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.


With Whom Did 2nd Great Grandmother Maria Aurelia Compean Immigrate from Mexico in 1919?

Laredo Foot Bridge
20 This photo is undated, but looks like it could have been the bridge that stood between 1905 and 1932. [International Foot Bridge, Laredo, Texas], Postcard, n.d.; digital images, ( : accessed June 20, 2012), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Laredo Public Library, Laredo, Texas.
I just blogged about finding the rest of the border crossing records for my paternal grandfather’s immediate family, who immigrated to the U.S. on 27 October 1915 via the Laredo footbridge in Laredo, Webb County, Texas. This discovery busted down a 15+ year brick wall, and came about by taking another closer look at a (previously dismissed) notation on the back of the border crossing record for my great grandmother Maria Hermalinda Nieto (1887-1973).1

That breakthrough has prompted me to try to uncover another immigration mystery that has plagued me for a good decade…with whom did my 2nd great grandmother, Maria Aurealia Compean (1864-1963)–Maria Hermalinda’s mother–cross when she entered this country from that same Laredo, Texas footbridge?

About Maria Aurelia Compean

Maria Aurelia CompeanMy 2nd great grandmother Maria Aurelia Compean Sanches–using the traditional Mexican dual surname convention–was born on 01 January 1864 in a municipality of the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico.2 She went by the name Aurelia, but our extended family refers to her as “Little Grandma.”

Aurelia married my 2nd great grandfather Refugio Nieto (1863-1909) on 18 October 1883 in Villa de Yturbide (now Villa de Hidalgo), another municipality in San Luis Potosí, Mexico.3 Family says that her husband Refugio died in 1909. Little Grandma’s obituary claims she gave birth to 21 children, but I have only been able to account for 5 of them thus far.4

Aurelia, along with at least several of her grown children and their families, immigrated to the United States, fleeing the Mexican Revolution after losing their land.5 Aurelia lived at different times with several of these children in Los Angeles County, California, spending her latter years with daughter Maria Hermalinda–my great-grandmother–as well as my father, who was raised by his grandmother Maria Hermalinda.

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Immigrating to the U.S.

The 1920 U.S. census indicates that Aurelia immigrated in 1919.6 This same census notes that her daughter Maria Hermalinda, along with Maria Hermalinda’s husband and two oldest children, immigrated in 1916 (it was actually 1915).7 This census, which enumerates what I think is a large extended family group together, shows different years for the other members of Aurelia’s family–she is the only person noted as immigrating in 1919.8 9 10 11 12

Robledo, Nieto, Sanches, Perez Households - 1920 Census - Long Beach
Robledo, Nieto, Sanches, Perez Households. 1920 US Census, Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California. Courtesy of Click to view larger image.

Taking a look again at Aurelia’s 1963 obituary, it too notes that she came to the U.S. in 1919. But other than indicating, “She and many of the family fled Mexico during the Revolution of 1919, and Mrs. Nieto [her husband’s surname] came to Long Beach.” the obit does not indicate specifics about the family members with whom she immigrated.13

Maria Aurelia Compean Scanned Obituary Clipping
Obituary clipped by my great aunt out of the Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California Independent. From page. 16 February 1963.

At 55 years of age when she crossed over that border, there is just no way that my dad’s family would have allowed non-English-speaking Little Grandma to immigrate all by herself, and then make the trek to California alone. But with whom did Little Grandma immigrate?

I would think that she entered and traveled with one of the family members with whom she first lived in the U.S.–that big extended family group on the 1920 census. It makes sense that a person or persons with whom she would live here would escort her the entire way, from her central Mexico home village to the Laredo border entry, then across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and finally California to her new home in Long Beach.

Yet no one on that 1920 census group shares her 1919 immigration year.

Immigration year…

The 1920 U.S. census asks in what year a person immigrated to the U.S.14 Not in what year a person last entered the U.S. A person could officially immigrate (with the intention to stay), yet continue traveling between the two countries. So it is very likely that someone from that big 1920 census extended family group did escort Little Grandma in 1919; the census simply notes their official immigration date, not dates of any additional border crossings since that official immigration date.

Revisiting Her Border Record

Aurelia did indeed immigrate into the U.S. in 1919–on 14 March 1919, to be exact. But there is no notation of her traveling with anyone.15

Maria Aurelia Compean - Border Crossing 1919

Little Grandma is recorded as Aurelia Compana on the border entry card; it should be Aurelia Compean. It is interesting to note that she is identified with just her paternal surname of Compean. This is consistent with how her daughter (my great grandmother) was recorded–as Maria Nieto, under her paternal surname.16 Aurelia’s son-in-law (my great grandfather, Maria’s husband), however, was recorded under just his maternal surname as Jose Sanchez, which is what made it so difficult for me to track down my great grandfather’s border record. I spent over a decade looking for his border entry record, complicated by not knowing his mother’s name until this month.17 When asked her name, if Little Grandma had answered according to Mexican tradition, she would have provided the name Aurelia Compean Sanches. Yet border officials did not record her surname as Sanches.5

RESEARCH TIP: Mexican Surnames & Immigration Records

When looking for individuals among these Mexican border crossing records, it is often necessary to search for them under all applicable surnames: just the paternal surname, just the maternal surname, and the traditional dual surname. I even advise that for married or widowed women, you check for them under their husband’s surnames using this same approach. Although women in Mexico do not legally take their husband’s name upon marriage, those who immigrated to the U.S. might be mistakenly recorded under their husband’s name, as per traditional U.S. naming customs. It is not unusual to find one of the surnames (usually the paternal surname, because it comes first in the dual surname order) listed as a middle name.

