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Sunday, March 08, 2009
Genealogy buffs root around through public records to find from whence they came
By Eric Billingsley
Journal Staff Writer
Nancy Anderson beams when she looks at old census records, deeds, land grant papers and marriage records.
That's because each historical record might bring her ancestry alive.
It's how she found out that her lineage is from England, Ireland, Germany and Wales and that one ancestor fought Indians in Virginia in the late 1700s.
"You find these little nuggets in all those historical records," says Anderson, who spends 30 to 40 hours a week doing research at the local library, on the Internet and elsewhere. "I'm not a TV person so I'd just as soon be doing this."
Since 1983 she has traced lines of the Anderson, Unlaub, Hall, Martin, Salazar and Martín families. She also helps friends and strangers trace their family histories.
"Once I got into genealogy, I got hooked," says Anderson, 66 and a member of the New Mexico Genealogical Society and the Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico. "It's kind of like a blend of doing crossword puzzles and reading a mystery novel. And it requires a lot of patience."
People take up genealogy for a variety of reasons. Anderson's 92-year-old great aunt insisted that she do the family tree. Others reach a crossroads in life where they want to learn about their history and pass that information on to the next generation. Regardless, all say learning about family, past and present, helps them feel connected in the world.
"It's a detective game," says 60-year-old Cheryl Dean, a genealogy enthusiast, as she browses newspaper clips from the 1930s at the Special Collections Library of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System. "And I get to meet (other genealogists) who love to listen to me talk about my family."
Genealogists create a family tree by documenting living relatives and then working backward. They use birth and marriage records, civil records and other historical information to substantiate the existence of family members and tell the story of what their lives were like.
Data are logged on an "ancestral chart" or genealogy computer program, and some print books about their family's history. DNA testing can be used to prove blood relationships. The Internet can be useful, but genealogists say they try to back up information found on Web sites with its original source.
Lines back to Spain
Not surprisingly, New Mexico has a wealth of information about Hispanic families.
Ronaldo Miera, 66, knew only tidbits about his kin until he researched his father's line, Miera, and mother's, Chavez.
He was born in the village of San Antonio in Socorro County and has lived most of his life in Albuquerque.
Since 1993, he has discovered that he is a direct descendent of the original families that came to New Mexico with explorer Don Juan de Oñate. His fourth great-grandfather is Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco, a famous mapmaker and santero who arrived in New Mexico in the mid-1700s. And a Ruiz family line originated in Seville, Spain.
"You get a sense of history and what your ancestors went through," says Miera, a member of the Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico. "We're a product of their hard work. For them, survival was a day-to-day thing. And when you look at that, you realize they were pretty tough."
He says the Catholic church's sacramental records in New Mexico date to the early 1700s. Fray Angelico Chavez, considered the father of genealogy in the state, compiled a book of prenuptial investigations by the church that date back even farther. And there is an extensive collection of territorial records.
Miera says some people think genealogists are just interested in finding connections to famous people. But that isn't the case, for most. "Most ancestors were very common people," he says.
Robert Baca, 40, began working on his family tree in 2000, soon after both parents died. "My parents talked a lot about their family, and after they died, it was like, 'Who are these people they talked about?' " Baca says. "It has broadened my understanding of who my family is, and that it's not just about surnames."
He traced his family back 400 years. He also does genealogy research on the family of his wife, whose maiden name is Douglas. Among the interesting tidbits: Two of his great-great-grandfathers were stationed at Fort Craig near Socorro.
Baca spends an average of 15 hours a week doing genealogy. He also blogs about his family history on the Internet, nmgenealogy.blogspot.com, and uses the social networking site Facebook to connect with other genealogists and family members. A number of genealogy groups are on Facebook.
"That's the thing ... the interconnectedness of everybody and how close they are, whether they are related or not," Baca says.
A wealth of stories
Dean has been researching her family for 20 years. Her mom's side are Baileys and Wheelers, and her dad's are Noreds, Campbells and Carrolls. Ancestors on her mom's side came from England and Scotland and settled in Maine. Some were the founding fathers of Newbury, Mass.
She says genealogy helps connect her to the past and the present. "I find all kinds of stories," Dean says. "And I have cousins still living in Maine, whom I recently went to visit."
Anderson works on 10 ancestral charts for her family, friends and other genealogists throughout the U.S. The Special Collections Library of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System is an invaluable local resource, she says, because it houses historical books and microfilm from New Mexico and other states.
Genealogists inevitably hit brick walls in their research, where they can't find proof of the whereabouts of a certain ancestor. But because there can be overlap from one family tree to the next, working on multiple projects can lead to a breakthrough, Anderson says.
"When you hit a brick wall, you switch to something else," she says. "Sometimes if you don't look for a year, you come back and realize something that was missed."
• The Albuquerque Genealogical Society, abqgen.swnet.com
• Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections at the University of New Mexico, elibrary.unm.edu/cswr/, 277-3814
• Hispanic Genealogical Research Center of New Mexico, hgrc-nm.org
• National Hispanic Cultural Center, nhccnm.org
• LDS Family History Center, 266-4867
• New Mexico Genealogical Society, nmgs.org
• Special Collections Library of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library System, 848-1376