Californianos have ancestral ties to San Benito heritage

The Los Californianos, an organization of people who trace their

San Juan Bautista
– Monterey resident David Worden is on a quest to find a link to
his past.
The Monterey resident and business student at Peninsula College
wasn’t alone in his search.
San Juan Bautista – Monterey resident David Worden is on a quest to find a link to his past.

The Monterey resident and business student at Peninsula College wasn’t alone in his search. In fact, he was just one of many people who call themselves “Los Californianos,” an organization of people who trace their ancestry back to the Spanish and Mexican era of Alta California prior to the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, that descended upon the Mission city to explore the heritage during a quarterly meeting last weekend.

“I just recently joined,” he said as he walked with other Californianos descendants on a history tour through the hillside cemetery at the edge of the mission town. “This is my first chance to meet everybody and find out what it’s all about.”

As a provisional member, Worden still needs to provide documented evidence of his genealogy proving his roots to California’s early Hispanic settlers. He can trace at least one blood line back to the Pacheco family who in the early 1800s owned ranches in the South Valley region. This personal connection to the past has nurtured his interest in preserving the story of early Californians for future generations.

“I’m thinking, we’ve got to get this information down so that we can record it before it’s all gone,” he said.

The three-day weekend event was much like a family reunion for many of the Los Californianos members. Name tags provided details of ancestral background, allowing participants to identify potential distant cousins among themselves. Members also took several specially guided tours to explore the early California history of San Juan Bautista. These tours included the historic state park, the mission church and the town’s hillside cemetery.

And at a dinner Saturday night at San Juan Oaks, several expert speakers discussed the importance of the Californianos period to the state’s history.

In the ballroom over the Plaza Hall at the state park, Los Californianos member George Gray assisted other members in exploring their ancestry from information kept in a special “traveling library” exhibit of genealogy records. Much of this information was found in old baptismal records kept at the mission churches, as well as death certificates and genealogical records kept in 19th century family Bibles, he said.

“As you get older, you want to pass on the heritage,” he said. “The interest of the Los Californianos is to preserve the heritage of Alta California to the time that Americans took over so that it doesn’t disappear from history.”

As for what is considered the official definition of a “Californiano,” Gray said, “It has to be someone who settled in Alto California prior to the treaty ending the Mexican-American War.”

Pamela Parsons, a provisional member, drove up from San Luis Obispo for the weekend event and made acquaintances with some distant cousins she’d never met before over dinner on Friday night. She said she can trace her lineage to the Spanish explorer Don Gaspar de Portolá’s scout Jose Francisco Ortega whose descendants settled in the Gilroy area. She enjoys the fun but “time-consuming” process of uncovering the relational links tracing her blood-line back through the generations to Ortega.

“It’s like a mystery,” she said. “You’re putting these pieces together. Sometimes you find out something, you get all excited, you write it all down, and then – you find out it’s all wrong.”

Parsons took several of the guided history walks on Saturday, including the tour of the San Juan Bautista cemetery. She hoped to find a grave of one of her distant ancestors.

“We joke we’re not interested in the live ancestors,” she said. “We’re more interested in the dead ones.”

Another Los Californianos member, Sheri Jansen-Olliges, traveled to San Juan Bautista with her husband Paul Jansen-Olliges from their home in La Honda for the quarterly gathering. Her connection to Spanish-era California stretches back on her mother’s side of her family. One of her distant ancestors, Jose Manuel Rodriques, worked as a Spanish carpenter and helped design and build San Juan Bautista’s mission church.

Rodriques also was commissioned to construct the coffin for Father Junipero Serra, head of the Spanish missions in Alta California.

Taking the various tours and listening to the lectures this weekend proved an interesting learning experience for Jansen-Olliges, who majored in history in college.

“I think we can learn so much from history because it repeats itself,” she said. “And it’s fun.”

Morgan Hill resident Lucille Corcel, a past president of Los Californianos, traces her lineage to the Spanish and Mexican pioneers who helped establish the communities of Salinas and Castroville.

Researching her ancestry has given her a greater appreciation of her roots.

“Since we’ve belonged to Los Californianos, we have met cousins I didn’t know existed before,” she said. “There are several here this weekend.”

Another South Valley member of Los Californianos, Hollister resident Joe McMahon, works as a history interpreter at San Juan Bautista State Park.

He led two tours Saturday and related some of the stories connecting the various buildings and mission to the Spanish and Mexican eras.

“I think the people of San Juan are very much aware of their heritage and the fact that the town goes back to mission times,” he said. “It’s important that people understand the history of the state and remember the people who settled here.”

McMahon’s ancestor Jouquin Castro was part of the De Anza expedition of Spanish pioneers who traveled overland from Mexico to settle in land around Monterey and what would later become San Francisco.

One of Castro’s sons would later build what is now known as the Castro-Breen Adobe alongside the mission plaza.

McMahon believes many members of Los Californianos, like himself, feel a pride in their special blood connection to early California.

“The members represent a continuation of the history, of the period when Alta California was an outpost of Spain'” he said. “We were nowhere. California was the end of the earth, and these people came out here to settle the land and build a world.”

Los Californianos membership information:

Los Californianos

P.O. Box 600522

San Diego, CA 92160-0522;

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