Who will be the characters of my story? I wrestled with this thought. How can I ensure that they are accurate depictions of the time period as well as have depth? Basically, how do I create a character that I, and hopefully my readers, connect with? While the list of potential characters is long, I need to build a believable back story for each.
Since my experience as a writer has mainly been in the nonfiction genre, character development will be my biggest challenge.
In tandem with historical research for the novel is my own genealogical research. It seems obvious that I should use real characters for my story. I’ve been a bit ambivalent about this since I do not know the history of my early ancestors – what if they were unsavory characters? But then again, we are all human and it is our character flaws that sometimes define us from each other.
I couldn’t think of a more efficient way. I’d accomplish two goals at once – work on my genealogy and develop characters for my story.
Feeling pretty good about my decision, I revisited the genealogical research that I had started years ago and hadn’t gotten back to recently. The paternal roots on my mother’s side can be traced to Germany in the 1800s. The maternal roots on my mother’s side are better documented and extend to the 1600s in the United Kingdom. While knowledge about my German ancestors may not be useful background for my novel, my English heritage may help in the character development of pirates and privateers who plied the waters off Guam.
My father’s Chamorro heritage is not as easy to verify. There is a 139-year gap in the historical record from 1758-1897. Links between the earliest families recorded on Guam and today’s families cannot be verified. Most of the work done thus far has been through oral family history. As our manamko pass on, this information is harder and harder to come by.
My strategy is to learn as much as I can about the origins of my family and search for documents that may shed more light on my heritage. I contracted genealogists in Utah to verify my findings and continue research on my maternal line. I decided to tackle my paternal line. Hopefully this strategy will afford me an opportunity to understand the world of the patriarch of my Hispanic-Chamorro family. Below is an account of this quest.
Traveling has always been a part of my life. Growing up in a military family, I made my first crossing of the Atlantic at the tender age of 6 months. My family would move numerous times after that. My parents had five children — all born in different places. My sister Sally had to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen because she was born in Cambridge, England. I think I had seen more of the world than most people by the time I was 12.
Perhaps my interest in my heritage sprang from my early nomadic life. Then again, one of my favorite memories as a young child is my dad lifting me in the air so I could look out the window and asking “See Guam? See Guam?” My father’s pride in his homeland I would later learn was a character of the Chamorro people from earliest times. It is a character that I inherited as well.
What connections does my contemporary family have with my ancestors? Are there character traits that we share? What I do know is that somewhere in my background, a male and possibly a female ancestor traveled to Guam from abroad and planted the seed that would flourish into the Leon Guerrero family tree.
After my initial research I decided I needed to scour the not-so-obvious documents. Since others had already done work in more traditional means, by documenting relationships from the present to the past, I decided to start at the other end. I’d try to find the earliest mention of a Leon Guerrero in documented records.
I had already pored over the 1727 and 1758 census records. In the earliest census, it appears that the Leon Guerrero surname was one of the largest families recorded in Hagatña, trailing behind Cruz, Salas and Espinosa. I was able to establish a possible patriarch of the LG clan, namely Don Diego de Leon Guerrero. I could trace his progeny to the 1757 census but the 139-year gap between that census and the 1897 census
created another challenge that I would have to deal with later.
From the available records I learned that Don Diego was an adjutant officer with the Spanish Garrison. Another soldier of a lesser rank was Antonio de Leon Guerrero. He was married with one child and listed just after Don Diego in the census. I’d like to believe that Antonio either is a younger brother, a nephew or older son to Don Diego. The only other person not listed as a family member to either Don Diego or Antonio in Hagatna is Dona Marie de Leon-Guerrero. She was married to a high-ranking Spanish officer. I wondered why Antonio’s name is not prefaced by a courtesy title like Don Diego and Doña Marie.
Searching other records such as reports to the Spanish crown to justify payments for the Garrison’s personnel, I was able to find that Don Diego was with the Spanish Garrison as early as 1717. That meant that only 49 years had passed since the colonization of the island by the Spanish. Due to his approximate age, it was doubtful that he had played a role in the colonization. When did he come to Guam and from where?
Taking my research to the Internet, I found that I was not able to locate any genealogical surname projects or for that matter the surname Leon Guerrrero anywhere not associated with Guam. I searched sites from the Philippines, Mexico and Spain. I was able to find De Leon, Leon and Guerrero but not de Leon Guerrero or Leon Guerrero.
Historical documents reveal that there were families named De Leon, Leon and Guerrero listed alongside de Leon Guerrero, indicating that de Leon Guerrero was a separate family.
To confuse matters more, both Leon and Guerrero are place names in Mexico. Leon a place name in Spain. Did the patriarch come for one of these locations and marry someone from the other location? Was he Spanish or Portuguese? In Spain the mother’s name is carried as the last name and the father’s name listed prior to this. In Portugal it is the inverse.For the surname Leon Guerrero, in Spain, Leon would indicate
the paternal surname, while in Portugal, it would be the maternal surname. Or did the name not refer at all to this and was a name given to a great warrior – Leon Guerrero means “Lion Warrior.” One member of the Leon Guerrero clan on Guam indicated that research conducted by a relative into his branch had revealed a very interesting story. After visiting Europe, his family member told him that Leon Guerrero was a name that
was given to a Jewish family to escape the Spanish Inquisition. While this seems fantastic, this was indeed a practice. Spanish Jews were often charged with crimes and killed even after converting to Catholicism.
Realizing that I would now need to take my investigation beyond Guam’s shores, my husband and I planned a trip to Seville Spain in search of more information. This would give me the opportunity to determine if there were any families in Spain with the surname Leon Guerrero as well as learn firsthand about the history and culture of the inhabitants of the city that was homeport to the Spanish empire’s galleon trade.