Monday, May 28, 2012

Blame it on the Tamales

Grandpa and Grandma Chavez at Christmas -- enjoying a tamale
When my Grandpa Louie (Chavez) had an upset stomach, he used to say: “Me hizo mal los tamales.” In other words, he blamed it on the bad tamales, which was an inside joke referring to the day after his wedding when my Grandma Lola wasn’t feeling well. According to my Grandma, it was the tamales. But my Grandpa blamed her queasiness on the Champaign, mostly because my Grandma never drank alcohol.

That old saying resurfaced last month when I was visiting with family during my cousin Phoebe’s first birthday. I was telling my relatives about the 1940 Census that was released earlier in April. One of the surprises I discovered, based on math from reading the Census and other records, was that my Grandma Lola was pregnant with my Aunt Fran when she and my Grandpa married in 1941.

When I mentioned my discovery at the party, my Uncle Mike practically jumped out of his seat. He concluded it wasn’t the tamales that made my Grandma sick; it was her pregnancy. My mom was equally shocked, but for another reason. Like my Grandma, my mom had an unexpected pregnancy – with me. And she said her mother gave her such a hard time about it. She couldn’t believe her mother would treat her that way, given her own history. Of course, those were different times – in 1941, as well as in 1969, when I was born.

I also asked my Mom whether she had seen a wedding picture of my Grandpa and Grandma. She said the only photo she remembered was a photo of her parents with her Uncle Lalo in El Paso, shortly the wedding. I discovered through church records that they got married in San Fidel, outside of Grants where they lived. They must have taken a honeymoon in El Paso, before moving to Los Angeles, which is where my Aunt Fran was born.

Even with family stories and all of the research I’ve done, it’s always tough to know the circumstances surrounding most of the life-changing events of my ancestors. For example, in 1940-41, they were recovering from the Depression and heading toward a world war. My Grandpa had just lost his father a year before, and his oldest brother died four years earlier. Before he knew it, he was start a new life of his own. Unfortunately, another brother would die after they moved to L.A.

Following the death of his brother, Benny, my Grandpa was thrust into a difficult situation with the responsibility of two families – taking care of his mother and his remaining siblings; and his wife and infant daughter. His mother, Eliza, was a strong-willed woman. But I can attest that my Grandma Lola was just as strong-willed, some might say stubborn (of course I would never say that.) 
Eventually, my Grandpa and Grandma moved back to New Mexico, where my mom and her three brothers were born and raised. Great-Grandma Eliza and her youngest son, Lalo, remained in L.A.
My grandparents lived the next 60 years in New Mexico, moving from Grants to Albuquerque and finally to Farmington. They had some bad tamales, I’m sure, but all I remember were my Grandma’s wonderful tamales every Christmas – either at her house, at my Aunt Fran's, or at our house in Albuquerque.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gallegos Piano

Gil Jr. at the piano in Cincinnati c: 1972
As I helped my Dad get something out of his garage recently, I noticed our old piano, hidden in the corner where it has gathered dust for the past nine years. Before that, it was at my house at Ventana Ranch on Albuquerque’s West Side. I spent one summer trying to strip the white paint and restore it to its original condition. But I never finished the job, which I regret. But there’s still time.

There isn’t much hope of restoring the piano to a condition in which it functions as a decent musical instrument. But the history is worth preserving. The player piano, a very old Wurlitzer, was given to my parents when we lived in Cincinnati in the early 1970s. I knew the piano was damaged in a fire, but I always thought some neighbors gave us the piano as a result of the fire. But I should have known better – memories often fail us. So I called my mom to see what she remembers.

She said the neighbor, an expecting mother, gave us the piano to make room in her mobile home for her addition to the family. She said the neighbor specifically meant for me to have the piano. Sadly, that neighbor developed a tumor and died within six months. She never delivered the baby she was expecting. My mom said that is the reason the piano has always been sentimental her.

Years later, after we moved back to Albuquerque, the piano was always prominent in our living room. Family photos were displayed on top of the upright piano. I can still remember the scratches on our wood floor from when we pulled the piano bench out, climbed on the bench and played Twinkle Little Star.  I also remember pulling up the seat of the piano bench to reveal a secret space where we stored children’s sheet music and the black, plastic flutes we brought home from Ranchos Elementary School.

As I thought about that old piano, I remembered something I thought about in many years. If I remember correctly, we used to pay a blind man to tune the piano. I remember being amazed that someone who was blind could tune an old piano. But now it makes perfect sense to me. Who better than someone who uses his hearing more than any other sense? I also checked that memory with my mom. She said it was true, although he had an aid that would help him. But she said it was that blind man who discovered, as he worked on the inside of the piano, that it had been damaged in a fire.

