Confirming the Names of Great Grandfather José Robledo’s Parents

The Brick Wall

Jose Robledo
My great-grandfather, José Robledo.

My great grandfather José Robledo has been one of my MAJOR brick walls for 16+ years. He immigrated to the United States from Mexico, before settling in Los Angeles County, California (by 1918) with his immigrant wife, my great grandmother Maria “Nana” Hermalinda Nieto Compean, and their two Mexican-born children.1, 2 José only lived in his new country for a couple decades. He died in 1937, in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California.3

I first started talking about this brick wall in a post from February 2014, explaining that his lone living child and his living grandchildren never knew where in Mexico José was born and lived, or the names of his parents.4 By January 2015, when I next profiled great grandfather José, I had made no further progress…very frustrating.5

The Research Question

Seeking a handful of answers about great grandfather José (the names of his parents, where in Mexico they came from, and when he was born), I had to make myself focus on answering one question at a time.

What were the names of the parents of my great-grandfather José Robledo, who married Maria Hermalinda Nieto Compean in Mexico, with whom he had two children—daughter Guadalupe Robledo Nieto and son Refugio Robledo Nieto—before the young family immigrated to the United States around 1915?

My big breakthroughs came in the summer and fall of 2015.

Breaking Down the Brick Wall

It so often takes just that one small lead.

01 May 2015: I received a copy of Jose’s 1937 certificate of death in the mail from Los Angeles County, California. Jose’s oldest son Refugio served as the informant, and Refugio identified José’s parents as Celbario Robledo and Mary Sanches.6

Jose Robledo, 1937 Death Certificate
A close-up look at the parents’ names recorded on José Robledo’s 1937 death certificate.
   Los Angeles County, California, standard certificate of death no. 10138 (1937), Joe Robledo; County of Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Norwalk.

07 May 2015: After 15+ years of looking, I FINALLY located a marriage record for my great-grandparents José and Maria, their Informacíon Matrimonio (prenuptial investigation) dated 13 July 1908, from Santa Isabel parish in Armadillo de los Infante, San Luis Potosí, Mexico. This document identifies José’s parents as what I initially thought was Silveño Robledo and Jesus Sanches, both of whom were still living at the time.7

Parents Identified in Jose Robledo's 1908 Marriage Record
José Robledo’s parents are identified in his 1908 prenuptial investigation record.
“México, San Luis Potosí, registros parroquiales [parish registers], 1586-1970,” digital images, FamilySearch ( ; accessed 07 May 2015), José Robledo [and] Maria Nieto, 13 July 1908, p. 111 (stamped); citing Santa Isabel parish (Armadillo de los Infante, San Luis Potosí, Mexico), Información Matrimonios [Marriage Information] 1900-1909.
Silveño is similar to Celbario (the name noted on José’s death record). Sanches for his mother’s surname is the same on both records, however she is identified as Mary on the death record and Jesus on the marriage record.

30 September 2015: When painstakingly browsing through digitized (non-indexed, non-searchable) microfilmed civil birth registrations on FamilySearch, I came across a 1913 birth record for a then-unknown daughter born to José and Maria, Celedonia Robledo.8 Ironically, less than 30 days later, Ancestry released a fully indexed, searchable, collection of those same records. But the civil birth registration for Caledonia Robledo provides the names of both sets of her grandparents, and identifies great-grandfather José’s parents as Silverio Robledo and Jesus Sanches.

 Robledo's Parents on Birth Record for Celedonia Robledo
José Robledo’s parents identified on the civil birth registration for Celedonia Robledo. Armadillo de los Infante, San Luis Potosí, Archivo del Registro Civil [Civil Registration Archive], 1913; entry 84, Celedenia [Celedonia] Robledo, 6 March 1913, folio 23 (back); digital image, FamilySearch ( : accessed 30 September 2015) > Mexico > San Luis Potosí, Civil Registration, 1859-2000 > Armadillo de los Infante > Nacimientos 1913-1919 > image 34.
Silverio looks and sounds very similar to Silveño (from the marriage record) and Celbario (from the death record. Jesus Sanches is the same name identified on José’s marriage record.

19 November 2015: I FINALLY located the civil birth registration for José and Maria’s oldest daughter, my great-aunt Guadalupe Robledo, the daughter that immigrated with the family in 1915. Like Caledonia’s civil birth registration, this record for Guadalupe’s 1910 birth provides the names of both sets of grandparents, identifying Silverio Robledo and Maria Jesus Sanches as her paternal grandparents.9

José Robledo's parents identified on civil birth registration for Guadalupe Robledo
José Robledo’s parents are identified on the civil birth registration for his oldest daughter Guadalupe Robledo.
“San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Civil Registration Births, 1860-1947,” entry for Guadalupe Robledo, 21 July 1910 [born 4 July 1910]; database with digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 19 November 2015; citing Registro Civil [Civil Registration] del Estado [state] de San Luis Potosí, México; San Nicolás de los Montes, 1909-1912; 1910, folio 3 front.

Evidence Analysis

José’s Father

This prompted me to take a closer look Jose’s 1908 prenuptial investigation. What I initially read as Silveño does indeed read now as Silverio.10 The combination of this being a name I had not read or heard before, and the priest’s handwriting on that marriage record, caused me to guess the wrong given name. This source provides direct evidence to answer the research question, and it contains strong primary information pertaining to that question. José would have been one of the informants for this record, having been interviewed by he parish priest. His parents would have been present as well, also serving as informants.

