Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Firebaugh Cemetery at Midnight!

[If you haven't read the previous post, Road Trip to Firebaugh, this would be a good time to read it!]

What a great finish to my road trip to Firebaugh to meet these two cousins!
A nice warm evening in early June 1998 for a BBQ in their back yard, then sharing photos and stories for hours... right up until midnight!

What could be better than a trip to the cemetery at midnight? 
I can’t think of too many things so when my newly found cousins Tootie Borboa and his son Barry offered to show me the cemetery in Firebaugh… at midnight… I just had to say YES! 

As I’m climbing into the back seat of their two door big ol’ car, and they’re both getting into the front seat, I noticed the overhead light isn't working.
It’s pretty dark in here.
… and the teeny tiny voice in the back of my head is telling me to figure out an escape route out of the backseat of this dark two door car. Have a plan.
MY teeny tiny voice wasn't shrieking like my very pregnant daughter’s voice was on my cell phone earlier in the day, but it was pretty persistent. 
Naggingly persistent.

I’m looking out the windows to watch for any identifiable landmarks, just in case I might need them later. Just so I know, these are good things to know, right?

Here we go, driving away from the house, away from town on the highway headed towards the Firebaugh Cemetery.
I’m looking for the familiar headstone covered and fenced in areas of a cemetery. 
Not this one. We pull off the highway and drive up to a gravely parking lot. Barry swings the car around so the headlights are aimed up a small hill. 
Not really a hill, just a large mound. On this mound, at the top, in the middle, is a flag pole and at the base of the flag pole is a large but low stone-like slab… a monument.

Tootie tells me this is all that remains of the Firebaugh Cemetery… this is where the headstones were, where so many of our relatives are buried. I’m just stunned. We've climbed out of the car and I’m helping Tootie maneuver across the lawn and up the slope… his very old turned-up-toe cowboy-style work boots are sliding on the wet grass so I hold onto his arm. (he might be old but this dude has some muscles!) While Tootie and I are making our way up the slope Barry is turning off the sprinkling system so we won’t be so drenched.

I quickly take a few pictures of the monument, the flag pole, the entire scene.

I’m looking at the names and recognizing so many from my interview with Aunt Hilda. Tootie is telling me stuff about almost every one of the people listed… all 30 names. 
Wait a minute! I thought there were tons of relatives buried here… where are all the other names? Tootie shakes his head and with a very sad voice says these are the only names that were inscribed when the monument was erected. He’s telling me as he swings his arm across in front of him and motions towards the grassy area that this whole section was once the cemetery. He’s telling me of the hassles with so many officials and so many families. He’s telling me about the beautiful headstones being scooped up and hauled across the road and being dumped behind the water treatment plant.

I can’t get over how suddenly sad it is to be standing here. How sad. How silent.

Oh, oh… that silence is blown away with the booming voice of some guy in a uniform shining a flashlight at us! He’s REALLY not happy with the water being turned off. He’s none too happy about us standing out there on that wet grass either so Barry’s telling him I’m from out of town and they wanted me to see the cemetery.
The uniformed guy is ordering us off the grass and back into the car.
He’s telling us he could arrest us!

Oh, oh… my imagination does a fast forward to a scene of me in a jail in the middle of the night in a far away town making a phone call and trying to convince my very pregnant very unhappy daughter that someone should come down here and bail me out!!

Whew, the guy just kinda yells at Barry a bit more while Tootie and I are climbing back into the car and we drive away. We’re laughing, I’m having a great time.
…and now we’re headed back to the house so I can gather my stuff for my drive home, right? Nope, Tootie’s telling me they’re giving me the tour of Firebaugh.
Oh kaay. Change of plans just a bit, no problem.  

Tootie’s telling me all about this house and that house and who lives here and how long they've been living here, and who their parents are and all about the stores downtown… how did we get downtown, I thought we were looking at neighborhoods? I need to pay attention. I’m listening to as much as I can and Tootie continues to tell me about the families of Firebaugh.

…and before I know it we’re on a dirt road. Sort of like a levee road. Feels like a levee. It’s dark outside, after 1am. Hey, where are we going? Barry and Tootie just look at each other and smile and tell me they want to show me something. Yeah, well I’m not too sure about this.
We’re now driving past a sign that says “Authorized Vehicles Only Beyond this Point”
… oh, oh. Where are you taking me, and why???

