Welcome to the Cuban Genealogy Podcast. This podcast is dedicated to helping you research your Cuban ancestors. Cuban history is just so rich and fascinating. By collecting family stories and furthering your research you just might make some new discoveries for you to share with your family. Thank you for tuning in… I’m your host Brian Tosko Bello.
You can find my Cuban tree on ancestry.com by doing a member search… btoskobello. You can also visit the Digital Cuba website at www.DigitalCuba.org or FamilyDrama.org and make sure you follow us on Facebook under Digital Cuba.
Like you all, I have difficulties finding my relatives online using the big family history websites. Through this podcast, I want for us to be able to share our stories with each other…we have so much in common and the Cuban culture is so rich and interesting. And the more I study Cuban history, the more captivated I become.
So how are we going to enrich and expand our Cuban family trees in this digital age when information is so limited?
In my opinion, it is through collaboration. Collaboration is the most important way to successfully research your Cuban family tree. Again, we have very limited information online, but we have some great projects in the works to help assist those of us researching Cuban relatives.
What projects you ask?
Well, Digital Cuba is focused on 2 main vital record sets: Cuban cemetery records and Cuban parish records. And Cuban parish records could include, birth, marriage, death and other records that parishes have been recording.
So, in this podcast we are going to start with the importance of oral family histories…then we will discuss cemetery records in Cuba. Parish records in Cuba. We will end the podcast with calendar of events where you can participate in genealogy events and get to work on further expanding your tree, or even starting you tree. And while you listen to this podcast, please take notes on what you’d like to hear about in future podcasts. Interviews you’d like to hear…we can talk about DNA testing. How to find a researcher in Cuba. Or any other interesting topic on your mind, we would certainly like to hear how we can make this podcast valuable and entertaining. You can reach me at DigitalCuba.firstname.lastname@example.org. Alrighty, here we go to our first topic…the importance of oral histories.
Importance of oral histories
Thank you to the Cuban Genealogy Club of Miami for providing this podcast with their Cuban Genealogy 101 presentation. Recording oral histories is of particular interest to me since we don’t have easy access to Cuban records, we can’t just stop by a cemetery in our family’s hometowns and hope to stumble across some family details.
My oral histories led to the next phase of my research. Gathering stories, names, dates and places from my grandmother enabled me to strategize deepening my research. As you will hear in the cemetery segment coming up next, I was only able to search for my relatives at the Colon cemetery once I had the exact death dates.
I did my oral interviews over 3 meetings. I didn’t want to tire out my grandmother or overwhelm her with questions. But once we got started she enjoyed reminiscing about Cuba. Sharing me stories about her siblings and her parents and Havana during the 30s and 40s.
So, when you do your interviews. Make sure you have your audio recorder (Google Play for android recorders and iTunes for apple options)…or an old fashion mini tape recorder. These recordings may even be precious heirlooms one day. By recording the interviews you can focus more on the conversation and less on writing down and verifying the details. I would recommend writing down some notes while you are interviewing. And make sure you ask permission to record and tell your relative why you are recording. There are so many interesting Cuban family history stories out there…I discovered some funny stories about how my grandmother first tried to speak English when she came to the US, how her and her mother had different views of women’s role in the family. I was always curious how my great grandmother fed 9 children and what her daily life was like in Cuba during the teens into the 20s and up to the 40s and 50s. Let’s take a quick break and we can review some family interview tips:
Here’s a breakdown of the interview hints:
1. Audio recorder: test it a few times before you start
2. Take notes as well, especially if a topic comes up that you’d like to circle back to later in the conversation
3. Be patient and open minded: sometimes stories change over time
4. Make a back up recording or back up copy of your oral history notes
5. Use this information to make your strategy. For example, my grandmother didn’t know the birthdates of her father’s siblings but she did know the birth order so I listed the siblings that way. Now when I go to investigate Inocente Ramon Bello’s siblings, I have a better year estimate of birth years for his other siblings!
Coming up next: researching cemetery records in Cuba. Take it away Beny More!
Cemetery records in Cuba: Okay, so I am passionate about cemeteries. Cemeteries are such peaceful places. And usually they are easy to document, you just can quietly walk around and get to work. No document fees, etc.
First of all, for Cuba, I reviewed the big 2 cemetery record databases: FindAGrave and BillionGraves. Less than 1% of these records are online. Colon Cemetery has over 600 records of an estimated 2 million interrments. As of July 2018, I have uploaded 300 of my 3,000 Colon cemetery photos. Both of these cemetery record websites are missing cemeteries in Cuba. BG is missing the Cementerio de Cardenas in Matanzas. FaG has the Cardenas cemetery but only 2 photos with zero headstone records. FaG lists a few hundred photos for 141 cemeteries in Cuba, but this includes some statue memorials and I know of a few missing cemeteries like the abandoned cemetery in Playa Larga.
BillionGraves: when you search under Cuba, it says listing cemeteries with 100 photos or more, so none show up. But don’t get frustrated. If you zoom in you will begin to see some cemeteries and monuments show up. The frustrating part is when you zoom into Havana and you see the Necropolis Colon…it shows 0 photos and 0 contributors. But if you scroll to the bottom, it shows my 16 photos that I uploaded. Frustrated, I stopped. My 3,000 photos are considered supporting documents and not full on headstone records because I didn’t upload them on my phone with the GPS turned on. This is unfortunate, as I can’t take thousands of photos on my phone and certainly not in Cuba where I don’t have cell phone service. I didn’t even want to use my phone there as a camera out of fear of being charged a roaming fee. So basically, BillionGraves is now a low priority as my high-res photos have been demoted to supporting documents that don’t even show up in the top stat section of the cemetery descriptor. I am going to contact BillionGraves and let them know researchers might be missing what the website has to offer since I know that I wouldn’t think to scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Internment.com has only one cemetery listed, Colon cemetery and it has 108 listings and last updated in 2011…and no headstone records. Time to take a long…sigh.
Digital Cuba.org is currently actively applying for research grants to document Cuban cemeteries and get the digital records online for researchers to access. This is an enormous undertaking but we have to start somewhere.
In the next podcast I will share my personal experiences at the Colon cemetery when I was studying in Cuba in June 2018. The Colon Cemetery is a fascinating, historic cemetery, full of romance, scandals, and unique last names that certainly hold even more interesting Cuban history. Coming up next, researching parishes around Cuba.
Do you have a great podcast idea? Tips? Suggestions? Please email us at DigitalCuba.email@example.com