The civil birth registrations for Jose’s two Mexican-born daughters were more clearly written, identifying his father as Silverio Robledo. The 1913 birth registration for daughter Caledonia provides direct evidence to answer the research question, however the informant (relationship not yet unidentified) was likely a relative or neighbor of José’s, so it is unclear if this is primary or secondary information.11 The 1910 birth registration for daughter Guadalupe provides direct evidence to answer the research question, and José himself served as the informant, noting his parents by name and that they were still living. José would clearly have had primary firsthand knowledge of his parents’ names, or at least the names they chose to go by.12

As for Jose’s death certificate, which recorded his father’s name as Celbario?13 The spoken “b” and spoken “v” in Spanish sound identical, and were even used interchangeably in historical writings. In Spanish and in English, the spoken soft “c” sounds identical to the spoken “s”. The official who took down the biographical information provided by José’s oldest son Refugio wrote down the name that he/she thought they heard spoken. This source yields the most unreliable evidence anyways. While it does provide direct evidence to answer the research question, it is only secondary information, since son Refugio, the informant, did not know his paternal grandparents (he immigrated as an infant).

Source Fact Evidence Informant Information
José’s death certificate Celbario Robledo Direct José’s son Secondary
José’s premarital investigation record Silverio Robledo Direct José, his mother, parish priest Primary
Celedonia’s civil birth registration Silverio Robledo Direct Relationship TBD Unknown
Guadalupe’s civil birth registration Silverio Robledo Direct José Primary

Silverio Robledo seems the clear winner here.

José’s Mother

What about José’s mother?

His prenuptial investigation record, and the 1913 civil birth registration for daughter Celedonia identify José’s mother’s name as Jesus Sanches.10, 15 As discussed above, both records provide direct evidence to answer the research question. This premarital investigation record contains strong primary information pertaining to that question. As explained above for Silverio, José would have been one of the informants for this record, having been interviewed by he parish priest, and his parents would have been present as well, also serving as informants. However it is unclear if the informant for Celedonia’s birth registration had primary or secondary knowledge of the names of José’s parents, since the relationship of that informant to José’s (possibly a relative or possibly just a neighbor) family is not yet known.

The 1910 civil birth registration for daughter Guadalupe identifies José’s mother as Maria Jesus Sanches.16 As with all the other sources consulted, this one provides direct evidence to answer the research question. For this record, José and Maria’s first child, great grandfather José himself served as the informant, and he would have had primary firsthand knowledge of his mother’s name.

José’s death certificate identifies his mother as Mary Sanches.13 As stated above for Silverio, despite providing direct evidence, this record is the least reliable of these sources since it contains secondary information from an informant who never knew José’s parents.

Source Fact Evidence Informant Information
José’s death certificate Mary Sanches Direct José’s son Secondary
José’s premarital investigation record Jesus Sanches Direct José, his parents, parish priest Primary
Celedonia’s civil birth registration Jesus Sanches Direct Relationship TBD Unknown
Guadalupe’s civil birth registration Maria Jesus Sanches Direct José Primary

Considering Historical & Cultural Context

Jesus Sanches, Maria Jesus Sanches, or Mary Sanches?

In Mexico, Jesus is both a male and female name, as is Maria. According to traditional Mexican naming conventions, children are given a biblical or saint’s name when baptized, used alongside their common name, creating a dual given name. Jesus Maria is a common male name, and Maria Jesus is a common female name. José’s wife (my Nana) Maria Hermalinda went by just Maria (sometimes Mary, once in the United States), whereas Nana’s mother Maria Aurelia went by just Aurelia.

So it is highly plausible that José’s mother’s name was Maria Jesus Sanches (locating her baptism record should clarify this), but that she went by both Maria and Jesus at different times in her life.

Forming a Conclusion

Based on this evidence, the answer to the research question is:

My great-grandfather José Robledo’s father was named Silverio Robledo, and his mother was named Maria Jesus Sanches, going by Mary or Jesus.

Silverio Robledo and Maria Jesus Sanches are my 2nd great-grandparents.

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Next Steps

What comes next in researching my great-grandfather José’s family?

  • Locate a baptism and civil birth registration for great-grandfather José Robledo. I have yet to succeed at that.
  • Locate a marriage record for his parents, Silverio Robledo and Maria Jesus Sanches.


#52Ancestors: 2nd Great-Grandfather Leonard Jackson Harless Homesteaded in California

My 25th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 25 is – The Old Homestead: Have you visited an ancestral home? Do you have photos of an old family house? Do you have homesteading ancestors?

Leonard Jackson HarlessMy 25th ancestor is my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather Leonard Jackson Harless (1858-1946).

About Leonard Jackson

Leonard Jackson was born on the overland journey (possibly in present-day Nebraska or Utah), when his parents emigrated via wagon train from Missouri to California.1 The family crossed from Nevada into California over Ebbett’s Pass, a High Sierras pass that closes during winter each year.2 Last July, my husband and I made a road trip retracing the family’s route from the eastern end of Ebbett’s Pass, following their settlement steps down the western side of the Sierras across the California Central Valley, and then south to Mariposa County.

Born to Miles Washington Harless (1826-1891) and Margaret Daisy Gann (1830-1919), Leonard Jackson was third of eight children, and the oldest of two sons. His 3rd great-grandfather was Johan “John” Philip Harless (1716-1772), the progenitor of the large well-established Harless line in the United States. Leonard Jackson married his second cousin Pauline/Paulina “Lena” Adeline Gann (1860-1938) on 26 August 1889 in Merced County, California.3 The couple spent the majority of their married life in Mariposa County, where they are buried side-by-side at the historic Mariposa District Cemetery.4

Headstone Leonard Jackson Harless and Pauline Adeline Gann
My husband Jeff, standing beside the headstone for his 2nd great-grandparents.

