Close to Identifying My Immigrant Great Grandfather Jose Robledo’s Birth Date and Parents’ Names

Jose RobledoLast week I wrote about successfully finding (after 15+ years!) the final set of border entry cards for the Mexico-born members of my paternal grandfather’s immediate family, who immigrated to the U.S. on 27 October 1915. This family group included my great-grandfather José Robledo (1878-1937), great-grandmother Maria Hermalinda Nieto (1887-1973), oldest daughter Guadalupe Robledo (1910-1975), and oldest son baby Refugio Raphael Robledo (1915-?).

José Robledo Sanchez

In re-reading that post, I noticed that I mention Great-Grandfather José’s maternal surname of “Sanchez” being they key identifying factor in busting down this brick wall. A note written on the back of my great-grandmother Maria’s border entry card, which I had ignored for years, mentions her being seen and caught with a José Sanchez.1 I also mentioned having only recently discovered that Sanchez was José’s maternal surname. Until this maternal surname discovery, the name José Sanchez meant nothing to me.

Maria Nieto, 1915 Border Entry Card (Back)
Handwritten note on the back of the border entry card for Maria Nieto. Source:

This made me realize that I have not yet written about that maternal surname discovery.

I have blogged quite a bit about my great-grandfather’s line being one of my biggest brick walls.This is because nobody in our family seems to know any significant details about Great-Grandfather José Robledo–including his place of birth or the names of his parents. Even his sole living child doesn’t have this information; Jose died when that child was still very young, and before my dad was even born.

The First U.S. Record Clue

I tried a number of years ago to obtain a copy of Great-Grandfather José’s death certificate from the County of Los Angeles, but this mail-in request only resulted in a notice that they could not find his record. So on a work holiday back in mid-March, I set out in-person to order a long list of birth and death records from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Birth, Death, and Marriage Records Section in Norwalk, California. This time they found it! On 1 May 2015, I was thrilled to find in my mailbox an informational copy of the certificate of death for my great-grandfather.

My great-grandfather José “Joe” Robledo” died on 4 July 1937 in his Los Angles home, of something “non tuberculor” pertaining to his left lung (family has told me he had pneumonia).2 The certificate identifies the informant as Raphael Robledo. This would be Joe’s 22 year old son, my great-uncle Refugio Raphael Robledo.

Apparently even his oldest son Refugio–the baby who immigrated with him in 1915–did not know much about his father’s Mexico origins, or whomever took the information from Refugio did not think it necessary to provide much detail. Because Great-Grandfather José’s place of birth is noted as “Unknown” in Mexico.

But…Great-Uncle Refugio did not let me down!

Jose Robledo, 1937 Death Certificate
Certificate of Death for José “Joe” Robledo, 1937, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California. Click on image for a larger view.

This death certificate is the first piece of evidence I have ever found that identifies the parents of my great-grandfather José Robledo. Great-Uncle Refugio reported his paternal grandparents as Celbario [?] Robledo and Mary Sanches–both also of Unknown, Mexico.

Jose Robledo, 1937 Death Certificate
A close-up look at the parents’ names recorded on José Robledo’s 1937 death certificate.

 The First Mexico Record Clue

The following week, I hit quite a roll on those non-indexed, non-searchable, browseable-only Mexico Catholic church records on FamilySearch. Slowly, while painstakingly going page-by-page reading a language that is not my own, the genealogy gods smiled down on me, because I found a handful of key records that I had been seeking for years.

Including the 15 July 1908 marriage record for my great-grandparents!

After 15+ years of searching, for the second time in the span of a single week (on 7 May 2015, to be exact), I came across a piece of  evidence providing the names of José Robledo’s parents. The church record for his marriage to my great-grandmother Maria Nieto identifies his parents as Silveño Robledo and Jesus Sanches.3

1908 Marriage Record for Jose Robledo and Maria Nieto
The 1908 Mexico Catholic church marriage record for my great-grandparents José Robledo and Maria Nieto. Santa Isabel parish, Armadillo de los Infante, San Luis Potosí, Mexico.
Courtesy of FamilySearch. Click image for a larger view.

There was that unusual given name again for my 2nd great-grandfather. What was noted as Celbario on my great-grandfather’s certificate of death is written on his marriage record as Silveño. Despite this naming conflict, I lean more towards the one noted on his marriage record, since–according to that record–José’s father was present at the ceremony.

Jose Robledo Marriage, Parents Names
A closer look at the 1908 church marriage record for José Robledo and Maria Nieto, identifying the names of José’s parents. Courtesy of FamilySearch.

