A University of Miami project helps Cuban-Americans trace their family histories

By Madeline Baró Diaz,
Miami Bureau. Sun-sentinel.com

After Martha Ibañez Zervoudakis left Cuba as a child, her grandmother's stories connected her to an island she remembered mostly through photographs.

"Whenever my grandmother would start talking about family, I would just sit there and be hypnotized because I just loved it," said Zervoudakis, 47, a mother of four who lives in Southwest Ranches. Over the years, that interest turned into a genealogy hobby that led her to document about 2,400 relatives, with one family branch going back to the city of St. Augustine in the 17th century.

Like Zervoudakis, other Cuban-Americans have gotten hooked on tracing their family histories. Now, a year-old program at the University of Miami wants to add to their ranks. The Cuban Family History and Genealogy Project aims to turn more Cuban-Americans into amateur genealogists, giving them tips and tools for tracing their family histories.

"What happens with every migration is you bring with you your music, your food, and you pass it on to future generations ... but we lose our family history," said Jorge Piñón, a senior research associate at UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies who runs the project.

The goal of the project is to preserve the history of the Cuban-American community and the various ethnic groups that called Cuba home over the centuries, beginning with the Guanahatabey, Ciboney and Taino indigenous settlers. Christopher Columbus' discovery of Cuba in 1492 ushered in Spanish colonization and the decimation of the indigenous inhabitants by war, slavery and disease less than a century later.

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