Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chavez Roots Part I

New Mexico has the largest Hispanic population (46 percent of overall population) than any other state, which isn’t surprising, given our historic ties to Spain and Mexico. In terms of genealogy research, that heritage means, among other things, that we have access to a treasure trove of resources to trace our family trees. On the flip side, that long history in New Mexico – typically 300 to 400 years -- makes it more difficult to accurately pinpoint our European roots. We generally don’t have a grandparent who immigrated here within the last 50 or 60 years. Without that recent immigrant, we don’t have many oral stories, photos and records. In my family tree, for example, those European roots are between six and 14 generations old. Fortunately, there are records from Spanish, Mexican and American archives. Even more fortunately, dedicated researchers and historians have poured through those records.

I am relying on these researchers, one in particular, to connect the branches in my family tree, starting with the history of my maternal Chavez side of the family.

The late Fray Angelico Chavez, a Franciscan priest, captured much of this history in his seminal 1954 publication, “Origins of New Mexico Families, A Genealogy of the Spanish Colonial Period.” I have the revised edition, published in 1992, thanks to my Great-Uncle Lalo Chavez. This work is probably owned, or utilized, by most genealogy researchers with roots in New Mexico. Because of his own Chavez roots, Fray Chavez had a particular interest in the original Chaves settlers. He published another book in 1989 called, “Chavez: A Distinctive American Clan of New Mexico.” I am relying on these two works for the vast majority of what I currently know about the Chavez roots in New Mexico.

However, while many people still consult Chavez’s research, several others have either built upon his body of work, or corrected mistakes found with some of his assumptions. Jose Antonio Esquibel wrote an article in 2010 for the Hispanic genealogy publication, Herencia, which challenged Fray Chavez’s assumptions about the Chaves origins in Spain. In “A Case of Mistaken Identities: Pedro Gomez Duran and Pedro Duran y Chaves,” Esquibel argued persuasively that Fray Chavez wrongly concluded that two names found in early records, Pedro Gomez Duran and Pedro Duran y Chaves, were actually the same person. Esquibel uses more recent research to conclude that Pedro Gomez Duran and Pedro Duran y Chaves were, in fact, two different men, with different fathers from the same village in Spain. We know that Pedro Duran y Chaves, born about 1576, was the progenitor of the Chaves family of New Mexico. But we apparently don’t know the identity of his Spanish parents.

In another article published in Herencia in 2001, Ernest J. Sanchez, of Las Cruces, apologetically corrects another mistaken assumption that Fray Chavez made in his original research. Sanchez refers to Fray Chavez as the “Godfather of Hispanic Genealogy,” and prefaces his article by saying, “It feels almost wrong to correct anything in it (“Origins of New Mexico Families”), but that is the nature of Genealogy as more information is made known to us.”

The new information Sanchez cites essentially shows that one of the early Chaves men, Fernando Duran y Chaves II, was the son of Pedro Duran y Chaves II, not Fernando Duran y Chaves I. The two Chaves men, Fernando I and Pedro II were brothers and sons of the elder Pedro Duran y Chaves who came to New Mexico in 1600 from Spain. Fray Chavez tells interesting stories about the two brothers – one of which (Fernando I) was portrayed more sympathetically; while the other (Pedro II) was seen in a more negative light. Fray Chavez had assumed that Fernando II was the son of Fernando I because he inherited his estancia near current-day Bernalillo. But Sanchez points to additional records show that Fernando II, the only Chaves to return to New Mexico following the Pueblo Revolt, was actually the son of Pedro II, who stayed in Mexico, or New Spain, rather than return to his birthplace.

With those caveats about past genealogy research, including my own, there is a compelling story to tell about the Chaves journey from Spain to New Mexico.

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