Once again, Great-Grandfather José’s mother is noted as a Sanches. That part is consistent across all three records. Although here her given name is noted as Jesus, not Mary, as reported on the death certificate. While Jesus is generally thought of as a male name, I find quite a few women in my Mexican family history with the name Jesus. It is usually a Maria Jesus, applying the traditional Mexican naming convention of a given name (Jesus) preceded by a saint or biblical name (usually Maria for females). Although in this case, Maria and Jesus are both biblical names ;-). I discussed this convention in a post I wrote back in April, about my 4th great-grandfather José Victoriano Compeán.

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Two new records, in the span of one week, identifying my 2nd great-grandmother’s paternal surname as Sanches, turned on that lightbulb in my head last week when re-reading the note on the back of my great-grandmother Maria Hermalinda Nieto’s border entry card, which referenced a José Sanches.4 I had found José Robledo’s border record at long last!

Birth Date Discrepency

Aside from disagreement over the names of his parents, these two new documents bring forth a discrepancy over great-grandfather José Robledo’s date of birth. Many of the U.S. records I have for José indicate an 1875 year or birth. However his death certificate clearly states 1878 as his year of birth.5 And his 1908 marriage record, which identifies him as 30 years old, also supports an 1878 birth year.6 Yet, oddly, that border entry record from 1915 also indicates an age of 30 years for Jose, which would have him born about 1885.7

So I certainly have some work to do here.

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Next Steps

While these two significant finds (three really, including the border record confirmation) put me 99% closer to verifying the names of my great-grandfather José Robledo’s parents, I still have more work to do for that task. The key missing document is a baptism record and/or a civil birth registration for José Robledo. Either of these documents should allow me to verify:

  • The correct/full name of José’s mother. Is it Maria Jesus Sanches? Just Maria Sanches? Or just Jesus Sanches?
  • The correct name of José’s father. Is it Celbario Robledo? Or Silveño Robledo?
  • The correct date of birth for Jose.

In the last couple of days, I looked through every single page of those non-indexed, non-searchable, browseable-only Catholic church baptism records for 1878 and 1879 in the parish where José and my great-grandmother married, and found nothing at all referencing a male child with parents’ names similar to Silveño or Celbario Robledo and a Jesus or Mary/Maria Sanches. So I need to check the records for neighboring parishes and/or for additional years. Once I exhaust that effort, I will look into civil registrations for birth.


Baptism Record And Church For Michael John Flanagan (1927)

While cleaning out my email inbox this weekend, I came across a photo one of my cousins snapped of my orphaned grandfather Michael John Flanagan’s (1927-1997) baptism record. He shot this quickly a couple years ago with his iPhone. I’ve been holding off posting it until I could get a good scanned copy of the document, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on the original yet, so I’m just going with the iPhone version.

According to the baptism record, Michael was baptized at just under one month old on June 19, 1927 at St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Buffalo, New York. His parents Patrick Thomas Flanagan and Sarah (Kennedy) Flanagan are listed on the certificate, but I cannot read the surnames of his sponsors. [10/22/14 Update: My cousin Linda Flanagan confirmed that the sponsors were Patrick’s sister Mary Bridget FLANAGAN and her husband Charles John “John” McGOUGH, who also lived in Buffalo.]

I imagine that Patrick and Sarah, at this moment in history, expected to get to spend at least several more decades with their youngest son. But Patrick would die in December of the following year, and Sarah died in June 1930, orphaning Michael and his four older brothers.

St. Mary of Sorrows Church. Creative Commons image (2011) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to Wikipedia, the church was built in 1891 and was shut down as a church in 1985. It currently houses a charter school and community center. The building is located at 938 Genesee Street, Buffalo, New York.

Sources Cited

Saint Mary of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church. (2013, September 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 05:07, November 4, 2013, from

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Genealogical Inspirations: That Very First Kind Look-Up Volunteer

This is part of my “Genealogical Inspirations” series highlighting some of my key milestones, to commemorate the release on Monday of the 1940 US Census.

In 2002, I was able to beat down a big brick wall that I’d faced the first year I started researching my own family history — trying to find any clues about my Grandpa Flanagan, who was orphaned as a toddler. And it was thanks to the index of the newly released 1930 US Census, which allowed me to locate my grandfather and his four brothers living in the German Roman Catholic Orphan Home in Buffalo, New York.  But, I was frustrated to learn that the orphanage no longer existed.

When I started posting inquiries on various Ancestry and RootsWeb listservs, everyone replied back telling me not to hold out hope searching for the families of orphans from the pre-World War II period. They said older orphan records were rarely preserved.

But I did hope. So, I contacted the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, who promptly informed me they no longer held the records for that orphanage, that the records had been transferred to Catholic Charities of Buffalo. My next call was to Catholic Charities. I didn’t keep a record of the date of that first call, but I was transferred to a very nice lady who confirmed they did have the orphanage records. She took down the dates and names I had discovered in the census, and told me that they would look through their records, when someone there had the time. She too told me not to get my hopes up, that not all records from the orphanage were intact. She said that they’d mail me copies if they found anything. And when I asked if I could send payment for a look-up fee and photocopies, she told me that wasn’t necessary.

