The US Lagos-Besteiro Family:

A History-1

1909 to 1912 (with some flashbacks): Cuba and Spain

By Emilito
Rev. 2005-07-28

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1909: the start. Every family has many branches to its tree, and some people are fortunate to have members of all or many of these branches located in their home country, region or even town.  When Emilito has family reunions in the US, however, there is only one branch involved - that of his mother, a branch that actually began in Cuba 3 years prior to its 1912 entry to the US.  The ancestors known to Emilito’s generation as Maina and Papa – that generation's grandparents Josefa (Pepita) BESTEIRO GRACIANI and Antonio LAGOS TOLEDO – were married in Havana, Cuba on 20 December, 1909.  The rest – read on – is history.
Antonio Lagos & Pepita Besteiro Wedding 1900
Antonio Lagos and Pepita Besteiro at their wedding: Havana, 1909

Emilito is convinced that – if people would only acknowledge their family’s peculiarities,  all family histories are odd.  The US Lagos history, in fact, began with an oddity: Maina’s mother was forbidden by her husband to attend her daughter’s wedding.  Why? you might ask. . . Well, for a starter, Maina’s mother’s husband was Maina’s husband’s brother.

Be patient, Emilito will explain.

Back to 1899.  Despite noting that this all began in 1909, Emilito urges you to travel back with him to the turn of the 20th century.  Pepita’s father, Ricardo Julián BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ, a successful businessman in Madrid, died suddenly of a heart attack while at work in 1899 at the age of 45.  Pepita was 14 years old at the time.  Antonio’s parental tragedies occurred not long after.  In 1900 his father Francisco LAGOS MUÑOZ died of tuberculosis at 49 and his mother Carmen TOLEDO RUIZ died in 1903 at 45, also of tuberculosis.  At 22 Antonio had no living parents.  At least three siblings had already died young (family lore has it of tuberculosis although documentation has not yet been found), and two more were to die young in 1906 and 1910, definitely of tuberculosis.

 Ricardo Besteiro Fernandez

Ricardo BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ - died 1899

Francisco Lagos Munoz          Carmen Toledo Ruiz
Francisco LAGOS MUÑOZ - died 1900             Carmen TOLEDO RUIZ - died 1903

Mercedes Lagos Toledo           Francisco Lagos Toledo

Mercedes LAGOS TOLEDO - died 1906          Francisco LAGOS TOLEDO - died 1910

On to 1903. So, when they met in 1903, Antonio (22) and Pepita (18) had already had their share of family loss. 

The following is a "playlet" written by their daughter Carmen for Maina's 82nd birthday in 1966.

Narrator -
A new era began in Maina's life in April of 1903.  At a party she met a young medical student named Antonio Lagos Toledo.  He was very impressed by her charm and by the way she played the piano.  A few days later he visited her accompanied by his older brother.

(A bell rings.  The maid goes to the door.)

Maid -
Whom shall I announce?

(Papa gives her his card.)

Maid -
Sit down.  (Exit) (Offstage) - Don Antonio Lagos Toledo and his brother.

Maina (enters and the men stand) -
Buenas tardes, Antonio.

Papa -
Buenas tardes, Pepita.  Tengo gusto en presentarle a mi hermano Manuel.

Manuel (bowing) -
Encantado, señorita.

(Just as they all sit, Victorina comes in.)

Victorina -
Buenas tardes.  (The men jump up.)

Maina -
Mamá, permíteme presentar a Don Antonio Lagos Toledo.

Papa (bows politely) -
Encantado, señora, mi hermano Manuel.

Manuel (bows deeply, kissing her hand) -
Servidor de Vd.

(They sit, talking in pantomime.)

Maid (entering) -
La merienda está servida.  (All exit.)

Narrator -
This was the beginning of trouble.  Great Uncle Manuel fell in love with Maina's mother and married her.  Then he didn't think it proper for his brother to court the daughter of his wife, so he forbade their courtship.  True love won out, however.  On December 20, 1909 they were married in Havana, Cuba.

