Solving a Massachusetts Mystery in the Records of Puerto Rico

Kallvalina McKola?

This is the name I’ve been searching for?

The 1908 civil birth register of James William Collins y Rivera retained an important vestige of the Spanish Civil Code[1] – along with the names of the father and mother, it requested the names of his maternal and paternal grandparents.

1908 Birth James Collins croppedQue es nieto por linea paterno de James Collins y Kallvalina McKola, naturales de Boston. He is the grandson of James Collins and Kallvalina McKola of Boston (paternal line).[2]

The baby’s father, also named James Collins, served in the US Navy, on bases in Puerto Rico and on ships. He was the focus of the research. My client, a native of Puerto Rico, provided the details the family had: James Collins might have been born in Massachusetts or perhaps Ireland. He married Rita Rivera. They had a son, also named James. My task: find James’ birth details and the names of his parents.

The birth register, along with the marriage register,[3]  established that James Collins, the seaman, was born about 1873, the son of James Collins. His mother’s name, the mysterious Kallvalina McKola.

How much Spanish did James speak, and how much English did the clerk know? The records are noted to be copies – did the clerk butcher the transcription? What about applying a phonetic approach? Could Kallvalina be Katarina, which would be the Spanish equivalent of Katherine (or Catherine)?

While there was only one James Collins in Puerto Rico, there were many in the records of Massachusetts. After a lot of digging and analysis, the parents and family of James Collins came into clear view. The death records of two siblings listed a mother named Catherine McCollough, and the birth register of James provided his mother’s given name as Catherine.

Kallvalina McKola. Catherine McCullough.

The clerk who wrote Kallvalina McKola was writing a version of Catherine McCullough. Thanks to the continued tradition of the Spanish Civil Code, that piece of information – the name of the baby’s paternal grandmother – was the key to finding the family in the Massachusetts records.

To learn more about researching the records of Puerto Rico, sign up for Soy Boricua: Researching Your Puerto Rican Roots.



[2] “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 14 October 2014), San Juan > Nacimientos 1907-1908 > image 141 of 254; oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

[3] “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 28 March 2015), San Juan > Matrimonios 1905-1907 > image 499 of 522; oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).

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