Wednesday, August 29, 2012

DNA Debate

I attended an interesting lecture last week featuring the administrator of the New Mexico DNA Project. I first spoke with Angel Cervantes after receiving the results of my DNA test back in May. He now has nearly 1,500 DNA samples, including my own, in a database that makes up the New Mexico Project.

It was Cervantes who told me that my Y-DNA, which comes from my father, his father, his father, and so on, matches the genetic markers of the vast Chavez family that descends directly from Pedro Duran y Chaves, one of the first Chaves to come to New Mexico in 1600 and considered the progenitor of the Chavez family here. It was a shock to learn that my paternal ancestry is Chaves, and not Gallegos, although I was already confident that Gallegos was an adopted name. I just didn’t know my paternal bloodline was Chaves, just as my maternal bloodline descends from the same Pedro Duran y Chaves. Or does it?

Last week’s lecture brought into focus a debate that is currently simmering in the genealogy community. On one side of the debate, as Cervantes explains it, are traditional genealogists, who rely primarily on written records and oral histories of our ancestors, as tools to track family trees. On the other side of the debate are true believers in using the science of genetics as the primary source for genealogy research.

Cervantes actually describes three levels of genealogy: Traditional genealogy, genetic genealogy and anthropological genetic genealogy. He talks about starting with traditional genealogy and moving up from there. At the same time, he believes genetic genealogy has come so far in the past decade that it should probably be the starting point for research. His study goes a step further, using DNA to study ancestry of groups of people, going back thousands of years.

I have heard others describe three facets of genealogy – each as important as the other: Written records, oral history and genetic genealogy.

Both approaches seem reasonable to me. Apparently, other genealogists, more experienced than me, aren’t so sure. I saw some of the skepticism firsthand in Cervantes’ lecture. One gentleman who was quite confident in his own research of is family tree, was dubious and challenged Cervantes’ certainty of the value of DNA testing. Cervantes says DNA results are black and white, with little or no possibility of human error. The gentleman, while acknowledging the existence of errors in record-keeping sometimes found in religious and government documents, still preferred those records, many of which have been scrutinized by generations of researchers.

For my part, I am always a little skeptical any time you have to rely on any form of interpretation of results. That can apply to DNA results, as well as 400-year-old church records. I have been frustrated with inaccurate records, missing records and fuzzy memories of my relatives. Then again, I’ve made my own share of mistakes in my interpretation of the records. DNA testing is still relatively new, and I’m not quite sure what to make of it, although I am excited by the potential as more people embrace it. I won’t dispute the fact that my DNA test produced 37 very specific markers, which so far, are an exact match with one other person of the 1,500 tested. That person is named Chavez. One other person, which could potentially be a match, is also a Chavez. But my DNA is also a close, but not exact match with another Gallegos, a Jaramillo, a Garcia and a Martinez. I have contacted most of those people and all have been told, like me, that we are part of what’s called Haplogroup I1 and that we descend from Pedro Duran y Chaves.  

One of the interesting dilemmas I’m seeing with DNA testing is the reluctance of many people, including veteran genealogists, to give it a try. Aside of a distrust of the technology, some people may be afraid of the results.

Cervantes estimates that 30 percent of the nearly 1,500 DNA samples in the New Mexico Project revealed, um, unexpected results. Basically, three in 10 people tested were like me. They found out their surname doesn’t match with what their DNA results suggest – or prove, depending on your view.

Cervantes said many people get really sad or really angry with him when he delivers that type of news. He was pleasantly surprised with my reaction and my open-mindedness after learning about my Chavez connection. But while I strive to be open-minded, I pointed out that I already knew that I probably had a different surname, so it wasn’t quite as shocking to me.

After the lecture, I gave more thought to the shock factor of finding out the surname you’ve lived with – for 43 years in my case, and for much longer for most of the genealogists I’ve encountered – isn’t really your name. I think most people would experience some sense of shock, wouldn’t they? It’s just a name. But for many, it’s an identity and a connection to the people who came before you. I still consider my identity to be primarily Gallegos and Chavez, whatever that means. My Great-Grandfather, Luis Gallegos, apparently adopted the Gallegos name with his older brother when his mother, Francisquita married Manuel Gallegos. They had three legitimate children together. I may never figure out who Luis’ father was. His baptismal record says Juan Bautista Cordoba. I suspect it may have been a Chavez. In any case, he lived his life as Luis Gallegos, and four generations of Gallegos have followed his bloodline.

Still, I thought about my maternal Chavez family line. I’ve confirmed the connections using various records. And all of my cousins and uncles – most of all, my late Grandfather – are strongly connected with their surname. I’ve thought about recruiting my great-uncle or one of my uncles to take a Y-DNA test, just to get my Grandpa Louie’s DNA into the database. I wonder how that compares to my supposed paternal Chavez connection. But what if my uncle’s DNA resulted in yet another surprise – a connection to another surname? Now that would be a shock to me, and more so to my mom and my uncles and cousins. Would they resent me for taking them down that path? Or would they deny, or question the conclusion?

I guess genealogy wouldn’t be as interesting if it was easy and without controversy. And maybe I’ll continue down this path for decades to come, only to have my research and conclusions proven wrong by my daughters or grandchildren, using even better technology. Quién sabe?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Journey with Neil Armstrong

I was born just four months before Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon. A few years later, my Dad attended school at the University of Cincinnati at the same time Armstrong was a professor of aeronautical engineering. My Dad said people kept stealing Armstrong's nameplate from his office door, forcing the school to eventually paint his name on the door.

