Unearthing Family Roots

Unearthing Family Roots

I’ve been trying to write this article for a while now. The problem is that I have gotten completely wrapped up in researching my genealogy – so much so that I am having difficulty focusing on anything else.

I’ve tried all the usual remedies – take a break, do something else. But today I came back to my trusty computer and still drew a blank.

I forced myself to write a few pages about a period in Guam’s history when no supply ships visited the island. But I am not happy with it. The truth of the matter is I am much more interested in trying to figure out who was Diego de Leon-Guerrero.

So this month’s installment will focus on my efforts to reveal the elusive Diego de Leon-Guerrero as well as reveal the results of the DNA testing on my grandmother’s maternal lineage (Torre, Ada, Acosta).

One thing I can say with 100% confidence is that research into family origins is time consuming and complicated. It is hard to believe the amount of time that I have put into it and still have no definite answers – only more questions!

I am heartened to know that there is one type of family research that is able to answer some questions. Perhaps that is why my interest (or obsession if you speak with my husband!) with “genetealogy” is alive and well. (Genetealogy is a recently coined word meaning genetic genealogy.)

Based on the number of requests I received for additional information on DNA testing it appears that my DNA article in the June issue stirred up interest.

After the results of three tests for two members of my family revealed only European origins, I was elated with the results of the mtDNA testing on my paternal side.

While it is a bit confusing at first, the mtDNA reveals the lineage of the maternal line. When a male tests his mtDNA it reveals his mothers maternal lineage. So in my case, the test would reveal the lineage of my father’s mother (my grandmother, who was a Torre); and her mother (my great-grandmother, who was an Ada); and her mother (my great-great-grandmother, who was an Acosta), and so on.

This latest testing determined that my paternal grandmother’s lineage was haplotype “M*” which contains subgroups found in Eastern Eurasia, East Asia, America, the Indian subcontinent, but not Europe. Finally! Origins closer to home!

The National Geographic’s Genographic Project describes the origins of the M Haplotype:

“Haplogroup M ancestors were part of a great coastal migration that took place some 50,000 years ago. Hunter-gatherers skilled at seaside living wandered along the coasts of the southern Arabian Peninsula, India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.

This ancient southern coastline was drowned by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age. The rising waters also swallowed most archaeological traces of these early coastal-dwelling peoples.

Yet in places their physical footprint endures. Some of the fast-moving migrants reached and populated distant Australia soon after leaving Africa. Australian archaeological evidence, such as rock art, confirms their presence as early as 40,000 or perhaps even 60,000 years ago.

During the glacial Pleistocene era (about 50,000 years ago) sea levels in some places were 330 feet lower than they are today. The landmass known as Sunda (comprised of modern Sumatra and Borneo) was separated by just 62 miles of open water from Sahul, a second landmass comprised of Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania.

Though Australia was never connected to the continent by a land bridge, such short stretches of relatively calm water were apparently navigable by these early seafarers.”

It is not difficult to envision that Chamorros were descended from these early “fast moving” seafaring migrants.

Unlike the lengthy list of exact matches for my families paternal yDNA, and maternal mtDNA Haplotypes, the match list for my paternal mtDNA was short – only two people. I was only able to contact one of those persons of Chinese descent living in New York. I never received a reply from the other.

The exciting part for me was the listing of most recent ancestral origins. This list contained matches with individuals whose origins were recorded as China, India, Japan, Micronesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Poland, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

It is clear that more research needs to be done on the M* haplotype. More people need to be tested in order to build up the database. If enough individuals get tested, perhaps a type specific to Guam can be identified.

It amazes me that science has come so far in the last 8 years. It was only in the year 2000 that a White House ceremony marked a major milestone in the Human Genome Project – the completion of an outline listing the sequences of 3 billion DNA bases. Since then, DNA as a tool for genealogists has exploded.

I’ll admit it. I need to have my copy of, “Trace your Roots with DNA” handy when trying to interpret the results of the tests. But DNA testing will continue to be one of the tools that I use in researching my family origins.

While DNA testing gives results that are scientifically proven, traditional genealogical research is not so precise. Efforts to compile my family tree using oral history and source documents have been confusing!

I recently obtained a Leon Guerrero family tree that I wanted to merge with my own research on the Leon Guerreros. In the process I found more questions than answers. The two files contained differing information on the same individual. Their names might be spelled differently or the birth dates off by a year. In some cases an individual with the same name, birth date and parents had an entirely different spouse and children! I guess this could be true if the person was married twice and two different family members submitted the tree of their family.