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Homestead Records

Homesteading played a critical role in the settling of the American West. Yet despite being a Western U.S. historian (specializing in California history), I never paid much attention to homestead records because most my ancestors were late-comers to the U.S. who did not even own homes until the early-to-late 1900s. And homesteading (aka the Homestead Acts) just happened back in the 1860s, right? [Wrong.] Most of my people weren’t even in the U.S. at that time. Nor was it a topic discussed in any detail during my college California history classes, or in my own California history research.

California Homesteading

When I saw a session being offered by Jamie Lee McManus Mayhew at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this past June on “Homesteading California,” I thought that the California historian in me ought to go learn a bit about this historical era and its records. The information might come in handy when helping library patrons at work, or helping others with their family history. Even if my California ancestors weren’t homesteaders.

Discovering GLO

During her session, Jamie talked about and demonstrated GLO.

While GLO–in genealogy-speak, the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office database index and digitized records– was a database I was aware of, I never bothered to actually use the site, since I was certain my ancestors were not homesteaders, and did not think it likely bought any other federal land.

We provide live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1820 and the present. We also have images related to survey plats and field notes, dating back to 1810. Due to organization of documents in the GLO collection, this site does not currently contain every Federal title record issued for the Public Land States.5

Sitting through that introduction to GLO, a thought hit me…

My husband’s ancestors–the Harless and Gann lines who came to California in 1858–had been ranchers and farmers, and might have acquired Homestead land. I started searching for my husband’s Harless line. Bingo! The very first entry I found listed was for my husband’s 2nd great-grandmother Pauline Adeline Gann.

Harless and Gann - Government Land Office - CA
GLO search results for “Harless” patents in California. Leonard Jackson’s entry is highlighted in blue. His wife Paulina’s entries are highlighted in green, and his mother Margaret’s entries are highlighted in pink. It is interesting that there are no entries for Leonard’s father Miles Washington Harless. I do not yet know who William H. Harless is, and if he is any relation to our family.

The second listing for Harless on the GLO index results is for Leonard Jackson Harless himself. And since, unlike that first entry for his wife Pauline, Leonard Jackson’s entry shows that the digitized document is included, I am focusing on his Homestead claim for this post, and to learn more about GLO as well as Homestead laws.

I will definitely revisit the records for his wife Pauline and mother Margaret when I have more time. And identify William H. Harless.

The Land Patent

I will analyze the record details more thoroughly in a later post, but following is my extracted summary, as well as a digitized copy of the original record–the serial patent file.6 I find it interesting that although Leonard Jackson grew up in a California pioneer family during 1860s and 1870s, his particular homestead patent was not purchased and registered until 1912, at 54 years of age.

  • Claimant: Leonard J. Harless [index says Leonard Y. Harless]
  • Registered: Sacramento, California
  • Issue Date: 1 July 1912
  • Issued By: President William H. Taft
  • Total Acres: 40
  • County/State: Mariposa County, California
  • Meridian: Mount Diablo
  • Township/Range: 007S – 017E
  • Aliquots/Section Number: SE¼SE¼ – Section 2
  • Patent Number: 281632
  • Land Office: Independence
  • Authority:  April 24, 1820: Sale-Cash Entry (3 Stat. 566).
Leonard Jackson Harless - 1910 Homstead Patent
Homestead land patent to Leonard Jackson Harless.

Here’s a look at where Leonard Jackson’s homestead of 40 acres is located in Mariposa County. I cannot wait to explore this more on Google Earth.

Harless and Gann - CA Homestead Location
Map displayed on the GLO patent record detail. The little tiny orange box (within the larger box), marked with a red arrow, is his 40 acres.


Grandfather Benjamin Robledo (1919-1990): Trying to Solve the Mystery of His Given Birth Name

Benjamin Robledo US NavyFor over 15 years, I have beaten my head against a wall in total frustration at being unable to locate the birth record for my paternal grandfather, Benjamin Robledo (1919-1990), born 23 May 1919 in Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California.

My grandfather was the third of eight children born to Jose Robledo (1875-1937) and Maria Nieto (1887-1973). Benjamin was the second son, but the first U.S.-born child — his parents immigrated from Mexico in 1915.

Early on, I successfully located birth records for all of Benjamin’s U.S.-born siblings, and the Mexico christening records (with birth dates noted) for his two older Mexico-born siblings. But I could never find a birth record for my grandfather, which just made no sense. Searching the Ancestry and FamilySearch versions of the California Birth Index failed every time.

My breakthrough finally happened in February 2014 during my first RootsTech research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Breakthrough

Since the Family History Library owns the Long Beach city birth certificates, 1906-1919 collection on microfilm, my top priority for that research trip was to review the collection. I felt fairly certain that my grandfather was born in Long Beach, since the family was enumerated there on the 1920 U.S. Census when he was just an infant. I wanted to try a narrower Long Beach focus before having to expand my search to all of Los Angeles County.

With the first roll in the collection being an index for 1906-1919, I was able to quickly scan for any Robledo babies born in or around 1919. My only hit was a reference to a Raymond Robledo born in 1919.

Benjamin Robledo - 1919 Birth - Index FHL
The only Robledo born in Long Beach in 1919. Index to birth certificates, 1908-1919. Family History Library microfilm collection.

I pulled that particular birth register number up on microfilm, and was surprised to discover that Raymond Robledo appeared to be my grandfather Benjamin. The date of birth, parents’ names, and parents’ residence all jived with what I already knew about him.

Raymond???? His name was Benjamin.

Raymond is the name of a much younger brother. Ray is the nickname of his older brother Refugio. I have never heard my grandfather referred to as anything other than Benjamin or Ben.

I scanned back and forth on the microfilm, wondering if this Raymond was perhaps a twin (of Benjamin) that died at birth. But there was still no Benjamin Robledo in the collection. Only a Raymond Robledo, with no middle name (I thought perhaps Benjamin might be a middle name).

