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My Maternal Great Grandmother Carmen Salas; or was she a Salar?

Published: Thursday, 20 October 2016 Written by Bernard Punzalan

I often wondered about my maternal Great Grandmother Carmen Salas’ parents. For many years I have been in search of her ancestry, which is why I am unable to find out her middle name; rather, her mother’s maiden name. Typically when I research names and come to a seemingly dead end, I tend to table any further research until new information arises. Later on, when new information surfaces, particularly with people with hard to find middle names, I have observed that many result in identifying people being born out of wedlock.

Family Lore

Such seems to be the case with Carmen. It took a while before one of my aunts finally confided in me in 2010, and told me that Carmen was born out of wedlock. Allegedly her biological father is “Tun Felis Torres,” recalled my Aunt. According to my Aunt, Carmen’s mother, was a housekeeper of a Torres family. She and her children resided in the Torres’ house and were pretty much not allowed to go outside.

Finding Carmen: Salas or Salar?

The earliest document I was able to trace Carmen was in the 1897 Census conducted by the Spanish government. According to this Census, she was 32 years old, married to Nicolas de Leon Guerrero and had two children at the time: Jose and Maria. The Census also indicated that they were living with Nicolas’ father (Matias de Leon Guerrero), mother (Maria Tello) and siblings (Maria, Juan and Rosa).

1897 Carmen de Salas

Trying to decipher Carmen’s name in a copy of the original handwritten Census is quite difficult. The Census enumerator’s handwriting, for this particular Cabeceria, in several cases makes it challenging to distinguish between his lower case “s” versus lower case “r.” However, the type written transcription of the Census: “PADRON DE ALMAS: ANO DE 1897,” produced in 1984 by Victor F. Mallada, O.A.R.; he transcribed Carmen’s name as Carmen de Salas. I often wondered if Mallada correctly or incorrectly transcribed Carmen’s surname.

In most cases, particularly after the Spanish occupation era, it would seem that Mallada likely may be correct with his transcription, for the primary reason that the surname “Salar” does not seem to exist anymore throughout the Mariana Islands; and, whereas, the “Salas” surname is readily and easily identifiable to make an assumption that Carmen’s last name may very well be Salas. But, I have found several transcription errors by Mallada throughout his documents.

Through my observation, our Chamorro people have had a long time practice of honoring family members by naming their children after them to carry on family heritage. Just within this particular snapshot of the 1897 Census, the names Maria, Juan, Nicolas, Rosa, Carmen, and Jose have been handed down several generations through present within my familial lineage. I point this out because it can serve a clue that is sometimes helpful to bridging family relations.

Where can we find the Salar surname within the Mariana Islands?

To date, I have seen the Salar surname unquestionably recorded and only with reference on Guam in the following three publications below.

 1. U.S. Navy Lieutenant William E. Safford (1904) recorded his February 4, 1900 conversation with Don Jose Aguon Herrero

1900 Safford Francisco Salar

2. 1920 Church Census by Father Roman de Vera completed on Guam in 1921

1920 Church Census Salar

3. Paul Souder (1978) does a remarkable job at documenting his wife’s Torres family and relations.

1978 Souder Salar

From the three sources that do document the Salar surname it may also serve as some reasoning as to why the surname did not survive or may have faded. Simply put: Francisco Salar’s descendants appears to be all females. Francisco Salar, apparently had only one daughter named Rita with Juana Juliana Aguon. It would be at this point with Rita, having all daughters, where the Salar surname fades into history, and why some might misinterpret “Salar” as a typographical error for “Salas.”

Revisiting the 1897 Census: Salar

Aha!!! The clues are beginning to come together to weave a hypothesis. I find what appears to be Rita Salar transcribed by Mallada in 1984 as Rita Salas. As I previously stated the Census enumerator’s handwritten lower case “s” and “r” are very similar. Only in Rita’s case seems to be more distinguishable and supportive of the three main sources that the Salar surname existed.

This particular recording also seems to support my Aunt’s recollection that Carmen and her family resided with the Torres family. It would also support the notion that Carmen’s mother is Rita Salar. Also based on family recollection is that Maria’s (listed with Rita) biological father is unknown, although Souder (1978) and the 1920 Church Census both have her listed as Maria Salar Perez and single.

I also mentioned earlier that Chamorro families tend to honor other family members by naming their children after family members. Well guess what??? My Aunt who confided in me, her name is Carmen, her mother is Rosa, and with some of her sisters named Rosita (my mom), Maria, and Rita; and their youngest brother named Juan. Coincidence??? Perhaps, however, I am no longer inclined to think so, unless other information surfaces that sends me in another direction.

Carmen Salar

I believe my maternal Great Grandmother's orginal name was Carmen Salar born out of wedlock to Rita Aguon Salar; the only daughter of Francisco Salar of Murcia, Spain, who was expelled from Spain.  As for her biological father Tun Felis Torres, that remains another interesting story and to be published at a later date.

2016 Chamorr Roots Salar

Bibliography

Victor F. Mallada. 1984. Padron de Almas: Año de 1897 [transcribed]. Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam.

William E. Safford. 1904. Extracts from the Note-Book of a Naturalist on the Island of Guam. –XX. The Plant World, Volume VII, pp. 163-169. The Plant World Company. Wash. D.C.

Paul Souder. 1978. Heritage: A genealogy of the Torres and affiliated families throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Guam.

Father Roman Maria de Vera. 1921. Guam: Censo Oficial de 1920 (copia). Copy obtained from the Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam.

Spanish Government. 1897. Padron de Almas: Año de 1897.

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