Yeah, my overactive imagination is trying to kick into overdrive and I’m trying to keep it in check, watching for whatever things I can see out the windows. I can’t see ANYTHING! I can tell we’re driving on a dirt road and we’re up higher than the surrounding areas. But I can’t see anything outside the windows. Barry slows the car, backs up a bit while turning the car and Tootie is telling him to be careful and not go too far. Yikes!! Where the heck are we??? Barry gets the car turned so we’re now sideways on the road. I don’t understand… what’s going on?? 
Barry turns the headlights on bright.
There in front of us is an old building. A very small old building. The old jail!

They wanted me to see the really old jail building that was hauled from downtown out here to the edge of the park, near the river so I could see some of the history of Firebaugh! Tootie says the guys who were locked up in this tiny little building so long ago were either too drunk or too dumb, or both, to know it had a dirt floor.
They coulda dug their way out! He’s laughing, a big hearty laugh. Barry’s laughing.
I’m laughing too, just not at the same thing.

Their house is a short distance away and after a quick trip into the bathroom … and yes, I leave the seat UP just as I found it … I load all my stuff into my car, say my goodbyes, and promise to see them again soon. VERY soon! It’s 2am.

My trip home is fast. My brain is rerunning the video of the entire afternoon, evening, and night. Every single detail. Almost like a freeze-frame show.
I’m home and in my bed by 4. Thankfully I don’t work on Mondays and can sleep in!

Very pregnant daughter calls very early to be certain her insane mother is home and OK. I assure her I’m fine, had a great afternoon and evening with my newly found cousins and I plan to visit with them again.
I leave out all the details of the night adventure.
Very pregnant daughter is still very upset with her genealogy obsessed mother.

Less than 2 weeks later very pregnant daughter presents me with my beautiful grandson.
I am a Grandma!

Road Trip to Firebaugh!

Things sure have changed since that interestingly weird afternoon in 1986 when my mom and I drove to Firebaugh. We had such fun visiting with Aunt Hilda Borboa Flores at Genevieve’s home.

It’s hard to believe twelve years have flown by!

In 1987 I opened a business and ten years later, in 1997 I closed my square dance and western wear manufacturing business. Both my children had married and I was about to become a Grandma! The thought of becoming a Grandma, a Nana, gave me the big push I needed to once again dig into the past! I wanted to leave a legacy for my grandchild and any siblings who might follow … and for any potential cousins too!

Now, in the Spring of 1998 I’m ready to find my Juana Bojorques… determined to learn all I can about her…and EVERYTHING I can about her family.

Hmm, so how do I start? Aunt Hilda is no longer with us so I can’t just ask her again, and sadly, her nephew Richard Borboa is gone,too. So now what? Well, I can write letters!
I begin to write letters.
I write lots of letters to lots of people, mostly the people living in Firebaugh with any of the names I knew from Aunt Hilda’s tales.

Did I mention I have access to the Internet now? With the help of my computer I’m able to find so many addresses throughout much of CA, mostly in the Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin Counties. These Borboa folks are everywhere! I find some Dobales families, and some Gonzales, Alviso, Castro, Manzo, and a bunch named Preciado and some Bojorques too! I send a gazillion letters, and then I wait.   and wait   and wait

[sound of crickets chirping here]

Typing, typing, typing… another envelope to seal and stamp, another letter to type… pretty much the same wording on all the letters. I tell the person who I am, that I think we’re cousins and we share some ancestors, and I list the names, and if any of the names sound familiar would they please either call me or write to me? And yes, naive as I am, I put my home phone and address and full name… the whole mess on the letter. Hey, how else will people think I’m serious??

As I’m typing out yet another letter my phone rings… my house phone that's sitting right next to my desk. Loud ring in a quiet house on a Sunday afternoon in early June… nearly bounced me right out of my skin!! A guy on the phone asks to speak with Sheila. I tell him I’m Sheila. He says he and his dad have been on vacation, just got back and while going through their mail they found my letter. His dad told him to call. 
He says they’re from the Borboa family in Firebaugh. I am sooooo excited!

