TikTok has become a happy place and a destressing tool for a whole lot of us in this pandemic. Mona Veluz-Magno admits she started lurking on the platform back in 2020, and primarily to consume comedic content.
In July this year, the genealogist and history nut felt the lockdowns and Covid restrictions has started to take a toll on her mental health. She felt an overwhelming sadness as she found herself knee-deep in work. Looking for a creative outlet, she thought of producing content for TikTok, the wildly popular short-form video-sharing app.
But being a mother with three grownup kids, she had her reservations. “I didn’t want to dub. I was so afraid of the cringe element eh,” Mona tells ANCX. She can dance, yes—she was once a member of the Bayanihan Dance Company—but she didn’t want to join the bandwagon doing the Booty Work challenge. “My children will disown me!”
So she thought of zeroing on topics she’s good at—which are genealogy and history. “I can talk about that [on TikTok] pero siguro tatlong tao lang makikinig sa akin,” she thought to herself. But she tried it anyway. “It was really more of a mental health exercise than anything else.”
On TikTok, Mona goes by the name Mighty Magulang, which is also the name of her blog. [She named it as such as because "empowered parenting has always been important to me, especially with my eldest son having a disability."] Mona started with “Today in History” around July. It was a piece of cake. She had created similar content for the social media accounts of the Philippine Genealogical Society, of which she is a member. She would basically just recycle and repackage the information she already has to make it fit the new platform. She could post content whenever she pleases.
But when Mona’s father died last August, that was when she felt she needed to do something that would take her mind off the sorrow she was deep in. “I thought instead na ma-sad ako sa gabi, iyak ako nang iyak, I had to do something else,” she recalls. That’s when she started to produce TikTok content on a more regular basis.
The history aficionado admits she never expected her posts about Philippine history, national heroes, politics, and family lineages to blow up. Now her bespectacled image against a library of books is a familiar sight on TikTok. Her posts over the past four months have already amassed over 3 million likes, and Mighty Magulang has now over 375,000 subscribers.
So far, the content that’s garnered the most views was her post about the legendary Laperal family (2.1M), a possible offshoot of a viral post by camouflage artist @goldieabes who had a hair-raising experience while shooting in front of the famed Laperal White House in Baguio City.
Her posts about the Martial Law (1.6M), the assassination of Antonio Luna (1.5M), and Rizal’s greatest love, Leonor Rivera (1.3M), also got more than a million views each. She also had a piece about the lineages of notable politicians running for a national position like Chel Diokno, Bong Bong Marcos, and Leni Robredo.
“I am not a typical TikToker, kasi I think the average age of people on TikTok is 20-something. My age is far from that,” Mona says, smiling. “Siguro because I'm different, because my content is unique, a lot of people appreciate it. People have come to accept that TikTok is there not just for dancing or singing or dubbing. It’s also for people who want to consume other types of information.”
Who is Mighty Magulang
Mona Veluz-Magno is one of a few genealogists in the country. The reason she has loads of stock knowledge on history and family trees of important people is because she’s been practicing the profession since the early 2000s.
“It started out as a vague interest in history,” she admits. “When I started doing genealogy research, history came alive for me na parang I appreciate history more. I began to remember dates, places, and names more because I put in the context of their family trees.”
Contrary to what some people may think, Mighty Magulang does not hold a History degree. She took up Business Administration at the University of the Philippines, following it with a masters in Applied Business Economics, also in UP.
She discovered genealogy when she thought of building her husband a family tree as a Christmas gift. “I produced a little booklet that included the Veluz family tree, the birthdays of everyone, and the love stories of all the titos and titas. Then I gave that out as a Christmas gift to all of them. Everybody appreciated it and that kinda got me hooked,” Mona shares.
She learned a lot those six months working on the project. So she started to delve deeper into the field and began telling friends about her new pursuit. An office colleague asked her to research on the family tree of her great grandfather, which led Mona to the National Archives. She was able to get all the information she needed within 30 minutes and got paid a cool P10,000 for her effforts. “That's positive reinforcement for me. It was a good side hustle,” the history nut thought.