Emilito's cousin Chippie wrote in the Lagos family 1992 reunion book that "anyone that was at the dinner when this play was presented remembers the wonderful acting of [our cousin] Buzzy (playing Uncle Manuel) passionately attacking [our cousin] Geraldine (playing Maina's mother) in a perhaps exaggerated adlib."

While we don’t know any of the details – other than that Pepita would always insist that she and Antonio met first and thus were entitled to date – on 4 January 1904 26-year old Manuel married 41-year old [wealthy widow] Victorina in Madrid.  At this point, as the play indicates, although Antonio and Pepita continued dating, Manuel tried to break them up.

 Manuel Lagos and Victorina Graciani Wedding 1904
Manuel Lagos and Victorina Graciani's Wedding: Madrid, 1904

We move to 1905-1907.  As a result of the loss of their colonies – Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines – in the Spanish-American war of 1898, Spain was suffering both economically and psychologically and Spaniards were deserting the fatherland in droves.  Many headed for Spanish-speaking countries like Argentina and Cuba, while smaller numbers moved to the US.  The movements of the Lagos-Besteiro clan are not completely understood, but some are documented and will be briefly summarized here.

It is believed that the first family members to visit the New World, on a reconnaissance mission, were Manuel Lagos and Victorina’s eldest son Domingo BESTEIRO GRACIANI.  Documentation has been found, through meticulous research by Emilito, that Manuel Lagos was indeed in both the USA and Cuba in 1905.  He arrived in New York in January – found in Ellis Island Records – and in Havana in April – found in tiny print in microfilm copies of the daily Havana newspaper Diario de la Marina.  In a eulogy to Domingo on his death in Havana in 1958 it was mentioned that he arrived in Cuba in 1905, but no other documentation has been found.  In Antonio’s Ellis Island documentation on his immigration to the US in 1912 it was noted that he too had visited New York in 1905, but Emilito found no other documentation of this earlier US visit. There is a record of Antonio being cleared to leave Spain in June of 1905 and we know, based on a letter from his 14-year old sister Mercedes (who would die later that year), that he was in Cuba in 1906.

Apparently the scouting expedition was successful and Diario de la Marina records the landing of a “Victoria Gración y 3 hijos” in April 1907.  Certainly this was Victorina Graciani and her children Pepita, Jorge and Isabel.  Domingo was already there and Victorina's other son Emilio never left Spain (Jorge would later return to Spain to marry a childhood sweetheart).  Emilito would like to note that his two given names – Emil George AKA Emilio Jorge greatly resemble those of his grandmother’s younger brothers.

Announcement of Victorina Arriva in Havana - in Diario de la Marina
From the afternoon edition of the 3 April  1907 Diario de la Marina, the arrival of Victorina Graciani and 3 children

Aside: Emilito recently read a book about Cuba which noted that, in 1906 (an era in which Cuba was for all intents and purposes a US colony), the Cuban government appropriated $1 million to subsidize immigration of Europeans to Cuba.  One of the purposes was to "whiten" Cuba so that it wouldn't end up, like Haiti, controlled by blacks.

Emilito passes this on as he read it, without checking the primary sources.

Victorina and 3 children in Havana in 1907
Victorina with Pepita, Jorge and Isabel
In Havana, most likely in April 1907
A note on the back (possibly to her mother) reads:
“This is the latest group of us that have come to this country
where you don’t see anything but gold and you sweat a lot;
today the heat is really oppressive."

Let’s visit 1908.  OK, Emilito realizes that this article was to begin at the beginning and that the beginning was supposed to be 1909.  But even pre-histories have a way of dragging out, and this history – "vivíparo" as it is (look it up) (or just check here) - seems to be dragging on even more than Emilito expected.