Benjamin Robledo - 1919 Birth - Family History Library
Transcribed birth record, photographed from the Family History Library microfilm collection. Long Beach city birth certificates, 1906-1919.

I immediately texted my father, sending him a copy of the birth record. He confirmed this information appeared to be for his father, but also confirmed he had never heard his father called anything other than Benjamin.


Armed with this new document and name, I retraced my previous (years’ worth) of attempts to once again find my grandfather on the California Birth Index. Only to be faced with the same result. No listings for a Benjamin or even unnamed Robledo male baby born in 1919 California.

Only…. a Raymond Robledo. My same Raymond. He had been staring me in the face every time I searched the Birth Index, but I had always dismissed this hit due to the name Raymond.

Benjmain Robledo - 1919 - CA Birth Index - Ancestry
California Birth Index record for my grandfather. Courtesy of
Robledo-Nieto - 1919-CA Birth Index - Ancestry
Every California Birth Index entry that Ancestry retrieves when searching for a Robledo born in California in 1919. Raymond (my grandfather) is the only one born to a Nieto mother, and on the proper birth date.
Robledo-Nieto - 1919 - CA Birth Index - Family Search
FamilySearch only finds one entry for a Robledo born in 1919 California to a Nieto mother.

Since finding my grandfather’s birth record last year, my dad has questioned his father’s lone living sibling about this mystery several times. Dad’s living uncle has told both of us that he has no recollection of my grandfather ever being referred to as Raymond — only Benjamin. He is just as surprised by this discovery as we are.

The Original Source Document

Just in case that transcribed birth certificate found in the Family History Library microfilm collection had been mis-transcribed (human error happens), I knew I needed to obtain the original record. A few weeks ago, I finally made it a priority to visit the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to request an informational copy of the original birth certificate.

When filling out the order form there, I listed both Benjamin and Raymond as first names.

Yesterday, my copy of the original birth certificate finally arrived!

No transcription error. My grandfather’s given name at birth was recorded as Raymond.

Benjamin Robledo, Birth Certificate
Birth certificate for Benjamin (Raymond) Robledo, 1919. County of Los Angeles.

No Further Trace of Raymond

I have never come across another instance of my grandfather’s given name being recorded as Raymond, even though I now always intentionally search for both a Benjamin Robledo and a Raymond Robledo with the same age and/or the same immediate family members.

After his birth, the earliest record upon which I find my grandfather living is the 1920 U.S. Census, where he was identified already as Benjamin, at 8 months old. Not Raymond.

Benjamin Robledo - 1920 US Census - Ancestry
The 1920 US Census record for my grandfather and his family, in Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California. Grandfather (highlighted in yellow) is already identified as Benjamin at just 8 months old. The name above his is older Mexican-born brother Refugio, who would go by the nickname “Ray” among his siblings and friends. Courtesy of

Other records that identify his given name as Benjamin:

  • (1920) US Census: 8 months old.
  • (1930) US Census: 17 years old.
  • (1936) Glendale, California, City Directory.
  • (1940) US Census: 20 years old.
  • (1942) Marriage License and Certificate, County of Orange, California.
  • (1944-1945) US Navy Muster Rolls.
  • (1945) Notice of Separation, US Naval Service.
  • (1945) Birth Certificate of child.
  • (1953) Glendale, California, City Directory.
  • (1990) California Death Index, 1940-1997.
  • (1990) US Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014.
  • (1990) U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010.
Benjamin Robledo, Death Certificate
Death certificate for Benjamin Robledo, 1990. County of Los Angeles.

Questions, Questions, Questions!

What the heck happened that my grandfather was given a name at birth, that the family was no longer using for him by the time he was just 8 months old?

  • Did whomever (I assume one of Benjamin’s parents) provided the baby’s name to the hospital or county employee mistakenly give the wrong first name of “Raymond” for his birth certificate? If so, did they file a legal name change later, or an amended birth certificate that for some reason doesn’t show up in any publicly accessible collection? Or did they simply just start calling him Benjamin without a legal name change?
  • Were my great-grandparents in disagreement about my grandfather’s name, even after his birth? With whichever of the two who provided the details for the birth certificate winning out by having the baby’s name recorded as Raymond, unknown to the other parent who wanted the baby named Benjamin? At least one of my great grandparents liked the name Raymond enough to give that name later to another son. Raymond, Raymon, and Ramon all seem to be common names among their extended family. I find no other Benjamin in the Nieto-Robledo extended family.
  • Did the hospital or county official who recorded the details for grandfather’s birth certificate simply make a mistake and record the wrong given name?
  • Some parents (or later, the child him/herself) sometimes choose to go by a middle name. But none of the records I have for my grandfather indicate the existance of a middle name.

If a legal name change from Raymond to Benjamin was never made, how is it that my grandfather was able to use the name Benjamin in other legal records?

  • Since the Social Security Death Index records his name as Benjamin, I assume this is the given name he provided on his Social Security application. I know that birth records are now required when applying for a SS card. But, was that the case when he applied, before 1951?
  • He joined the U.S. Navy in 1943, during the Second World War. Was any type of record of birth or identify required to enlist? Even during wartime, when we needed more troops?
  • When my husband and I applied for our marriage license in 2009, I think I remember the County of Orange (same county in which my grandparents married) requiring us to show our birth certificates. Did my grandparents have to show their own birth certificates back in 1942, and if so, how did my grandfather explain away the discrepancy in his given name unless he had additional proof of a legal name change?

Next Steps

If I ever want to reach a credible conclusion that this Raymond Robledo is definitely my grandfather Benjamin Robledo, I know I have to conduct a more exhaustive search of all available evidence.

