Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Across the Water in Time

This Thursday I'll be on a panel to discuss the new film "Across the Water in Time." It is being screened at the Hyatt at 6 pm on Wednesday and I'll be part of a panel on Thursday 2 pm at the CAHA Gallery in the Terlaje Building in Hagatna. My panel will be discussion history and how it relates to this wonderful and exciting project. The film is about the descendants of a Chamorro man named Juan Perez who left island as a whaler in the 19th century. He settled in Hawai'i and married and his name was subsequently changed to Paris. Eventually while doing genealogical research from both islands, his descendants and his relatives were reunited.

Below is a video interview of Jillette Leon Guerrero the creator of the film with KUAM News Extra. In addition I pasted some info from the website for the film.


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Juan D. Perez’s story is an interesting one.

He was born in Guam but is believed to have moved to Hawaii sometime between 1854 and the late 1860s. It is probable that he was “Español del país.” (The name given to Guam born Spaniards.)  The first document that places him in Hawaii is the record of his marriage in 1877 when he married a full blooded Hawaiian woman. We believe he was a member of a group of young men that left Guam on a whaler. This was a great draw for young men seeking adventure at the time. It was in1852 that Father Vicente Acosta requested that men be prohibited from leaving the island to work on whaling ships. The loss of these men came at a time when the island was struggling with depopulation and a declining labor pool. 

Family stories recount that John’s name was really “Demetrio” and that he changed his name to John. Perhaps this is why no records ever recorded his name as “Juan, ” the Spanish version of John.  His last name also changed through time. Some of the versions in the historical record can be attributed to spelling errors by the recorder but the family now goes by the surname of “Paris.”

John’s descendents have been searching for evidence of his origins for a long time. While their grandfather told them that they were “Guamanian,” they could never find any evidence of this except in the sketchy census records for John Perez that at times listed Spain as his birthplace and in others listed his birthplace as Guam. It wasn’t until June of 2011 that John’s granddaughter, Yolanda seeing a reference to Guam on the Family tree DNA website that she contacted Jillette Leon-Guerrero.  The two agreed to work together to solve this mystery. Initial research did not turn up much information as no possible candidates for John or Juan appeared in the genealogy databases at MARC or online with Ancestry.com, Chamorro Roots.com or Familysearch.com. Jillette suggested that the Paris family get further DNA testing which they did. The results were surprising! It revealed that the Paris family was a match to Jillette Leon-Guerrero’s family with a suggested relationship of from 2nd to 4th cousins! This confirmed that the modern day Paris family had links to Guam.         

This story elicits several questions: Did John leave the island on a whaler? Why and when did John leave Guam? Were there social or economic pressures prompting young men to leave Guam or was it purely for adventure?  Were there others that can be traced that left Guam at the same time? Was there an established link between Guam and Hawaii? Was John a Spaniard or Chamorro? Was there a community of Guam born residents in Hawaii? Do descendents of John’s family still live on Guam? Why did he change his name?    

Serendipity played a part in this union of the Paris and Leon Guerrero families. Neither knew of each other yet they somehow connected in a common endeavor only to find that they were indeed “family.”

Goals and Objectives:

The main goal of this project is to increase the knowledge of viewers in respect to:
  • Genealogy and genealogical research techniques
  • Resources available to Guam researchers
  • Life on Guam during the period between 1840 and 1870

This will be achieved through the video documentation of our research efforts to find the origins of  John Paris.Through the telling of John’s story and the researchers quest to find evidence of his life, viewers will:

·       See the challenges of doing genealogical research on Guam;
·       Be introduced to genealogical research utilizing genetics;
·       Be prompted to interpret historical evidence;
·       Analyze historical documents in order to reveal clues for further research;
·       Learn about life in Spanish Guam during the 18th and 19th centuries.
·       Become familiar with resources available for researchers
·       Be encouraged to critically think  


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