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Musings Before and After "the facts" Part One - Before...

All things considered, many genealogists never get to visit significant geological "roots". Imagine going to the place where some of your ancestors first set foot on "the new homeland". That's what awaits me September 20-21 in San Diego, California. In 1769, California was still "terra incognito" to the Spanish who "owned" it. Isolated points along the coastline had been roughly mapped, but nothing was known. There were no settlements, no waiting stockpiles of supplies, no allies. That is the environment, my ancestors (4th great grandfathers) -- Jose Antonio Yorba and Jose Maria Verdugo -- faced as part of the expedition led by Gaspar de Portola and Father Junipero Serra.

Both ancestors, Yorba and Verdugo, were soldiers, but each had led different lifestyles. Yorba had come from Catalonia, Spain only two years before. He was one of a hundred men of the Free Catalonian Volunteers -- a kind of ranger/mountaineer troop -- which had traveled across Mexico, engaged in numerous assaults against the Pima, Seri, and Apache natives, and finally -- as part of a detachment of 25 men -- been assigned to the Portola-Serra Expedition

From San Blas, far south of Baja California on the coastal mainland of Mexico, Yorba and his companions took ship up to San Diego Bay. After 110 days shipboard, they arrived . Half of the soldiers and most of the crew incapacitated with scurvy. In the month, while they waited for the rest of the expedition to arrive by land, up from Loreto, Baja California, twelve of the original 25 Catalan Volunteers died.

My other 4th great grandfather, Juan Maria Verdugo, was a soldier stationed at the Loreto Presido, in Baja California. His ancestors had come from Spain, but had been in Mexico since the days of Cortez's conquering of the Aztec empire. His commander at Loreto, Fernando de Rivera, recruited him along with 24 other leather-jacket soldiers to be part of the Portola-Serra Expedition. While today, in our ever-shrinking sense of distance, 300 miles doesn't seem like much, but in 1769 -- especially in unmapped territory -- it must have seemed vast. It took Rivera's party fifty-one days to travel up through Baja to San Diego Bay.

These are part of the family stories and knowledge, I will have in mind when I visit San Diego. I will walk the park that now occupies what was once the Presidio of San Diego where Yorba lived and was stationed, where his sons and daughters were born, and grew up. I will stand in the old mission where the children were baptized, where the daughters were married. Two of the daughters were respectively, thirteen and fourteen. I will stroll the cemetery next to the mission where lie buried three of Yorba's sons and a daughter, all dying before the age of three.

What thoughts and feelings I will have there in San Diego on this trip will affect me surely, both as a descendant and as a genealogist. It should be very interesting.

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Comment by Katie Heitert Wilkinson on September 17, 2010 at 9:38pm
Fascinating and moving. And - as always - beautifully written.

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