I want to ask so many questions… but he starts first. As he’s speaking I can hear his dad in the background. Son says “Dad wants to know where you live” I say Modesto. He says “Dad wants to know how you’re related to us, who are your parents?” I say… deep breath first… my mother is Dolores Ruiz. She was born in Madera and married a Harrell from there. My grandfather was Vincent Ruiz and he married Cipriana Gonzales… they called her Zippy. The son is repeating all I’m saying and when he gets to the part about Zippy Gonzales his dad just bellows out “WHO did you say she was?” and I repeat the name Zippy Gonzales, married to Vincent Ruiz. Wow, there’s a lot of commotion on the phone, lots of shuffling sounds and suddenly a different voice… an older voice but one VERY excited voice. He slowly asks me again about the person I just mentioned and I slowly tell him again “my grandmother was Zippy Gonzales who had married Vincent Ruiz who worked at Brammer Shoes in Madera and we used to live in Madera and now we live in Modesto”. There’s just silence… kind of too long of a silence. Then a super excited voice is almost yelling into the phone “Zippy Gonzales was my Godmother!! I haven’t seen your family since Zippy died in 1961!!" Wow. All I could say was WOW! I ask how the Borboas were related to any of the others I listed for Firebaugh families and he says his grandmother was a sister of Clemencia Preciado and he knows some of the Gonzales people too.

OK… all this yelling into the phone is really causing me some hearing loss, not to mention I can’t hold the phone very well and write and try to find the pages I have with bits and pieces of stuff Aunt Hilda had said many years ago. Finally I just ask… “Hey, are you guys gonna be home the rest of today and this evening?” and the son says yes, the dad says yes, ya wanna come for a BBQ? 
I say yes. Oh, yeah… I say YES!!

It’s 4pm, Sunday afternoon. I’m in Modesto. I’m on the road in 20 minutes. I’m headed for Firebaugh. I use my cell phone and call my very pregnant daughter to let her know where I am going. Her almost panicky voice nearly shrieks as she asks “Your doing WHAT!!!?” and she continues “Mom, you’re driving to meet some guys you've never heard of and have dinner at their house in a town where you don’t know anybody?? Mom, are you CRAZY!!? Mom, what are you thinking???!!”  I’m trying to explain to her that these are my cousins, they aren't just “some guys” they’re my cousins! And I know lots of people in Firebaugh! 
…well, I know I’m related to them, I just haven’t met them yet.

Have you ever tried to calm down a very pregnant daughter who thinks her mother has totally lost it?? Ay yi yi!!! I promise her I’ll call if anything bad happens. 
Ooops, not a good thing say, not even as a joke.

This is a little bit longer road trip than I thought it would be. It’s taken me almost 2 hours but thanks to the red tailed squirrel*  I’m finally pulling up in front of the house. It’s 6pm, still daylight. I see a short, stubby-legged, kinda roundish, white haired guy watering his lawn. This is my first sight of Arturo Borboa, aka Arthur Owen Borboa, affectionately known as Tootie. I’m hauling my stuff out of the car and Tootie’s son Barry runs up and helps me. 
We’re laughing and talking and questions are tumbling out of all three of us all at the same time!

Yep, this is a guy house. Toilet seat up. It’s a bit dark in the house. A bit smoky, and a bit messy. They've been on vacation so the laundry is all over the place.

We head to the back yard patio to learn more about us being cousins… and the next door neighbor pops through the side gate. He’s the sheriff, or some law enforcement guy and he’s been watching their house. Just making sure we’re the right people since he didn't recognize my car.

The first thing Tootie says to the guy is “Hey, this is our cousin, she’s researching our family, our ancestors, and ya know what? We’re NOT MEXICAN!” I’m laughing but I’m also a little bit stunned to hear Tootie say this. The other guy says “yeah, right, and I’m Irish” (obviously he isn't ) and Tootie tells him again that I’m researching all the family and I can prove he’s not Mexican. 
The guy laughs again, shakes his head, and disappears through the gate into his yard.

Barry is lighting the BBQ and getting some steaks ready. Tootie is bringing out boxes of photos and telling me all about the family, the Borboa family. I’m having so much fun! We eat, we share stories, I share more details of my searching and the time just flies.

Suddenly Tootie asks me if I want to see the cemetery.
YES!! Of course I do!!! What a silly question!!
I look at my watch and see it’s nearly midnight.

What could be better than going to a cemetery at midnight?!!!

* Watch for the red tailed squirrel story later.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our visit with Aunt Hilda!

