Thursday, April 2, 2015

Dredging Stories from Ditches, Looking for My Father (A Series of Cuentos, Part 1)

Published in
GSHA Nuestras Raices Journal

Volume 26, Issue 3   Fall 2014
Looking for My Father
(A Series of Cuentos)
Copyright July 2013 by Karen S. Córdova
[First published in La Sierra: Voice of Costilla County, 26 July 2013: 2+]
Who would have thought way back then and way back there that the old stories would keep her bones from aching?
–Rigoberto Gonzáles, Crossing Vines
El Huérfano
Like some of you, I was born in the land of the orphan. The llano fed by the orphan river, but not shaded at all by the lone butte called El Huérfano in Southern Colorado. Masochistic prairie speared by thousands of little snakes. Mis abuelos called them culebritos, and you would, too. Imagine squirming tails hanging from dark clouds, mouths open mid-sky. Aching to strike. Others standing upright like the devil himself, exposed and evil bright. This place, where wily silver veins war with themselves, naked in the sky, was the chosen land of my recent Martínez antepasados.
Before I go further, here’s some of my genealogy, snaking like Y-DNA from son to father to grandfather and on, the way many Nuevo Méxicano acequias  are nursed by los ritos  which, in turn, are fed by El Río Grande, flowing from el norte in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico.
I asked cousins to join me to learn about our grandfather’s DNA. Five of them were intrigued by my request. This is our group: brothers Louis Martínez (Pueblo, CO) and Bob Martínez (Taylor Ranch, NM); their niece, Donna Romero (Westminster, CO); sisters Patricia Martínez Neeman (Westminster, CO) and Cathy Martínez Pavlick (Billings, MT); and me, Karen Córdova (Irvine, CA). I am grateful for their collaboration. Each of us spent approximately $35.00 for a test that otherwise would have cost one of us $200.00 or more.
Louis’ DNA sample was used for the 67-marker test. The haplogroup results were R1b1a2 (R-M269). Among other projects, we joined the New Mexico DNA Project (a must), the Martínez DNA Surname Project, and the Baca DNA Project.
A deep clade test has not yet been done. There will be an upgrade to a 111-marker test within the year, because I am intrigued by the current results. “Intrigued” is the wrong word. I am both shocked and curious, even fascinated. That snake DNA doesn’t lie. But I am not afraid of what I’ll learn if I pull the DNA tail, shake it upside down, and catch secrets and clues that fall from its mouth. I want to know the truth about who I am.
Our focus was our grandfather, Juan Andrés Martínez, a rancher and businessman from Huérfano County, Colorado. Here is a segment of our male genealogy paper trail:
Louis Michael Martínez
(still living)
Francisco Esias Martínez
(still living)
María Consuela Romero
Juan Andrés Martínez
Malachite, CO
Walsenburg, CO
María Martha Archuleta
José Cipriano Martínez
Costilla, NM
Huerfano, CO
María Ysabel Naranjo
José Rafael Martín
7/5/1820 El Rancho,    Taos, NM
María Francisca Romero
José Francisco Martín
San Francisco
(San Juan Parish), NM
(1)María Ysabel Cortés
(2) María Josefa Romero
José Joaquin Martín
ca. 1750 (There is debate about who his parents were.)
María Candelaria Chávez
Now, back to my stories. I wish this one wasn’t true. My great-grandfather, José Cipriano Martínez, was a successful sheep rancher. He owned thousands of sheep. But financial success didn’t save him from jealous culebritos, vying for his life. He died from a bite of a sky snake, striking the Huerfano prairie, on August 30, 1905. He was buried a month before his 46th birthday. Two young sons, Moises and Rafael, were on the prairie with him, but their lives were spared—el culebrito had been satiated by consuming the life of Cipriano, his horse, and his dog. Mi abuelo, Juan Andrés, was only six years when he lost his father. Family members tell variations of this story to this day. My own mother infused fear of lightning into my being.
Cipriano’s wife, María Ysabel Naranjo, was widowed and left to raise ten children, when she was 39 years old. Two other children had already died. Isabel never remarried. She lived to be 91.
Another family story—short, but telling—goes something like this:
Isabelita, you are still young. You are beautiful.
You own a wealth of land.
Why have you never remarried?
Great-grandma replied, undoubtedly thinking not only of the twelve children she bore, but also of the prospects of raising an additional dozen: ¡Ni pendeja!
For now, like a hungry—no, greedy—trucha, this is a big enough bite of my mother’s father’s father’s line. Each name has many stories, and I am trying to grab even a few, as this river tumbles my way. ¡Cuantos cuentos! And most should be told. But, first, I have to find them. Maybe under the rocks on acequia walls. Maybe you can help me. Could we share cleaning the acequia de cuentos like our ancestors cleaned their ditches, as a group, followed by sharing cuentos with chile, fresh from the harvest? I want to talk about the way to cook new beans from the San Luis Valley, each one passing the test of an abuelita’s eye before diving into boiling water. I want to taste calavasitas, not zucchini or yellow squash, but our own buttery Southern Colorado calavasitas that put other squash-cousins to shame. However, time is short and I can’t talk about food now. And excuse me, I can only share a few stories during these few minutes we have together, today. Here is the important one, and I need to tell you now. I will spin more during our next visit. I trust that life itself will provide the wool for me to twist many more cuentos. When it does, I will gift you with a skein or two.
Mi primo, Guillermo, is more than hungry. He should be. Can you believe, a primo who has never tasted blue corn from the cob or a Rocky Ford cantaloupe, a manito (pal) who has never dipped his toes or fingers in an acequia? I will ask him if he knows that an acequia is more than a ditch. The acequia is life; we would have died if our abuelos had not been magicians of ditches. I know that. You know that. But Guillermo was an orphan. A lucky orphan, I must add, because a loving family snatched him (legally) from a Florence Crittenton home for unwed mothers in New Jersey.
