November 2 is known as All Souls Day in the Catholic liturgical year, and it has traditionally been the day for visiting cemeteries, praying for the repose of the souls of the people buried there and blessing the graves. Because November 2 fell on a Saturday this year, we were able to open the Tolomato Cemetery for a special visit on All Souls Day.
The day was gray and rainy, but fortunately it had ceased to pour by afternoon, when Fr. Tom Willis and Fr. James Kaniparampil came over from the Cathedral to bless the graves. In the photo below, they wait for people to assemble from the various points of the cemetery, where they had been visiting graves or seeking information about ancestors.
Once again, we had visitors who discovered that they may be related to some of the St Augustinians now buried in Tolomato Cemetery. The couple below are of Cuban descent and came looking for a branch of the Martinez family that was originally from the Canary Islands but settled in Cuba. While Cuba had many Canary Islander immigrants in the 19th century, Spain had also encouraged a group of Canary Islanders (Isleños, in Spanish) to settle in St Augustine in 1757. Like all the other Spanish citizens, these Isleños went to Cuba in 1763, and are identified in records of the emigration as belonging to the militia of the Familias Isleñas.
While St. Augustine relied primarily on the professional enlisted soldiers for its defense, all men were assigned membership in militias. The militias were based on broadly defined population groups: “Vecinos Antiguos,” meaning the descendants of the original settlers; “Familias de Yndios,” meaning the Indian groups who were settled at the missions; “Familias Isleñas,” meaning the Canary Island immigrants, etc. Was it possible that this couple’s Isleño ancestors had at one time been in St Augustine? Armed with our information and a referral to the Cuban Genealogical Society in Miami, our visitors left to do more research.
But they were part of the group, some of us descendants and some not (such as docents Louise and Elizabeth, above in their 18th century dress), who gathered at Tolomato Cemetery to commemorate the lives and deaths of the many diverse people who founded and built our city and to join once again in the beautiful, age-old prayers.