When you can trace a lineage to the present day you can always ask a family member about them. While I place great value in oral history, what do you do when you come up with two conflicting stories? We all know how stories get changed from one year to the next – imagine generations!

Because of this I try my best to validate the information through written documents. But as I’ve found, even this is difficult. And the further you go back, the harder it gets. Most of the genealogical evidence that is readily available only goes as far back as the 1800s. I’m sure most of us have had our names misspelled or had incorrect information on a written record. This has occurred throughout history.

Do you spell Fejerang with or with a “g” at the end? Were Deleons ancestors of the Leon Guerreros? Did some of the Leon Guerreros drop the Leon and become only Guerreros? My grandfather and great grandmother’s surname were recorded in the 1920 census as Guerrero and not Leon Guerrero. My grandfather’s middle name is recorded as Fejerang, with the “g” on my father’s birth certificate. My great grandmother’s name was also spelled with the “g” in Spanish documents but my grandfather’s death certificate spells it without the “g.” And the list of discrepancies goes on.

When comparing the names of Spanish soldiers from the years 1717 -1766 I found several different spellings: Tenorio and Thenorio, Igancio and Ygnacio, Rivera and Ribera, Arceo and Arzeo. It was clear that they were the same individual but the recorder has spelled their names differently in the various lists. Another thing to consider is that name spellings have change through time. What is spelled Cepeda today was spelled consistently in all the early lists as Zepeda. In similar fashion, today only a few families carry the “de” “de la” or “de los” while in the lists, a significant number preface their surnames with one of these.

And then there are the other challenges to completing my research. I obtained two rolls of microfilm copies of historic documents from my recent research trip to Spain. I couldn’t wait to make hard copies so I could attempt to translate them. Unfortunately, I was not able to obtain a satisfactory copy from the single microfilm printer at the University. I ended up sending the microfilm to the states to be converted to a digital format so I am able to read it. Another unplanned delay in my research – arghhh!

I can say that my efforts to link the man who I believe to be the patriarch of the Leon Guerrero clan, Diego de Leon Guerrero, with today’s families is moving forward – albeit at a snails pace. I’ve been able to document his presence through census records and listings of Spanish soldiers from 1717 to 1766 – a 49 year period. I’m hoping to bridge the historical record gap (between 1758 and 1897) through one of his son’s or daughters.

As a person who likes to get things done, this slow progress is challenging me. But then again, I am a person who always enjoys a challenge.

2 Responses to Unearthing Family Roots

  1. Andrea says:

    First of all, everyone has mtDNA which we all get from our morhets. Men have it too, we just don’t pass it on to our children. So you could use mtDNA to find whether any two people come from the same maternal line regardless of their own gender. It wouldn’t necessarily tell you they are half siblings, they could be 3rd cousins twice removed (one’s purely maternal great great grandmother is the other’s purely maternal great great great great grandmother). Y chromosomes are only found in males and come only from fathers. You can’t tell anything about women from Y chromosomes, obviously.The reason they use mtDNA and the Y chromosome is because they come from only one parent and so there is no crossover and hence very little variation from generation to generation. Therefore, the differences that appear come from mutations which occur randomly and with a regular average interval. That makes them useful for tracing someone’s ancestry back thousands of years or finding very very distant relatives.For finding close relatives, as well as learning more complex and messy details about a person’s genetic makeup, the full genome is used with its rich assortment of genetic markers. In tests where they determine your racial background, for example, they use the whole genome. Just the mtDNA or Y chromosome would make it appear you come from just one race while looking at the genome shows most people Americans are mixed race at some level (unless they’re family hasn’t been in America that long and come from a genetically homogeneous ancestral home). Most African Americans are nearly half white. A Y chromosome or mtDNA wouldn’t show that, it would show their pure white ancestry or pure black ancestry, depending on their purely maternal and paternal lineages.Since the other chromosomes undergo crossover between the parents and come from a mix of the sets of chromosomes in each parent, a full DNA test can determine precisely how closely you are related to a close relative, something not possible with mtDNA or Y chromosome testing. If two siblings share one parent, a DNA test will determine that. If they don’t have the same mtDNA, then that parent is their father. If they do, then that parent is their mother.

  2. RJ Calvo says:

    Keep up the great work for all those still searching for the 1st. GUAM L.G. Patriach.

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