by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The phenomenon of children born out wedlock is historically far more common than many of us realize and the effects and consequences of these situations can be very challenging for the people involved, including the child’s parents, spouse, children and others. In my own family, for example, I have great-grandparents who adopted and raised as their own children two daughters of their first-born child. For many years, my mother did not realize that the girls about her age that she thought of as her aunts were actually her cousins.
In the early 1990s when I began doing research on the Workman and Temple families, I was tracking the ancestry of Laura González Temple (1871-1922), the wife of Walter P. Temple. A family tree prepared by her genealogist and historian son, Thomas, showed that she was one of the many children of Mexican-born musician Feliz González and his wife María Ramona Alvitre.
Yet, when the 1880 census was located at the National Archives branch in Laguna Niguel (on microfilm—this being before the onset of Internet research through such sites as Ancestry.com and the like), the household was headed by María Rita Bermudez, mother of Ramona, who was listed as a widow, Feliz having died several years prior. But, there six González children, ranging from 7 to 17 years, enumerated, but not Laura (whose Spanish name was Lorenza.)
The youngest was Manuela and a user on Ancestry.com has stated that this was actually Laura, but all of the other children’s ages conform exactly with the family tree written by Thomas, but Laura was 9 years old in 1880, not 7. Moreover, Thomas’ tree does list a Manuela and, while the recording does not have a date of birth, there is a death date of 1919 and a listing of burial at the Mission San Gabriel Cemetery. Ancestry.com also has a link to a Find-a-Grave listing for a Manuela Gonzales who was interred at that historic burying ground in 1919, though the birth year is unknown.
The next known record of Laura is a receipt donated by her grand-daughter Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis and dated August 1885 from Los Angeles. The document is made out to Miss Valenzuela, records a fee of $51.50 and this was “for three Monhs Board in adv[ance] for Miss Lorenza Gonzales.” It was signed “S.M. Josephine” and research showed that Sister Superior Mary Josephine was the principal at the Sisters of Charity school for girls at the corner of what is now Alameda Street and César E. Chávez (formerly Macy) Avenue.
Shortly afterward, Laura was living at the Workman Homestead and was employed by its owner, Francis W. Temple, older brother of Walter. As has been discussed here previously in posts focusing on 1880s letters, Walter and Laura had a clandestine teenage love affair, in which they were assisted, at least in part, by his grandmother Nicolasa Workman. When Francis began suffering from tuberculosis by 1887 and spent considerable time at Yuma, Arizona to seek relief in the hot, dry climate there for his ravaged lungs, Laura took on the responsibility of running the Homestead in his stead, demonstrating her aptitude for organization and management.
Francis succumbed to the disease in early August 1888 and, when his will was probated a couple of weeks later, among those mentioned in the will were Laura and Francisca Valenzuela. In addition, Francis’ heirs to the Homestead, his brothers William and John, executed a document on 16 October in which “the sum of three hundred (300) dol[lar]s U.S. gold coin in full [is paid] of all demands against the estate” and the signatory was Francisca, who wrote her mark, showing that she could not write.
After Francis’ death, it is obvious that both Francisca and Laura left the Homestead, but at the time it was clearly known what the connection between them was. My research in the early Nineties in Los Angeles city directories held at the Los Angeles Central Public Library found listings for Laura from 1894 to 1897, showing that she was a music teacher and living on the north side of “Old Downey” Road, which is now Whittier Boulevard near Boyle Avenue in Boyle Heights. At the time, it did not occur to me to search for Francisca, as the above references were not pieced together yet, but later poring through Ancestry.com listings found that, for 1896 and 1897, she was listed at the same location—clearly they lived together.
Yet, when the 1900 census was taken (the 1890 records were lost long ago to a fire), Laura was living on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles and boarding with the Kalisher family. Recent scouring of that census, though, did not turn up any reference to Francisca. The next scrap of information is tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s collection, a passbook from the Southern California Savings Bank in Los Angeles and which had a date of 29 November 1905 for the deposit of $550 in an account denoted as “Walter P. Temple, Trustee for Francisca Valenzuela.”
Two years prior, Walter and Laura, more than fifteen years after their initial romance, were married in San Diego. The couple moved into a new wood-frame house he built on the Temple Homestead in the Misión Vieja, or Old Mission, community in the Whittier Narrows and which property he inherited in 1892 with his younger brother Charles, who sold his interest to Walter around the time of Walter and Laura’s marriage. Earlier in 1905, the couple welcomed their first child, Thomas W. II, and it was evident that Francisca lived with the family, as demonstrated by the passbook.
