Thursday, July 28, 2016

What Fueled My Passion for History? by Mary Louise Sanchez

STORIES! Family stories made history come alive for me. Apparently, family stories also touch the lives of many people and give them a reason to search for their roots. A survey recently listed the top hobbies Americans engage in. Gardening was number one, and genealogy was number two on the list. I'm not surprised, because in my own large extended family, many generations of us have been interested in our ancestors and their stories, for as long as I can remember. This lead many of us to work on our genealogies even before the TV drama, Roots, played in 1977. In the process of working on genealogy, you can't help but learn history if you want to understand the people and their times.

Here are just two examples of how my family's stories have connected the past to my life.

 My mother's family left New Mexico in the 1920s to live in Wyoming, where my mother was born. Since there was no Medicare or old-age homes then, elderly parents, aunts, and uncles lived with their families.

Rufina (Maldonado) Maes and Andres Maes
Thus, my great-grandmother lived with the family and since she was blind, due to glaucoma, her days were spent telling stories to anyone who had time to listen. My mother was one of the younger children of a family of seven children. Around the age of eight, my mother didn't have many responsibilities, other than to take her eighty some year old grandmother to the outhouse. Lucky for me that my mother enjoyed listening to her grandmother's stories; remembered, and shared them.

One of the stories related how an important priest baptized my great-grandmother near Taos. This priest also provided schooling for young boys; which led my great-grandmother's uncle to became a priest. My mother knew the stories, but not necessarily the names or dates.

Fast forward to the 1970s where I had access to genealogy records at the Federal Center in Denver and large collections of Latter Day Saint genealogy microfilms.

I was determined to verify family stories through the primary documents. I also read as much as I could about New Mexico history and learned about the famous rebel priest, Antonio Jose Martinez from Taos. He was a character in Willa Cather's novel, Death Comes to the Archbishop.

I learned Padre Martinez stood up to the French archbishop, Lamy, in support of the Hispanic population. He started a newspaper and also schooled young men, many of whom became priests, including my great-grandmother's uncle.
By studying history to verify a story, I gained a different perspective than Willa Cather, of the priest and his times.

After years of turning the spindles on the microfilms, I found a gold mine—my great-grandmother's baptism record signed by this very priest in 1848 in Taos. The added gems were that the baptism record not only recorded my great-grandmother's parents, but included both sets of her grandparents, including the maiden names of both grandmothers! This information allowed me to connect to the first families who colonized New Mexico in 1598 and with those who returned to New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680.

With the advent of the internet, and still seeking primary documents, I now have found records of my great-grandmother's uncle priest. How I wish I could share these finds with my mother. She would have enjoyed knowing that her priest ancestor was the officiate at a marriage between my father's ancestors.

I found another family story in a Newbery Award book. When I attended the University of Wyoming in the 1960s, one of my professors of children's literature required us to read a certain number of Newbery Award books. This was when I discovered...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold.
It's the story of a New Mexican boy in the 1940s who wants to take the family's flock of sheep to graze in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but everyone thinks he's too young.

Miguel's story is basically my dad's story! As a young boy in the 1930s, my dad was the family shepherd in those very mountains. He herded about two hundred sheep for my grandfather and great-grandfather. However, my dad wasn't a hero for saving sheep. Instead, he started a forest fire because he was bored with the "dumb sheep." Can you imagine what it's like to see your own family story in a published book, when you're not used to seeing Hispanics in many books.

Family stories inspired me to write my own stories, based on our Hispanic experience in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Hopefully they will be published and inspire others to mine their own family stories, which will also immerse them in history.

Stories are powerful, whether oral or written and can be the impetus for someone delving into their own history and writing about it. As Isabel Camp says," Our universe if made up of 'vacant silences.' There is room for seven billion stories, one written by each person in this tiny planet."

What are your passion(s)? What has fueled them? What are your students' and patrons' passions? Now go light those fires!

You probably gathered New Mexico is another passion of mine. I hope to share some middle grade books with New Mexico settings in my next post.

1 comment:

  1. Beyond thrilling for you, Mary Louise! ps, I have Willa Cather's book buried here somewhere. I bought it in Denver, en route to Albuquerque.