In May of 1986 Mom and I drove down to Firebaugh in Fresno County, CA to visit with Aunt Hilda at Genevieve's house. Firebaugh is kind of in the middle of the State…pretty much just out there ... just in the middle! To get to Firebaugh from either Hwy 99 or I-5 you had to drive about 22 miles across some mostly empty fields. From either the highway or the freeway, it was still about 22 miles to get to Firebaugh. Interesting things along the way from Hwy 99… lots of flat ground, some acres planted in trees, mostly empty ground. As we drove I wondered about my family… did they ever walk out across this land? Did they farm it? Did they raise sheep here? Did they live way out here, or did they all live in town… and since I’d never been to Firebaugh, I had no idea of what to expect of “down town” … but I had great directions from Genevieve, Mom’s cousin and we were excited to see her!

I was really ready for this day of learning about my family… about my ancestors! I had my portable tape recorder with me and I had a package of brand new batteries with me. I had a notebook and several pens. 
I was ready!

Genevieve met us at her front door with huge hugs and “it’s been so long since I've seen you” for my mom.  We were invited into her living room and then sat in the  chairs she offered…  and then Genevieve said she would run over to get Aunt Hilda and be right back. Um, OK. But we still wondered…who is this Aunt Hilda?? Mom had no idea, she said the name sounded familiar, but she couldn't remember anything. 
So we waited…

In a very short time Genevieve returned with our famous Aunt Hilda… and we were immediately engulfed in her hugs! Aunt Hilda had the most interesting voice… and the best laugh I've heard in a very long time! She sat on the sofa with Genevieve in a chair to one side, my mother in another, and … well, forget the chair, I was sitting on the floor in front of Aunt Hilda using the coffee table for my writing table! I put the tape recorder down and asked both Aunt Hilda and Genevieve if they minded if I taped our conversations…they were fine with it… so here we go… time to find out about my family!

I didn't waste any time. I started with my biggest questions… who was Juana Bojorques? Who was her husband Bojorques?  What was her maiden name, where was she born… and then Aunt Hilda laughed  ...her oh, so distinctive laugh and told me to slow down… and she began to tell me about the family.

She told me about Juana’s daughter Kadena or Karena who married Escolastico Borboa and how they had seven sons. She told me about Juana’s other daughters… my great grandmother Florencia, and also about Clemencia, Mary, a son named Chico, and a daughter named Hoolita. She talked about the Castro family and Joaquin and Tia Ecca Castro and about a half brother Xpolito Castro. She spent almost two full hours telling me about all these families. I jotted down notes as fast as I could write. I had scribbles all over the pages with arrows going here and there to attach the family names like Bertolani and Bozo, and Chano and Felix who was Hilda’s father, and Gracie’s father and Bruno, and Filomena and June Montana and Rufufio Dobales and Blue Canyon, Leonard, Ramona, Frankie, Victoria… so many names and connections. I was trying to listen and trying to write as fast as I could! 

I finally took a breath and so did Aunt Hilda… and I asked her a huge question… when did Juana die? … and where is she buried? Aunt Hilda answered… and just as she started to speak Genevieve leaned forward and said “Isn’t Aunt Hilda great? SHE KNOWS EVERYTHING!” … and yes, she said those last words just like in caps… loudly! We all laughed… and it was true, Aunt Hilda seemed to know everything and all about every person in all the families … and she loved to talk about the families, she loved to share what she knew.

Just before she had to leave Aunt Hilda told me about her nephew Richard Borboa who was doing the same thing I was doing. He was also trying to find this same Juana Bojorques and he'd had been working on it for quite some time. Wow! what a great lead!! Maybe Richard and I could share things?? 
Aunt Hilda told me where he lived in Madera and that he worked for the Fire Dept. She said he also had a sister named Patsy Borboa and she lived in Madera too. 
Great!! I was really looking forward to meeting this Richard Borboa.
Maybe on the way home today?? Maybe!

Sadly our time had ended. Aunt Hilda had to get back home to her husband (Fat Flores) who was ill. She said she didn't like to leave him for a long time, but she was looking forward to talking with me again. 
Me too! She gave me one of her huge hugs, a really long huge hug, and waved goodbye as she and Genevieve walked out the front door… and Aunt Hilda’s laugh was still in the air.

