The birth certificate names of the first generation of Prats in Maryland said Benito H. E. Prats Respall and for his wife, Mariana G. Martínez Rodríguez. The double last names, in the Spanish naming tradition, gives us the four family names that we need to explore: Prats, Respall, Martínez and Rodríguez. In this article, let’s find out a bit about the Respalls.
- This article includes the story of a stomach ache that turned into a surprise birth, and the story of a murder, so don’t quit reading it too early.
|Eduvigis Respall Pereira de Prats|
Benito’s mother was named Eduvigis Respall Pereira. She was something special! Take a look in this article about her: Eduvigis Respall, A Well-Connected Businesswoman. But beyond Eduvigis, here is what I know about the Respall root of the family.
Respall is a Catalan last name, like Prats. It comes from Catalonia, a land with its own distinct language and culture and for many centuries a region of Spain and France on the Mediterranean Sea split by the Pyrenees Mountains. There are a lot of Respalls in Catalonia. Catalonians speak Catalan, but Catalonians in Spanish Catalonia also speak Spanish and those in French Catalonia also speak French. “Respall” in Catalan means “brush,” as in what you would use to brush your hair or scrub something clean. It’s nothing like its Spanish equivalent, sepillo.
|Casimirio Respall Rodriguez and|
Rufina Peraira Ortega
|Casimirio Respall Rodriguez|
|Rufina Pereira in 1950.|
|Rufina Pereira in 1955|
|Typical casitas typically for rent|
Late one evening a tenant of Rufina’s knocked on her door. He was distraught and did not know who to turn to. His teen-age daughter was in great distress with abdominal pain and no matter what medicine they gave her she was not getting better. Rufina did not have to think twice, the symptoms that were described were like those her grandson took care of every day. She told the man to go home and she would send her grandson the doctor to his house. She phoned Benito at home and he was on his way.
It was very clear to Dr. Prats what the matter was when he arrived and there was no time to get his patient to the hospital. He asked for hot water and towels and within minutes delivered a healthy baby boy. How the girl hid the pregnancy in such a tiny house was beyond comprehension, he said, adding that denial on the part of the parents who would never dare to think that her daughter could be pregnant was probably a factor.
|Dr. Porfirio Respall Pereira|
From his 1926 University of Mexico Diploma
Later in life and now widowed, when Rufina found out that her son Porfirio had had a child out of wedlock, she sent for the infant and raised her herself. That child was Bertha Respall Adan, known to all as Rufina’s adopted daughter, Bertha Respall Pereira. Bertha, growing up and throughout her life was a warm and pleasant person, quick with a smile and very intelligent. She kept a little book with Respall and Prats family history including names, relationships and dates. I wish I could get my hands on that book.
Bertha, Benito and Olga grew up together and were very close. Their home at number 4 Avellaneda Street was just a few houses down from Rufina’s and they were in each other’s houses constantly. Benito and Olga call Bertha their prima hermana, their cousin-sister, and always considered themselves a unit. Bertha devoted herself to Rufina and never married. She took care of Rufina in her old age and death. Rufina was 95 years old when she died in 1969. Olga and her husband José Luis Martínez and her two daughters moved in with Bertha to Avellaneda 53 shortly thereafter. Bertha died in 2010 at 91 years of age. She had been born in 1919.
Porfirio Respall, Eduvigis’ brother, was an interesting relative. He was a surgeon, and pioneered a number of surgery techniques in the 1920s. He studied and lived in Mexico for a number of years, Surgeon General to the Mexican Army and then returned to Cuba. He married an American from Philadelphia named Luisa Welloth (they had no children) and continued his profession. Porfirio moved to the town of Victoria de las Tunas in Oriente province (today the city of Las Tunas in the new Las Tunas province) about 80 miles east of Camaguey and here is where the story gets interesting.
|Guarina Ice Cream Vendor|
But Dr. Respall quickly ran afoul of the local Department of Health, whose politically appointed director also owned a dairy farm and did not appreciate the competition. Porfirio’s milk was often declared unfit for consumption and ordered destroyed, even though Porfirio was scrupulous in making sure his milk was pure and properly handled. He was an educated man, after all, and not only understood the regulations, but as a doctor also knew all about pathogens and how to prevent them from contaminating his milk. He was being punished for unwittingly muscling in on the director’s milk monopoly without paying proper monetary respect.
|Contemporary Las Tunas street scene|
Dr. Respall may have been shot right here
To the dismay of his family in Camaguey, but to the surprise of no one in Las Tunas, the firearm discharge was ruled accidental and the murderer was never prosecuted. Rufina went to Las Tunas to retrieve her son’s body for burial in Camaguey, Porfirio’s wife packed up and returned to Philadelphia, and that was the end of that story. (Except that the probate of Porfirio's estate does not mention his wife Luisa. Could they have divorced and just prior to his death and she was already out of the country?)
|Dr. Raul Respall Hidalgo|
Did José Respall come to Cuba from Spain with Casimirio or did Casimirio send for him when he got established? Or was it the other way around? One of José’s photos (below) shows him in what could be a military uniform. Maybe he served the Spanish army in Cuba and stayed.
Taken in 1924 at 83 years old
Finally, we have photgraphs of Rufina’s nieces Gertrudis and Elfidia Pereira and we can step back a generation from Rufina with a photo of her mother Cristina Ortega (generation minus 2), but no further. And as to Casimirio’s mother and other brothers or sisters, if any, we have nothing. Still, sad as it is, we can count a cold-blooded murder victim in our family tree.
|Bottom row: Rufina Pereira, Pablo Respall and his wife Aurora Hidalgo|
Top row: Eduvigis Respall, Benito Prats, Olga Prats and José Prats
|Gertrudis Pereira Muñoz|
|Gertrudis Pereira Muñoz|