The plot began to thicken as 46-year old Victorina became pregnant with Manuel Lagos’s child early in 1908.  Victorina’s mother Joaquina LORENZO BLAS decided that enough was enough and traveled from Spain to Cuba to get her daughter the hell home and have her baby in Spain.  Victorina, however, would have none of this and sent her mother back home instead.  But Joaquina didn't go home alone, rather she took her granddaughter Pepita back with her and yes, dear reader and possibly relative, for a moment it might have appeared that there would be no Maina (if this story were part of the “Back to the Future” film series, Maina and Papa’s pictures - and Emilito's - would have started to fade as Pepita boarded the ship to Spain with her grandmother, leaving her fiancé behind in Havana).  Around 2000, Emilito found a picture of his Maina in the possession of his Aunt Jo Jo.  It was taken in Madrid and dated 28 August 1908 with the inscription “Mamá, para que vea estoy más gruesa y mande por mí.  (Mother, so you see I'm getting heavier [her mother had thought her sickly when she left]; send for me.)”  (And, one presumes, she also meant to say, “Hey - my man is there!”)

Josefa Besteiro postcard home in August 1908
Pepita's postcard home (from Madrid to Havana), 28 August 1908

Finally - back to 1909.  Her pleas must have worked as Emilito found, in Diario de la Marina, that Josefa Besteiro was a passenger on the Reina María Cristina, which arrived in Havana on June 1, 1909.  By this time Manuel and Victorina’s son Paquito LAGOS GRACIANI had been born (13 October 1908). 

 Josefa Besteiro's 1909 arrival in Diario de la Marina

The 3 June 1909 morning edition of Diario de la Marina lists Josefa Besteiro as one of the arrivals on 1 June

The next item on the family history should have – finally – been the 20 December marriage of Antonio and Pepita, but Emilito found – again through spending hours in the Library of Congress (with the help of his lovely wife Heide) – a notice of death for Victorina and Manuel’s son Paquito in Diario de la Marina. He died on 12 December 1909, a day short of 14 months old; the cause of death was not recorded.

Announcement of Francisco Lagos Graciani in Diario
21 December 1909 Diario de la Marina announcing Paco Lagos'  12 December death.
The announcement has him 3 months old at his death; he actually was 13 months old.

Paquito Lagos Graciani in 1909
Paquito LAGOS GRACIANI in 1909

With Paquito’s death so recent, Antonio and Pepita’s December 20 wedding would have been bittersweet to begin with.  Manuel’s disapproval of his brother’s marriage and the bride’s mother’s nonappearance had to dampen the event even more.

There is a family story that Victorina’s first cousin Joaquina LORENZO GÓMEZ, living or at least visiting at the time with Manuel and Victorina, arrived home the evening of the wedding and was greeted by Manuel with the demanding question “Where have you been?” to which she responded “Where your wife should have been if she only had the courage!”

Emilito stops to honor nature: he creates trees.  The proof readers of this history have confessed to confusion at this point.  For the benefit of the confused, two brief  family trees, planted in the mid 19th century and examined in mid-1910, follow.

Pepita’s parents’ tree as of mid-1910:

1-Victorina GRACIANI LORENZO (23 Mar 1862-      )
married Ricardo Julián BESTEIRO FERNÁNDEZ (7 Feb 1854-25 Jun 1899)
    2-Domingo (Uncle Dominic) BESTEIRO GRACIANI (9 Jan 1883-      )
    2-Josefa (Pepita) [Maina] BESTEIRO GRACIANI (6 Aug 1884-      )
    married Antonio [Papa] LAGOS TOLEDO (25 Sep 1880-      )
    2-Emilio BESTEIRO GRACIANI (29 Jun 1886-      )
    2-Jorge BESTEIRO GRACCIANI (18 Jun 1889-      )
    2-Isabel  (Aunt Betty) BESTEIRO GRACCIANI (4 Jun 1896-      )
married Manuel LAGOS TOLEDO (3 Jan 1878-      )
    2-Francisco (Paquito) LAGOS GRACIANI (13 Oct 1908-12 Dec 1909)
Antonio’s parents’ tree as of mid-1910:

