|In 1915, revolution engulfed Mexico.
Caught in the crossfire was the family of Sister Mary Sevilla. The revolutionary Pancho
Villa kidnapped Mary's grandfather, Manuel Sevilla, and his entire family, because Villa
wanted Manuel, an artist and engraver, to do the portraits for the new currency. But
Manuel managed to escape Villa's guards. Along with thousands of other refugees, the
Sevilla family crossed the border into the United States and started a new life in
The drama of her family's journey to the United States inspired Mary to explore
her ancestry. At the Family History Center in Lakewood, California she has scoured
hundreds of microfilms to find Mexican church records of the Sevilla line. Though she
has found records for her family dating back to 1731, in all her searching one person
eluded her - her grandmother Rita. Rita died before the revolution, leaving behind Manuel
and six children who barely knew her. But those children kept her memory alive by passing
along her name.
For family historians, the female line is often hard to document. Mary began the search
for her grandmother with the church record of the wedding of Manuel and Rita. "When I was
growing up, I always heard that my grandmother was Rita Tressarrieu. And I'm looking at it
[the record], thinking someplace I'm going to find Tressarrieu in this document. But it's
not here anyplace." Instead Rita's maiden name is listed as Sánchez - a name Mary had
never heard before. Who was Rita's real father? Unless Mary could find out that part
of her family line would remain hidden.
To uncover Rita's past, Mary travelled to Mexico. Her first stop was the Civil Registry
where birth and death records for Mexico City have been kept since 1859. Mary knew that
Grandma Rita had a child named Gloria who died as an infant. This record should list
Rita's maiden name. When Mary received the document, she saw that it listed the baby's
father as Manuel Sevilla; the mother, Rita Tressarrieu.
Next, to prove that Rita's father was Tressarrieu, Mary needed to find Rita's baptism
record. According to the wedding document, Rita was baptized at Santa Veracruz Church
in downtown Mexico City. Mary hoped to find Rita's record somewhere in the church's
archives, which date back to the Spanish Conquest. Mary believed Rita was born in 1873
and would have been baptized within six months of her birth. Without an exact date,
hundreds of records had to be examined carefully for the names Tressarrieu, Sánchez, or
simply Rita. After many hours of fruitless search, the baptism records revealed nothing.
However, the church's baptism books separate legitimate from illegitimate births. Could
Rita be there?
Finally, a breakthrough: a baptism record for an illegitimate child named María Rita;
the last name, however, was not Tressarrieu, nor even Sánchez, but Gálvez. "This has
to be her. I've heard for a long time that Rita's mother was named Jesús Daniel, but
this is a big surprise, this Antonio Gálvez. I would suspect that Rita was born to a
mother out of wedlock and possibly it was not okay to be pregnant and unmarried and so
that she went to live with her aunt. The aunt was married to a man named Tressarrieu.
I'm assuming since she was raised in the Tressarrieu household that it was easier to
say Tressarrieu; that it was their child. When the mother did get married that's when
I think she probably married someone named Sánchez."
After years of searching, Mary believes she may have found at last the answers to her
grandmother's identity. "For me, it's just the excitement of looking and then finding
them on a record. They really existed, they have their place in history."
Mary's grandmother, Rita Sevilla.
When Mary found the wedding records for her grandparents, the mystery deepened.
Rita was baptized in Santa Veracruz Church, Mexico City.
This may be Rita's birth record.