Track your true identity along a DNA trail left behind by your ancestors
BY JOHN NOVA LOMAXjohn.firstname.lastname@example.org
Family Tree DNA helped architect Danny Villarreal uncover the truth about his crypto-Jewish ancestry.?
Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley, Harlingen architect Danny Villarreal had heard the stories from his grandparents. His ancestors, it was whispered, had come to Mexico from Spain under something of a cloud. Apparently, they were not purebred Castilian Spaniards, but members of a persecuted minority -- namely, Jews who had converted to Catholicism on pain of death at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition.
Villarreal was intrigued. As he grew older, he took up genealogy as a hobby. "It's turned into a pretty big thing," he says. Villarreal discovered a paper trail to back up the stories of his family's elders. In Saltillo, Mexico, he found a 380-year-old document that concerned one ancestor of his -- Diego de Villarreal -- who had gotten a little too full of himself for the local padre's liking. "One of the documents out of Saltillo was the parish priest complaining to the Inquisition about this guy Diego de Villarreal, who had some silver mines and was a captain in the military," Villarreal says. "The complaint was that he would come into town wearing silk clothing and jewelry, and he was allowed to bear arms. People who were 'New Christians' " -- recently converted Jews -- "were not allowed to do those things. It was all political, he had a lot of power, he had his own little army. I guess the Church didn't like that."
In the end, nothing came of the priest's tattling letter. The Inquisition's enforcers weren't about to leave their comfortable offices in Mexico City and sully their long black robes in the Nuevo Leon dust, not to mention risk their scalps at the hands of the Apaches and Comanches then raiding along the route, and the local authorities swept the affair under the rug. For good reasons: "The thing was that the people who were ruling northern Mexico during that time were all descendants of Jews, so this priest didn't have the political power to be able to get him out," Villarreal says.
At least that's the theory. And as far as the case of Diego de Villarreal goes, it would seem that in the 17th century, northern Mexico -- which included Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California -- was run and in no small part populated by crypto-Jews. But was there anything to back up this idea other than legends and moldering documents in Mexican archives? Couldn't it be that the priest had been motivated to denounce de Villarreal as an uppity New Christian by simple jealousy? Or maybe de Villarreal had insulted the priest. Who knows?
The long and the short of it is this: Sometimes documents tell lies, but DNA never does, at least if you conduct your tests in a competently run lab. Danny Villarreal discovered a Houston company, Family Tree DNA, that conducts DNA tests for genealogical purposes. He ordered a kit, swabbed some genetic material from the inside of his cheek and mailed it back to Houston. FTDNA sent the test off to a genetics lab at the University of Arizona, and a few weeks later Villarreal got his results back. Although the company didn't find that he was related to anyone then in its database, it did have a few surprises for him.
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