Helping Visitors Discover Family Histories

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Yesterday’s post on genealogy by my colleague Steve Dugan was a perfect precursor to this one.  This is because among the most meaningful and rewarding parts of my experiences here at the Homestead has been working with people in our community who are discovering or rediscovering their family histories.

A particularly interesting recent example is that of Daniel Espeseth, who lives just a few miles from the museum and came here a few months ago to talk about his growing knowledge of his ancestors in the Lugo family, one of the most prominent Californio families from the Spanish and Mexican eras of our region.

Daniel is connected to the Lugos through his mother, but lived most of his life in northern California and with very little knowledge and exposure to his long heritage here.  As he expressed it to me, it was “through a series of amazing events and circumstances, and maybe some divine intervention, that I ended up living in the old stomping grounds of his descendants and I didn’t even know how I was related to them.”  As just one example, he lives just across the San Gabriel River from the old Rancho Potereo de Felipe Lugo (Meadow of Felipe Lugo), which is now the South El Monte area.  Felipe Lugo was Daniel’s great-granduncle.

Emelda Lugo Rozas and husband
Emelda Lugo and her husband Ambrosio Rozas, Jr., ca. 1875.  Photos courtesy of Daniel Espeseth.

Daniel first came to us earlier this year for one of our Curious Cases presentations on the “Lugo Case of 1851,” in which some of his ancestors were accused of murder, though they eventually were exonerated after a long, complicated and ultimately violent period.

Among the items he brought was a photocopy of an early 1950s newspaper article from the mission town of San Juan Bautista about his great-grandmother, Emelda Rozas, who lived to be nearly 105 years old.  The article stated that she was the daughter of José María Lugo, son of prominent Los Angeles-area ranchero and community leader, Antonio María Lugo.  The piece continued that, after the death of her parents, Emelda was taken to San Juan Bautista by her maternal aunt and uncle, Ramona and Luis Buelna.

But, Daniel found that Emelda was listed in Los Angeles church records and confirmed by my search of the 1860 census that she was actually Antonio María’s daughter with his second wife, María Florentina de Jesús German.  Antonio María died at age 85 in early 1860 (a copy of the notice of his death, owned by the Historical Society of Southern California, is on temporary deposit with the Homestead), but in July of that year, the census taker noted that his young widow and their children, including 3-year old Emelda, were living in Los Angeles.  How it was believed that Emelda was the daughter of José María, rather than his father, is not yet known.

Rozas family ca 1920s
Ambrosio Rozas and Emelda Lugo, lower center, and their nine surviving of twelve children, circa 1910.

When Emelda’s mother died a few years later, about 1863, the young girl of about six years was taken by the Buelnas to San Juan Bautista.  In 1875, she married Ambrosio Rozas, Jr., gave birth to twelve children and lived a long, eventful life.  Most of it was in a house, built in 1856, that is not a National Register of Historic Places landmark in that town.

In the course of tracing his great-grandmother’s origins, though Daniel has discovered a great deal more about the Lugo family, the difficult transition in California from Mexican to American rule, and himself.

In fact, on the 27th of this month, he will be walking from Mission San Gabriel to the Los Angeles Plaza on the annual Los Pobladores trek commemorating the trek made in early September 1781 when Los Angeles was founded–a trip made by his great-great-great grandfather Francisco Salvador Lugo, who was one of the military escorts.

Emelda Lugo Rozas and daughters
Emelda and five of her daughters at her 100th birthday celebration, 1957.

This kind of situation is exactly what the Homestead partially exists for–to work with people doing family history research and then putting that in the context of the times and places in which ancestors lived.

The stories that come from that research provide more meaning and substance to the personal journey people like Daniel have taken (and he will be on a physical journey on the Los Pobladores walk).

Espeseth family 1960s
Daniel Espeseth at four months old with his parents and grandparents in Redwood City, 1964.

We believe this makes people like Daniel the “advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles” that is the Homestead’s purpose statement.

3 thoughts

  1. Interesting,my name is Marcos Dowling Castro I grew up in the city of Bell Gardens,Cal.
    and as a kid I always wondered why the so.east dist.of L.A. was named San Antonio and I remember starring at the House at Gage and Garfield and the Gage Mansion but not until a year or so looking up my Grandmas history I found out and keep finding family ties with just about every founding family of L.A. and both California’s I’m related to. The de Castro’s from Sinaloa that accompanied Portola ,Rivera,Fa.Serra and inter married with the other Soldiers families and Pobladores starting with the Carrillo’s,Cotas,Verdugos,de Arce,Villavicencios,Felix,Sepulvedas,Pico’s lopez,Yorba,Bandini,,Marron,Ruiz,Lugo’s, Nietos. Every time I look up someone i find that their related right now I’m researching Cristobal Aguilar the last Mexican Mayor before Villaraigoza and I wouldn’t be surprised if I find ties to that Fam.

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