On the way back to Modesto after our visit with Aunt Hilda I tried to listen to the tape… hoping to hear some of the things I had missed and didn't write down. OH NO!!! The tape wouldn't play back! There was nothing on it!!! How could that be??? I put brand new batteries in the recorder, a brand new cassette right out of the wrapper… what happened????? 
I was sick. Just sick. sigh

It was getting late in the afternoon as we left Firebaugh so we decided to stop at a hamburger place in Madera near the highway entrance. While I was there I thought I’d look through the phone book out at the pay phone booth. Yeah, remember, this is 1986… I didn't have a cell phone back then! While my mom and my husband sat inside I went out to try and balance that big ol’ metal cover on the phone book that was chained to the phone booth. Not easy, especially not easy while trying to read my notes at the same time. All of a sudden a gust of wind blasted past, yanking the book from my hands and slamming it shut, catching my long necklace with it, nearly face planting me into the phone book! 
Where did THAT come from??? There was no wind that day. 
VERY strange… and about to get stranger. 

I looked for any Borboa families in Madera and there were none… well, none I could find. All those pages had been ripped out of the book! I went back inside and asked our waitress if I could borrow a phone book. She brought it right out and I took it back out to the phone booth with me. I was flabbergasted to find that EVERY number I called for EVERY person named Borboa was disconnected. Really? I decided to change tactics and called the County Fire Dept, the place where Aunt Hilda said Richard Borboa worked. Incredibly, that number was also disconnected! 
Ya gotta be kidding, right? 
I called the Operator who said I probably dialed a wrong number… and when she got the disconnected tone and message we were both stunned. She said no one had notified them of any changes so I asked her to dial the Borboa numbers… yep, all disconnected but not in her list! 
Something was really going on here. Kinda weird.

After our lunch we drove down the frontage road and came across a County Sheriff Deputy parked at the side of the road. I got out and asked if he knew Richard Borboa who had worked for the County Fire Dept for about 30 years. This guy had worked for the county for about 20 years and said he’d never heard of Richard Borboa. Hmmmm.  OK, we’ll just drive to the fire station. 
It can’t be that hard to find this guy, can it?

As we pulled up to the fire station the first thing we see is a large sign in the front window saying they’re closed. Yeah. Closed. On a weekday. During business hours. Okaaaay.  But wait a minute! I remembered I saw some guys out in back hanging hoses so we drove around to where they were. As I walked up to one nice looking guy and asked if “my cousin Richard Borboa” was working that day… the guy gave me such a strange look. For a moment I thought HE might be Richard. Nope, seems Richard doesn't work here… he’s working in Snelling today. Of course he is. OK, enough of all this. I ask if I can leave a note for Richard and will someone see that he gets it, they say yes and I write out my name and phone number and tell him I've just spent the afternoon with Aunt Hilda at Genevieve’s house… and would he please call me about finding Juana Bojorques? And we drove home. Arghhhh!

All the way home we talked about our visit with Genevieve. Our meeting Aunt Hilda and hearing all the wonderful stuff she had to say about the families in Firebaugh… and we talk about that darned tape recorder that didn't work. My notes were sketchy… I wrote down a bunch of names but not nearly everything I should have been writing. I was so involved in just listening to Aunt Hilda’s voice… that voice like a huge warm blanket wrapped all around you, but like a woolly blanket with just enough scratch in it to make you take notice. 
I will never forget her voice, and of course her laugh!

Sadly, her time ended about 8 months later. Aunt Hilda died in January 1987. 
Her husband had died just weeks after our visit with Aunt Hilda. 
I never had the chance to listen to that wonderful voice again.

But wait! that didn't mean had to I stop following all the leads she gave me! 
I still had to find Kadena and Hoolita!

PS By the time we got home Richard Borboa had called my house and over the next few years we shared our findings until his unexpected death.  
And… when I put the cassette into a different tape player it played… and when I put it back into the recorder I had used that day, it played! Perfectly!  Go figure.
Sooo. for safe keeping I made a copy of the tape and carefully labeled them “Hilda Speaks” and put them in two different places in my house… never to be found again. 
I was right, I’d never hear that voice again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Finding the ancestors of Juana Bojorques!

Since my very first thoughts of finding Juana Bojorques way back in 1961 when I was completely captured by her name, my goal has been to find my early California ancestors. A little more than 20 years had now flown by and I was ready to begin my searching again. I had been married. I had raised two wonderful kids. Now that they were about to graduate from high school I was ready to find my ancestors!

