Have you ever wanted to know more about where you come from? Perhaps learn about the origins of your family name, your great-great-great-grandfather, or if you hail from a long line of Spanish kings?
Well, if you are Cuban, you now can. A new, searchable online archive has been launched at Florida International University. From the Abadias to the Zúñigas and thousands of surnames in between, those managing the Enrique Hurtado de Mendoza Collection say you're bound to learn something there about your family’s lineage.
Based in FIU’s Green Library, the collection is made up of books, letters, photos and other primary documents related to Cuba and Cuban genealogy, collected over four decades by Felix Enrique Hurtado de Mendoza. Mendoza, who left Cuba in 1960, studied law at the University of Havana and worked for 20 years at the Organization of American States in Washington, DC, and Geneva. He began amassing the collection through a personal quest seeking rights to a title of nobility, according to FIU. (He secured proof but later lost the title to a distant relative.) Over the years, he built a reputation as an exceptional genealogist, and people began to write to him and send samples of their own genealogies, seeking his help. Mendoza became active in the Cuban Genealogy Club of Miami, and in 2012, the aging genealogist declared he would deliver his collection to FIU.
“The collection looks the way it does because [Mendoza] held on to what people sent him and added his own stuff,” says Althea Silvera, the FIU Special Collections department head. “It’s full of hand drawn genealogy trees and things. There is nothing official or formal about these works. It’s very special.”
In 2012, Silvera went to Mendoza’s Brickell apartment, where she found thousands of 17th and 18th century books and over 100 boxes worth of records. Family lines traced back to places across Central and South America and Europe. Lourdes Del Pino and Mariela Fernandez, officers of the Cuban Genealogy Club, helped organize and scan the mostly handwritten genealogies—a process that took more than three years.
“The collection was Cuban but also European and Hispanic genealogy, because he would start looking and find someone who’d gone to another country,” Silvera says. “Wherever a lead opened up, he followed it.”
Earlier this month, FIU unveiled the first digitized feature of the collection: an extensive name index, which allows users to search the archive by last name to view family trees, notes and scribbles about genealogies and family connections. That index has since been searched over 1,300 times.
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Next, the team will clean, sort, organize and scan correspondence and additional materials from the collection to accompany the name listings online. Silvera says she hopes those additional materials are available within a year.
In addition to searching the name index and exploring the physical materials, she says she also wants the community to continue to grow the collection. The goal is for it to one day become a full and public Center for Cuban Genealogy, to help people across the diaspora connect to their roots. Already, she has heard feedback from people excited to use the collection to learn more about themselves and their families.
“The people I meet here aren’t looking to find out they’re related to the King of England,” she says. “They just want to answer those ‘Why’ questions, and to know where they came from.”