Also very interesting is that Aurelia’s border card notes N. Laredo [Nuevo Laredo], in the state of Tampe [Tamaulipas], Mexico, as her last residence.19 Not the municipality in the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, in which she lived her entire life! Had Little Grandma been detained on the Mexican side of the border when trying to immigrate back in 1915, 1916, or 1917 with other family members. Or had she voluntarily moved and stayed there (perhaps with another child?), while her extended family continued on to their new home and country, thinking there was nothing left for her back in San Luis Potosí? Perhaps the revolution quickly escalated in her home area in 1919, forcing Aurelia to flee sooner than the prearranged date on which one of her Long Beach family members was scheduled to go back to San Luis Potsí to escort her the entire way, requiring her to set up temporary residence on the Mexico side of the Laredo border point until that family member could get to her at the border.

Although the back of her border entry card has notations that seem to indicate she naturalized, my family does not think that Little Grandma ever became a U.S. citizen, and I have not yet found naturalization records for her.

Juvenal Nieto, WWI Draft Registration Card
Juvenal Nieto, WWI Draft Registration Card, dated 12 September 1918. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.
Like my great grandmother Maria, Aurelia’s son Juvenal Joseph Nieto (1898-1978) had already immigrated to the U.S. by this time–noted as 1915 on the 1920 U.S. census, although I have not yet found a 1915 border entry card for him.20 Juvenal was working in a copper mine up in Butte, Silver Bow County, Montana when he had to register for the World War I draft on 12 September 1918. On his draft card, Uncle Juvenal indicates that his mother–just six months prior to her entry into the U.S.–was still living in San Luis [Potosí], Mexico.21 So either Aurelia moved to Nuevo Laredo less than six months prior to crossing into the U.S., or she had already moved and her son Juvenal just wasn’t aware of that fact or of her new residence.


As previously mentioned, and noted in the 1920 U.S. census, several of Aurelia’s grown children had already immigrated in 1915, 1916, and 1917 and were living in Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California.

Her border card indicates that Aurelia immigrated with Long Beach, California, specified as her intended destination. Ten months after immigrating via the Laredo border entry point, Aurelia is living with her extended family in Long Beach when enumerated on 10 January 1920.

Same-Date Crossings

Because this technique helped me to finally identify my great-grandfather’s border crossing record, I decided to peruse the names of everyone who is indexed as having crossed at Laredo on the same date as Aurelia Compean. Ancestry’s “Border Crossings: From Mexico to U.S., 1895-1964” index retrieves records for 132 others who crossed on 14 March 1919. I find no one else identified with the surname Compean, with her married name Nieto, or with her maternal surname Sanches. I find one Robledo, an Adolfa, whom I do not recognize, also with a last residence in Nuevo Laredo, but listed as traveling alone.22 I find no one else identified from the state of San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

So I will have to investigate Adolfa Robledo a bit more, and start going through all 131 additional records for clues that might help me identify a possible unknown family member from the same area of Mexico where Aurelia’s family lived.

Although as previously discussed, it may simply be that one of Aurelia’s Long Beach family members traveled back to Mexico to accompany Little Grandma across the border and to California–in which case, a 14 March 1919 border entry record would not have been created for them. However, I might find that 14 March 1919 date noted on the back of an earlier border entry card that would have been created on that family member’s official immigration date. I have found similar such notations on other border entry cards, tracking additional reentry dates.

Family Immigration Timeline

I have started a timeline to help me keep track of the facts pertaining to my family’s immigration while I continue to piece together this part of their history.

  • 27 October 1915: Daughter Maria Hermalinda Nieto, son-in-law Jose Robledo, and their two children Guadalupe and Refugio Robledo immigrate to the U.S. via the Laredo footbridge between Laredo, Texas, and Nuveo Laredo, Mexico.
  • 12 September 1918: Son Juvenal Joseph Nieto is living and working in Butte, Montana, at the time of the WWI draft. He indicates his mother is still living in [the state of] San Luis [Potosi], Mexico at this time.
  • 14 March 1919: Aurelia Compean crosses into the U.S., via the Laredo footbridge.

In addition to reviewing the border records for those other 132 people who crossed the Laredo footbridge the same date as Aurelia, I will have to re-visit that 1920 U.S. census to start tracking and tracing the other extended family members in hopes of finding clues and evidence that help me identify who traveled with Aurelia to her new country and home. I will update this timeline as I uncover more details.


