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Friday, March 7, 2008

Finding My Roots

Connie Castanera

I just returned from a delightful trip to Spain. Although this was not my first time visiting Europe, it was my first visit to Spain. The family vacation that included my mother, sister, husband, and me, was booked in October of 2007. At that time, I knew that I had relatives in Spain, but had no idea where they were, who was still alive, or how to begin looking. My maternal grandfather was the connection, as he had been born in Malaga, Spain (located on the southern coast, known as the "Costa del Sol").

The last time that my mother saw her father, she was 3 years old. My grandmother had separated from him and divorced him for reasons unknown to any of us. I recall my mother telling me, throughout my life, that my grandfather, who died before I was born, had brothers and sisters. We always talked about wanting to look them up but didn't know where to begin.

Several decades ago, my father had made several attempts to help my mother find her family by contacting the Spanish Consulate in New York, but was not successful in obtaining any information that could lead to the whereabouts of any family members. I also called the Spanish Embassy in New York and was disappointed when they told me that I had to go to Spain and search for myself.

The time and expense of going to Spain, to look for what appeared to be a needle in a haystack, with no guarantee of finding anyone, was discouraging to me. I didn't have the time or money required for a successful outcome.

Two months ago, after booking the accommodations and flights for our vacation, I sat my mother down and asked her to give me as much information as possible about the relatives that she had been told about by her mother. I took copious notes and made sure to write down all the names that she could remember. I knew that if I had enough information, I would be able to search the internet and find some kind of link that would lead me to a family member. By interviewing my mother, I learned that the family had moved from Malaga to Valencia, Spain.

Valencia was my starting point. I joined a Yahoo genealogy group from Spain and was able to obtain cemetery records that led me to a second last name, which was the key to finding my family. In Spain they use two last names. That made it much easier for me to find my relatives in the white pages of the Valencia telephone directory. I was prepared to call every single number listed with my family names. Fortunately, I did not have to make too many telephone calls before I found my cousin.

I will never forget the feeling of making contact with a long sought after family member. I was overwhelmed with joy. My cousin, Mari Carmen, later told me that at first, she thought that it was a cruel joke that someone was playing on her or some kind of scam. I had a picture of her father, which I emailed to her to prove to her that it was legitimate. She, too, was overwhelmed with joy.

My Spanish family also longed to connect with us and had made several unsuccessful attempts to find us. They had even hired an attorney out of desperation. After my mother married and took my father's last name, the chances of finding her were slim to none.

The very next day after landing in Malaga, Spain, we drove to Valencia to meet the family. The visit was everything that we envisioned and more. Short of getting married and having children, and grandchildren, it was the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. They are kind, beautiful, wonderful people; and I am proud that they are my family.

We all loved Spain. It is beautiful and I highly recommend to anyone and everyone that you consider vacationing there. But, the very best part of the trip for all of us was meeting the family.

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