  • I just ordered a copy of my grandfather’s original Social Security card application.
  • I need to figure out which jurisdiction would have processed a legal name change, where those records are now located, and try to determine if any such name change was made.
  • I need to try to find a christening record for my grandfather, since I can assume that his practicing Catholic parents had him baptized as an infant. First though, I need to identify the Catholic church to which his family belonged when they lived in Long Beach.

Do you have suggestions for other steps I should take meet the requirements of a reasonably exhaustive search in order to work towards a sound written conclusion?

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#52Ancestors: Beginning the Search for My Birth Mother, with Whom I Share Half the Same DNA

Colleen Robledo, Baby
Me at just over one year old, four months after my legal adoption.

My 12th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 12 is — Same. What ancestor is a lot like you? What ancestor do you have a lot in common? Same name? Same home town?

My 12th ancestor is my birth mom, with whom I should share half of the same DNA.

I have known my entire life that I was adopted. My parents always told me, and celebrated that fact. My birth announcement reads: “I wasn’t expected, I was selected!” Mom says they would tell me that word long before I could understand its meaning, and then they explained it to me when I was old enough to start understanding. I was put up for adoption at birth, and came home to my parents a few months later, after a very brief stay in a foster home and a hospital incubator due to being born two months premature.

This post is particularly timely, because Monday was the anniversary of the day I came home with my parents. My legal adoption became final six months later.

What I Know About My Birth Parents

My adoption was public, through the County of Los Angeles. I am told I was born at St. Anne’s home for unwed mothers, in Los Angeles, California. In California that means my original birth certificate, with my birth parents’ names, was sealed. All I know about my birth parents is contained within the following letter that was given to my parents when they brought me home on 23 March 1970.

My birth mom was just 16, and my birth father was just 19. They wanted me to be raised in a two-parent married Catholic home, by parents who could better care for me and who of course would love me.

According to the letter, it appears I was predestined to love the outdoors and hiking!

The question I have always wanted an answer to is… if they were 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 10 inches tall, how the heck did I end up only 5 feet 1 inch tall??? I should be a few inches taller.

Colleen Robledo, Adoption Letter
The letter that accompanied me home with my parents on 23 March 1970. Our adoption became legal six months later.

Why Haven’t I Cared to Look?

As I mentioned before, public adoptions in California require that the original birth certificate and records be sealed. An adoptee is allowed to request access to these, once of majority age. Yet even then, a judge has to agree to release identifiable information (birth parent names and details); an adoptee is only guaranteed non-identifiable info.

I am well past majority age, yet I have never bothered with the cumbersome process of requesting my records. Because it just hasn’t ever really mattered to me. I can honestly say that I have no curiosity about my birth parents, no big desire to know their names, and don’t feel any sense of missing identity. I have always felt incredibly loved, and a powerful blood-like bond to my immediate and extended family — including our ancestors. Quite simply, I have the best parents in the world. I am the poster child for how adoption is supposed to work.

What is Different Now?

While I still confidently say that I don’t care if I ever find out the identities of my birth parents, something has changed. What has changed is a growing sense of compassion for what my birth mother went through 45 years ago. I attribute it to just getting older, having helped raise a child (my oldest niece), and becoming a wife and stepmom five and a half years ago. Because these feelings never really crossed my mind until a handful of years ago.

I have come to recognize and respect that putting me up for adoption was probably the most difficult decision my birth mother ever made. It was an incredibly brave selfless act. Every December 20th on my birthday, I imagine that my birth mom is thinking about the baby girl she gave up, wondering if she did the right thing, if her baby was safe, if her baby was loved. I can’t imagine carrying a child and nurturing it in the womb, and then having the emotional strength to give that baby up to others. Having grown up to a point where I can truly appreciate that sacrifice, I would like to be able to assure her that her baby was and is loved as much as is humanly possible. I was blessed with the very best parents and family possible.

And then there’s that whole genetic genealogy thing…

Until very recently, I have not jumped on the genealogy DNA craze. Mostly because my family history is not in my DNA. But early last year, I caved and tested Dad through AncestryDNA in the hopes of breaking through my Robledo surname brick wall. But at RootsTech and FGS last month, I learned about how DNA was being used by adoptees to find birth families. That caught my curiosity. I have always loved solving puzzles. This sounded fun, like a great learning opportunity, and like a great case study to put under my research skills belt.  Getting introduced to and hooked on new friend Michael Lacopo’s Hoosier Daddy? blog intensified this interest.

So last week, I took an autosomal test from AncestryDNA. And started a biological family tree.

My Next Steps

Aside from impatiently waiting over the next 4 to 8 weeks for AncestryDNA to process my autosomal DNA results, which I will of course also upload to Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch, I have some next plans of action already in place.

Colleen Robledo, DNA Testing
Taking my AncestryDNA autosomal test last week.
  • I joined the DNA Detectives group on Facebook last week.
  • I just enrolled in the May 8th session of the Working with Autosomal DNA online course by DNA Adoption.
  • I plan to enlist the services of my new DNA consultant friend Angie Bush, a brilliant molecular genealogist, to teach me what to do with this data, and how to calculate relationships of those who share my DNA.
  • I am attending DNA Day at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in June, especially CeCe Moore’s DNA and adoptees session.
  • Being the kick-butt librarian that I am, I will continue researching everything I can about genetic genealogy and how to analyze the DNA results.
  • I guess I need to also finally fill out and send in the notarized forms asking the County of Los Angeles to open and release my adoption file. Paper records still count!

My mom, who works in adoptions, has always been very supportive of me tracking down my birth family (so has Dad). But as Moms always do, she continues to try to protect me and shield me from disappointment. Mom has gently warned me that I need to be prepared to accept that my birth parents might not want to be found. She encounters this regularly in her work. Both biological parents have most likely gone on with their lives, marrying others and possibly having more children. They might not have told their new spouses and children about this incident from their past. They might not want them to know. They might not want to be found.