What also became a motivation for her to explore genealogy was researching about women in history. “Kasi medyo na-offend ang aking sensibilities. Why don't we know more about the women?” she says. In the Philippines, she observed, because women adopt the names of their husbands, they are no longer remembered.
“Whenever I do the bios of a family, ang haba ng nakasulat about the men. Ang lahat ng kanilang mga accomplishments nandun. Pero si mother, she’s always forgotten and that makes me sad,” Mona says. “As a genealogist, it’s always my objective to try as best as I can to research on the women. I put in a little bit of effort because in history, they are forgotten.”
Not everything’s on Google
GMT (Google Mo Teh or Google Mo Tanga) is a common expression these days. But genealogy isn’t simply about typing the family names on a search engine box. It demands exceptional research and critical thinking skills—and strategies to obtain particular information. “You really have to strategize on how to find the right information. You have to think, ‘what is the best way to find the details about this person?’ Because it’s not always in Google.”
In fact when Mona was starting out in genealogy, she had to go through a repository of microfilm records at the Family History Center of The Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints in White Plains, Quezon City. “At that time, that was the fastest and most convenient,” she recalls. “You’re there actually holding the records versus having to request the information from the Philippine Statistics Authority. Ang tagal mong maghihintay [sa PSA] kasi somebody else will look it up for you, and that somebody else may not have the same skills as you.”
At the Family History Center, one goes through catalogues. “You look for a place, you look for a year, and then you request for the microfilm. And then mano-mano mo ilo-load ang film, you crank it up. Masaya,” the self-confessed history geek recalls, looking back at her early years in the practice.
People can actually search for their ancestors themselves but not all records are indexed. “For a physical record to be searchable, somebody should have gone through that record and highlighted it,” she explains. “But if the person who had indexed it had difficulty reading old style scripts or can’t read Spanish, then it’s likely not indexed. Kaya ako, I still prefer to read the documents myself. Ayoko ng nagse-search lang on my screen. There’s also something [satisfying] about finding the documents yourself.”
Currently, Mona works a lot with probate lawyers. In Europe, there’s actually a law where people can inherit assets and properties up to sixth degree of blood relationship. “So there’s lot of work there—looking for relatives who are alive,” she says.
Since there are very few genealogists in the Philippines, many Americans with Filipino roots also go to her when they want to find out about their lineage. That was how her genealogy circle grew.
We wanted to get to know the woman behind Mighty Magulang better so we asked Mona questions about her own family tree, the similarities one finds within one’s ancestry, even historical revisionism, and what she wants her fans to take away from the stuff she posts online. O 'di ba?
Who are your ancestors?
Unfortunately I haven't really gone far on my dad's side because they were from Iloilo and the records of Iloilo were burned in World War II. As far as I know, my great grandfather was at the head of the Philippine Independent Church in the early 1900s.
On my mom's side, I was able to go further back. Their family was originally from Obando, Bulacan. They are the San Diegos. I was able to trace my roots on that side of the family until about 1740.
My father, Dr. Carlo RH Magno, was in corporate for most of his life. He retired when he reached retirement age and became a dean of graduate school in La Salle. Then he became the vice president of the school. Then after that, he became the President of Orchard Country Club. My mom Felicisima, San Diego-Magno, was a business person. She ran the fast food center at the Philippine Women's University so she was into food. She had catering. My mom has been dead for almost 30 years.
What character binds your family together?
My mother's side of the family, they are very loud and strong. They are fighters. I got a little bit of that...when the moon is full! (Laughs). I see that character in me as well. It's tempered by how introspective and intellectual my dad's side of the family is. They are more about thinking of situations and better improving the race. Making sure that this generation is better than the last.
What other things keep you busy?
