Friday, October 16, 2015

A Cebuano Genealogist Passes Away

This is Vip at his happiest: surrounded by crumbling old records. This is
how he will always stay in my mind

En quinse de Octubre de dos mil quinse años: fue sepultado en el cementerio de esta parroquia el cadaver de Peary Aleonar mestizo Sangley, soltero, hijo de Peary Aleonar, natural del pueblo de Carcar y Trinidad Yap ambos ya difuntos. Fallecio de muerte natural.

I first met Peary Aleonar, Jr. (though he would always be Vip to me as that is how he introduced himself) sometime in 2003. I was fresh out of college and finally had time to continue my family history research which I had neglected when I started college. When I first started doing my family history in 1994 at the Family History Center (FHC) of the LDS in Davao City, I always thought that genealogical research was a solitary, silent activity. At least that was how I experienced it during the years I spent in the quiet, still FHC in Davao. 

I was already in Cebu by the time I was ready to pick up on my genealogical work, and I was momentarily shocked to see this hulking old man (I was 21 at that time so anyone above 30 was old in my mind) slowly looking a record through a microfilm reader, pausing once in a while and furiously scribbling down a fact, name, or two on this small notebook he had. He looked up from his church record when Sister Cynthia, the caretaker of the FHC in Lahug, called his name to introduce me to him. In the first few weeks we went about our separate purposes: me trying to complete my father's family tree as well as increase what I already had with my mother's, while he collected as many information about his family and other southern Cebu families along the way. 

At that stage I had stopped writing down the records using pen and paper and instead recorded bits and pieces of information through my mobile phone. I had to whisper my notes to my phone for fear of irritating and disturbing him, but after a few weeks he told me that I could speak at a regular volume as it did not bother him at all. That earned him his first point from me. From then on he would suddenly look up and call out to me when he would hear me dictate a Carcaranon name to my phone, asking me to repeat the information so he could write it down. Since then we became friends in the sense that we were probably the only two people in Cebu City at that time happy to spend our whole day going over Spanish-era records on our respective microfilm readers. During lunch breaks when Sister Cynthia would take her lunch and she had to lock the FHC (later though Vip and I must have earned her trust as she would leave us alone during lunch time without asking us to vacate the room and be back by 1) Vip and I would talk nonstop about the progress we had in our research and about a myriad of other topics concerning our passion: genealogy. We debated about surnames and Claveria and it was a fun experience to finally meet someone who was obsessed (not just interested, but really obsessed) with family history.

I admit I never knew him at a personal level. I never asked him about his family, though we both discussed our family trees many times. I never asked him where he lived though I knew genealogically his roots were from Carcar and Parian. In the 12 odd years we knew each other I regret never having asked him to talk about himself - himself as Vip Aleonar, Jr. the person and not the genealogist.

I was extremely saddened to find out he passed away on October 15, 2015. I wish I had more time to pick his brain and learn about his life, not just the genealogical stuff we were both into. I am glad I was given the privilege to have met him and call him a colleague. There are very few of us in the Philippines interested in genealogy, and with his death thousands and thousands of names and information were lost. Thankfully, his legacy especially to his relatives and the families in Carcar is his Carcar Families Blog. It is one of the most comprehensive writeups on a town's genealogies and reading through the comments of the people who have read his articles proves that he made a lot of people happy.

Merriam-Webster defines a genealogist as:

genealogist
noun ge·ne·al·o·gist \ˌjē-nē-ˈä-lə-jist also -ˈa-lə- also ˌje-nē-\

Definition of GENEALOGIST

:  a person who traces or studies the descent of persons or families
Vip Aleonar was not just someone who traced or studied family trees. He shared his work to anyone who wanted to know about their past. He introduced people with their family's past and he opened the eyes of many to the beauties and wonders of genealogy.

I'm sure all his ancestors in heaven have welcomed him with open arms. After all, he spent his entire life searching for them.

Vaya con Dios, my friend.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this moving and respectful tribute to my cousin. As chance would have it, he was writing to me while there in the LDS FHC with you (see below). I have much more correspondence with him from that time that reads as something of a notation on what he was thinking at the time if there's any interest here.

    From: PEARY JR. ALEONAR [mailto:vipaleonar@gmail.com]
    Sent: January 25, 2006 6:19 AM
    To: <**>
    Cc: <**>
    Subject: Re: US Aid on the Tigleys

    Noel man,

    Finally for the first time I went to the Lahug, Cebu City Mormon center and had my first look at some microfilms available just to establish familiarity with the material, certainly including the outlandish script they used.

    It's real tedious especially as the reel forward was busted and you have to wind it yourself and it's located overhead. But anyway. There was nothing on the first film except Mandaue City, Sogod, Boljoon towns. I found they've lumped data together as the first part were all Batangas and the middle part of Binondo, Manila.

    Some films did show the paper either wet or damaged or the ink blotted beyond readability. So I hope the Barili, Carcar, San Fernando, Naga and Cebu City ones I need would be good enough.

    However I found something out, as a learning experience. From Binondo, there was a sort of periodical report of baptisms with reference to "razas (race), sexos, hijos legitimos é ilegitimos" of the baptized individuals.

    The report was classified by raza, and there were four. Españoles, Mestizos españoles, Indios, Mestizos de Sangley (in that order, if there's any meaning to that). And for each race, were two subdivisions: de hijos legitimo matrimonio and de union legitimo é ilegitima.

    However from 1893, the union legitimo e ilegitimo was simplified to just "de union ilegitima" by 1893 onwards. I can't answer why "union legitimo" was used when it is the wrong gender because union as feminine should have been legitima?

    However, it is "ilegitima" (correct). Maybe on the next record it was already corrected to "union legitima" but I wasn't looking anymore.

    Maybe it's score one for Doc Lito's impatience with ignorant clerks. Although looking at the perfected script with the flourishes, I doubt the scribes were uneducated at all.

    On the other hand, for any small to medium-size town of 1800s (although Barili was one of the most prosperous towns in Cebu , beating the bigger Carcar even in agricultural production by 1875), I'd presume clerking for churches and civil offices, and especially the script artists, would be most-sought-after jobs with the competition for them the most intense for so few educated and trained indios of the time.

    Incidentally, the family lore about Pedro Aleonar, husband of Paula Tigley, was that he had one of the best script around, and may have written for some of the church books. He certainly was the secretario municipal of Carcar, that I found out in one document identifying him as such in 1893.

    Anyway back at the Mormon center. I'd already ordered the films I need but since the lady in charge told me they'd be busy Thu, Fr, Sat and Sun, I'll just return next week. In the meantime...

    In the meantime, I decided to try Barili tomorrow already. I hope I don't oversleep as I've been wont to do since this emailing thing. Wish me luck with the priest there.

    You know how we reverence our ancestors so I'm really excited, sort of like meeting your ancestors for the first time if by proxy. A desk-bound Indiana Jones.

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    Replies
    1. My condolences to your family. It was the least I could do to write this farewell to a very good man. Thank you for the comment.

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  2. Too bad, I never got to met him but I have been following his site for quite a while and eventually found the long lost ancestors I never thought I would find.

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  3. Thank you for remembering Tito Vip, we always try to meet at Naga City, Cebu, every fiesta Oct. 10. We suspected he was sick because we did not see him that year.

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