1-Francisco (Frasquito) LAGOS MUÑOZ (12 Feb 1851-19 Feb 1900)
married Mª del Carmen (Mariquita) TOLEDO RUIZ (13 Oct 1857-14 Aug 1903)
    2-Mª de los Dolores LAGOS TOLEDO (9 Oct 1875-before 1895)
    2-Manuel LAGOS TOLEDO (3 Jan 1878-      )
    married Victorina GRACIANI LORENZO (23 Mar 1862-      )
        3-Francisco (Paquito) LAGOS GRACIANI (13 Oct 1908-12 Dec 1909)
    2-Antonio [Papa] LAGOS TOLEDO (25 Sep 1880-      )
    married Josefa (Pepita) [Maina] BESTEIRO GRACIANI (6 Aug 1884-      )
    2-José LAGOS TOLEDO (28 Sep 1882-bef 30 Sep 1886)
    2-Francisco (Paquito) LAGOS TOLEDO (7 Nov 1884-18 Jul 1910)
    2-Teresa LAGOS TOLEDO (19 Jan 1890-before 1895)
    2-Mª de las Mercedes LAGOS TOLEDO (8 Jan 1892-15 Sep 1906)
    2-Other unknown siblings LAGOS TOLEDO (all of whom died before 1900)

We move forward: 1910-1912.  By the end of 1910 the LAGOS-BESTEIRO family has begun and its first issue is Emilito’s mother, Carmen (on her birth certificate she is “María del Carmen Victorina Marcelina Lagos y Besteiro” – Carmen and Victorina for her grandmothers, Marcelina for the saint of the day), born on 5 October 1910 and baptized on 11 March 1911, both in Havana.  Sometime after this date, the new family packed up and moved back to Spain, where Antonio was going back to medical school, which he had been forced to leave due to his parents' premature deaths.

Or so the story goes.  The family story, not backed by any documentation, is that Antonio went to medical school in Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain in 1911.  Unfortunately, the weather there did not agree with Pepita and therefore they eventually left.  At any rate, the only indication we have that Antonio ever went to medical school is a photograph of him with three other medical students standing over a cadaver.  Antonio is the one with a cigar in his mouth.

Antonio & cadaver
Medical students with cadaver (year unknown).  Antonio Lagos is the one smoking a cigar

Whatever, the next documented event was the birth, in Valdemoro, on the outskirts of Madrid, of the first son of Maina and Papa (we can safely call them that because now, as in the “Back to the Future” paradigm, with these births we can be more and more sure of their future existence as our grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond).

Emilito's Uncle Manny, Manuel Francisco Ricardo Napoleón LAGOS BESTEIRO was born on 15 August 1911.

Why was Manolo born in Valdemoro?  We have only an intriguing entry on his birth certificate to give us a bit of a clue.  The person that appeared in front of the judge to certify the birth (a procedure that is always documented on Spanish birth certificates) was Joaquín GRACIANI LORENZO, "native of Madrid. . . a merchant by occupation, being accidentally residing in this municipality." Well, Joaquín Graciani was Victorina's older brother (and therefore Manolo's granduncle), but what he was doing "accidentally residing" in Valdemoro (as far as anyone knew, he lived in Madrid all his life), will remain forever a mystery.

For whatever reason, Maina and Papa decided it was time to return to Cuba and around December 1911 / January 1912 (we know from photographs they were in Havana on 20 January 1912) they headed back to Cuba with Carmita and Manolo.

While on board ship, Manolo became very sick and Pepita was told by the ship's doctor that he was unlikely to survive the journey. Somehow, she found a wet-nurse (nodriza) on board the ship, and this wet-nurse suckled Manolo back to health, to the point where it was noted that he had a ruddy complexion by the time the boat arrived in Cuba.

Manny Lagos and wetnurse 1912
Manolo Lagos and wet-nurse found on board ship. Photo taken 20 January 1912 in Havana

Antonio didn't let the grass grow under his feet, however, and while Pepita, now pregnant for the third time, remained in Havana with Carmen and Manuel, he took off for New York; Ellis Island records show that he arrived on February 13, 1912.