#52Ancestors: The Way My Robledo and Nieto Family Immigrated to the U.S.

Laredo Foot Bridge
This photo is undated, but looks like it could have been the bridge that stood between 1905 and 1932. [International Foot Bridge, Laredo, Texas], Postcard, n.d.; digital images, ( : accessed June 20, 2012), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Laredo Public Library, Laredo, Texas.
My 19th 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 19 is – There’s a Way: What ancestor found a way out of a sticky situation? You might also think of this in terms of transportation or migration.

Aurelia Compean, Maria Nieto, Four Generations
Four generations of Compean women. My great-aunt Lupe Robledo (2nd from the left), flanked by (L-R): her daughter Esther, her mother (my great-grandmother) Maria Nieto, and her grandmother (my 2nd-great grandmother Aurelia Compean.

My 19th ancestor is my great-aunt Guadalupe “Lupe” Maria Robledo (1910-1975 ). According to the dual surname convention used in her country of birth, Mexico, her full name is Guadalupe Maria Robledo Nieto.

This post is really about the way my paternal grandfather’s Mexico-born family came to the U.S. Not so much about a particular ancestor. However, since the blog challenge requires we identify a focus ancestor, and since I have already blogged about my both of my great-grandparents for this same challenge, I had to choose a new ancestor or relative. So I have chosen Aunt Lupe, since she is one of the four immediate family members who immigrated to the U.S., and because her border crossing record was one of the two gems I discovered on Monday.

About Aunt Lupe

I have very vague memories of my great-aunt Lupe. She died when I was a very little girl.

Guadalupe Maria Robledo Nieto was the oldest of eight children born to my great-grandparents, Jose Robledo (1875-1937) and Maria Hermalinda Nieto (1887-1973). She is also one of two children born to Jose and Maria in Mexico; my grandfather Benjamin Robledo (1919-1997) was the first child born in the United States.

Lupe was born 30 June 1910 in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I have not yet found a baptism or civil birth registration record from Mexico, confirming the date and place–but it is very likely she was born in the family’s hometown of Tomascal (Temescal) in the municipality of Armadillo de los Infante, state of San Luis Potosi. From what I can tell, she was not given the traditional Mexican order for given names, which would have been Maria Guadalupe, with the saint/biblical name of Maria preceding her primary name of Guadalupe. But since I have not yet found her baptism or civil registration for birth, I can’t be certain of that.

This is all the biographical info I plan to share about Aunt Lupe at this time, because the real focus of this post is on the next major phase of Lupe’s life that I have identified so far–immigrating to the U.S. with her parents and baby brother.

Immigrating to the U.S.

Dad, his cousins, and I have always heard that his father’s family fled to the U.S. to escape the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). The family supposedly had land and lost everything during the revolution. They came seeking a new home, a new life, a fresh start. Much of their extended family immigrated here, in phases, with a large group–that included my great-grandparents–then migrating to Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California.

The 1920 U.S. census indicates that the whole immediate family group immigrated in 1916.1 The 1930 U.S. census claims it was 1915.2

For over 15 years, I have tried to find documentation that would identify where and when my grandfather’s immediate family crossed into the U.S. For over 15 years, I have pulled my hair out and banged my head against a wall, each time my attempted search failed.

Two days ago, after 15+ years, the search came to an end.

I found them. All of them. Finally!

Finding Great-Grandmother Maria First

The first documented evidence I came across that indicated the way my grandfather’s family immigrated to the U.S. was the discovery of my great-grandmother Maria “Nana” Nieto’s naturalization records at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, California, back in 2003-2005 (I didn’t note back then when I found a document). Those documents reference Laredo, Texas, as her point of entry and confirmed entry in October 1915.3 The exact date was noted wrong on those naturalization documents, but I will save that document’s analysis for another post.

A bit of digging around for information about Laredo, Texas, as a point of entry from Mexico during that era indicated that the Laredo footbridge, over the famous Rio Grande, is how immigrants in 1915 would have entered the U.S. via Laredo. I wrote about the bridge’s history in a 2012 blog post about my great-grandmother Maria’s immigration. According to Wikipedia, the foot bridge (now called the Gateways to the Americas International Bridge) was first constructed in the 1880s, was destroyed by a flood in 1905, then repaired, and was rebuilt in 1932, continuing this cycle through present day.4

Once Ancestry had the digitized US-Mexico border records indexed, the information on Nana’s naturalization records allowed me to find her border entry record in 2012.

Nana, or Maria, is identified under her paternal surname of Nieto (what we would think of as a maiden name), not under Robledo (what we think of as a married name). Back in 2012, this had me a bit stumped, as to why my great-grandmother was not recorded as Maria Robledo.  I did not then fully understand the dual surname convention used in Mexico, and that Mexican women do not take their husband’s name. Mexican immigrant women generally only become identified by their husband’s name after coming to the U.S., on U.S.-generated records, such as a census, city directory, or death record.

