Lost & Found in Monterey

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(This is the last post in the CALIFORNIO series.  You can read the four earlier posts by clicking on each title: Californio,  Facebook Friends & Cousins,  Searching for the Garcias,  and Following Felipe.)

I’ve come to Monterey to find a grave.

Two graves, to be precise – the graves belonging to my fifth great-grandparents.  Felipe Santiago Garcia and Maria Petra Lugo Garcia are both buried at Mission San Carlos cemetery at the Royal Presidio Chapel. They are two of only 119 people who are buried there, at a church that was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1770, on the shores of Monterey Bay.  It was supposed to be the cornerstone of Serra’s first California Mission,  but a year later Mission San Carlos was relocated to Carmel, a site where more indigenous tribes lived, making it easier for Serra to convert them to Christianity. The small church left behind in Monterey remained as a Royal Chapel for the soldiers guarding the new Spanish Presidio of Monterey.

San Carlos Cathedral Presidio

Felipe was one of those soldiers.

Monterey was where Felipe was first stationed as un soldado de cuera, and where Petra set up their first home as man and wife.  They would eventually travel to many other missions and presidios when Felipe would be re-assigned by his commanding officers to new posts.  Missions were being built up and down the coast of California, from San Diego  to San Francisco.  Felipe was sent wherever soldiers were needed, for whatever reason they were needed at that location.  But when he was finally ready to retire, Felipe came back to Monterey – the place he looked at as his one true home.

After a lifetime of service for his country, as a retired soldier, Felipe was given land.  He became a farmer.  He had his own home, and acres that belonged only to him and his family.  Several of his nine sons remained in Monterey to help him.  But  still, there was much work to be done. When his 6th son, Jose Antonio died, his 8th son, Inocente, petitioned the Governor so he could be released from the military to go home to his family in Monterey “…in order to take care of what little property they had.”  When Petra got ill and eventually died in 1817, it was only natural that she be buried at the Royal Presidio church that her husband had protected as a soldier, and where they had worshipped as a family.  And when it was Felipe’s time to pass on, as a retired soldier of that Presidio, there was no other final resting place (or greater honor) than burial at the small church he had helped to build, and guard.  It was Spain’s payback to him for dedicating his life to his country.  In 1822, Felipe Santiago Garcia died and was buried at the Royal Presidio Cathedral.

And now, in 2013, I can’t find him.

I can’t find Petra either.  I know this for a fact because I’ve travelled four hours, 241 miles (at $4.39 a gallon for gas), from Goleta to Monterey, and I not only can’t find the graves of the Garcias, but I don’t see a cemetery at all.  There isn’t one headstone in sight.  Not one.

We Spend The Day Searching. 

Arriving at the Presidio Chapel in the middle of noon mass, we find every office and the Heritage Center locked up and currently unavailable to the public until mass is over.  Not the best timing.  But after a quick search on our iPhone we discover the main Catholic cemetery is just a few blocks away, and head over there to find out some answers.

The people at the San Carlos Catholic Cemetery office very graciously search their computer records for Felipe and Petra Garcia’s names.  Although the cemetery certainly has its share of old (and fascinating) graves, there’s nothing as ancient as 1817 or 1822.  Felipe and Petra aren’t listed in the computer.

“They would have been buried up at the Presidio Chapel,” they inform us.

Gravestone Monterey

Murder in Monterey,  1855

They send us back to the Presidio Chapel, where now it’s lunchtime; offices and the Heritage Center are still locked up.  The only person who seems to be working is the janitor, and we follow him as he carries mop and pail into the vestibule of the church.  When we ask him about the Presidio cemetery and where the graves might be located, he tries to send us back over to the Catholic cemetery we just visited.

“They’re supposed to be here,” I tell the janitor.  “They told us at the Catholic cemetery to come back to the Chapel,” I explain, trying not to sound too exasperated.

“Well, they might be under the floor,” the janitor suggests, and leads us all the way to the back of the church where a large wooden information booth is tucked into a corner.  We help him push the booth out of the way, and magically an old square of marble with hard-to-read letters carved on it appears.  The janitor is right – there are people buried under the church floor.

“But those are Pachecos,” he informs us, just as I was getting optimistic.  “You can’t hardly read the names, but the Pachecos have people buried here.  Are you a Pacheco?”

