Guam and Seville, Spain, are linked through a shared history. Seville was the departure port for many of the mariners, explorers, priests and soldiers who plied the oceans in search of a better life. For those destined for the Pacific, it was the beginning of the first leg of a journey across two oceans and a continent.
The galleons left Seville and traveled down the Guadalquivir River to the ocean. From there, the ships made their way south, and those destined for the Pacific put in at Vera Cruz. Seamen bound for the Pacific who did not jump ship when they arrived in New Spain (Mexico) traveled by land to Acapulco, where they boarded another larger galleon for the long and arduous voyage across the Pacific.
While the ships were ultimately headed to Manila, a few people were off-loaded on Guam during a provisioning stop. It is certain that a small segment of this intrepid group settled in the islands permanently. Who were these travelers and where did they originate? Were they Spanish as commonly believed? Did this group include some of my ancestors?
A trip to Seville would give me firsthand information and insights into the character and history of the people of this area. It also would allow me to conduct research at the Archivo General de Indias, the largest collection of historical records relating to Spain’s overseas territories in America, the Philippines and Mariana Islands.
The fourth article of this series looks at my efforts to find documentation in Seville of the origins of the Leon Guerrero family on Guam and the Mariana Islands.
Arriving in Seville, Spain, I went first to the phone book. Were there pages and pages of Leon Guerreros as there are on Guam? After almost two days of traveling, my eyes were not in the best shape and the small print in the book made the task even more difficult. The fact that my luggage was lost and it was cold and pouring rain outside lent a certain air to my effort. In other words, I’d be really, really disappointed if I didn’t find a Leon Guerrero.
Of course there were plenty of Guerreros and Leons but where was Leon Guerrero? Turning the pages and wishing I had the magnifying glass that was in my lost luggage, I scrutinized the print on the page. I handed the book to my husband and asked him to look; was that a Leon Guerrero — a single entry in the entire phone book?
He confirmed my finding and I was eager to find out what this person knew of their family history. The only problem I found was that in Seville, you need to speak Spanish. My effort to learn the language was not very successful. So how was I going to speak with someone on the telephone and ask questions about their family?
The Archivo General de Indias is a wonderfully beautiful building. The treasures it holds for the historian are priceless. I was so honored to hold in my hand original documents written in the 1500s that report the progress of the mission in the Marianas Islands. Bundles of single sheets of paper wrapped in a leather cover tell the story of our ancestors through the eyes of Spanish governors and priests.
The staff was very helpful and a first search for “Leon Guerrero” came up with no hits. They apologetically told me that it didn’t mean that there were no Leon Guerreros, just that they weren’t indexed in the search engine. I’d just have to search through the documents.
It was at the archives that we met a friendly Spanish woman, Angeles, from Boston. She was researching her heritage and offered to help us. We spent several wonderful days with her. The first thing she did was dial the number for the sole Leon Guerrero in the phone book. Amelia Leon Guerrero answered the phone. She was an elderly woman who was very happy to help. She said her family came from Aguilar de la Frontera near Cordoba but her father, Bichell Leon, came from Argentina. Her mother was a Sanchez Guerrero.
Knowing that communication would be difficult since I did not speak Spanish, I e-mailed Mari Carmen, a good friend on Guam originally from Cordoba and asked if her family could help. Her reply informed me that her cousin who was a TV journalist had offered to help contacting Amelia’s family in Cordoba.
In the meantime, I had enlisted my husband to help with the research at the archives. His Spanish was better than mine and I figured we would get through the documents faster. I gave him the references that I knew existed at the archives and had information about Guam.
The archives has a strict policy, and researchers are not allowed to
speak to each other while in the research room. We worked separately during the day and discussed our findings at night. After three days of reading, it was Jean who found the document that revealed Don Diego de Leon Guerrero was a soldier in Guam in 1717. His delight was wonderful to see! It made me happy that he was able to experience the joy of a good find! He now knew firsthand how much reading you have to do before it yields any results.
The document he found was the earliest written document that we have been able to find that mentions the surname de Leon Guerrero in Guam. He was listed as a soldier with the First Spanish Infantry with the royal camp at San Ignacio, “Agadna.” The document didn’t tell us when or where he came from, but that didn’t dampen our spirits, we’d just have to continue looking.
Ana Hernandez, a friendly and very helpful woman who oversees the Philippines collection at the archives informed us that the document that Jean had found was a document that the government had ordered produced in the 1800s to summarize all of the information on the Mariana Islands. In other words, it was not the original source.
She directed me to the original document that the information was gleaned from and I ordered a microfilm copy. I felt honored to hold that document dated 1718 in my hand. It was even more memorable as the document contained information on my ancestor. While I have no evidence to verify that connection, I am sure that Don Diego and I share some ancestry – we must.
Our efforts to find more information about Diego were unsuccessful. The next strategy was to learn as much as we could about the soldiers of the Spanish Garrison. I learned that the Archivo General Militare de Segovia (military archives in Segovia, Spain) supposedly had records of all Spanish military personnel up to the early 1900s and it is indexed. I got so excited I quickly checked the train timetables and availability of accommodation. The requirements for research where much more detailed than that required for the archives in Seville. I had official documents to verify that I was a serious researcher so I wasn’t worried.
I was ready to go when I decided to call my friend and fellow researcher, Carlos Madrid, who lives in Segovia. My plans for a quick trip to the military archives were dashed when he informed me that he had conducted research on the Leon Guerrero name and only came up with two individuals that he said were not related to the Guam Leon Guerreros.
Such is the nature of historical research. While I still want to conduct research in Segovia, I’ll have to exhaust other less costly avenues first. So for now, my search continues for evidence of my elusive ancestor.