She was admitted via the bridge, on 27 October 1915. The “2” in the date is hard to read on her card, but further evidence confirms the 27th as the date.

Maria Nieto, 1915 Border Entry Card (Front)
The front of the border entry card for Maria Nieto. Source:

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Maria’s border entry card indicates that she was married, that she was accompanied by “baby Refugio Robledo,” and she was entering the country for “shopping.”5

Baby Refugio Robledo

That four-month-old was my great-uncle Refugio Raphael “Ray” Robledo (1915-?).

Note that Refugio’s border entry card more clearly indicates the date that he and his mother Maria entered the U.S.–October 27th. 6

Nana had two children by this time, including older daughter Guadalupe. So why wasn’t Maria accompanied by Lupe as well? Why not also accompanied by her husband, my great-grandfather Jose? Why was the family split up at the border? Where were Jose and Lupe?

If the family had been split up, for whatever reason, one can reasonably assume why an infant is the child who would be left with the mother. Maria would have been nursing baby Refugio; not exactly something her husband Jose could do.

Refugio Robledo, 1915 Border Card
Border entry card for baby Refugio Robledo. The back of the card (outlined in orange) contains notes about additional dates that Refugio traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico as an adult. Source:

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Discovering Great-Grandfather in an Old Clue

Two years after finding the border entry cards for Maria and her baby son Refugio, I still had not been able to find out what happened to older daughter Lupe and husband Jose Robledo.

Until this past Monday.

Thinking that I might focus this blog post topic on Baby Refugio’s way into the U.S., I took another look at the border records for both Refugio and his mother Maria Nieto. Nothing. No Jose Robledo or Guadalupe Robledo with the right birth and family info anywhere. I looked at EVERY person recorded as crossing on that same date. Also for the date before, and the date after. I looked at every Robledo and Nieto who crossed in October 1915. Still nothing.

But…then…there…it…was…staring me right in the face.

The whole time.

I just hadn’t ever registered and thought-out the note before. Perhaps because it never even meant anything to me, until a month ago.

Maria Nieto, 1915 Border Entry Card (Back)
The back of Maria Nieto’s border entry card. Note the reference to Jose Sanchez (outlined in red). I have flipped the same back 180 degrees to show a later 1945 note (in blue) pertaining to her immigration status. Source:

The back of Maria’s border entry card has a handwritten note about her being caught with a  Jose Sanchez.7

Was in office at same time with Jose Sanchez but denied knowing him — subsequently found with him in the street and returned to Mex to appear for B.__.__. in the morning — suspicion of __.

I had seen that note many many times, and dismissed it every time.

The name Jose Sanchez meant nothing to me. I had no such person in my database. Jose Sanchez must have been a stranger, someone she ran into at the border. But, then, why was she later seen with him again on the streets? Was she so scared after being detained in a strange new country, that she gravitated towards the only other person there she knew–the person she had met in the immigration office?

This time, it clicked.


My great-grandfather Jose Robledo’s maternal surname is Sanchez. According to Mexican naming conventions (those darn dual-surnames again!), his full name is Jose Robledo Sanchez [a 2nd given name has not been found for him]. Until last month, I did not even know that. Because last month, another 15+ year brick wall was finally busted, when I found Mexico Catholic parish records identifying my great-grandfather’s parents’ names–which no currently living member of our family ever knew. Until my discovery last month.

Either Jose intentionally misled border officials by giving them his maternal surname as his only surname, or, as is so often the case with Mexican immigrants, U.S. officials (not understanding the dual-surname convention) recorded the maternal (last) surname as the lone surname.

I had seen and dismissed a 27 October 1915 border entry record for a Jose Sanchez. Stupid mistake. Especially considering the note about a Jose Sanchez on the back of Maria’s record.


That border record for Jose Sanchez matched the birth info for my great-grandfather and noted that he was accompanied by a daughter named Guadalupe! Even better…like Maria’s card, Jose’s border entry card contains an identical handwritten note on the back–indicating that he was detained and caught with a Maria Nieto.8 My Maria Nieto! His Maria Nieto!

At long last…my great-grandparents. Identified together. Detained together. Later caught again together. And hopefully, allowed to cross together.

Jose Robledo, 1915 Border Card
Border entry card for my great-grandfather Jose Robledo [recorded as Jose Sanchez], traveling with daughter Guadalupe (marked in red). The front of the card indicates that he has been in the U.S. before (marked in blue), so I have some more hunting to do! The back of the card is displayed up top, with the reference to Maria Nieto (outlined in red). Source:
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The record for this Jose Sanchez, my great-grandfather, indicates that he was accompanied by his daughter Guadalupe.

 And Guadalupe Makes Four!

This discovery allowed me to quickly find the last border crossing record, for Aunt Lupe.

Guadalupe Sanchez [Robledo] is recorded as 7 years old (we think she was only 5 years old), from the right hometown, accompanied by her father Jose Sanchez.9

All four of my paternal grandfather’s immediate family entered the U.S. on 27 October 1915.

