A Family History

I had traveled to Argentina with a copy of my great grandma’s birth certificate from 1908 as she was born in BsAs. I had hopes that I would be able to trace some of my family history as there was a number imprinted on the barely legible birth certificate. I was hoping that number would be the key to getting information.
I had told one of the guys at our B&B what I was hoping to find out and he directed us to the national office of registering people. Once in line at that government office, I was able to tell the worker in Spanish what I was looking for but I didn’t understand his response. He asked his office if anyone spoke English and a girl hesitated but came over, and in nearly perfect English, she told me where we needed to go…to another government office just a few blocks away.

This second office was a much bigger office than the last. It was a mix of City Hall, the DMV and any government office you dread going to. Crowds of people in the waiting area were waiting for their numbers to be flashed on the electronic board to determine which counter they needed to go to. Happy couples were outside taking pictures as they had just gotten married.

I explained in Spanish what I was looking for. After five minutes, he told me to talk in English. First, he told me that he could only get me a copy of the birth certificate – which I would have to come back for in two weeks. Which was great, because the original is tattered and taped together. I mean it IS over 100 years old. But I was determined, and I had the number on the birth certificate, which had to mean SOMETHING to SOMEONE and just getting a copy of the original was just not going to be good enough for me.

So he talked to another woman and they told me to go see Mercedes on the fourth floor. I was concerned about getting past security since we have no other documentation other than being told to go to the fourth floor. This was not a problem because there was NO security. We walked right to the elevator that held only three people at a time – literally. We had four and someone had to get off.

There were no nameplates on the doors so we had to knock on a few doors to find Mercedes. She spoke ZERO english, except for the word happy because thats what she made me….BECAUSE…

After 20 minutes of explaining what I wanted and her giving me a little history of immigration — NO paperwork for those that came to Argentina. NONE. There are no Ellis Island-like records, no boat they came on, country they came from, NOTHING. The only records were for babies born there, and even that has a loop hole. They only kept records in the early 1900s and only for men. Once Evita came into play and what she did for women, only then did they start keeping records for women. That was in the 1950s.

After this very informative history lesson, in Spanish, Mercedes took the birth certificate and told us to come back in one hour, at 2pm – her siesta time. We werent sure what she was going to show us but I was hopeful, boyfriend was doubtful. We went for a coffee (yes, I even drank coffee on this trip!) and we had no idea what we were going to get.

We went back to her office at 2pm. She gave us a copy of the hand written document of a verbal recount from my great grandma’s dad that must have been pulled from a book of records. He had to to come to that same government building and tell his story with two witnesses. It tells us that my great grandma was born the day before. It tells us she was born in the house, with the address, and the time of birth. It tells us my great grandma’s parents names and ages. It tells us their parents names and it tells us where they came from. And it is signed by my great grandma’s dad and the two witnesses.

The apartment building was not far from where we were so we took a walk over. It is a main street, and near the water. The building looked old. Probably refinished but it easily could have been a building from back then. The McDonald’s next door, probably was not there then 😉 From the plaques on the building it looked like a lot of law firms are in the building now. My new best friend Mercedes told me a lot of immigrants settled there because of commerce and it was near the water. Later, immigrants moved to other parts of the city, but it’s not likely there is any paperwork to know where.

So the only info they have on women before the 50s was the birth certificate and this verbal recount at the office where her dad had to explain his past and that he had a new baby in the house. Literally.

Awesome find. I told her that we didn’t have much information and I was so excited to share with my grandma, so she said the information would be ‘un regalo por su abuela’ (a gift for my grandmother). Then, I couldn’t think of the word so I said in ‘bad grammar Spanish’ that she made me very, and then I smiled and pointed to my mouth, and she uttered the only English word I think she knew – happy.


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