Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FAMILIA : PEREZ

The beautiful handwriting of Spanish documents
The origin of the Perez family in the Marianas is still one of those mysteries yet to be solved.  The name does not appear in the earliest known census of Guam for which we have copies, taken in 1727.

In the next census which has been found, taken in 1758, there appears one Miguel Perez de Armenta.  He is listed as a soldier from Pampanga in the Philippines.  Nothing else is known about him.  Was he Pampangan?  Fully Pampangan?  With no Chinese or European or Latin American blood?  But since his name does not appear in the 1727 Census, he most likely came to Guam between 1727 and 1758.

He married a woman named Ines Nahong.  I suspect that she was Chamorro.  The Spanish (which included Latin Americans) and Filipino (Pampangan) soldiers who came to Guam often married Chamorro women.  "Nahong" in Chamorro means "sufficient, enough."

In the 1758 Census, no children of Miguel and Ines are listed.  That's where the mystery continues.  Was Miguel the ancestor of all the Perezes on Guam?  It's hard to say, without documentary evidence like the record seen above.

Then there is the mystery of Miguel's surname.  Perez de Armenta; clearly Spanish.  But many Filipinos (and Chamorros) also had Spanish surnames, getting them in several ways.  Some by intermarriage (Spanish father, Filipino or Chamorro mother) and some were simply given a Spanish name even though they had no Spanish blood.

"Perez" is a very common Spanish last name, the 8th most widespread last name in the country.  "Perez" is so common that it was often modified by attaching another name to it, like "de Armenta."  "Armenta" is a last name found mainly in the south of Spain and is not that common.  It is possible that this particular Perez family wanted to distinguish themselves from other Perezes and added "de Armenta," perhaps from the mother's last name.

In any case, we still have no documents that can connect Miguel Perez de Armenta, one of the Pampanga soldiers, and his probably Chamorro wife Ines Nahong, with the many Perezes who show up on Guam in the 1800s.

If Miguel and Ines are truly the founders of the Perez clan on Guam, what happened to "de Armenta?"  As there was just one Perez family on Guam, perhaps the "de Armenta" was dropped as there was no need to have such a long last name when only one family has that last name after all.

It is widely believed that all those many Perezes on Guam in the 1800s are descendants of, or at least connected to, one Venancio Perez, who served in the local militia in the early 1800s. 

The family branched out into the Goyo, Bonñao, Gongga families, and many other Perez families, all inter-connected.  The name "Perez" means "Son of Pedro," or Peter.  The Spaniards often took a father's first name, ended it with -ez and made it into a last name.  So Juan, the son of Rodrigo, became Juan Rodriguez; and Luis, the son of Gonzalo, became Luis Gonzalez.  There is also a Hebrew man named Perez in the Old Testament, but that's coincidence, unless some of the Jews in Spain who converted to Christianity took Perez as a last name to keep an Old Testament connection, while others obtained Perez as the last name the conventional way I described.

When it comes to our family histories, what we don't know is more than what we do know.  We lack many of the documents, which were lost or destroyed through wars, typhoons, humidity.  We need to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims and humbly add the words "maybe," "perhaps" and "possibly" to our historical conversations.  Guesses and speculations, honestly admitted, are better than presumptions that become erroneous dogma.  Let's all pray that some day soon someone will discover our baptismal records and censuses from the very beginning hiding in some archive in Spain, Mexico or the Philippines!



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