I found a website online that had some very interesting advice on how to do research if you are lucky enough to visit PR.
Hope the author doesn't mind the re-posting. The info might be slightly dated although the rules most haven't changed - I think her site is informative, generous, and just plain lovely. Here it is:
Link - http://www.hijadelmaryelsol.com/contenido.htm
La página de la Caridura, Miriam Rivera
After a five year absence from Puerto Rico, this past summer, I packed my bags; put my genealogy report in the suitcase; and it was Isla del Encanto here I come.
At this point, I told my children to guard this suitcase with their lives or . . . after all; they are included in the Family History report. I had contacted my Internet friends to meet in Puerto Rico. This way we could do our research together.
My first stop was at, my hometown parish, Parroquia del Apóstol Santiago de Fajardo. I took my kids with me and met with Felicia Bentiné, a friend from New York, in front of the Church.
The Secretary was not going to let us see the old records. Although they are available on microfilm at the Family History Centers, there is a death record book that was not filmed. My permit from the Bishop of Caguas never arrived because he was in Rome and to top it off the priest in Fajardo was on vacation. The Secretary told us that even with a letter from the Bishop the priest in Fajardo does not let anyone look at the books.
After talking to her for a while, she allowed us to look at the most recent book from 1880. Soon a priest, Padre Rafael Torres, approached us and asked, what were we looking for specifically? It turned out that he was interested in genealogy and had done some research of his own. The next thing you know we were on our way to look at the earlier books. At first, he appeared upset because the books had been misplaced and could not be found. He discussed the importance of the books and talked about the upcoming preservation project that was going to be done to restore these precious documents. He referred to us as researchers who see the true value of the history contained in these books. After a while we found what we had been looking for stored in what used to be the kitchen of the rectory. Each book had been placed into individual yellow envelopes and put aside in storage boxes. The condition of the books was even sadder than what I had envisioned when reading them on microfilm. One book felt like tissue paper. I left them alone and told the Priest that I would not risk damaging the books further since I could see them on microfilm. The particular books that we needed were nowhere to be found, but a white piece of paper made reference to them. In fact, it was included in a list of the death records that were held by the church at one time. A friend of mine had used these books about 20 years ago and it now appears that they have disappeared.
We were glad to learn that the church is currently in the process of having the books protected through a preservation process. The documents are stored in special boxes and have been assigned to a small air-conditioned closet to shelter them for now. A bit too late, but I was delighted to see that someone took the time to write a note on the envelope that read, “handle with care, this is our history.”
Alhough, I have to admit that I was more excited about touching the books then in finding someone in them. How many times do we get the opportunity to hold a book that is 200 years old and in it some of our ancestors are recorded?
After Father Torres settled us comfortably in an air-conditioned room, we chatted about the different genealogical societies. He, then, excused himself because he had to go to Court to support some of his friends from Vieques. Two weeks later, I saw Father Torres on TV. He had been arrested defending his beliefs and that of his comrades on the Vieques issue. That was how he spent his homecoming after returning from six years in Africa as a missionary.
Originally known as La Cárcel de Puerta de Tierra” (Puerta de Tierra´s Jail), it was recouped and restorated by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña and is now the Archivo Histórico y la Biblioteca General de Puerto Rico. La Cárcel de Puerta de Tierra, was the last monumental project built under the Spanish government in Puerto Rico. The original plans were drawn in 1876 as a project to build the San Juan Civil Hospital. It never served its purpose and in 1881 the west wing became a public jail and the east wing became an art and trade school. Once finalized in 1887, it became totally a provincial jail. (Thought that it would be good idea to give this information here.)
Archive rules. Yes, there are a lot of them. Remember that the Archive is the institution that collects, shelters, reserves and disseminates Puerto Rico’s documented historical heritage. That is the main reason these rules are so necessary. If we want to find what we need, then we have to take a deep breath and go along with them. First, let's establish that you are working in small area no bigger than 20sf. x 20sf, and the place gets full. The building is in the process of restoration and just a small area is used to bring the boxes from another building to this one twice a week. The air-conditioning is loud and it can get cold by Puerto Rico standards. (So, I suggest that you bring a sweater.)
Rules to be followed:
1. Book bags, backpacks, purses, binders, books or papers must be stored in a locker that is provided at the entrance by the door. They prefer that you make your notations on index cards, but if you use a notebook it will be checked when you exit.
2. You can bring your laptop. There is a special table for them but it is required that you obtain prior authorization. They do not allow portable photocopy machines or scanners. If you want copies of a record you have to fill out a form to request them. You are not going to get them the same day. They will mail them to you or let you know when they are available. If I am not mistaken, Thursday is the day that they use to make copies.