I took piano lessons when I was in elementary school. I would walk over to the Knudsen’s home off Guadalupe Trail after school, on Wednesdays if I recall. But I never fully embraced the idea. I was into sports, particularly baseball. I lived for recess at school, and I proudly wore my Little League jerseys on game days. Piano was for girls, or so I thought. I resented having to take lessons. But looking back, I regret the fact that I gave up on it. On the other hand, I’m sure those piano lessons prepared me for the trumpet, which played in middle school and during my Freshman year in high school.

But back to that sentimental family piano. My Dad always said that the piano would eventually go to the first-born Gallegos granddaughter. I think that’s why I took on the responsibility of trying to restore it. I must have known that we would have daughters, who could inherit the piano. My oldest daughter, Carin, is 11, and she was just a baby when we last had that piano in the house. I vaguely remember her pounding on the piano keys as a baby. Since then, the piano has been in my father’s garage. And also since then, we had a second daughter, Isabella, who is about to turn 8. Bella was with me when we saw the piano in my Dad’s garage. I told her the stories about that old piano. I also told her how her “Papi” promised it to the first granddaughter. She thought, as the second granddaughter, that was good enough, and she told me she wants it. I later mentioned the piano to Carin, who said that she, too, wants it. I don’t know how I’m going to resolve this dilemma. But one thing is clear. I need to finish restoring the piano because it belongs to both of my daughters.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chavez DNA

After two years of chasing the genealogical paper trail of my family, I finally decided to try a DNA test to see what else I might learn. I wasn’t quite sure what I might find, if anything. I guess I primarily wanted to confirm the conclusion I had already accepted about my paternal ancestry, which is that my Gallegos surname was an adopted name, not my part of my bloodline. I wasn’t confident that I would find answers to the mystery of my surname. While the paper trail – a baptismal record, in this case – clearly shows that my Great-Grandfather Luis Gallegos was actually baptized as Luis Cordova, I was never convinced that he was born to the Cordova family by which he was raised as a young child. By the age of 10, he was being raised by his mother, Francisquita Trujillo and Manuel Gallegos, the man she married a few years after the birth of Luis.

So, when my Y-DNA results were posted online last week, it didn’t surprise me that there was only one Gallegos surname out of 81 matches to my DNA. What was surprising was that Chavez appeared to be the most common name among the matches. As I tried to figure out the results, I discovered that one person, also a Chavez, was an exact match with my DNA, with an 84 percent probability that he and I share a common paternal ancestor within the last four generations. Going back further, it is certain that he and I are related.

Then, I got an e-mail from Angel Cervantes, the administrator of the New Mexico DNA project, which is a database of people with New Mexico roots who have taken the Y-DNA test. Cervantes confirmed it: He said I am a Chavez and definitely not a Gallegos. Based on research from others in the database, I descend from Pedro Duran y Chaves, the progenitor of the Chaves family in New Mexico. Don Pedro Duran y Chaves was born around 1560 in Spain, crossed the Atlantic and was part of the second wave of colonists to move into New Mexico in 1600, just two years after Juan de O├▒ate settled the area.

I know a bit about the history of Pedro Duran y Chaves because I had already established that I descend from him on my maternal side. Now I know that I am a Chaves on both sides of my family. That was a surprise. Actually, I was shocked. I’m not sure why, and it doesn’t bother me, but I’m not sure what to make of it. I have always been proud of the Chaves side of my family. But I am proud of the Gallegos name, too, and it has been my identity for 43 years. I look at my brother, my Dad, my Grandpa – we’re all proud Gallegos men. My daughters are Gallegos, too.

I spoke with Angel for a good hour on Saturday, discussing my DNA and genealogy in general. He said it is not as uncommon as you might think to have a different surname than the name from which you actually descend. He said there are about 60 Chavez men in the New Mexico DNA database, many of them with different surnames. Angel asked me a couple of times how I felt about the Chavez discovery. I told him I was surprised, but perfectly fine with it, and intrigued. I asked him how other people react to having a different surname than the one they grew up with, and he said most people are affected by it and not terribly open-minded about discovering something different about their ancestry. He said some people have cried when they learned about it. Perhaps my reaction wasn’t so strong because I had come to terms that I probably had a different surname. Still, the more I think about the fact that my name is really Chavez, and proven to be so with DNA, it is a strange feeling.