I’m a kept woman. (Laughs.) I'm a business person. I have my genealogy. I do work for the Autism Society of the Philippines as a volunteer. [She has a 28-year-old son in the autism spectrum and she serves as the national president of the ASP.] We have a shrimp business.
What’s on your reading list?
When I was younger, I was into novels. I consume a lot of media like books and movies. Now, strangely enough, because of social media, who has the time to read a novel? I haven't read a novel in a long time.
What I've been reading are History books to create more content. Currently, I'm reading “Colonial Manila” which was a gift from my children for my birthday. Also on my list is “Boxer Codex.” But it’s not a history book per se. It was called the “Manila Manuscript.” It's more anthropological, rather than anything else. It’s more about life in the Philippines and not specific to somebody's family tree.
There’s a saying, ‘the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.’ Do you see this a lot in the family trees you’ve traced and built?
Actually, there are patterns. But I also see outliers. There are some who may not like how they grew up and they really go far from it. Take the case of my dad. In terms of mentality, they were poor. They came to Manila from Iloilo during the war. Everything was hard. They had to live near the riles because that was the only land available. While a lot of his relatives kinda got stuck there, he had this thinking that we have to do better. In that sense, he had a different mentality. He had to fight to get out of the same situation. So it’s not a rule. I found that there are outliers.
Would you say that your TikTok account is your contribution to the coming elections?
I compared the interactions on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with the interactions on TikTok. Grabe ang daming interactions on TikTok! I think people are there because how they consume information has changed. It is no longer enough to write things down. There has to be something that can be watched. If anything, this is what I see—they remember what you say not what you write. Parang they want to quote what you said and what they saw rather than what you put down. You can put scholarly citation and everything. They won't read that. But they will remember what you say.
I really didn't intend this to be a thing. I did try to be as accurate and as scholarly as I could because we're talking about history. So even on TikTok, I have put a link in my bio which leads to citation. If you really want to learn, if you really want to read, look at citations. Read the books. Read the articles. Para hindi lang puro video ang pinag-uusapan natin.
From a history nut’s perspective, why do you think Filipinos still want the Marcoses back in power?
This is something I really don't understand. Kasi nga I’m from a generation that experienced Martial Law. And while my family never really suffered under Martial Law, I was already alive when it was reported in the news that the country was bankrupt. I was alive when the Philippine currency devalued by leaps and bounds. I was alive when we saw how much cash [the Marcoses] stashed in boxes and put on a plane. So to hear some of the younger people say that the Martial Law era was our golden era makes me a little sad kasi it was our generation that’s supposed to make sure that history will not be forgotten—and we failed.
Let's put it this way. Some people really did a good job of making sure that history was revised. Actually that was also one of the questions I had for myself when I was starting to develop content. Should I stay away from all of these? I don't want to share opinions, kasi that’s not what history should be. It should be empirical. It should be factual. It should be something that can be validated through multiple sources.
That is why the first time I talked about Martial Law, I chose to present numbers because they can find multiple sources for that. But even that, there were people contesting the numbers. That was an awakening for me. We are now at a point where people are not believing facts because they had in the past consumed information that was propaganda. I don't fault them for that. It was just that they believed the propaganda.
Who are your favorite people in Philippine history?
It's very hard to choose just one. But I do have a certain fondness for the women kasi they were the ones who rose above the stature of women supposedly for that era. One is [food technologist and war heroine] Maria Orosa. The lady who discovered the nata de coco, Teódula Kalaw Africa. Pediatrician Fe Del Mundo is also one. She genuinely rose above everyone else—not just the women but even the men. I had worked on their genealogies and when I found those profiles—ang galing! I love those types of stories. Hindi lang puro beauty contestant winners ang pinag-uusapan natin.
What do you hope your viewers glean from your TikTok posts?
To look at history and those who were alive in the past with a little bit more compassion, with a little bit more interest. So that what we do in life today can be the best version of ourselves. I want our standards to be better than what we've seen in the past. Also I want us to take the best of those who live in the past and live that today.