For me, the unpuzzling of some family history is a bit like untangling jewelry – necklaces in particular. Both are valued and require delicate attention. Achieving success in each case takes a measure of patience and dedication and the end goal usually can’t be reached until smaller successes are achieved.
One of the “puzzles” for me in tracing my Banegas roots is learning about Ysabel Banegas. Family oral tradition states that he was adopted, which even in modern times would present some difficulties in tracing his past. Ysabel was born in about 1842 when recordkeeping for adoptions was probably unheard of and at a time when New Mexico wasn’t yet a state, and in fact not even a US territory (it was part of Mexico which had become independent of Spain in 1821). If such records did exist, I sure don't have a clue on how to find them (at least not right now).
When I had first begun to be interested in genealogy in my teens, I went straight to my parents and grandparents to find out what they knew about their predecessors. I knew one set of grandparents personally –my dad’s maternal (Banegas) grandparents. My great-grandfather Febronio (Grandpa Nono) died when I was very young but I have vague memories of him and of course photographs.
My dad shared what he could about Grandpa Nono’s parents. He told me his (Febronio’s) father was named Abel. He also told me that Febronio was adopted and while Dad wasn’t sure of it, he thought his real surname was possibly Lucero. Over time, I found that Abel was actually Ysabel (I’ve never heard him called Abel except during that first interview with Dad). I’ve also found that Febronio was not adopted, so I’m thinking there may just have been some confusion about who was adopted. Especially since the information about Ysabel being adopted has come up time and again. (And the name Lucero hasn’t come up again in talking to any other family members, but I’ve tucked away in my memory banks for now, just in case.)
I have to confess here that I was a bit reluctant to accept Ysabel’s adoption as a fact. It wasn’t that I wanted to doubt the story. But I do know that oral history is a bit like the parlour game “telephone”. Information that is passed verbally is subject to (possibly even prone to) innocent errors or unintentional alteration along the way. Besides that, there is the little complication of no source documentation to completely substantiate the adoption. An adoption (any adoption) can be a bit of a brick wall when it comes to researching past generations, so maybe I was being wishful and thinking how much easier the search would be if there were a biological connection between Ysabel and his father (Manuel Banegas).
However, the story of Ysabel’s adoption is attested to by several family members. One exciting and somewhat detailed account comes from Estevan B. Banegas (Manuel>Estevan T>Estevan B) in his essay “Citizen Soldiers from SanIsidro, New Mexico, Banegas Family Story”:
“As a young boy, Isabel had been captured by Indians and later traded to Don Manuel. Don Manuel had saved several boys and one girl in a similar manner. The two sons and adapted sons had worked side by side with Don Manuel to dig new irrigation canals, plant shade trees along community roads and cultivate the family farm.”
Ysabel’s neice Ella Banegas (Manuel>Estevan T) also recounts in "Our Heritage, Our People, Selections of the Mesilla Valley" a verbal history collected by Ella Banegas Curry and Shan Nichols (Library of Contress Catalog Card Number 74-18037):
"The land for the [San Ysidro] Church was donated by Estevan Banegas. Estevan Banegas' father, Manuel had come from Mexico. It is believed that along his way, he took in a boy he reared as his own. The young boy's name is Ysabel.”
In a 1970s interview with Ysabel’s daughter Carolina Banegas (Manuel>Ysabel), she stated that Ysabel was an adopted son to Manuel. Ysabel’s daughter and neice would both have firsthand knowledge of Ysabel’s life and are early enough in the “telephone” chain to have the facts straight.
Other details about Ysabel have been revealed over time. Originally I placed his death at around 1925, however in the Fall/Winter 2000 edition of the NFB newsletter, Irene Salais Needham (Manuel>EstevanT>Angelita) wrote a piece called “Mi Tio Ysabel” and in it she recalled that Ysabel had died around 1936. Just before the newsletter went to print, M. Steve Banegas (Manuel>Ysabel>Febronio>Willie) emailed me a page from an old journal kept by his father Willie that listed Ysabel’s death date precisely: 24 Feb 1935 8:25pm.
Last week while I was doing one of my late night internet research sessions, I happened on a death entry for Ysabel. You can check it out here at FamilySearch.org. Not only did it confirm Willie’s journal, it added some new clues. First and foremost it gave a name for Ysabel’s mother: Cirilda Espalin. (I had seen the name Esaplin before on the Social Security application of Pedro Banegas, one of Ysabel’s sons. He lists his father’s name as Isabel Espalin Banegas.)
There is no way of course to know if the information is accurate since death certificate facts are considered “secondary source” info. (They aren’t related by the affected party –rather by his/her descendants who may or may not have the facts straight.) But it is still something new to go on.
Oh, and another thing… the death record lists him as Jose Ysabel Banegas. That’s new to me. Another helpful clue, perhaps?