By the time the 1910 census was enumerated that May, Walter and Laura had two more children, Agnes, soon to be three years old, and Walter, Jr., who was just over a year of age, while Laura was pregnant with what would be another son, Edgar (a daughter died shortly afer birth in 1906). Also in the household was a nephew of Laura named Antonio Ramirez and Francisca Valenzuela, listed as Laura’s aunt. When this census was found some thirty years ago, I assumed that this relationship was as presented, but later pondering proved problematic.
For one thing, why did the two live so often together, including at the Workman Homestead in the 1880s and in Boyle Heights a decade or so later? Why was the 1885 Sisters of Charity school receipt made out to Francisca and not to Ramona Alvitre de González, who lived until 1914? Why was the passbook designated to Walter as trustee of Francisca? Moreover, when I sought more information on Francisca, some interesting facts surfaced.
She was born in 1848 and her baptismal record at Mission San Gabriel, dated 10 May, gives her name as Francisca Lorenza Romualda Valenzuela, daughter of Rita Bermudez and José Casimiro Valenzuela. Rita was the daughter of Juan Hilario Bermudez and Ana María Lugo and it was long stated that Laura González Temple was a Lugo descendant. The 1850 census, actually taken early in 1851 (the specific sheet is dated 12 February) because of California’s admission to the Union late in 1850, shows the 75-year old Ana María with 30-year old Rita and her four children, inclucing María Francisca, age 3.
Thirty years later, however, Rita Bermudez, age 60, was the head of the household with her daughter Ramona Alvitre González and the latter’s six children (not, again, including Lorenza or Laura). What this means, of course, is that Ramona Alvitre and Francisca Valenzuela was actually half-sisters and this is why the 1910 census listing for Francisca as Laura’s aunt did make sense!
It should be added at this point that the Misión Vieja community was extraordinarily tight-knit, with probably a few hundred people in a rural area, not unlike what Los Angeles was in its earliest years. This meant that there was not only a high degree of intermarriage among such families with surnames like Alvitre, Barry, Basye, Bermudez, Davis, Duarte, Manzanares, Valenzuelan and others, but that a certain degree of out-of-wedlock births happened, too.
So, it was not entirely surprising when, a few years ago, I came across Francisca’s obituary in the Los Angeles Times of 28 April 1916 and it was noted that she “died at the home of her niece, Mrs. Lucy [Mariá de la Luz González] Vigare” in the still-standing historic Ortega-Vigare Adobe just south of the mission, but it also stated that “she lived with her daughter, Mrs. Walter P. Temple (note that Lorenza was one of Francisca’s middle names), at the old Mission [Misión Vieja]. Her stated age of 67 corresponds very closely with the baptismal record of 1848 and it appears that she died just prior to her birthday.
We close with another featured artifact from the museum’s collection, which is a ca. 1906 tintype apparently taken at Santa Monica and featuring the families of Walter and Charles Temple. The latter stands at the back left with his son, Charles, Jr., born in 1904, while the former is at the back right holding his son, Thomas, born early the following year. Charles’ second wife, Susie Castino, sits at the front center with Laura at the right.
The woman seated at the left has been identified only as “Mama Coco” and versions of this photo that have been posted on Ancestry.com state, understandably, that this was Ramona Alvitre González, because she has always been assumed to be Laura’s birth mother. Given what has been pieced together, very slowly, over some thirty years, however, it would appear that this is actually Francisca Valenzuela, who, by 1906, had her son-in-law as trustee over her funds at the savings bank and was living with Walter and Laura by at least 1910, if not sooner. Finally, the locating of the obituary lends further credence to the idea that it is she in the photo, rather than Ramona (one wonders, obviously, how she dealt with her husband and half-sister having a child out of wedlock!)
Again, having hijos natural, or children out of wedlock, was hardly a rare circumstance and it was a small and insular community in Misión Vieja during the period when Laura was born. In fact, a recent post on this blog noted that Walter’s eldest sibling, Thomas W., had a daughter, Zoraida, when he was just 19 with María Petra Bermudez, who happened to be Francisca’s cousin. So, just as I’ve found with my own family, these occurrences were more common than we might realize and, if anything, make the history of the Temple family we share at the Homestead just that much more interesting and, hopefully, honest.