of time, but it basically was. At least now I've joined my sister in her efforts to pull together a real family tree so that our descendants aren't left with the same disappointment. We'll even account for all possible birthdays and illegitimate children (just as soon as we figure out their mother's name...). Maybe Ancestry.com doesn't have the information we're looking for, but somewhere out there, there must be a record of us. And if it really doesn't exist, it's about to.

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