Nope. Garcia.

He sends us back to the Heritage Center, and when I try the locked door again, I notice the operating hours are only for a couple of days a week because of cutbacks.  Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those days, and we’re scheduled to leave Monterey tomorrow.   Oh well, at least I tried. Giving up, I turn away and we start to head back to the car.   But then, I notice a woman exiting from the office.

“Excuse me!  Can I ask you something?”

She stops to listen.  And (poor woman) I proceed to tell her my long story about the search for the Garcias.  Maybe she thinks I’m crazy or just takes pity on me, but she offers me a glimmer of hope by saying, “If your Felipe was an early soldier in Monterey, then by all means, he would be buried here.” Even though the museum is officially closed, she asks me to come inside as she starts to look up information.

Her name is Fay and she is the kindest and most patient woman I’ve ever met.  I try to limit my questions but I have a lot.  

“You need to speak to our archivist,” she tells me.  And she hands me a card with Father Carl Faria’s name on it.  “He’ll have your answers,” she says with a smile.

A Priest With All The Answers

It’s a week before I can connect with Father Faria because he’s on a cruise.  But when I reach him and tell him I’m looking for Felipe Santiago Garcia’s grave, he hesitates.

“…Do you know a David Gonzalez from Florida?” he asks me.

I tell him no and ask him why.

“He was just this moment in my office looking for Felipe Santiago Garcia’s grave.”

Excuse me?

“Felipe was his fifth great-grandfather too.”

What are the odds?  Am I the only one who thinks this is little strange? Two cousins who don’t know each other on opposite ends of the country looking for the same ancestor at exactly the same moment?

“What did you tell him?” I ask the good Father.

He explains to me everything he just told my Gonzalez cousin:  Yes, it’s true that both Felipe and his wife, Petra, were buried at the Presidio Cathedral.  He gives me their burial numbers that were written in the church book that Father Serra first started.  It’s a record of all baptisms, marriages, and deaths, and Petra is #2225 in the book; Felipe is #2428.  Father Faria tells me that the book itself has recently been sent to the  Huntington Library for an exhibit commemorating Father Serra’s 300th birthday.

“You can go there and see where it’s written – the names of your fifth great-grandparents.”

But what about their graves?

“We’re not exactly sure where they are,” he admits, sheepishly.

They’re lost?

“They were buried here, at the Presidio Chapel, but we can only guess at the location.  Somewhere on the church grounds,” he explains. There’s a Catholic school that has been built on the land, a road that was expanded, and even part of a small strip mall, and all are on land owned by the Church.  “They could be anywhere in those areas,” he tells me. “They expanded the road just behind the church in 1940, and they found quite a lot of bones.  There were no markers so they were buried, all of them together, in a common grave at the Catholic cemetery,” he explains.

But why weren’t there any headstones on the original graves?

“The grave markers were all wooden – made from the bark of trees,” he tells me.  “By the time the Americans came, most had broken apart and crumpled, like dust into the ground.”

We come from the dirt, we go back to the dirt.  

I can’t help but think of my father, and our family saying.

Losing One Thing, Finding Another

I don’t know what I would have done had I found Felipe and Petra’s graves.  Would I have brought flowers to leave there?  Or knelt and said a quick “Hail Mary?” Maybe I just would’ve sat a moment in silence, reflecting on this amazing couple that traveled over 1400 miles, on horseback and mule, across desert, through scorching heat and relentless rainstorms, with no permanent shelter – risking their lives to the elements, bears and mountains lions, and sometimes, hostile indigenous tribes – the first of our bloodlines to come here to California.  It somehow seems wrong that when people die their graves just disappear, and there aren’t any words to acknowledge they were here, that they lived, they contributed; and their families, thousands of descendants (both sharing their name or not) are scattered around the country, from Florida to California.  And maybe a lot of those descendants know nothing about the people who came before them, who struggled and survived, and worked so hard to make a new land their home.