So, I waited. And I tried not to get my hopes up.

But, I kept checking my mailbox.

Then, finally, months later, during a routine look in the mailbox, there it was. A big manila envelope, stuffed about a 1/4 inch thick, from Catholic Charities of Buffalo. I ran into my house, ripped it open, and spent the entire evening pouring over the documents. Lisa Barkley (I knew her name now!), had sent me a big stack of records on all five boys, for the short time they resided at the orphanage.

My letter from Catholic Charities. Click the image to view a bigger copy.

From this stack of orphan records, I was able to finally learn the names of my Grandpa Flanagan’s parents, as well as their dates and causes of death. It opened up a whole new world of hope for me.

I really have no idea if Lisa Barkley was, or still is, an employee, or “just” a volunteer.  But, I am forever grateful for her kind heart and willingness to help.  And I specifically refer to “look-up volunteers” in my blog post title because this incident introduced me to the world (literally, all around the world) of genealogy volunteers who simply want to help. They are willing to spend time (and often money) helping other family historians — searching proprietary databases, visiting physical archives or localities, pursuing leads, taking photos, making and mailing/emailing photocopies — all for never more than maybe the cost of postage or copies. Why? Because they’ve been there. Because they know that they too will someday, yet once again, need the help of another genealogist.

Nearly ten years later, I never cease to tout to others just how reciprocal and helpful the genealogy community is, and I try to serve as a free “look-up volunteer” any opportunity I can.

Anniversaries: Maria Aurelia Compean Born 154 Years Ago Today

Maria Aurelia Compean (1858-1963)

One-hundred fifty-four years ago today, on January 1, 1858, my great-great-grandmother Maria Aurelia Compean was reputedly born (I don’t yet have an actual birth record for her).  Maria, who went by her middle name Aurelia, is better known to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as “Little Grandma”.

Biographical Snapshot

Maria Aurelia Compean was born January 1, 1858, in the municipality of Armadillo de los Infante, located in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The village in which she was born is referenced as Tomascal in my records, but is also spelled Temascal and Temazcal in other sources. Her parents were Santiago Compean and Eutimia Sanches, who were married on September 14, 1859 in the same town — meaning that 1) Aurelia was born out of wedlock, or 2) that our family records list an incorrect birth date for her or wedding date for her parents.  Since the only sources of birth I have for Maria Aurelia Compean are the 1920 US Census and death-related records (California Death Index, a phone interview with her mortuary, and her 1963 obituary), I do not put a whole lot of faith in the birth date I have for her. As of yet, I have been unable to locate an actual birth record for Maria Aurelia Compean — just the Mexico Catholic Church Parish Records for her baptism and possible marriage.

This family photo of Maria Aurelia (far right) with (R-L) her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter illustrates why she was affectionately called “Little Grandma”. The daughter standing next to her, my great-grandmother, wasn’t much taller than my 5’1″ tall frame.

I am not certain of the name of Maria Aurelia Compean’s husband.  Family records indicate his name was Rafael Nieto, but Mexican Catholic Parish records show a possible marriage to Jose Refugio Nieto on October 18, 1883 in Villa De Hidalgo, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. A distant cousin that connected with me about five years ago, who still has living family members in Tomascal that remember Aurelia, says that her living relations in that village indicate there was some sort of local scandal involving Aurelia’s husband or husbands. Family members and my research indicate that Maria Aurelia’s final husband died in Mexico.  Surviving family members say that Maria Aurelia told them she came from a wealthy ranching family, that she gave birth to 21 children (including my great-grandmother Maria Nieto Robledo), and that she was able to care for this many children with the help of their many servants.

What Maria Aurelia Compean Nieto’s hometown of Armadillo de los Infante looked like in 1909.
I’ve had this photo for years, and forgot to make note of the original source, so I apologize for the lack of attribution.  I will take the photo down of sharing is contested.
Armadillo de los Infante
A more contemporary look at Armadillo de los Infante.
Photo copyright Flickr user Armadillo de los Infante S.L.P.

Both the 1920 US Census and Aurelia’s obituary indicate that Maria Aurelia Compean Nieto  immigrated to the United States in 1919; family members say as a result of the Mexican Revolution (I have not yet located a border crossing or naturalization record for her). US Censuses and family members confirm that she first settled in Long Beach, California.  Her obituary and family members confirm that she later lived in Glendale and Norwalk, both in Los Angeles County, California.

Maria Aurelia Compean is thought to have lived to 105 years of age.

Research Roadblocks

  • Missing any type of actual birth record.
  • Missing the names of all 21 children.
  • Missing her date of immigration in to the US.

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