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 Oñate 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.