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Genealogical Discoveries Bring a New Sense of Pride to Latino Researchers

Public library's History Room yields fascinating facts of ancestry, whether royal or peasant, students of history say.


In the dictionary, the surname is defined as the family name, and for many people, especially Latinos who have often been depicted unfairly in history, last names can hold the key to an intensely personal and fascinating past.

Bloodlines can lead to royalty in Spain, humble campesinos in rural Mexico or perhaps a relative who was of a vastly different faith and was being persecuted for it more than 500 years ago. But despite who those ancestors were, the discoveries, big and small, bring a sense of pride and connectedness to those who are actively seeking.

As more and more people are transporting themselves to foreign lands, either physically, through the Internet or by way of dusty records, they are also learning a different side of history than was taught in school.

It took a lot of persuasion to convince Adeline Ortega's husband to make the adventurous trip to Santa Catarina de Tepehuanes, a tiny church in the state of Durango, Mexico, that holds some of the records to her family's past. The 60-year-old Santa Ana woman says her husband makes fun of her curiosity.

"He says, 'Why do you want to go looking for dead people?' " she said. "I tell him, I want to know where I came from. We all come from somewhere."

Growing up in the '50s in South Texas, Angelita Galvan-Freeman of Tustin felt only discomfort in being who she is--born American but with Mexican roots.

"There was a lot of discrimination," she said. "The last thing you wanted to do was find out where your Mexican parents came from. That was [why] you were being discriminated against."

Galvan-Freeman, 57, said it wasn't until she moved to Europe that she began to realize her background was an asset. Now, she's on a quest to find out more about the Roman Catholic grandfather who preached on horseback and then converted to another religion to found the first Mexican American Methodist Church in McAllen, Texas. She also wants to follow up on a hunch that her ancestors may have been Jews in Spain.

"I just have so many questions," she said. "It's a dual search--to leave what little history I have for my children, and then also there's this question of faith."

On Saturday, she will join others in the midst of their genealogical searches in the Santa Ana Public Library's History Room. There, the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research will be conducting their biannual meeting and a workshop on family research.

Mimi Lozano, the society's president and a founding member, recently donated sets of vital records to the room, including a 37-volume set of marriage and birth records from the Tex/Mex borderlands. The books set her back about $4,000.

Lozano says she has walked where her ancestors walked in the 16th century, and it frankly gave her gooseflesh, she said. Her background includes ties to Spain's King Ferdinand and more recently, ancestors who founded the city of San Antonio.

"I don't think Hispanics in the United States have the correct understanding of what their heritage is, of who their ancestors are," she said. "So much of the history we're getting, the perspective is distorted. It's really being presented in English by the dominant culture. I was reading my history filtered through their writings, their language."

Ana Beatriz Cholo can be reached at (714) 966-5890.

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