But, why is Aunt Lupe recorded with the name Sanchez? Sanchez is not one of her dual-surnames. Her full Mexican name is Maria Guadalupe Robledo Nieto. It is very likely that because her father Jose was recorded under just his second/maternal surname Sanchez (border officials probably thought Robledo was a middle name), officials simply assumed–like U.S. children–that Mexican children inherit a single surname from their father. Hence, Guadalupe Sanchez was born at the border.

Guadalupe Robledo, 1915 Border Card
Border entry card for Guadalupe Robledo [recorded as Guadalupe Sanchez], accompanied by her father. Source:
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Celebrating the 100th Anniversary

While preparing for this blog post theme, and in reviewing these records again over the past couple weeks, I had another significant discovery…if my family immigrated in 1915, then this coming October 27th marks the 100th anniversary of them crossing the border and crossing the Laredo footbridge to their new country.

The 100th anniversary! Coming up this year!

How can one pass up the chance to walk where their ancestors walked, exactly 100 years ago?! To stand where their ancestors stood exactly one century prior, staring across the Rio Grande, taking that walk (and leap) of hope, into a new country?

This gal ain’t passing up that chance!

I’m headed to Laredo, Texas, this fall, to walk across (not drive across) the international bridge into the border town of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, then back across the Rio Grande again into the United States. The way my great-grandparents and their two oldest children did it. The actual bridge from 1915 no longer stands. It’s a newer bridge. So it won’t be in their exact footsteps, but it’s as close as I can get to retracing their steps. And best of all, I’m taking Dad with me! He was raised by my great-grandmother Maria Neto, his grandmother. She was the only mother he ever really had. I can’t wait to stand on that bridge with him, sharing this emotional experience, as we both reflect upon what all that Laredo bridge symbolizes for our family.

Gateway to the Americas International Bridge, Laredo, Texas
2008 photo of the current bridge. Creative Commons photo from Wikimedia.

Follow-up Questions

Finding these final two border crossing records answered some key questions about the Mexico-born members of my paternal grandfather’s immediate family, but it also raises many more, to which I will most likely never get answers.

  • Why were my great-grandparents detained in a government office?
  • Why did they deny knowing each other when questioned in that office?
  • If they were in the same office, pretending not to know each other, how on earth did they keep little Lupe from crying out and running to her mother, giving the cover story away?
  • Were they indeed returned to Mexico, for further questioning the next day?
  • So would that make their official immigration date the day after October 27th…the 28th?
  • What sort of  questioning took place the next day, and are there records?
  • What prompted officials to release them and allow them to continue on their journey?

My heart breaks for the terror they must have experienced. The fear that must have forced Maria and her husband Jose to deny knowing each other, perhaps thinking it might protect the other person–allowing the other spouse and at least one child safe passage if one set were detained or sent back. The fear that they might be sent back, all journey preparations for naught, returned to a war-torn country. The fear that their family might be separated…across a border, in separate countries.

What admiration I have for these two people, who lost everything, faced this fearful situation, and persevered. Persevered to make a new home for their young family, to grow their family with more children, and to instill such a profound sense of family and love among generations of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now 2nd great-grandchildren. Maria and Jose were always poor here, but they left a very rich legacy.

Lessons Learned

Having missed the final two border entry cards multiple times over the past two years has taught me some valuable lessons.

  • ALWAYS look for records and references to Mexican immigrants under both of their conventional surnames.
  • ALWAYS look for records and reference to Mexican immigrants’ children under any combination of the parents’ dual surnames (all four surnames).
  • ALWAYS pay close attention to, and frequently re-visit, notes written on the back of or in the margins of records.


#52Ancestors: 2nd Great-Uncle Juvenal Joseph Nieto, Trying to Prosper Amid WWI Butte Mining Town Turmoil

During World War I there were three registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918. This was included in the second registration.) The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45.

My 17th 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 17 is – Prosper. Which ancestor has a rags-to-riches story? Which ancestor prospered despite the odds?

My 17th  ancestor is my 2nd great-uncle, Juvenal Joseph Nieto (1898-1978).

Uncle Juvenal came to the U.S., I imagine, like so many other young immigrants, with the hope of prospering — of building a new life, of making a better life for his parents and siblings, of starting a family of his own. My branch of the family says that our Compean / Sanches / Nieto / Robledo family lost everything in the Mexican Revolution. Juvenal came looking for work, for a new start.

About Juvenal

I never knew Juvenal, nor do I recall ever hearing his name growing up. But his sister Maria Hermalinda Nieto (my great-grandmother Nana) died when I was just a toddler, and Juvenal died when I was just 8 years old. I didn’t even know OF a Juvenal until I found him living with our extended family in Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California on the 1920 U.S. Census. So his name became one I regularly searched, in hopes of finding records pertaining to my Nieto family line.