If so, that’s okay too. Like I said, finding them has never been important to me. It won’t hurt me. And having taken Judy Russell’s Ethical Genealogist session at FGS, I understand that while it is my right to know, it is not my right to force others to know, or to blow someone else’s secret.

At the very least, this remains a great learning opportunity and case study for my portfolio. Perhaps it will equip me to help give back to the adoption community by being able to assist others seeking to venture into this same journey.

#52Ancestors: Grandmother Rosie Salas Married Benjamin Robledo Surprisingly Close to My Home

Rosie Salas, Newly Married, Early 1940s
Rosie Salas, Newly Married, Early 1940s. The caption reads “To my husband. With Love, Rosie.”

My 9th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 9 is — Close to Home. Which ancestor is the closest to where you live? Who has a story that hits “close to home”?

My 9th ancestor is my paternal grandmother Rosie Salas (b. 1923).

As I have mentioned in prior posts, I did not grow up with Rosie as an active grandmother in my life, because she did not raise my father. Dad was raised by his grandmother and uncle. I barely knew Rosie, and think I only met her a few times; the last time was at her ex-husband’s (my grandfather’s) funeral in 1990. All Dad ever knew about his mother’s family history is that she was born in Arizona (he always heard Nogales). He never knew the names or origins of her parents, and was surprised when I discovered she had half-brothers with whom she grew up.

Rosie’s Upbringing

We think Rosie was born in Arizona around 1923, after her parents Estevan Salas (1888-1930) and Victoria Jimenez (1890-1990) and older half-brothers Richard Coleman (b. 1911) and David Coleman (b. 1914) moved from New Mexico. I have yet to come across a birth or baptism record for Rosie. Her father Estevan was already deceased by the time the rest of the family was enumerated on the 1930 U.S. Census in the Orme Election Precinct of Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona. In 1935 (according to the 1940 Census), the family still lived in Phoenix. And by the 1940 U.S. Census, they had moved to Coachella, Riverside County, California. Rosie’s mother died just a few months after that Census, in Los Angeles County, California. I think that by 1942, when Rosie married, her half brothers had already moved up to the Fresno, California area. Rosie’s father and brothers were migrant farm laborers.

Los Angeles County Family

Although I grew up in Orange County, California (we moved here from Norwalk, Los Angeles County, California when I was 3 or 4 years old), none of our other family lived here. Both sets of grandparents and their children lived in Los Angeles County, where my own parents grew up. We were the odd ones, moving south to Orange County, away from the heavy L.A. smog and closer to Dad’s job. None of my cousins ever moved to Orange County. Other than my childhood, I have no ancestral ties to Orange County. My parents and siblings don’t even live here anymore…I am the lone survivor.

As far as I know, Rosie had no family in Orange County, and her husband only had distant cousins here.

Orange County Wedding

So imagine my surprise when in May 2013 I came across that marriage record for my paternal grandparents Rosie Salas and Benjamin Robledo (1919-1990), which stated they had been married on 24 October 1942 in Orange County. Orange County?! The record indicates Anaheim as the exact city, next to the very city where I grew up…Santa Ana. I was floored. Dad was floored when I told him. Why on earth did they choose to get married in Orange County, when both of them had residences in the city of Los Angeles?

My husband and I married in adjacent Riverside County, even though we both lived in Orange County. However, that was because my parents lived there and my family church was located there. Rosie and Benjamin had no substantial ties to the county in which they married.

Salas Robledo Marriage
October 24, 1942 marriage license for Ben Robledo and Rosie Salas. Courtesy of

Unanswered Questions

This record opens up a bunch of questions that I most likely will never be able to answer.

  • Where in Anaheim? A church? A residence? There is and was no courthouse in Anaheim (Santa Ana and Fullerton house the nearest courthouses).
  • Were any family present? Since I don’t think Rosie really had any close family by this time, Benjamin’s family all lived in Los Angeles County, and they chose to marry one county away from their homes, I am guessing this was perhaps an elopement, not a big traditional family wedding. Rosie was already two months pregnant with their first child; my hunch is that Benjamin and Rosie married shortly after confirming the pregnancy.
  • But why run off and marry alone? I know my Dad’s family…they wouldn’t have held the pregnancy against the couple. Especially since they were now doing the right thing.
  • And why Anaheim, one county over? Neither had close family in the area. I have recently learned of distant cousins in the area, but no one whom I think was a close connection.

What I wouldn’t give to find out where in Anaheim they married, and visit it today.

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Manuel Nieto Project #52Ancestors: The 1834 Breakup of Rancho Los Nietos in Alta California

Rancho Los Nietos Map, National Park Service
The Nieto land grant and 1834 divisions,  in parts of present day Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Courtesy of the National Park Service. Click image to view a larger copy.

My 8th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 8 is — Good Deeds. Does this mean a generous ancestor or one you found through land records?

My 8th ancestor is a group of people, rather than a single person. I’m not even sure they are ancestors…. or even relatives. My father’s extended Nieto family is just hoping so very much. This ancestor group is the four heirs of Don Jose Manuel Perez-Nieto (1734-1804), whom I am researching as part of my Manuel Nieto Project.

This week, the focus has been on the history of the Spanish and Mexican land grants.

The Original Nieto Land Grant

If you recall from a post I did last month (see: King’s Soldier and Alta California Ranchero Manuel Nieto), in November of 1784 retired Spanish Army soldier and 1769 Portolà expedition member Manuel Nieto was awarded the largest, and one of very few, Spanish land grants in Alta California — what would become Rancho Los Nietos, located in present day Los Angeles and Orange Counties. According to Baker, Los Nietos is the second oldest land grant in California, with San Rafael (often called La Zanja) being the oldest.

