Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sister Mary's Land Dispute

After finishing a meeting early last Friday in Washington, D.C., I took an opportunity to make a return visit to the National Archives. I went there for the first time in February, disappointed that I couldn’t locate the records I was interested in finding. But on Friday, the luck was on my side, as I was able to sneak in a request just before archivists pulled the final stack of records before closing.

However, I was in for a little bit of a surprise. While I thought I was getting Homestead records for my Great-Grandmother, Eliza Otero, I actually found records for Eloisa Otero, who was known later in life as Sister Mary Robert, a Catholic nun.

I have been gathering records on homesteads established in the 1800s and 1900s by my maternal Chavez and Otero families. I will write about those as soon as I can sort everything out. For now, I want to share what I found about Sister Mary Robert.

Growing up, I heard about Sister Mary Robert, who spent most of her life in El Paso. I knew she was my related to my Grandpa Louie, perhaps a cousin, but didn’t know exactly how they were related. My mother, Bea, said she remembered traveling to El Paso with her parents to visit Sister Mary. She had a very light skin complexion that made her look like a porcelain doll. She was very nice and my mom remembers Sister Mary would always visit them in Grants or Albuquerque with a traveling companion, another Sister from El Paso.

It turns out Sister Mary was my Grandpa’s aunt – the cousin of his mother, Eliza Otero. The land records confirm that Sister Mary was Eloisa Otero, the daughter and heir to Miguel Otero. I was confused by the 1910 Census record that showed Eloisa as the 8-year-old daughter of my Great-Great-Grandfather Melquiades Otero. But it now appears that Eloisa and her brothers, Mariano and Candido, were living with Meliquiades’ family, including my Great-Grandmother Eliza at the time, after their own father, Miguel, must have died. I assume their own mother, Maria Guadalupe Jaramillo, had also died and the kids were orphaned. I was able to confirm Eloisa’s heritage from her baptismal record, which showed her as the legitimate daughter of Miguel Otero and Maria Guadalupe Jaramillo.

The land records I got from the National Archives included a Homestead Patent application by Eloisa’s brother, Mariano Otero. The controversy arose because the land still belonged to Eloisa, who inherited it from her late father, Miguel. Eloisa was living in El Paso at the time, around 1927, and Mariano produced a record showing that Eloisa put him in charge of the land while she was away. The U.S. Department of Interior rejected the argument, and Mariano apparently got his sister, Eloisa, to sign another document attesting that she turned the land over to him for the sum of $1 while she was in El Paso.

“I, Eloisa Otero, known in religion as Sister Mary Robert, do this day, March 26, 1926, appoint my brother Mariano Otero with power to act in my stead as it is impossible for me to be present in Cubero, New Mexico at the present time.
                                                Signed Sister Mary Robert.”

I’m not clear of the ultimate result of the land dispute. A final certificate was issued on April 19, 1930 granting a small holding claim to Eloisa Otero. But the Department of Interior wrote in June of that year that if Mariano decided to challenge the validity of the title, he could do so in the local courts.

Another interesting fact I learned from these records is that Eloisa was under the guardianship of her cousin, Felix Otero, my Great-Grandmother Eliza’s older brother. Aside from losing her own parents, Eloisa also lost her uncle, Melquiades Otero, in 1915.

I’d like to find out more about Sister Mary’s life as a nun in El Paso. I’ll continue to look for more information and be sure to ask my Great-Uncle Lalo and my Great-Aunt Perla.

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