This sounded easy enough. I knew I had some distant relatives in Firebaugh, in Fresno County CA, so maybe if I just wrote and asked them, maybe they’d tell me. Yeah, and to all of you who search for your own ancestors, you know just how silly that thought was! Or was it?

For lack of any other place to start searching, I went back to Nana’s little red address book. Well, I tried to. Somehow, over the years since my mother and I first looked at that little red book, it had been misplaced. Instead of the little red book I decided to look at the signatures of Nana’s many friends and relatives who signed the guest book the day we laid her to rest. There were so many similar names, so many family names and so very many of them living right there in Firebaugh.  
One was Mom’s first cousin Genevieve Gonzales Barragan. I’ll talk more about Genevieve in a bit.

I was once again eager to find this Juana Bojorques and her family, and anything else I might find about my ancestors… so I began asking my mom a lot of questions. Mom wasn't terribly thrilled with all my questions. Mom really wanted me to just leave the past in the past. Of course this just made me all the more curious… what shouldn't I find?? Yes, my very active imagination kept bringing up visions of huge land grants, immense wealth waiting for us to claim, ... or maybe just some skinny skeletons in dark closets!! 
Whatever the history I just really had to know… so I asked more and more questions. 
A lot of questions!!

Through the years Mom had kept a newspaper article about one of my great uncles… he had been married to my Nana’s oldest half sister Annie. Even though the article was about Uncle Tom and his days working for Henry Miller of the Miller Lux Cattle and Sheep Company, the part where Uncle Tom spoke of his wife’s family really caught my attention. His wife, my Nana’s half sister, would have much of the same history. I think I memorized almost every word of that article!

Finally! My beginning! From an article published in The Fresno Bee in February 1952 I was beginning to learn about my ancestors. My notebook had some details… I was on my way!

Armed with only the information I remembered from Nana’s little red book I headed for the Fresno County vital records office. I had written down the dates of Nana’s siblings, and her half-siblings from memory, crossing my fingers I had at least close to accurate dates! A small note here…this was 1984, very early 1984 and the large old original ledger books, all dusty and fading and crinkly on the edges were actually available for searching. Yep, you could request one of those big ol’ volumes, haul it over to the table and turn the pages finding whatever fascinating details you might uncover!

Wow! Talk about details uncovered! My memory proved to be pretty darned good… I was able to find ALL of Nana’s half siblings, including the birth of a set of twins that was news to us! I found my Nana and her seven siblings. I even found Nana’s marriage record to her first husband!
… and somehow I was smart enough to write down the volume and page numbers, whew! Since then the phrase "cite your source!" has become just about the most important part of my searches.

Now that I've found all these details about Nana’s siblings and about Nana… what about my ancestors? I really haven’t found anything yet about my great grandmother, my Nana’s mother. All I know about her is her name. She was Florencia Enriquez and she was the daughter of Manuel Enriquez and Juana. Hmmm, I wonder who the Bojorques guy was? Did Juana marry him before, or after she married Manuel Enriquez and had my great grandmother Florencia? So many questions!! I couldn't count how many times Mom rolled her eyes with all my questions. As strange as it might sound, there really ARE people who are just not interested in finding out about their families. Can you imagine that? Not interested in genealogy? Really??

Remember earlier I mentioned Mom’s first cousin Genevieve and that I’d talk about her a bit later? 
This is where I talk about Genevieve.

Genevieve’s father, Nemecio “Mechie” Gonzales and my Nana were brother and sister. They were the children of Florencia Enriquez and Nemecio Gonzales. Mechie and his first wife Trinidad Corona had one child, Genevieve, before Trinie’s death. Genevieve was mostly raised by her grandmother Mrs. Corona, living a good portion of her life in the Fresno and Firebaugh areas. Genevieve had married Tony Barragan in 1945 and they raised their four children in Firebaugh where Tony and Genevieve still live.

In March or April of 1986 Mom mentioned that she hadn't seen her cousin Genevieve in probably 25 years or so. Mom said she thought Genevieve had been a hairdresser and owned a business there in Firebaugh. With a bit of my sleuthing I was able to find a phone number and gave Genevieve a call. (Ya gotta remember, this was 1986, way before I owned a computer…no Google searches or MapQuest or!) Soooo, I took a deep breath and called Genevieve’s number and after explaining who I was (crossing my fingers she didn't hang up on this crazy sounding woman), and after a somewhat stunned few seconds of silence… Genevieve said “I know who you are! I haven’t seen your mother in years, how is she?!” A fun conversation followed and eventually I asked if Mom and I could visit with Genevieve the following Monday. She agreed and we had a date! I was so excited… I really hoped to learn so much more about the Firebaugh families… Genevieve’s dad had lived and worked there all his life, he MUST have known lots of stuff! 

