I was raised with a love and longing for my Grandmother's New Mexican country roots, yet our Spanish and Basque origins have always been a mystery. Tracing the lineages and histories of our ancestors is a lot like the tradition of Harvesting Piñons - its an arduous task so you won't get there easily, you'll need guidance from those who know the land, and although it's a far reach to get to the best fruit, the nostalgia in the end is worth the toil.
I started working on this blog early this year and since then I've created loads of content, written many articles, and contemplated numerous designs. I also archived everything and deleted my entire blog every single time.
Genealogy is something many people love to dabble in, via the wealth of information that can be found online. For me, it began as a way to process my grief when my Grandmother passed away last year.
It's pretty exciting to begin pulling information together using all the resources available online. Things quickly get much more complicated when you really begin to dig, for not just the lineage, but the story of your ancestors. Add in the formalities of source citations, copyright, appropriate formatting, protecting not only your own privacy but that of all your living relatives, traveling to distant locations to locate resources you can't find online, and trying to keep your research not only organized but funded - believe me, your head will be spinning just as mine has been this past year.
One question I've contemplated, time and time again, is whether I really wanted to post "articles" on this blog or keep it strictly lineages, records, profiles and research resources. Many of the family trees I've seen online are incorrect, so its crucial for me to stick to the integrity of only posting information I have obtained via confirming documents. I may have a treasure trove of other information I have collected, but if it can't be verified, it has no value in this project or in really getting to know who my ancestors were.
The other night, while watching a short documentary called "The Head of Joaquin Murrieta", I began to, once again, rethink my current stance on this.
Although websites like Ancestry.com can provide a temporary satisfaction to the curiosity and craving to research your family roots, when you're researching a New Mexican family tree you'll miss out on much of the the story of your ancestors. Unlike many other places in the U.S., New Mexicans (and other areas that were colonized by the Spanish) have the benefit of the wealth of information provided in church records that were kept and beautifully written in calligraphy, by Spanish priests.
For me, the only draw back to this is that I don't speak Spanish and these documents were written by hand, in Calligraphy (sometimes with great embellishment), and they're written in the Spanish alphabet (which differs from the English alphabet). When you go back to the actual records you will see references to specific terms and designations of the Spanish Caste System and many of those terms and phrases are then abbreviated so you will need to use a legend to know what the abbreviation means. To translate a document, I basically have about 10 resources in front of me at all times to help me decipher the code. Although I've gotten much better at this, I once spent a mind-numbing 8 hours translating a document, only to realize it didn't provide me with very much information, other that the ceremonial formalities of the event. For this reason, many people don't invest in researching these resources when they are simply spending time on a casual hobby.
In addition to the church records, there are government records and reports that were sent back to the King of Spain. There were prenuptial investigations and prenuptial agreements. There were land contracts and land grants, court records and jail records. There were also church, Spanish and Mexican Censuses that you can not find online, besides small excerpts that have been compiled and listed on websites like US Gen Web and American Genealogy Village, etc. Even then, you will not have access to or see what the full scope of resources are out there - which can mainly be found in state archives, digital repositories, libraries, genealogical society libraries and journals, microfilms and expensive indexes that can be purchased online or by mail. The thing is, if you invest in an expensive index, it will only take you so far because they span an average of a 20 year time period most of the time and in only one central location. So to get very far in your research, you'd have to invest in many indexes covering all the time periods your ancestors lived and all the locations they lived in.
Knowing this doesn't make it any less complicated either. FamilySearch.org (owner one of the largest collection of microfilms that is made available to the general public, that I know of) stopped allowing the public to order microfilms to be shipped to/viewed on short term or extended loan, at a local Family History Center, as of September of this year.
I was told that the Family History Centers (located worldwide) were allowed to keep the microfilms they already had - but even then, you'd have to visit each one to find out if they contain the information you are looking for. Every time I've called to ask this question I'm told they have the film's in a cabinet, sorted by number (not location they cover) and they have no list of which microfilms are in their inventory. You pretty much have to go take a look for yourself to see how many of those microfilms cover New Mexico and how many cover the time frame and location you are researching. Don't get me wrong, I love these free resources, but it is not a cut and dry process.
