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A Family Reconnects on the Web

Reunion: Separated for 50 years, the Aguayos use a genealogy site to find missing relatives.

July 15, 2002|ERIN CHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marie Padilla has always loved her niece "Bertie," remembering how she once read the child stories, bought her dresses and pushed her on park swings. She remembers, too, the day she said goodbye, 50 years ago.

"It was awful," the 92-year-old Whittier woman said. "She thought I didn't want her anymore. I missed her a lot.... I was her 'Mama Rie.' "

Padilla cared for her niece in the early 1950s, when Bertie's mother struggled with epileptic seizures and her father battled alcoholism. After more than a year with Padilla, Bertie moved to Louisville, Ky., with her parents and other siblings to start a new life.

But Sunday afternoon, after a nearly 18-month Internet genealogy quest, the extended family was reunited at the Padilla home, beginning a weeklong family reunion that will bring together about 50 relatives, eager to meet the missing branch of the family.

On Sunday, Bertha "Bertie" Castillo, returned to the small, white Whittier house where she used to crawl on the shag carpet and play with Mama Rie.

She handed Padilla a dozen yellow roses and said simply, "I'm Bert."

"You came," said Padilla, wrapping her arms around her 52-year-old niece. Castillo's four other siblings also embraced Padilla, some of whom she met for the first time.

These siblings, the sons and daughters of Agnes Aguayo-Hayes and James Hayes, have long been the missing branch of the 400-strong Aguayo family.

The clan, which unites every two years, had wondered for years what happened to the Hayeses after their move to Kentucky.

Five of the seven Hayes siblings--Bertha Castillo, Priscilla Adams, 60; Cindy Boling, 56; Marty Lucero, 46; and Trudy Moore, 44--hugged Padilla and her brother, Bill Aguayo, and met several cousins for the first time.

"Is that Grandma and Grandpa?" Lucero asked his cousins, gazing at a faded, black and white picture. "Golly," he whispered, as his cousins answered yes.

The Hayes siblings were taken away from their sickly mother and alcoholic father by the state of Kentucky. Some stayed in foster homes, while others were adopted.

They had managed to find each other by 1978 and have since kept in touch, with the exception of Edna Hardy, 51, whom they can't find. Another brother, Frank Kleier, 49, couldn't make it to Los Angeles for the reunion.

For now, the siblings, who are dispersed throughout the Midwest and South, know nothing of their family's rich Latino history in Los Angeles.

But there will be time for David Aguayo, 56, of Hollywood Hills, the self-described "family historian" to tell them about Jose Maria Aguayo, who immigrated to what is now the city of San Gabriel from northern Mexico in 1865.

There will be time for them to learn about their grandmother's effort to regain land granted to the family by the Spanish government in the 1840s but snatched away by oil companies.

"We don't want to overwhelm them," said Aguayo. "They're getting to know each other. It's going to take a long time for them to process who we are."

For now, they are starting with childhood memories, as the eldest Hayes sister, Priscilla Adams, reminisces with cousin Roxanne DeFabry, 66, of Hollywood Hills, about playing paper dolls and imitating Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth.

For now, uncle Bill Aguayo is remembering how Priscilla Adams crawled around her crib "like a monkey."

For now, it's about Mama Rie and Bertie by the backyard picnic tables, hugging each other and not letting go for a long, long time.

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