Oh, yeah, Genevieve had mentioned she would have Aunt Hilda come over that day too, that Aunt Hilda knew lots about the family history. Ummm, OK. But who's Aunt Hilda???

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Nana's little red book...

While growing up in Madera, CA I always knew my grandparents on my dad's side were from the South, from Mississippi. Being at Grandma and Grandpa’s house meant we would always have delicious food! We had wonderfully golden fried foods, greens from Grandpa's huge gardens, ham and eggs and biscuits, roasted chicken smothered in cornbread dressing with cornbread gravy, and of course the huge family gatherings at their house in the country. All my cousins would be there, so many of them! My dad was the youngest of seven and each of his older brothers and sisters had children, most of them a bit older than my brother and I. The house was always noisy and filled with cousins and with the delicious smells from Grandma's kitchen... you could almost always smell something like bacon frying!!

My mother's parents lived in town. My mother had 3 much older half brothers so my cousins on that side were quite a bit older too. We didn't see them as often as my cousins on my dad's side of the family. Mom's brothers lived in other towns and didn't seem to visit all that often but we sometimes saw them while visiting our great aunts in Watsonville.

For the first five years of my life we lived in the same house with my mom's parents, my Nana and Papa. Nana's kitchen had a delicious smell with the warmth to it that slowly just wound itself around you.

One of my earliest memories in Nana's kitchen is of holding onto the edge of her kitchen table with my finger tips, stretching up as high as I could on my tippy-toes and looking across that table at a whole bunch of little round white things dusted with flour and sitting on a dish towel. I knew I couldn't touch but in a short time Nana would transform each of these little white round things into one of the most wonderful thing in the world… a handmade tortilla, fresh off the stove to be slathered in butter. NOTHING compares to that taste, or that smell… that feeling of being hugged in a huge warm blanket!

My Nana and Papa were not from the South, not from Mississippi. They spoke Spanish when they didn't want my brother or me to understand what they were saying… and Nana’s kitchen always smelled like warm tortillas, and beans, and enchiladas, and fat round tamales tied on the ends… and of those special spices that now instantly take me back every time I smell them!
Nana and Papa were Californios… a term I’ve learned over the past couple of decades. Nana and Papa were both descendants of the first families who arrived in California as early as 1769.

Nana's kitchen was always the best place in the house. After we moved away to another town my brother and I so looked forward to our visits with Nana and Papa! Every time we were there it was like being a very small child again. Not long ago some of my cousins from my dad’s side said they loved to see my Nana arriving at a family gathering because she always had a huge tray of her enchiladas to add to all that southern fried food…and Nana always took home an empty tray!

Sadly, in 1961 when I was just 13, my Nana died. I was heartbroken. Several days after her funeral service while my mother and I were going through some of Nana’s things we came across a little red address book. As I sat on the floor looking through the names of people my Nana knew, I wondered about her life, where she met them, and what their conversations might have been. I wished I had known more about Nana.

On one of the pages Nana had written something I think was just for me… not that she said so, but over the years I've just known that page was written for me.

Nana wrote the names of her siblings along with their birth and death dates. She wrote the names of her parents and their birth and death dates. She wrote the names of her grandparents… but she hadn't written all of their dates.

One of the names written in Nana’s little red book was Juana Bojorques.

From the instant I read that name my entire being was captured. I can’t explain the feeling at that moment, other than it was such a strong feeling of urgency. I knew I had to find this person. I had to know everything about this Juana Bojorques.
Why didn't Nana write down the birth and death info for her own grandmother?
This was a mystery I just had to solve!

Through the years since that February day in 1961… nearly 52 years now… I've been trying to solve the mystery of Juana Bojorques. During the past 20 or so years it’s been like living in my own mystery novel… each new character I find brings a whole new chapter to the novel… each with even more questions to add to the mystery!

Without Juana’s birth and death dates I've had to do some very interesting sleuthing along the way and I've become a pretty good detective, too. In my search for one great, great-grandmother I've found generations of California born ancestors, and well over one hundred living cousins!

… are you ready to meet some of my ancestors?