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Family Histories
The Peopling of America
Photo of Mary Sevilla Mary Sevilla
Secrets of my Ancestors
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 California.

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.

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