You'll find a couple of lists of Microfilm numbers I've provided for you under the "Microfilms" tab on the home page of this blog. When I have time I will type out what each one contains but it might be a while before I get to it.
FamilySearch.org (which is run by the LDS Church and based out of Salt Lake City, Utah) not only provides a wealth of free information online, they have Family History Centers located worldwide and you don't have to be a member of the LDS Church in order to use them. When I contacted them to ask permission to post images from their microfilms, on my blog, I was surprised by the generosity of the quick "yes" that I received. Although I was already burnt out by the amount of hours, each week, I was investing into my family history research, getting the go ahead to post the images gave me that boost of energy and focus I needed to see this through.
There are only two things about FamilySearch.org that I would say don't meet my preferences
1) I'm not able to keep my family tree private as I continue to conduct my research. I've come across many family trees and pedigrees that are full of inaccuracies. My only problem with not being able to keep my tree private is that I often put tentative information in it as I search to find confirming documents. 9 of out of 10 times, that information is incorrect so I'd hate for someone to see that and think that this info has been verified and is correct. I'll say it again, many of the family trees I've come across are highly inaccurate - even in the pedigrees on FamilySearch.org. So unless you verified it yourself, take it with a grain of salt until you do. I've seen even the most experienced genealogist get a lineage wrong because they didn't specialize in New Mexican history and genealogy. There are factors that can't be ignored because the history of this region differs from many other places in the country.
2) The online index for FamilySearch.org also neglects to provide church names (in some cases it only posts the town name), it does not provide the Spanish Caste System designations and it does not provide any other tidbits of info that can be helpful - like how many days old the person was being baptized, if they were a small child or adult (which would most likely indicate that they were a slave at the time of their baptism). The index also doesn't state if they were a servant or slave, where they were from/born (which is not always in the same town as the church), it doesn't provide military or government ranks and honorary titles used for prominent families. Most importantly they don't provide you with the names of the grandparents, godparents and witnesses who are usually noted on the actual records. We have to remember that, not only were there thousands of Native Americans who were bought and traded, they were also christianized and hispanicized - this means they were often given the last name of the family that owned them or an NS would be in place of one (NS= no surname). Also, in New Mexico, you'll see the exact same names repeated throughout a family for many generations. For example: if two brothers had 9 children each, most of those cousins will have the same exact names. Knowing who the parents and grandparents (and even godparents and witnesses) are, as stated in the actual records, is the biggest indication that you're on the right track. Not exploring the confirming documents is how many people get it wrong.
When I post my page on Native American Captivity and Trade, you'll understand why this is pertinent to uncovering the "story" of your New Mexican ancestors. This is also why I've decided to begin posting articles on this blog. The lineage say very little, other than a list of names and dates. It's my hope to bring you more of the story, which is not as easy to come by.
Uncovering and sharing the story of my ancestors is why I chose to share this information on a blog, rather than merely posting it on a family tree online. There's a bigger picture and a more compelling story to tell here, one that I can not do justice to, had I chosen to only share our lineage in a family tree. I also wanted to avoid doing it on a site where my family would have to pay subscription fees in order to view the documents.
I'll be honest, I've been reluctant to share this project that I've spent so much of my time, energy and money on. It's been a great comfort to me as I grieved and I didn't know if I would still feel that way once I shared it. This is the conflict in genealogy - it's personal - and you have to overcome that selfish beast and realize that this is not all about you, its about so many. You'll see, on the savviest genealogy websites, that they make it a point to encourage sharing, because this is a struggle that people face when they invest so much time doing research that is personal to them.
The things I've learned have really changed and affected me in ways I never expected. I've been so inspired by the blessings, characteristics, talents and resilience that has transcended time and generations. I've also shed many tears over the struggles and misfortunes my ancestors have faced. There was one point in time when my ancestors got hit with death, after death, after death of their loved ones - including extended family, and friends - I discovered this early in my research (and grieving process) and it gave me a strength I never knew I was capable of, a strength that I now know runs through my veins.
Here's more information on the short documentary, "The Head of Joaquin Murrieta"