Juvenal Joseph Nieto was born in 1898 Mexico. I do not yet know the actual date, as I have not found his Mexico baptism or civil registration record of birth. Juvenal’s WWI draft registration claims he was born 15 February 1898, but his death certificate claims 27 March 1898. Both simply indicate Mexico as his place of birth, although it is very likely that he was born — like so many of his family members for generations — in or near the municipality of Armadillo de los Infante, in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico.


I first found Juvenal’s World War I draft registration card in 2003, when it repeatedly came up in searches I conducted on Ancestry. But I initially ignored that hit, because it listed a Montana residence for my 2nd great uncle Juvenal. Montana couldn’t be right. Juvenal came from Mexico. And once he immigrated to the U.S., he settled and lived in Los Angeles County, California with other members of his family. Or so I thought.

When that pesky search hit wouldn’t go away, I finally took a look at the actual digitized record (I NEVER automatically dismiss record hits anymore!), because Juvenal just isn’t a very common name — even among Mexican males.

What I found in the digitized record surprised and delighted me.

It WAS my same Juvenal. And he indeed lived in Montana when he registered for the draft on 12 September 1918. On the draft card, Juvenal identified his mother Mrs. Aurelia Compian [Compean] of San Luis [Potosi], Mexico as his nearest living relative. Aurelia is my 2nd great-grandmother, and our family did originate in San Luis Potosi. No chance of being wrong here. Definitely my Juvenal!

Juvenal Nieto, WWI Draft Registration Card
Juvenal Nieto, WWI Draft Registration Card, dated 12 September 1918. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005.

RESEARCH TIP: Mexican Surnames

It is interesting to note that Juvenal identified his mother’s name as Aurelia Compian [Compean] — not Nieto, which was her husband’s surname. Compean was Aurelia’s paternal surname (apellido paterno). Traditional Mexico naming conventions assign dual surnames to a child: their father’s paternal surname, followed by their mother’s paternal surname. Thus, according to tradition, Juvenal’s name was Juvenal Joseph Nieto Compean. Traditionally, women don’t ever go by their husband’s name in Mexico — they retain their original dual surnames even after marriage. So Juvenal identifying his mother’s surname as Compean instead of Nieto was traditionally accurate.

According to the World War I draft card, Juvenal worked as a miner for the North Butte Mining Company in Butte, Silver Bow County, Montana. He is described as 20 years old, white, a non-declarant alien, of medium height and slender build, with black eyes and hair. While the draft card doesn’t state it, Juvenal was still single at this time. Juvenal lists Butte as his residence, and Speculator as his place of employment.

Speculator? We’ll come back to that.

Leaving Home

Juvenal’s son-in-law and I chatted on Facebook a couple days ago about the post I just wrote on Juvenal’s father, in which I also mention Juvenal. The conversation focused on the draft card and the Montana mines. Juvenal’s son-in-law said that Juvenal left home at a young age to work in the mines. I am not sure if that was directly for the Montana mines, or if he first worked the mines in Mexico.

The 1920 U.S. Census indicates that Juvenal immigrated to the U.S. in 1915, but I have not been able to find a border record for his initial entry into the U.S. — only for a much later year, when traveling between the two countries.

Juvenal’s older sister Maria (my great-grandmother) had immigrated in 1915 with her husband and two oldest children. I have a border entry record for Maria and her infant son Refugio (although not yet for Maria’s husband Jose and daughter Guadalupe). According to the draft registration card for Maria’s own husband (my great-grandfather), Maria and Joe were already living in Long Beach, California by 12 June 1918.

Butte Mining & Immigrants

The discovery of copper ore in the 1800s — necessary to electrify America — transformed Butte, Montana from a frontier mining town to “‘the Richest Hill on Earth,’ the most lucrative copper mining region in the world.” [1] By 1917, mining operations were booming due to the increased wartime demand for copper. Immigrants made up a considerable portion of the mining labor population.

For the better part of four decades now, Irish, Cornish, Welsh, Serb, Italian, Finnish, Croatian, and Mexican workers had been pouring in to work “the richest hill in the world,” and in the process they turned Butte into a kind of Rocky Mountain Pittsburgh. (Laskin, loc. 1481)[2]

“In early 1917, Butte was a unionized industrial city with a population of 91,000 people. Home to one of the largest mining operations in the world, the abundance of employment opportunities drew workers from every corner of the globe. “No Smoking” signs posted in the mines were printed in 16 different languages. More than 30 languages were spoken among the city streets.” [3]

This is where my Mexico-born 2nd great-uncle Juvenal came to work, at least by June of 1918, when he registered for the draft.

WWI Draft Registration

On 06 April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, joining the allies of Britain, France, and Russia. Because our armed forces were so depleted, Congress instituted a draft for the first time since the Civil War.

“During World War I there were three registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918. This was included in the second registration.) The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45.”[4]

Juvenal participated in the third draft registration in 1918.

The first draft registration, on 05 June 1917, was known as National Registration Day.