Now, I am looking forward to using the DNA results to fill in gaps and expand what I know about my family tree. I have been in touch with yet another newly discovered cousin, a Chavez woman who had her brother’s DNA tested to find her paternal ancestry. Their DNA was a close match to my DNA. Ironically, she told me her maternal line also extends to Pedro Duran y Chavez, including one of the same branches as my maternal side, which goes from Pedro, down four generations to Nicolas Duran y Chaves.

I am also excited to use my DNA results to go back much further to see where my ancient roots lead. Angel, the DNA project administrator, told me that the haplogroup to which I belong, basically my DNA family, reaches back to the Goths, possibly the Visigoths, a north-European tribe that conquered what is now Spain in the Fifth Century. Angel said he will be doing more research on my haplogroup within the next year. I look forward to learning about it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gallegos Men

I received a great gift recently, something I have been wanting since I started my genealogy research: A photo of my paternal Great-Grandfather Luis Gallegos. Amazingly, I had photos of six of my eight great-grandparents. The only two photos I didn’t have were the two I was most curious about, probably because I have done the most research on them. One was Luis, my father’s grandfather, and the other is Diego Antonio Chavez, my mother’s grandfather. Hopefully I’ll track down a photo of him soon when I go visit relatives in Grants.

This is a photo of Luis and his bride, Victoria Trujillo, on their wedding day, Sept. 5, 1910. Luis and Victoria, my Great-Grandmother, were married at Immaculate Conception Church in Las Vegas, NM. I assume the man and woman on either side of them are their padrinos, but I’m not certain. I received the photo from my cousin, Mary Sue (Marissa) Curnutte, whose late father, Clemente Gallegos, was the eldest son of Luis Gallegos. Clemente was also my Grandpa Carlos’ brother. I am grateful that Marissa shared the photo with me.

My mom admiring the flowers at my grandparents' home in Las Vegas
Marissa told me previously, through e-mail, about her memories of Luis and Victoria, her grandparents. (I will write about Victoria soon.) She remembered the home on Eight Street in died in 1972. Marissa recalled visiting her grandparents at that home, which she believes Luis built. She said her Grandfather had a “green thumb and always had a beautiful vegetable garden out back and a beautiful lawn and lots of dahlia flowers in the front yard.” That memory seemed familiar to me. Then I remembered that my mom, Bea, had told me about dahlia flowers in the front yard of the same home, only many years later when her father-in-law – my Grandpa Carlos – used to care for them. After some digging, I came across a photo with the flowers among my parents’ albums.

Luis Gallegos was born May 24, 1890 in Los Tecolote├▒os, a small mountain village just north of Las Vegas. It was also called San Ignacio, which is the name that exists today. Sometime between 1900 and 1910, the year he got married, he had moved to Las Vegas. He was 20 years old when he was married to Victoria, who was born in nearby Anton Chico.  Luis worked for most of his life as a janitor at the high school in Las Vegas. Luis and Victoria had seven children, and all five sons served in the military – three, including my grandfather, served in World War II. One son, Eloy, died during battle in Italy. I found a newspaper clipping that said the American flag was flown at half-staff at the high school where Luis worked, in memory of his fallen son. The two youngest, Bennie and Albert, served in the Navy during the Korean War. They had two daughters, Angelica “Nancy”, and Griselda “Grace,” who is 92 years old and lives in Albuquerque.

My Grandpa Carlos died in 1980, just eight years after his father passed away. I was only 3 when Luis died, so I don’t have a memory of him. Since I was just 11 when my Grandpa died, I don’t remember talking to him about his father. Since I started my research two years ago, I have talked to my Dad and my Grandma Rise, who was Luis’ daughter-in-law, about him. They both describe him the same way, a very kind man.

I need to do more research to track down cousins in California to see if the Gallegos name has been carried down further generations from Bennie and Arthur. I know that Clemente had a son named Luis Gallegos, who lives in Albuquerque. I need to get in touch with him, too. On our branch of the tree, the Gallegos name extends to me and down to my two daughters, Carin and Isabella, and my brother Jon, and his three sons, Alek, Derrick and Tanner. I pulled the following photo of Luis from his wedding at the age of 20. I also had a photo of my Grandpa Carlos at his wedding, at about age 24. I found photos of my Dad, myself and my brother at around the same age, just out of curiosity.
Luis Gallegos 1910

Carlos Gallegos 1942

Gilbert Gallegos Sr. 1962
Gilbert Gallegos Jr. 1989
Jonathan Gallegos 1992