Milestones in California History claims the original Spanish grant was for 300,000 acres, but was later reduced to 158,000 acres (Wikipedia states 167,000 acres) after the Mission San Gabriel contested the proximity of the rancho boundaries to its own property. According to the Orange County Archives, “It took in all the land between the San Gabriel and Santa Ana rivers, from the foothills to the sea.” Baker says that a total of 158,363 acres was patented when the Mexican regime took over Alta California. 

The rancho included all or parts or present-day Anaheim, Artesia, Buena Park, Bolsa Chica, Cerritos, Cypress, Downey, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Lakewood, Long Beach, Los Alamitos, Naples, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs, Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, and Whittier.

Nieto Rancho - Nieto Manuel - California Spanish Archives - Ancestry
Manuel Nieto in the California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868. (Index page 15). Click image for a larger view.

According to Milestones in California History and Engstrand, Manuel Nieto’s heirs inherited the rancho upon his death in 1804. In 1833, these heirs requested that the Mexican Governor divide up the land among them, which was done in 1834 when the land was regranted by the Mexican government.

Baker states that when the U.S. acquired California following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, “Seven patents were issued to the Nieto heirs or their assigns for potions of the old rancho, known as Los Cerritos, Los Coyotes, Las Bolsas, Los Alamitos and Santa Gertrudis.”

Children and Heirs

Don Manuel married Maria Teresa Morillo (1756-1816) about 1778 in Loreto, Baja California, Mexico. Northrup’s authoritative work identifies six children together, and provides these life event details from the mission records.

The land heirs are noted in italics. The two youngest children died at too young of an age.

The “Alta California” designation is my own. I use that place name in my research notes to refer to present-day California during the eras it was still under Spanish and Mexican rule. I begin using the place name of California to refer to the United States era.

1) Juan Jose Maria Nieto (male):

  • Born: 03 February 1781.
  • Baptized: 26 February 1781 at Mission San Diego, Alta California.
  • Married: 28 November 1806 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Buried: 03 August 1850at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.

Spouse: Maria Tomasa Tapia.

1834 Disposition: Los Alamitos (“Little Cottonwoods”, 28,612 acres), and Los Coyotes (48,806 acres). The Spanish Archive Records indicate that Juan Jose was also awarded two other pieces of the original land grant (Nieto and Romulo), and Wikipedia claims he also received what was called Rancho Palo Alto. I have no information on these three mystery spots yet.

Nieto Rancho - Nieto Juan Jose - California Spanish Archives - Ancestry
Juan Jose Maria Nieto awarded Las Alamitos, Los Nietos, Los Romulo, and Los Coyotes.
Juan Jose Nieto in the California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868. (Index page 15). Click image for a larger view.

2) Jose Antonio Maria Nieto (male):

  • Born: 1785.
  • Baptized: 14 August 1785 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Married: 12 August 1804 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Buried: 02 December 1832 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.

Spouse: Maria Catarina Ruiz.

1834 Disposition: Las Bolsas (33,460 acres) to widow Maria Catarina Ruiz.

Nieto Rancho - Ruiz Catarina - California Spanish Archives - Ancestry - Web
Maria Catarina Ruiz, awarded Las Bolsas.
Catarina Ruiz in the California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868. (Index page 38). Click image for a larger view.

3) Antonio Maria de los Santos Nieto (male):

  • Baptized: 02 November 1788 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Married: 25 January 1815 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Buried: 07 December 1832 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.

Spouse: Maria Josefa Alvina Cota.

1834 Disposition: Santa Gertrudes (21,298 acres) to widow Maria Josefa Alvina Cota.

Nieto Rancho - Cota Josefa - California Spanish Archives - Ancestry
Maria Josefa Alvina Cota, awarded Santa Gertrudes.
Josefa Coto De Nieto in the California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868. (Index page 15). Click image for a larger view.

4) Maria Manuela Antonia Nieto (female):

  • Born: 04 August 1791.
  • Baptized: 05 August 1791 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Married: 14 July 1805 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.

Spouse: Guillermo Cota.

1834 Disposition: Los Cerritos (“Little Hills”, 27,054 acres) to Maria Manuela and husband Guillero Cota.

Nieto Rancho - Nieto Manuela - California Spanish Archives - Ancestry
Maria Manuela Antonia Nieto in the California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868. (Index page 15). Click image for a larger view.
Nieto Rancho - Cota Guillermo - California Spanish Archives - Ancestry
Guillermo Cota, awarded Los Cerritos.
Guillermo Cota in the California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868. (Index page 31). Click image for a larger view.

5) Maria de los Santos Nieto (female):

  • Born: About 1795 at San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Buried: 28 May 1796 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.

6)  Antonio Maria Nieto (male):

  • Born: 13 July 1796.
  • Baptized: 14 July 1796 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.
  • Buried: 13 December 1804 at Mission San Gabriel, Alta California.

Mystery Heir (Maria Chefas Nieto)

The Spanish Archives Records index lists an additional heir — Maria Chefas Nieto, identified with Bolsa Chiquita. This name does not yet show up in my research database, so she is now on my research radar.

Nieto Rancho - Nieto Maria Chefas - California Spanish Archives - Ancestry
Mystery heir Maria Chefas Nieto, awarded mystery disposition piece Bolsa Chiquita. Maria Chefas Nieto in the California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868. (Index page 15). Click image for a larger view.

California Ranchos Timeline

Key dates in the history of Alta California and California Ranchos.