3. No smoking or drinking. (As a means of fire prevention in the Archive. Besides, there are enough molds in the building and in the books for you to have an allergy attack.)
4. No children under 12 years of age should remain in the room. (Oops, I broke this one once. I think that it is important for our kids to know where we go and how to research for later when it becomes their turn. Besides, my kids are well behaved. My daughter copied about 10 out of 30 pages from a book for me while I was researching something else.)
5. Absolute silence. If you are not researching, you are not allowed to stay in the room.
6. Only pencils are allowed. No pens, no compasses. You cannot trace the documents or fold the papers. There are special paper markers for this purpose on each table. The books should lie flat and the empty boxes cannot be placed on the floor.
7. You are not allowed to take documents out of the Archive, or take them from one table to another.
8. You can only check one box at a time.
9. The documents are requested in writing, using their form. If you are requesting more than two boxes per day you need to have prior authorization.
10. You need to request your boxes between 8:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and in the afternoon from 1:05 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
11. Around noon, they ring a bell to let you know that you are to stop what you are doing. Go have lunch and come back at 1:05 p.m. You cannot work during lunch.
12. The documents will remain on reserve for a period of 5 days. Another person cannot research these documents during this period. In special circumstances, if you need the boxes for a longer period of time you can reserve them for 5 more days, if no one else has requested them. And so on up to 15 days.
13. The researcher is responsible for the documents that he or she is using. You have to maintain their order.
14. Respect the restricted areas. You are not allowed in the offices, depository, or workshops unless you are accompanied by one of the Archive’s employees. If you have a valid reason to be in any of these areas, you must have previous authorization by the Archives director or a supervisor.
15. If you damage something you will be subject to the sanctions established by Codigo Penal and Law number 5, December 8, 1955, Ley de Administración de Documentos Públicos de Puerto Rico.”
16. The Archive reserves the right to determine which books or boxes cannot be researched, due to security, physical conditions, etc., of these books.
My thoughts after visiting the archives.
Have a plan. As soon as you arrive at the Archives for the first time, learn what is available for your town or the topic that you are researching. To be on the safe side, order your records on Monday. Tuesday mornings they take the old boxes back and bring in the new order by noon. You can see these boxes on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. Use your time wisely. There is no time to socialize. Be sure that you tell them not to send back your box if you are not done. The archivist puts a note on the box. Still, one of my important boxes went back. I could not research what I wanted unless I ordered the same box again for viewing during the next week. There is another drop off and pick up on Thursday. The Archive has a sign up sheet where you write your name, the “Fondo” and the number of the boxes that you need. Mistakes are made and you could be sitting there waiting for a box and it might not arrive because the person just forgot, could not find it, or simply could not read your numbers.
Ah, and there are the Protocolos Notariales. If you find one, do not get over excited. Write down the folio number, page, book, box, etc. and reserve the box. Then, go and see a lawyer. Only with a lawyer’s letter, requesting a simple copy of the document with the page number, purpose, etc., can you have a copy of it. The copy will be mailed to you. My letter cost $20.00. You can always write everything down or take a tape recorder and starts talking slowly and clearly. Describe everything that you see on the paper. This might help you remember what the page looked like when you get home.
I delayed my return and changed my tickets, just to see an important box that followed the one where I found my great grandfather’s will. After an hour drive to the Archive on Tuesday, I found out that the director needed the truck to go to Ponce that day and so the Archive’s employee had gone to pick up the newly requested boxes on Monday. I could not believe it! I needed a drink and mabí was in order. So, we follow the rules, but . . .
Still it is a good experience and every paper is an important one. In a box with municipal papers, I found out that my great grandfather, Miguel Triviño, requested a passport to go to Naguabo for 4 days. Some others documents, gave a description of what the horses owned by our ancestors looked like and how did they trod. How many acres of land were planted with sweet potatoes and how much money was made from them during that year. It even told how many coconuts the palm trees had at certain moments. Another record told me that my great grandmother was a seamstress, another was from Luquillo, and that my Maldonado line was from Manatí.
This means, that your town might not have filmed church records but with a little bit of time and patience you might find a paper that will answer your questions.
And, if you are planning a trip to Puerto Rico, just to research, arrive during the weekend. Monday is a good day to write down what information is available on your town and what to order. Remember that during a week you are allowed to look at four boxes and if you are lucky six. Take this under consideration when you buy your ticket. Have a back up plan, like sight seeing, visiting the Instituto de Cultura's bookstore. Did I mention going to the beach?
Arrive with a smile. Some of the people in the room are the authors of the books that you probably are using at home as a reference on the history of Puerto Rico. They do not mind signing your book, but let them work. Their next book might have our ancestors in it.