Volunteers at Colorado Hispanic Genealogy Society help families trace their roots

Posted at 10:43 PM, Jul 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-28 11:48:14-04

DENVER -- Many Colorado Hispanics who have reached retirement age aren’t ready to stop working. Some want to continue contributing to their community, so they do volunteer work.

Pat Manalo is one of them. She’s a genealogist at the Colorado Society of Hispanic Genealogy.

“In the 1970s, you asked your aunties and uncles about your family,” she said. “Now, there are other resources available.”

Manalo told Denver7 that she never got to retire. She said she’s still a fulltime homemaker, but added that that job gave her the opportunity to go to libraries and to other people’s homes, to learn about family histories.

“Back then, you did everything by charts,” she said.  “Now, it’s a little easier because we have more resources and we have a computer.”

The society maintains a library at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Southwest Denver.

Society President Joe Gallegos said most of the reference materials are church records.

“They include baptisms, marriages, deaths and confirmations,” he said. “A lot of information is also available on the internet.”

Gallegos said includes all U.S. census information starting in 1790.

“We’re only concerned with 1850 and later,” he said, “because that’s when New Mexico (and a large portion of the Southwest) came under U.S. control.”

He said is another online research tool.

“The LDS church has done a fantastic job of recording church records and civil records for hundreds of years, worldwide,” he said.

He also said many of the old records, which were on microfilm, are now being digitized, making reading much easier.

“You had to learn how to read the Spanish cursive, which sometimes can be very difficult,” he said. “The image was often of poor quality.”

He said the LDS church has developed software which enhanced those images and made them very readable.

When asked why he got involved with the society, Gallegos said one of his cousins helped found the society.

“When she died, somebody had to carry the baton forward,” he said. “Somehow, I got roped into being the president and I got roped into being the editor of the journal. I actually enjoy both jobs.”

Bertha Gallegos, the society’s vice president, volunteers with Manalo to man the library on Saturdays for members who want to do research.

“We put the meat on the bones,” she said. “We not only help find names and dates, but we try to find what they did for a living.”

Bertha Gallegos (no relation to Joe) told Denver7 that most Hispanic families with roots in the San Luis Valley or in New Mexico had soldiers in their families.

“I have one ancestor, Hernan Marin Serrano, who came in the 1500s with Cortez,” she said. “He was just 15 years old and he was a soldier.”

Bertha said she helps others because she’s intrigued by history.

“I thank God every day that I didn’t live in that day and age,” she said. “I couldn’t do without my dishwasher and my television.”

But she said it’s fascinating to learn about that period and to help others.

“Just to see the look on their faces, it’s exciting,” she said.

Manuel Salazar feels the same way. Salazar, the society’s librarian, said it’s a great feeling helping others learn about their lineage.

“When I find that connection and I see the glow in their eyes and how happy they are, they’ll say, ‘Oh, there’s my grandfather, you confirmed my grandpa.’ That’s a wonderful feeling for me,” he said.

Salazar wrote an article about Ken Salazar when he was first elected as Attorney General. He said they have the same ancestors.

Ken Salazar went on to become a U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior.

“I’ve got a picture of his parents, a picture of my grandparents and his great grandparents,” he said.

He said the society’s work brings history to life.

Click on the following links to learn more about the Colorado Society of Hispanic Genealogy.

Denver7 has partnered with La Voz newspaper to better focus on local issues affecting Colorado’s Hispanic community.

This week’s edition of La Voz focuses on senior citizens.

To learn more click here.


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