Even though I wasn’t able to find Felipe and Petra, I found something else there in Monterey. With every one of my footsteps following after them, I started to see Felipe and Petra in my imagination. What they looked like, how they sounded, and what dreams they must have had. They were newlyweds going into the unknown, and not sure they would even survive the journey. And as I saw them, I also started to see their son, Carlos, and their grandson, Hilarion, and what their lives might have been like as California grew and changed along with each generation of Garcias.  But mostly, it is Rosa, whose voice I can hear the strongest – a tiny old woman who used to sit at her kitchen table, counting out beans into five stacks – one stack for each one of her children.  The beans represented the money she had saved for them.  Money in five banks that once a week she would visit – taking along with her the young grandson who would translate because even in the 1920s Rosa still didn’t speak English.  She didn’t write and she didn’t read and on her own will she marked an “X” because she didn’t know how to write her name. But she managed to save and to give to the next generation – money, and more importantly, land.  Land to build their own homes where they would raise the next generation, and the one after that.

A family’s history is like a palimpsest – a parchment that is written on over and over again, with some of the earlier writing still visible, even after it’s been erased.  Although one generation’s story has been written, that next generation writes its own story, layered over the last, whether they are aware of it or not.  There are times when the generations intersect, in what they desire, or what they believe.  What one generation strives for, and perhaps never accomplishes might be passed along to the next generation, and perhaps in that particular layer, and in that unique time, dreams – the ones that may have started long ago – might now be realized.

There’s a story about the Garcia family that I’d like to write.  But I have to go inward now – into my imagination – to find that story.  It parallels the tale of early California which is rich, multi-cultural, and hasn’t been told in many books at all.  I know this because I’ve been looking for those books as I’ve been writing these Californio posts.  Although there are non-fiction and academic works, I want to delve deeper, and sometimes the only way to do that is through fiction.  Who were the Californios?  And how did they evolve from their identities as Espanioles, Mexicans, Anglos, and Indigenous tribes, into the people who would become known as Californios?  I can research these questions, and learn the knowledge, or I can experience it with my heart and soul.  I’d rather do the latter.

Toni Morrison once wrote, “Write the books you want to read.”  Californio is a book I really want to read.  But since it’s not written, I guess that means I have to try to write it.

When I take a screenplay assignment in Hollywood, I always do it with the proviso that I will only work on one project at a time.  Writing, for me, is like being pregnant, and my creative womb can only accommodate one pregnancy at a time.  So while I’m writing the book, this blog will have to be silent for awhile.  I’ll take breaks every now and then, and when I do I’ll post a little something here.  Maybe to share how Californio is going, or maybe just to change the topic completely. But I’ll always be reachable.  If any of you have questions about anything we’ve talked about here, you can always leave me a comment on the blog.  I’ll read it and write back to you.

But it might take me a little while.

I’m off to Californio.

ROSALOGO

Following Felipe

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 (This is the 4th post of the CALIFORNIO series.  You can read the 1st post HERE, the second post HERE, and the third post HERE.)

You don’t ever expect to find a relative’s name in a history book.

At least I didn’t.

But there was the name, in black & white text on the page in front of me:  “Felipe Santiago Garcia.” I stared at it, and gave myself a thousand reasons to doubt it.  Then, I looked closer and confirmed the facts.  The dates matched:  Felipe was born in 1748 in Sinaloa, Mexico, and married in 1773 to Maria Petra Alcantara Lugo.  Both husband and wife arrived in San Diego, in 1774.  They had a son named Carlos Maria who went on to have a son named Hilarion.  All three names were on the Garcia list I was searching for, and there they all were in the history book in front of me.

The three volumes of Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California: 1769 – 1850 ( by Marie Northrop) are considered the Bible when it comes to historical research on the beginnings of California. The books are out of print (except for Volume 3) and if you are persistent enough to look for them, and lucky enough to find them, two volumes will easily set you back $500.

My cousin Eileen was smart enough to track down the first two volumes in 1997 for a little over $40 to give to her father (my uncle) as a Christmas gift.  Now,  sixteen years later, with my uncle’s passing, my aunt had handed me both volumes along with my uncle’s files of genealogical research.  Having found Felipe’s name on the internet, I had called her and asked if Uncle Danny had ever written down any information about the family.

The file my aunt shared with me was brimming over with notes, scribblings in my uncle’s handwriting, and yes, there was Felipe on a roughly sketched out family tree, along with Carlos, Hilarion, and Rosa.  But the Marie Northrop books she also loaned me gave a legitimacy to those names.  The Garcias were true Californios, and historians had acknowledged that.