The Speculator Mine

Now back to Juvenal’s place of employment — Speculator.

Speculator was the name of a copper mine, which has become quite infamous in mining history. Due to the disaster of 1917.

The Disaster of 1917

On the night of 8 June 1917, fire broke out 2,300 feet down in the Granite Mountain shaft of the mine, caused when an employee’s carbide lamp mistakenly ignited a frayed electrical cable. Fire, smoke, and poisonous gas spread quickly. By the time rescue operations ceased on June 16th, 168 men had lost their lives, dubbing the event the worst disaster in Montana history and one of the worst metal mining disasters in the world.

The mine closed for good in 1923.

Anti-War & Labor Hotbed

Butte, like many other mining towns that relied heavily upon large numbers of new immigrant laborers, became a hotbed for antiwar protests leading up to and during the First World War. Allegiances were questioned, primarily among European immigrants who hailed from homelands on the enemy side of the war. Some European immigrant families were torn between wanting to support and fight for their new country, yet knowing that would mean defeat or even death for family members back in the old country — brother versus brother.

At the same time, unions were protesting the dangerous deplorable conditions forced upon mining laborers. And in the face of war, many such labor sentiments were branded as un-American, even treasonous.

The Speculator mine disaster of 1917 happened just three days after National Registration Day, the first of the three WWI drafts.

A seven-month long strike ensued. Federal troops were sent in to restore order.

Was Juvenal There?

Was my 2nd great-uncle Juvenal Nieto present at the time of the Speculator mine disaster, the ensuing strike, and the crackdown against the labor movement? Was he a target of anti-immigrant sentiments, even though he came from Mexico rather than the countries with whom we were at war? Did he have to make his way through federal troops, and striking miners, just to earn a living? Did he join the striking miners?

These questions are impossible to answer at this point in my research.

Juvenal didn’t register for the draft until 12 June 1918, and that draft registration card is the first and only record I find so far placing Juvenal in Butte, Montana. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Juvenal did NOT work and live in Butte at the time of the 1917 mining disaster. He could have been there.

Probably the only chance I have at verifying if Juvenal was working for the mine at the time of the disaster, is to search for some mention of him in the mining company records, which are held by the Montana Historical Society. Perhaps the name of a 19 year old Mexican laborer might appear in some sort of roster, financial, or business record?

Even if Juvenal had not yet been there for the 1917 disaster, he would have heard about it upon arrival and must have thought about it every single time he went down into the Speculator mine to work. Wondering each day if he would make it back out above ground after his shift.


Sources Cited

  1. IndependentITVS.
  2. Laskin, David. 2010. The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War. Kindle edition. HarperCollins e-books.
  3. The Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial. 2010. “History: Intro.” The Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial.
  4. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. n.d. “World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, M1509.” National Archives.

Sources Consulted

  • Gutfeld, Arnon. 1969. “The Speculator Disaster in 1917: Labor Resurgence at Butte, Montana.” Arizona and the West 11 (1): 27–38.
  • Independent Lens | BUTTE AMERICA | Film Clip #2 | PBS. 2009. Independent Lens.

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#52Ancestors: A Fresh Start for Immigrant Great Grandfather Jose Robledo (1875-1937)

My 1st 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 1 is: Fresh start — Seems appropriate for the beginning of the year. What ancestor had a fresh start? What ancestor has been so confusing to research that you’d like to have a fresh start?

Jose RobledoMy 1st ancestor is my great grandfather Jose “Joe” Robledo (1875-1937). Great Grandpa Joe was the 8th ancestor I profiled in last year’s challenge.

I discussed in that post how he was my biggest brickwall at that point in February 2014. That remains true today. It is incredibly frustrating that I have made no further real progress on his history.

I also mentioned in that post that I had recently ordered a DNA kit to test my dad in hopes of identifying some cousin relationships that might provide clues about my great grandfather. It’s even more frustrating that the DNA relations Ancestry has identified for me have no as-yet identified connection to the Robledo surname — just to the Nieto and Compean side (Joe’s wife’s ancestry). I suspect that I won’t make progress on Joe unless I go down to the small town of Armadillo de los Infante in which the family lived in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico…which I am hoping to do with Dad this year.

So, what’s with the fresh start?

A New Country

Jose Robledo, his wife Maria Nieto (1887-1974), and Maria’s extended family immigrated to the United States with nothing, after losing everything — including the family hacienda — during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). According to Jose and Maria’s children, the family had been well to do in Mexico. I have no idea if the family were supporters of President (and dictator) Porfirio Diaz, or if they were simply guilty of being members of the landed class. But, the family was forced to escape Mexico and start over.

Wife Maria in 1915 crossed over the Laredo footbridge on 27 October 1915 with their infant son Refugio Rafael “Ray” Robledo (1915-?). Husband Joe is not listed as traveling with Maria, and I still have not been able to find a border crossing record for him.