  • 1769-1821: Spanish rule of Mexico and Alta California.
    • 1769-1770: Portolá expedition.
    • 1781: Founding of the peublo of Los Angeles.
    • 1784: Three earliest Spanish land grants awarded.
  • 1821-1848:  Mexican rule of Alta California.
    • 1821: Mexican Independence.
    • 1824: General Colonization Law (allowed foreigners to petition for land).
    • 1828: Mexican Reglamento (codified rules for establishing land grants).
    • 1835: Secularization of the missions.
    • 1846-1848: Mexican-American War.
  • U.S. Possession of California (1848- ).
    • 1848: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (February 2).
    • 1850: Statehood (September 9).
    • 1851: California Land Act of 1851: (ranchos had to reestablish their claims).

Sources California, Spanish Archive Records, 1784-1868 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors.

Baker, C. C. (1914). Mexican Land Grants in California. Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California, 9(3), 236–243. doi:10.2307/41168710

County of Orange. (n.d.). Spanish and Mexican Ranchos of Orange County. County of Orange. Retrieved from

Engstrand, I. H. W. (1985). California Ranchos: Their Hispanic Heritage. Southern California Quarterly, 67(3), 281–290. doi:10.2307/41171160

Milestones in California History. (1988). California History, 67(2). Retrieved from

Northrop, M. E. (1976). Spanish-Mexican families of early California, 1769-1850. New Orleans: Polyanthos.

Rancho Los Nietos. (2012, June 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:19, February 26, 2015, from

#52Ancestors: George Walter Harless Plowing Through 1940s Yosemite

Snow Plow, Yosemite, 1930s or 1940s
Large rotary plow operated by the National Park Service, Yosemite, circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of

My 5th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for Week 5: Plowing through — We will likely be plowing through a lot of snow by this time. What ancestor had a lot of struggles to plow through? Or take it more literally.

My 5th ancestor is my husband Jeff’s 1st great grand uncle George Walter Harless (1894-1976). George Walter is the youngest brother of my husband’s great grandfather Leonard William Harless, about whom I have not yet written. And he is the youngest son of California pioneers Leonard Harless Jackson and Pauline Adeline Gann, of whom I have written quite a bit, and whose footsteps Jeff and I chased on our genealogy road trip last summer.

George Walter Harless was born 13 April 1894 in Lewis, Mariposa County, California. He spent his childhood in Mariposa County, just outside of Yosemite National Park.

All my husband knew about his 1st great grand uncle is that he drove a snow plow in Yosemite. My father-in-law confirmed this, and told me that he thought his grandfather’s brother George had also been a miner in Madera. So when I saw the “plowing through” theme for this year’s 52 Ancestors project, I decided to try to find out a bit more about 1st great grand uncle George.

WPA Snow Plow Crew

While I have not found any records that specifically identify George as a snow plow driver, I do find some records that support this occupation.

The Mariposa County History and Genealogy Research site provides a copy of George’s obituary, transcribed by Alma Stone. The obituary mentions that he was a retired road foreman in the national park.

Merced Sun Star
Friday, August 27, 1976
page: 18


George Harless

Memorial services will be held Monday at 1 p.m. in Stratford Evans Merced
Funeral Chapel for George Walter Harless, 82, a Merced resident since 1960 who
died Thursday in a San Francisco hospital.

Mariposa Masonic Lodge No. 24 will conduct services for Mr. Harless, a
retired road foreman in Yosemite National Park.

Inurment [sic] will be at Arbor Vitae Cemetery, Madera. A veteran of World War 1,
Mr. Harless lived at 5736 E. Highway 140. He belonged to Mariposa Masonic
Lodge No. 24, 32nd Scottish Rite in Fresno and the Fresno Shrine.

Mr. Harless is survived by his wife, Olive; a daughter, Mrs. Barbara H.
Bailey, Capitola; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions to the Central California Heart Association would be
appreciated by the family.

The 1940 U.S. Census shows George Walter Harless (at 46) living in the unincorporated community of Raymond, Madera County, California alone with his wife Olive A. Leonard (1891-1980). At that time, George was employed as a Flagman on a WPA Project. Raymond is 23 miles outside of the Yosemite gateway city of Oakhurst, and 38 miles away from Yosemite Village. George was quite likely the flagman on a WPA road crew in the national park. Interestingly, George and Olive’s 19 year old daughter Barbara was enumerated on the same census as living inside of Yosemite National Park, where she worked at a cafeteria in a hotel and snow lodge.

Harless George Walter - 1940 US Census - Employment
Employment listing for George Walter Harless on the 1940 U.S. Census. Courtesy of

Jeff and I just visited Yosemite last July on our Harless family history road trip. I wish I’d paid attention to these records before then. I could have inquired around inside the park about accessing old employment records. Fortunately, Yosemite is one of our very favorite places, and is driving distance for even just a long weekend.

Other Careers

Prior to the Great Depression, George worked in copper mining, per his WWI Draft registration card and the 1920 U.S. Census. He served in the U.S. Army from 1917-1919, during the First World War.

On the 1930 U.S. Census, George Walter was enumerated twice. On 2 April 1930 in Madera County with his wife and daughter. But his type of employment is not legible enough for me to make out (something “____boy”). George was also recorded on 12 April 1930 (without his wife) living back with his parents in Mariposa County, working as a farmer. It is likely that George’s wife gave his name to the Census worker because his permanent home was in Madera County, but George had temporarily left his family to move in with his parents and work on his father’s farm to raise money or food for his family back home.

By 1942, per his WWII Draft registration card, George Walter was employed with the U.S. Army Transport Service at Fort Mason in San Francisco, California, where he lived with his middle brother Francis Miles Harless. It is unclear if his wife Olive lived there too.

It would seem that George Walter Harless moved around central and northern California quite a bit seeking work, plowing through life.

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