Although I started with his name, an approximate year of birth, the name of his partner (Brigida Burgos), and two censuses which between them provided the names of almost every one of his children, “finding” Agustin Rosa and understanding his story has proved to be one of the biggest challenges to date in my genealogical journey.
Agustin seemed to have no past, no parents, and no siblings. He also had no exact date of death; all I knew was that he died before 1929. Born in Coamo, Puerto Rico, around the year 1860, my 2x great grandfather Agustin worked as an agricultor (farmer) and laborador (laborer) in Villalba—an area just west of his birthplace—at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th. He is listed in the 1910 and 1920 censuses as a landowner, his mortgage paid in full. On this land, Agustin cultivated frutos menores (small fruits). It is not clear which small fruits he farmed, and because he died before a special agricultural census was taken in 1935 I cannot yet find a record of what exactly he grew and raised.
Only one census listed both of Agustin’s last names: Rosa Morales. However, searching for “Rosa Morales” through ancestry.com and familysearch.org led me not to Agustin, but to a man named Julian and his children. Julian Rosa Morales lived close to Agustin in 1910, but disappeared in official records afterwards. Given his age, it seemed Julian was too young to be Agustin’s father and yet too old to be his full brother. I knew they must be related but was not sure how. So I added Julian to my tree as Agustin’s father so as not to forget him and hoped that the census had simply gotten one or both of the men’s ages wrong.
For several months, I was stuck and had so many questions. Why did Agustin and Brigida never marry? Why was he deliberately omitted from his children’s birth records but always present at the minor children’s deaths? When and where had he died? Why could I not find any other person in that area or surrounding towns with the name “Rosa Morales,” other than the mysterious Julian? Surely this man had brothers and sisters—where the hell were they? For a long time, it seemed as if this family was purposely hiding itself, since Agustin and his children mostly seemed to disappear from official records after 1920, and this set my imagination loose to all sorts of wild scenarios. Agustin had obviously committed some kind of crime. What could it have been? Why else would he and his family be in hiding? Was Brigida just living with this guy but having children with all sorts of people? Was she a prostitute, and Agustin a pimp? But then why would he live with all of these children?
Agustin had 10 children with the last name Burgos and also had at least one child with the last name Morales. I thought, Good lord, Agustin is a Morales too… was there incest involved?! Did Brigida’s family not allow her to marry him because of this disgrace?
(Yeah, I have an imagination, all right.)
Maria Morales’ birth certificate, as to be expected, was missing her father Agustin’s name. However, it did contain Maria’s mother’s name and, as far as I could tell, she was not related to Agustin. If the math was right, then Maria was born in the years between two of Brigida’s older children… GASP, A LOVE CHILD!?
Well… No. Puerto Rican records from this time period and earlier are notorious for containing wildly inaccurate information and what can only be described as randomly assigned ages. So random, in fact, that I’m sure that for each person they recorded census takers just spun in a circle, threw a dart at a board, and wrote that number as the person’s age. After thinking more about Maria, I realized it was more likely that she was the result of a relationship Agustin had before living with Brigida. Another woman that Agustin, shockingly, had not married. This seems right given that Brigida raised the child of Maria Morales after Maria died. It was clear that Maria had died after Agustin, and her child Sixto Morales was left in Brigida’s custody. I can hardly imagine that Brigida would have been willing to take on her husband’s love child’s son, unless she truly had a heart of gold. However, I certainly could imagine her lovingly taking in her step grandson.
After exploring all the appropriate avenues (his children’s birth, marriage, and death certificates, the censuses, and anything else I could find), I decided I had hit a dead end and ceased my search. This side of my tree was just going to have to stop with this perplexing guy.
Though I had not tested for this specific purpose, DNA ultimately came to the rescue.
I matched with a fourth cousin who had a Rosa on his tree: Bartola Rivera Rosa, born in Coamo in 1906. It had been so difficult for me to find Rosas in this area during that time that I figured it must not be a coincidence. I had to follow Bartola down the rabbit hole. Bartola’s mother, Antonia Rosa Rivera, was also from Coamo. Her death certificate listed her parents as Asuncion Rivera and Manuel Rosa Morales.
Rosa Morales. BINGO! Maybe Agustin’s brother. I searched for all children of Manuel and Asuncion and found two of Antonia’s brothers: Cesareo and Noberto. When Noberto died, his death was reported by a third brother…
Agustin. Rosa. Rivera.
That wasn’t quite right, was it? I hunted for the death certificate of one Agustin Rosa Rivera. He was born around the same time in the same place as my Agustin, and his death in 1920 was reported by one of his sons, Agustin BURGOS, no second last name. MY Agustin had a child named Agustin Burgos, too.
Despite what I had found, I was still not 100% convinced I had found Agustin and his family. Could I just be making up relationships where none existed in an effort to solve the mystery? Confirmation for the links I had made finally came from a cousin who mentioned that we were related to Cesareo Rosa Nieves, a famous Puerto Rican writer. My great grandfather, Maximino, was Cesareo’s cousin.
Just one year apart, they had grown up together. Cesareo Rosa Nieves was the son of Cesareo Rosa Rivera… son of Manuel… brother of Agustin.
Agustin had a place. I had found him.
Once I had this information, I was able to put my wild imagination to rest and really think about all of the information I had in front of me. Agustin and his people were not hiding at all. He was mistakenly listed with his father’s names on that one census, the same names his neighbor and now proven uncle Julian carried. My 2x great grandmother and her children must have lost the farm when Agustin died because he had never married her—as his illegitimate family, Brigida and her children (with whom he lived and who he had raised) never could have had official claim to the land. It is likely that he also had no will; who knows what happened to his farm. Perhaps this is why my great grandfather was so ambivalent about giving his own children his father’s last name or taking the last name Rosa for himself. The name came from a man who, for whatever reason, had failed to provide for his family.
It now made sense why Agustin’s children also became difficult to find after 1920, the year he had died: they had no land, so they moved from where they had been raised and scattered themselves among friends and family. One of his children, Natalio, ended up in prison for some unspecified crime, and another, Agustin, was described as having a “sallow” complexion on a World War II draft card. In other words, Agustin’s children were not doing well. Agustin’s “widow,” Brigida, moved from Villalba to Cidra, the birthplace of my great grandfather Maximino’s wife, my great grandmother Teofila. And so history begins.
It took several months to discover Agustin Rosa. He was not a criminal or a pimp or a ghost. In fact, he was not much of anyone and did not have much of anything. He was just some guy unwilling or unable to marry a woman named Brigida with whom he had sired 13 children, and because he never officially acknowledged those children he sent them tumbling down from nothing to less than nothing when he died.
Downfalls don’t last forever, though. His son Maximino married Teofila. They had nothing to their names: little education, no land. In the space of three generations, their family would be full of lawyers, teachers, writers, artists. Children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren that did not have to struggle the same way they had.
Not too shabby for such a rough start, huh?