Library of Congress

The Tempest

Building one’s family tree and the excitement of “how far back” is a goal of many researchers. But what about the family’s history? Their story? Exploring the historical context in which the family lived can help offer clues to those pesky why questions: why did they leave for New York, or why did they stay in Berlin? Why was the family separated during WWI? Why did the family leave the countryside to live in San Juan? Newspapers can be an excellent source of learning context, particularly for events in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities’ Chronicling America project presents thousands of digitized newspapers from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. While the search tools can be cumbersome, the effort is worth it.

Wondering what happened to your ancestors during Huracán Ciriaco? On 8 August 1899, the storm raked over Puerto Rico, transversing the island from southeast to northwest, bringing 28 days of rain, destruction of farms, thousands dead and many more displaced.[1] This event occurred less than a year after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, an act that ceded the island of Puerto Rico to the United States government. Searches in the digitized newspapers of Puerto Rico help tell the story of Huracán Ciriaco.

Arroz y Habichuelas
La Democracia. (Ponce, P.R.), 15 Aug. 1899 [clip]

A letter from General George W. Davis, the US government appointed military governor of Puerto Rico, appeared in English and Spanish in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper.[2] La Correspondencia provided descriptions of the conditions in locations across the island, saying of Bayamon that tree branches and zinc tiles flew through the air, and that the hospital was without a roof.[3] It took until 15 August, a week after the hurricane hit, for the newspaper of Ponce, La Democracia, to put out an edition. That paper told a dismal tale of property destruction, listing the names of men and what they had lost. The editors wrote of the magnitude of the disaster, which grew day by day:

Conforme transcurren los días, va tomando mayores proporciones la magnitud del desastre que ha sufrido Puerto Rico. Cada momento de espera agrava más la situación, así como cada noticia que se recibe da más extensas amplitudes al cuadro de desolación que se ofrece a nuestros ojos. [4]

What else can be found in the digitized newspapers of Puerto Rico? Join my webinar Soy Boricua: Researching Your Puerto Rican Roots on Tuesday 12 June 2018 at 7pm ET, offered by the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society.

Dedicated to the memory of the #4645boricuas


[1] The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War. Online Collection, Hispanic Division, Library of Congress., accessed 1 June 2018

[2] Gazeta de Puerto-Rico. [volume] ([San Juan, P.R.), 12 Aug. 1899. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

[3] La correspondencia de Puerto Rico. (San Juan, P.R.), 09 Aug. 1899. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

[4] La democracia. (Ponce, P.R.), 15 Aug. 1899. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.