I’m back from my dream vacation in Peru. Ever since I was in the 3rd grade, I’ve yearned to travel there thanks to a National Geographic for Kids article. Finally got the opportunity and even though it was a bucket list item and not for genealogical purposes, I’m sure you’re not surprised that genealogy related happenings occurred.
Our guide, Washington, related on our first meeting that he was 50% Incan and 50% Spanish, known as a mestizo. He introduced us to one of sixty remaining shaman who lives in the Andes and speaks Quechuan. Thankfully, Washington was an awesome translator as the shaman doesn’t speak Spanish or English. Washington learned Quechuan as his mother’s side has passed it down for centuries. The shaman had his DNA done and reported he was between 96-98% Incan, depending on the test. Nice reminder that the test pool determines the percentage, even in the most remote areas of the planet!
One of our stops was to visit a cemetery in Cuzco, pictured above. Families may “rent” a burial site and if the rent is not renewed or the space purchased, the body is cremated and interred in another portion of the cemetery. Families visit the cemetery often and remember the dead by displaying memorabilia from their life in a niche in front of the coffin that had been plastered into the assigned space. Items for purchase – such as flowers, vases, alcohol in tiny bottles, and career related articles – a small truck for a former truck driver, for example – may be purchased by vendors lined up outside the grounds.
Remembering ancestors is so important to this culture that high school honor students are selected to intern in the cemetery to serve as helpers to families who have come to visit their loved ones. As young people, they climb the ladders to change the flowers, tidy the memorial and clean the glass that keeps out the dirt. Washington translated for us a conversation with one of the students who was hoping to earn a spot in a technical college to study tourism. He demonstrated how he takes care of a niche.
As a genealogist, I’ve spent a lot of time in cemeteries so I guess it was not surprising that I recognized Washington’s surname shortly after arriving. I asked him if he was related and he said he didn’t know. I then asked if his surname was considered common. He said it was not. I recommended he ask his mother about the relationship as he had mentioned, as the family matriarch, she knew the family’s history. Made me laugh when he said he often wondered about the relationship; just like clients in my area who never think to ask until it’s too late.
The Inca’s probably had a written language, however, most records were destroyed by the Spanish. If you’re looking to discover your lineage, the oldest records will not be found in Peru. Just like the oldest records from Florida and Cuba, where I traveled last summer, the earliest documents were returned to Spain.