Puerto Rico, nicknamed Land of Enchantment, has a unique heritage. Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain when he landed there in 1493 and 400 years later following the Spanish-American War Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States.
By that time the Spanish had left their mark on the island, which is evidenced by the language and social norms.
Although Puerto Rico’s official languages are both Spanish and English the island’s culture is definitely Spanish with a twist of African, Indian and Anglo influences.
Immigrants from all over the world have settled there, so when you trace your Puerto Rican roots, you shouldn’t be surprised to find, in addition to Spanish, you might also find African, British, French, Dutch or South American ancestors.
When Columbus arrived, Taino Indians lived on the Island but, as you’ll learn in texts like “A Patriot’s History”, the combination of European diseases and enslavement by the Spanish diminished their numbers.
The island’s first town of Caparra, was founded in 1508 and by 1521 the town had moved and renamed Puerto Rico (rich port). The name was changed yet again to San Juan and the entire island became known as Puerto Rico.
Spain turned San Juan into a military outpost in the second half of the 1500s and the British, French and Dutch began to settle the on other Caribbean islands.
In the late 1700s the Spanish encouraged Canary islanders, French settlers from Louisiana, and Spaniards from Santa Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) to settle in Puerto Rico. Large sugar cane plantations were prosperous.
In the mid-1800s, immigrants arrived from China, Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland and Lebanon.
When Spain ceded the island to the United States in 1898, Americans began moving there.
Today, the island is a self-governing territory of the United States and its residents are United States citizens.
Before I add some sites to explore your Puerto Rican family history here’s a list of facts to consider:
- Civil Registration started 1885
- Puerto Rico – US territory status 1898
- First US Census 1910
- Birth, Marriage and Death records began 1931
- US Commonwealth Status 1952
As with all family history research, if possible, you should gather as much information as you can from relatives, then focus on an ancestor you know to start your family tree.
The Family Search Latin American Outline is a good place to start learning about the type of records at your disposal as you plan your research strategy.
Here’s a list of links that could prove to be very useful in your ancestral search:
Family Search U.S. Census 1910, 1920, 1930
Ancestry.com (You have to pay for this one but many libraries have a subscription)
Heritage-Quest Online (also free through subscribing libraries)
Organizations and Archives