Personal journals are crucial in historical and genealogical research

One of the greatest disappointments in researching South Texas history has been the lack of original personal sources from Mexican Americans. It is rare that you come across letters or journals on their personal lives and family stories. While editing my father’s upcoming book La Voz de Amor I came across a journal from my grandmother who died when my father was 10 and another personal record from my mother about when my father was in the service.

First page of my grandmother's journal.
First page of my grandmother’s journal.

Only recently, I reconnected with my cousin Maria Cristina from Monterey. She is my Tía Blanca’s only daughter and my father’s niece. In a recent phone conversation with Cristina I asked her if her mother, who is now deceased, had kept any of my dad’s poems. I was not surprised that she had a few poems from my dad since my father and her mother were very close. Cristina, who is not tech savvy, had her daughter email copies of what she had found.

Imagine my surprise when I found in her transmittal an “album” my grandmother kept, which had been transcribed by my aunt. It was only several pages long but it contained an enormous amount of family genealogy, most of which I did not know before and some of it was quite surprising.

Her first entry was information on her wedding day on February 20, 1909. The religious ceremony took place at 5 a.m. and “el acto civil 4 p.m. del mismo dia.” She wrote:

“…fue sabado y estaba hermoso el dia.”

She goes on to name all of her children, the date, day and hour of their birth, and their padrinos. Often the padrinos were relatives, such as her father Genaro, her uncle Aurelio Torrez, her cousin Josefina Torrez, her aunt and uncle Aurelio and Josefa C. de Torrez, and her aunt Cristela Cardenas, This of course are all my relatives, none of which—save for my great grandfather Genaro—had I heard of prior to this discovery. In addition, I learned of three siblings of my father—all who died as infants—which I had never heard of either. Needless to say it added quite a lot to my genealogical tree.

I found interesting the wording of one of the baptismal entries, which read “le echaron el agua.” This suggests to me that some, if not all of the baptisms, may have been done without the benefit of clergy present. As I mentioned several of the babies died the same day or a few days later. One child remained nameless because he was stillborn. The entry simply read, “El 28 de diciembre de 1916 nació un niño muerto, fue viernes.

I was deeply touched by her last entry which read:

“Escribo esto pidiendo al cielo toda clase de dichas para ellos. Pido que tengan un claro entendimiento, que sean honrado ciudadanos, amables espos y cariñosos padres, y mi hija sea un angel en el hogar.”

Interestingly, my Tía Blanca transcribed the journal on October 15, 1982 in San Diego, Texas. This suggests that my dad may have had the original journal since he lived in San Diego and my aunt would come from Monterey for visits. If my dad did have it, he never mentioned it to me.

My Service Record069
Cover of my mother’s journal of my father’s time in the service.

The second original piece of family history I came across was an album my mother kept entitled “His Service Record.” It was a commercial product that was bought by those who had loved ones in the military during World War II. “When it is completed,” read a page in the album, “ it will serve as a record of his experiences and observations during the war which the United Stated of America entered on December 8th, 1941.” I imagine that other families may have similar records—and may not know it.

It has such information as my father’s reporting to duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio on March 27, 1944; of his transfer to Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas on April 6, 1944; of his first furlough to San Diego on April 2, 1944; and his emergency leave on June 14, 1944 to attend his daughter Maria de los Angeles’ operation.

About his first visit home, my mother wrote:

“Very proud of hisself (sic) with his uniform (a very happy day)…His comments about the life in the service were that he was treated very good. That he enjoyed his life in the service and was proud to be an American soldier.”

Mother also kept details of when she sent him cookies, when and how often he wrote to her, and the friends he made in the service. He was discharged on October 6, 1944 at Fort Sam Houston and returned home on October 7, 1944.

These are treasured keepsakes and provide insightful information not only about my family but about life in Mexico in the early 20th century and impressions life in the U.S. military had on families.

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