“Tell me again: How are we related?”
The wonderful (and frightening) part about the Internet is that strangers often meet with the click of a cursor. The stranger I had recently started exchanging emails with had found me through Facebook (of course). Her name wasn’t familiar, nor was the face on her profile. But it was a friendly face so I took a chance and made her my Facebook friend.
It turned out we were cousins.
Her last name was one that I hadn’t recognized, but then she told me about her father.
“He was a Gonzales,” she emailed me.
That name I knew.
Throughout the years, my uncle had mentioned once or twice that his grandfather’s sister, Bridget, had been a very smart woman. “There was a rumor that her parents sent her to live with a wealthy doctor in Hayward, and she went to the university there,” he would tell us. When we asked him for more information, he’d just shrug. “She came back home to Santa Barbara, married a Gonzales, and ended up having eight kids.”
That story always intrigued me. A woman in the 1850s who attended a university near Hayward? That had to be the University of California at Berkeley, a prestigious school, and Bridget would have attended it back in the days when not many women went to college. I was impressed. And here was this woman named Pam who I had just friended on Facebook whose father was Bridget’s grandson.
So we started exchanging emails.
We talked a little about Bridget, and of course Pam never knew her or knew anything about the rumor of her attending Cal Berkeley. We did figure out that we were “double cousins.” Bridget’s brother, Frederico Craviotto had married Bridget’s husband’s sister, Mary Gonzales. So the Craviotto brother and sister had married a Gonzales sister and brother. Our heads were spinning at how that would look on a family tree. But clearly, we were definitely cousins.
We shared what little information we had about both sets of our great-great-grandparents. It wasn’t much: Antonio Craviotto was an immigrant from Italy, and Jose Antonio Gonzales was an immigrant from Chile. Both sides were made up of hard-working folks who had lived in Santa Barbara and that was all we knew about them. I shared with Pam the one photo of Bridget that my uncle had once shown me; an old woman with white hair wearing glasses, she lived well into her 80s and looked like she came from sturdy stock. With thick legs, and strong shoulders, she looked like a woman who could give birth to eight children and still be around to talk about it.
More than this photo and my uncle’s intriguing story, we didn’t know anything else about Bridget Craviotto Gonzales.
Time passed and we continued to exchange emails. Our lives were much more interesting than the Gonzales/Craviotto bloodlines. We talked about our children, our husbands, our careers. Pam was a university professor and I told her I was a professional screenwriter. When my book came out she read it, and we talked about that and screenwriting. After awhile, our emails thinned out and then, one day she sent me a list of names.
“You should write about these people,” she emailed me.
It was a list of six names, all of them with the surname of “Garcia.”
I wrote her back and asked who these people were.
“Our family,” she explained. “Great, great grandparents and beyond.”
I looked closer at the names and at the dates attached to them. The last one dated back to 1720 and La Mancha, Spain. But the other names before it had lived in California, most of them in Santa Barbara. It was a list of names I had never known before.
“How did you get this list?” I wrote her back, immediately.
She told me that a friend of hers – someone who did genealogy – had offered to trace the family bloodlines. That list of six names is what she had found. Although there wasn’t a Gonzales listed, the Garcia side was our other side of the family. The last name on the list was Rosa Garcia, and that name Rosa was one that sounded familiar.
It took me days to sort through my office papers: through drawers, filing cabinets,, and long-ago forgotten personal papers. But the search was successful and I found what I had been looking for – a link to Rosa.
Six months earlier, my uncle had passed away. He had spent a lot of his later years researching our family bloodlines. He didn’t often share what he had learned, or maybe I wasn’t around or when I was I just wasn’t listening. But a few years earlier he had given me a handful of papers that one of our cousins had sent to him. Yellowed copies from a typewriter, they were 35 years old, and I barely glanced at them when my uncle had first shared them with me. I only skimmed through those old pages, enough to see that they were part of a transcription of an oral history. Someone had used a tape recorder to share memories and names of people I had never heard of before. I had tossed the papers into a cabinet and forgot all about them until Pam’s list of Garcias found me on Facebook.
This time I looked closer.
When I did, that’s when I found Rosa.
A Woman Named Rosa
“It’s too bad you never got to meet your great-great grandmother,” began the yellowed papers my uncle had given me. “Her name was Rosa,” our cousin’s grandfather had spoken more than thirty-five years ago, and the tape had recorded it.
I quickly checked my uncle’s notes scrawled across the borders of the transcript. There was my grandfather’s name, and the name of his parents. And yes, there was Rosa’s name. The words spoken were about a woman we shared in common – Rosa Garcia.
In my imagination, I tried to picture Rosa as I read the words on that yellowed paper.
“As a little boy I would interpret for her when Rosa would go into town to the bank. She only spoke Spanish so I would speak for her in English,” he said. “I used to take her to get her interest, for her money in the bank. She had five accounts in five different banks because she was so afraid something would happen to her money; she didn’t trust it to be in just one. I’d go out to her ranch in the morning and there’d she be, waiting for me. She had a round oak kitchen table and it was full of pink beans. She had these five bunches – one bunch of beans for each bank. And she knew exactly how much she had in each bank account. She got three or four percent and each bean represented that amount and each pile had exactly that amount of beans. She stayed up all night figuring out how much money she was going to have in interest. And each pile was for one of her children.”
One of those five children was my grandfather’s mother. Rosa Garcia and I were definitely related – My grandfather was her grandson, and I was her great-great granddaughter.
I decided to take a closer look at Pam’s list of Garcias.
(NEXT WEEK: A list of names, forgotten on Facebook, until a Google search begins an adventure. The 3rd post in the CALIFORNIO series: Searching for the Garcias.)