So why is an Italian boy from New Jersey in my placita of a story? DNA. He is a close match, a zero-boned match to my Martínez line. Who knew that when I begged cousins to split the cost of testing a DNA swab (I’d already paid full price for testing three other swabs) from my cousin Louis Martínez’s inside cheek that I would find more cousins, one looking for his father.
Some might say this is proof of what mi tía, Della Velarde, tells me when I ask her why our name changed from Martín to Martínez:
Mi hijita, it must be because there were so many of us.
Guillermo looks for his father the way that Chimayó chile roots sense something in red, ancestral holy dirt, something urging them to unfurl and dig yet another inch more, and yet another inch more. In the dark. Feeling their way toward something it don’t rationally know is water.
Isn’t desire for family just like that? We genealogists crave the familial dead, whom we have never met. Imagine if it were possible that one of your cherished antepasados could still be alive and, if you looked long enough and smart enough, you could hold their hands. Then imagine Guillermo.
El Huérfano on the prairie, north of Walsenburg, is the remains of a volcano. The butte is a surprise, like a sand-covered knee thrust up by a child play-buried on an otherwise flat beach, thrust exactly where you’d least expect it to be. Like genealogy research. Especially like learning about genealogical DNA results.
As an avid amateur genealogist, I might as well be Guillermo, even though I know my father and I were fortunate to have known both grandfathers. My grandfathers’ fathers were introduced to me, long after they died, by extraction books and a few family stories. I so loved gaining their acquaintance and trust that I believed anything signed by a priest on every baptismal record. I worshipped microfiche films and sang alabanzas to The Master Genealogist and Family Tree Maker. I still revere all of these, light candles to them at night. However, I now also know this, first hand: paper records are sometimes used to bury family secrets, but DNA is a living knee able to thrust upward and dislodge the ground of accepted beliefs. Like El Huérfano.
This story is certainly about Primo Guillermo looking for his father but, like all of our individual stories, he is a cuentito within a family of cuentos. The larger volcano was this: our Martínez DNA is a 0-Step match, not only to Guillermo and several other Martínez males, descending from José Joaquin Martín, but to a few men with a Baca surname. We are a 1-step, 2-step, and 3-step match to even more Baca men. According to Ángel de Cervantes, project coordinator of the New Mexico DNA Project, our Martínez DNA does not correspond to the DNA of Hernán Martín Serrano. Ángel says we are descendants of one of the illegitimate sons of Josefa Baca.
I am therefore hopelessly aligned with Guillermo. He is looking for his father. I am looking for the reason why (and who and when) our paper trail Martínez line is a Baca DNA line. Whatever I discover, I will continue to honor the Martínez patriarchs, who raised another man’s child as their own.
I am in the beginning stages of compiling a spreadsheet of paper-trail genealogy, comparing Baca and Martínez lines that are a 0-step, 1-step, and 2-step match from ours. Louis’ Family Tree DNA Kit number is 287109. “Guillermo” is Bill Trignano. The Italian parents who adopted him named him “William”. Bill’s Kit number is 247985.
If you suspect you may be part of our close-DNA-cousin group, or a descendant of José Joaquin Martín, and you want to become more involved, please contact me at or 949-786-9282 and/or Bill Trignano at or 973-214-0367. In the next article in this series, I will identify other men, who lived in the 17th or 18th century, whose descendants’ DNA I’d love to see in the New Mexico DNA project.
I asked Bill to read this story and either give me permission, or a refusal, to reveal his quest in a published article. He was wholeheartedly supportive and asked me to use his real name and contact information. Bill also said:
“My adoptive parents are now deceased, and I will gain nothing by hiding or keeping secrets. Quite the opposite, I would rather more people know and maybe someone would have some information about my father. Time is running short for me. My birth mother died 5 days before 9/11 (2001), ten years before I found her. My father would be about 77 years old now. I pray he is still alive.”
Note that Bill’s birth mother’s family has embraced their newly found family member.
If you want to have your DNA tested, go to <>. Then, from the Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) website, join the New Mexico DNA Project. FTDNA regularly features discount offers.
More stories to unfold in life and in future journals.

 [Editor’s Note: No Spanish to English translation in this article at the request of the author, it is a prose poem;

please refer to a dictionary: printed or online for translation.]



1. Martínez family stories

2. Ángel de Cervantes, personal conversations, May-July 2013.

3. Martínez, Maria Clara (extracted by), San Miguel de la Costilla: Baptisms 1865 –1880 (and) Marriages 1865 – 1900.

4. Moises Cornelio Martínez, “Jose Cipriano Martínez (b. 28 Sep 1859, d. 30 Aug 1905)” Martínez/Rivera Ancestry: Huérfano, CO., Union, NM. 16 July 2013 <ínez/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0008.html>.

5.  Thomas D. Martínez, ext. & comp., San Juan delos Caballeros Baptisms: 1726-1870, baptism database of archives held by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the State Archive of New Mexico, April 29, 1994.

6. Thomas D. Martínez, ext. & comp., Taos Baptisms: 1701-1860, baptism database of archives held by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the State Archive of New Mexico, June 24, 2003.

7. William Trignano, personal e-mails. May-July 2013.