There are a lot of tributes on TV and in newspapers today about the amazing life of Neil A. Armstrong. But my favorite story about Armstrong came from my daughter, Carin, who wrote a story about him as part of a third-grade project. It was one of the first school projects I got to work on with her. I remember her rolling her eyes when I was so excited to take her to the library to look for books about Armstrong. She had already done some research on Armstrong on the Internet, and didn’t see a reason to go to the library. But I dragged her along, and hopefully she remembers it when she’s older.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Brave Woman

Last week marked the 92nd anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. Not only is it an important anniversary, but I recently learned that I have a genealogical connection to a New Mexico pioneer of the suffrage movement, which led to passage of that historical amendment.

Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren is a distant relative from the same Otero family in which my Great-Grandmother Eliza Otero descends. I only learned about Nina last week when other genealogists pointed her out to me after I told them about my Otero lineage. I read an article about her in the New Mexico Historical Review, and was immediately fascinated.

Aside from her considerable achievements, I was particularly drawn to the characterization of Nina as a very shy woman who was drawn into the public light – and New Mexico politics – by a strong conviction to make a difference. I was interested because I consider myself an introvert, always shy and more likely to express myself in writing.

In any case, Nina either overcame her shyness or learned to deal with it, in order to pursue some very worthy pursuits, including passage of the 19th Amendment. She was born in 1881 in La Constancia, Valencia County. At that time, my branch of the Otero family was living in western Valencia county – in Cubero. Nina was part of the family that included Miguel Otero, who would later become the first native New Mexican to serve as territorial governor.

Nina moved with her Uncle Miguel to Santa Fe in 1894, according to a feature about her in New Mexico Magazine. She was recruited to participate in the women’s suffrage movement, specifically to appeal to Spanish-speaking women in New Mexico. She attracted a loyal following, handing out bilingual fliers and delivering Spanish-language speeches at public rallies. A brief history on the State Historian’s web site credits Nina for helping to lead Mexican-American women into the political mainstream.

During the campaign for women’s rights, Nina was appointed, then elected as Superintendent of Santa Schools. Following passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Nina followed in the footsteps of her uncles, who were prominent Republicans, and ran for Congress in 1922, ultimately losing in the general election.

The loss didn’t deter Nina. She later served as chair of the State Board of Health and was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as state director of the Civilian Conservation Corps. She was named state Director of Literacy Education in 1937 and Director of Adult Literacy in Puerto Rico in 1941.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Otero and Chavez Livestock Brands

Melquaides T. Otero Cattle Brand 1913
Diego Antonio Chavez Cattle Brand 1915

Who would have thought there was a state bureaucracy in New Mexico more than a century ago – even before statehood? I guess it makes sense. But I hadn’t really thought about it until a recent discovery of family records related to my maternal ancestors and their involvement in the cattle and sheep business in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Those ancestors – on the Chavez and Otero side of the family – had to file applications with the New Mexico Cattle Sanitary Board to register the brands they used on cattle. For sheep, they filed with the New Mexico Sheep Sanitary Board.

I was surprised to learn that those two agencies – the oldest in state government – date back to 1887. The agencies were established by the territorial Legislature to control infectious diseases and oversea the treatment of the animals, including transportation, branding, slaughter and conditions of upkeep. Now that I think about it, any time the Legislature is involved, there’s bound to be a bureaucracy. The agencies were combined in 1967 to form the Livestock Board, which is what exists today.

While the territorial agencies were created in the 1880s, the practice of branding in New Mexico goes all the way back to 1598 when the first Spanish colonists settled in the area with Don Juan de Oñate, according to the New Mexico Livestock Board. Oñate trailed 7,000 head of branded cattle to the area now known as Santa Fe.

Melquiades T. Otero Cattle Brand 1899
The oldest brand record I have is from my Great-Great-Grandfather Melquiades Otero, of Cubero. The document is a copy of a 1899 certificate for re-recorded brand, which means he must have already had a certified brand prior to that. One of the fascinating things about the certificate, aside from the actual brand, is an image of a U.S. ten-cent money note that was either part of the seal on the certificate or placed on top of the certificate when it was copied. There is also a hand-written note on the certificate.

Eliza Otero Cattle Brand 1905
Melquiades T. Otero Sheep Brand 1915
There are also cattle and sheep brand certificates that Melquiades Otero received in 1905. Interestingly, there is a cattle brand record for his daughter, and my Great-Grandmother, Eliza Otero, from that same year. Eliza would have been just 15 years old at the time. There are also records for cattle brands in 1913 for Melquaides, who would die just two years after that, and for his son, Felix Otero, and his niece, Eloisa Otero, who was 11 years old at the time. Eloisa was taken in by Melquiades a few years before that after the death of her father, Miguel. She would stay with her cousin Felix in the Otero household after her Uncle Melquiades died. Eloisa went on to be a Catholic nun.
Eloisa Otero Cattle Brand

I’m not sure how typical it was for girls or women to have their own cattle or sheep brand in the early 1900s. But it wasn’t unprecedented. There are Spanish colonial records from two centuries before that, in the early 1700s in which Doña Elena Gallegos, known for the Elena Gallegos Land Grand that runs through current-day Albuquerque, registered her own cattle brand, according to an article published by the Office of the State Historian.

Diego Antonio Chavez Cattle Brand 1915
The final record I have is a 1915 cattle brand certificate for my Great-Grandfather, Diego Antonio Chavez, who had just married Eliza Otero a year earlier in Cubero. While it appears he first obtained the cattle brand when he married into the Otero family, I know he was involved in herding sheep before that along with his many brothers and his father, Preciliano Chavez, in St. John’s, AZ.

Apparently there is a method to the design of livestock brands. The Livestock Board has a brief tutorial on its web site.