Felipe had been a soldado de cuera – a special type of Spanish soldier in California named after the “cuera” or the thick “leather vest” they wore for protection in combat from arrows, or spears.

Soldaldo de Curea2

These soldiers were sent to Alta California as early as 1769 to escort the Franciscans as they set up their missions, and the soldiers built the presidios.  In 1774, Father Serra and the Crown decided that no longer would soldados de cuera travel to the unsettled region as single men.  Families were to be sent with them, to help settle the land, and to ease the loneliness of the soldiers in Spain’s new territory.

The first land expedition that brought both soldiers and their families to California was led by Captain Rivera in 1774.  Felipe and his new wife were among the 51 people on that expedition. Petra was pregnant at the time, and on November 10th she went into labor while the expedition was on its way to Monterey.  A son, Juan Joseph, was born outside Oso Flaco and was baptized immediately when they reached the San Luis Obispo Mission because the baby wasn’t expected to live.  He lived, however, and his birth was recorded as the first European child to be born in California.  Petra and Felipe went on to have eighteen more children – Rosa Garcia’s grandfather (our family connection), was their second son, Carlos.

The soldados de cuera were moved from mission to mission.  Felipe, along with his family, went from the Presidio of Monterey to Mission San Antonio de Padua, San Gabriel Mission, Pueblo Los Angeles, and the Santa Barbara Presidio, until his retirement took him back to Monterey.  Most of the early soldados were given land as gratitude for their service to Spain, and I wonder if Felipe received land, and if so, what happened to it?  Was this the beginning of our family’s connection to owning land?

Seven of Petra and Felipe’s sons became soldiers; the eighth son resisted and was smuggled out of the country on a ship that was bound for Chile.  He chose exile from his family rather than hanging for refusing mandatory military service.  His brother, Inocente, (who would write about the experience in Garcia Hechos and Other Garcia Papers) helped his brother escape and the family never saw him again.

I’m hooked. And I want to know more.

In July, I ask my husband if he’d like to take a road trip up to Monterey to follow in some of the footsteps of Felipe and Petra.  Maybe see a mission or two where he was stationed, and some of those nineteen children were born.

“I’d like to visit their graves,” I tell him, knowing that both Felipe and Petra had died in Monterey.

“Let’s go!” he tells me, sensing an adventure and a much-needed summer vacation.

And so, we headed up north to San Luis Obispo, picking up our friend Marie who took us to our first stop,  Mission San Luis Obispo, the place were Felipe’s first son was baptized.

SLOMIssion

(There was a wedding going on and the Mariachi’s  helped to set the mood.)

Next, we travelled by car to another mission where Felipe was once stationed, driving across land that would have taken him a day’s ride to reach the mission.  We arrive there in less than an hour and a half.

San Antonio Mission in the distance

Mission San Antonio de Padua is one I’ve never heard of before.  An hour outside of Paso Robles, and set away from any major cities, it’s in a rural setting much like Felipe and Petra would have travelled through to get there.  It’s easy to imagine a column of women, soldiers, friars, and a few small children, all on the back of horses or mules, traveling in the San Antonio valley’s oppressive heat.  When we were at the mission, the temperature reading in our car at one time read 118 degrees.

Mission San Antonio

We’re expecting to see no one at the mission – it’s hidden away under the careful watch of the Santa Lucia mountains, surrounded by thousands of oak trees, and in the middle of military land – Fort Hunter Liggett.  But when our car pulls up we see hundreds of other cars parked around the mission, and it turns out we have arrived on Founder’s Day. It’s July 14th, exactly 242 years after Father Serra erected a cross and named the mission, San Antonio de Padua.

San Antonio Chapel

If ever I felt like Felipe was walking at my side, it was on that day as I moved across the mission grounds, poking my head into every nook and cranny I could find.  There was the church where Petra and Felipe had gone to Mass, the barracks where the soldiers were housed, and even the baptismal font where three of Petra and Felipe’s children had been baptized.

Baptismal Font

I could feel the Garcia family surrounding me.

And I wondered what would happen when I finally got to Monterey?

(NEXT WEEK:  The final post in the CALIFORNIO series: Lost & Found in Monterey)

ROSALOGO