Home in California

According to Joe’s WWI draft registration card, by 1 September 1918, Joe and his young family were living in Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California at 123 E. 4th St. (rear house) where Joe worked as a laborer for the San Pedro Habor Department. They were still here at the time of the 1920 U.S. Census, living with five families all in the same rear house (all seemingly related), with great grandfather Joe employed as a laborer doing day work. At time time of the 1930 U.S. Census, the growing family lived on their own in Los Angeles city, but did not own the home, and Joe — previously a laborer in a pottery factory — was unemployed. City directories list Joe and Maria living in Glendale, Los Angeles County from 1931 until 1936, with Joe still identified as a laborer. Joe died on 4 July 1937.

Dad, born after his grandfather died, says that his father (Joe’s son) told him stories about traveling with Joe as a child working as migrant laborers.

Fresh Start Legacy

Although Joe died — according to family —  never recovering from losing everything and having to juggle poor sporadic menial work, he did indeed provide his family with a successful fresh start. Joe just didn’t live long enough to witness most of these successes. His wife and oldest daughter became U.S. citizens. His wife and most of his children would go on to own their own homes. At least three of his sons served in the U.S. armed forces and fought for his new country during wartime. My dad (Joe’s grandson) became the first in the family to graduate college, and most of Joe’s great grandchildren are college graduates. Among Joe’s great grandchildren are educators, a nun and pastor, a nurse, and business professionals. Many of his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and now great great grandchildren remain a tight close loving family.

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#52Ancestors: William Jewett McNamara Immigrates from Canada with Younger Siblings in 1852

William Jewett McNamara
Courtesy of the Jewett Family of America.

My 52nd and final entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

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.

My 52nd ancestor is my husband Jeff’s 3rd great grandfather William Jewett McNamara (1834-1911).

William Jewett immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 18 with his five younger siblings in tow. They set sail on the Sch. Albatros [sic] from Horton (now Hortonville), Nova Scotia, Canada, and arrived in Boston, Massachusetts on 27 August 1852.

On the ship’s list, it looks like William identified his occupation as a seaman.

Traveling with William Jewett are: Elizabeth (age 12), Mary (age 10), James (age 8), and Margaret (age 6). Older brother Thomas (20 at this time) is absent from the passenger list, meaning he did not travel with his siblings.

McNamara William Jewitt - Ship List - Albatros - web
Courtesy of Click image for larger view.

When I first encountered this record, I dismissed it, because I couldn’t figure out why William would be immigrating with his younger siblings. But it kept showing up in Ancestry as a hint for all five siblings. So I took at closer look at the family, and noticed that their parents were dead by this time. Mother Lucy Perkins Jewett (1812-1850) died in 1850, and father William McNamara (1795-1851) followed suit in 1851. It appears that 18 year old William Jewett has assumed the role of head of the family and was now parent to 4 younger siblings.

This analysis prompts even more questions. Had older brother Thomas already immigrated to the U.S.? And why? If he was still in Nova Scotia, why wasn’t he — as the oldest son — functioning as head of the family after their parents died? Why did this role fall on his younger brother William?

By the time of the 1860 U.S. Census, William Jewett McNamara (age 26) had emigrated all the way across the country, settling in newly formed (1853) Humboldt County, California, where he would spend the rest of his life.

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#52Ancestors: My 4th Great Grandpa James Darnley Immigrates from Scotland 1865

My 34th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

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.

I have fallen way behind in this challenge again due to continued health issues the last few months, but I am trying to catch up by the end of the year.

My 34th ancestor is my fourth great grandfather, James DARNLEY (1832- ). This James Darnley is the father of James Patterson DARNLEY (1856-1908), whose murder I blogged about last week.

Ships List. Caledonia, steerage, 1865. Courtesy of
Ships List. Caledonia, steerage, 1865. Courtesy of

James Sr., a miner, immigrated to the United States in 1865, along with his 7 year old son James Jr. and his 9 year old daughter Jeanette [Janet]. The family arrived at the Port of New York on 16 October 1865, on board the Caledonia (part of the Anchor shipping line), which embarked from Glasgow, Scotland. They crossed the Atlantic in poor steerage accommodations, sharing space with the ship’s cargo.

No wife for James Sr. or mother for the children accompanied the family on their journey to America. The first wife of James Sr., Anne BODMAN (married in April 1857), was already dead at this time.

Darnley New York Times advertisement
This advertisement in the New York Times ran the very date the family arrived (16 October 1865). It is for the return voyage back to Great Britain, on the Caledonia. The price for steerage passage was $30 U.S. Dollars (I assume, per person). My ancestor and his children traveled steerage from Glasgow, paying in British currency. Source:

By the time of the 1870 U.S. Census (enumerated 7 July 1870), James Sr. had remarried — to Margaret METZ (b. 1845) — and settled with their family in Lanaconing, Allegany County, Maryland. Both James Sr. and James Jr. were employed as miners. James and Margaret’s first child, 2 year old Jane, was born by this time.

 Darnley 1870 U.S. Census. Courtesy of
1870 U.S. Census. Courtesy of

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