Victorina Marcelina (Emilito's Aunt Vicky) was born on 9 August 1912 in Havana.  The address where Vicky was born was given as San Nicolás, 1.  Given the numbering direction of San Nicolás, this house would have been the nearest to the water (the Straits of Florida).  Currently there is no number 1 on San Nicolás, and it is likely that this is due to the construction, about that time, of the Malecón, the famous Havana street that runs along the water for several miles.  At any rate, the picture below is of the current location of the intersection of San Nicolás and the Malecón, most likely right about where Victorina was born.  Don't let the early 50s Chevy fool you: this picture was taken in 1999.

Malecón from San Nicolás
Near Vicky's birthplace in Havana: the Malecón from San Nicolas, 1999

Antonio was still in New York looking for a job and he urged Pepita to delay her departure from Havana until he found one.  Pepita's mother Victorina, however, offered her two pieces of advice: "don't leave a man alone that long," and "as long as you don't show up with the kids he won't find a job."  So, with Victorina 5 weeks old, Manuel barely 1 and Carmen still not 2, Pepita and the kids left on their immigration voyage to New York.  They sailed on the S.S. Saratoga on September 15 and arrived in New York on the 18th. They were listed as joining Antonio Lagos at 290 West 12th Street.

Incidentally, while trying to find a picture of the S.S. Saratoga, Emilito found out that it was constructed in 1907 to be used as a passenger ship by the Ward Line.  After use as an Army troop transport during the first nine months of 1917, it was purchased by the Navy and converted to a hospital ship.  The Saratoga was recommissioned as the USS Mercy on 24 January 1918.  The photo below is of the ship as a hospital ship.

SS Saratoga as Mercy, a Hospital Ship
The former S.S. Saratoga in a later incarnation as the hospital ship USS Mercy
This is the ship on which Maina and her 3 eldest children first immigrated to the US

Ellis Island September 1912 partial manifest
A partial manifest showing, on lines 1 to 4, the arrival of Josefa, Carmen, Manuel and Victorina Lagos at Ellis Island
Further lines are shown because, in one of those ironies of which life is full, Antonio E Rebollo, line 11, was the father of Emilito's first roommate at MIT.

The New York era had begun.

US Lagos History 1 - 1909-1912: Cuba and Spain
US Lagos History 2 - 1912-1921: The New York Years
US Lagos History 3 - 1921-1934: Paterson - the single years
US Lagos History 4 - 1934-1947: Paterson - the Lagos kids get married
US Lagos History 5 - 1937-1961: Paterson - grandchildren
US Lagos History 6 - The Lagos Diaspora

Chapter END

Cast of Characters (they were discussed above, but are listed for reference)

Antonio LAGOS TOLEDO - AKA Papa - the grandfather of Emilito's generation
Josefa (Pepita) BESTEIRO GRACIANI - AKA Maina - the grandmother of Emilito's generation
Victorina GRACIANI LORENZO - Maina's mother.  Incidentally, Victorina was "the first Maina," a name given her by her eldest granddaughter Carmen, who mispronounced "Mama Victorina."
Manuel LAGOS TOLEDO - Papa's brother and Victorina's husband
Paquito LAGOS GRACIANI -  son of Manuel and Victorina; had he not died young, would have united into a new branch two different yet very important branches of Emilito's family
Joaquín GRACIANI LORENZO - brother of Victorina in whose house Manuel LAGOS BESTEIRO was born.
Domingo BESTEIRO GRACIANI - AKA Uncle Dominic - Maina's brother
Carmita LAGOS BESTEIRO - Emilito's mother and Maina and Papa's first child
Manuel (Manolo) LAGOS BESTEIRO - Maina and Papa's second child
Victorina LAGOS BESTEIRO - Maina and Papa's third child
Joaquina LORENZO BLAS - Victorina's mother
Joaquina LORENZO GÓMEZ - Victorina's first cousin who plays a role in the family history both in Cuba and NY

Emilito - Emil SIGNES, son of Carmen LAGOS BESTEIRO.  Emilio SIGNES LAGOS in his Spanish incarnation, Emilito to his mother and still to all his Cuban relatives (and Emiliet to his Valencian father)

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