HOUSTON – KHOU 11 News Anchor Ron Trevino said he didn’t know much about his family tree until Ancestry.com approached him and asked if he’d be willing to let their researchers explore his background.
What they found was a shocking story, and among the stories Ancestry.com highlighted, was about his great-grandmother, a woman Trevino never met.
Anastacia Contreras, Trevino’s great-grandmother from his father’s side of the family, is listed in the 1880 census for Starr County, Texas as a 5-year-old girl living with her parents. Fast forward to the next available census, 20 years later, and she has four children and is living with her parents. She is a widow, according to the records.
“What happened to her husband, my great-grandfather?” Trevino asks. “And who was he?”
Turns out, Trevino’s great-grandfather’s name is also in records found at the Clayton Library for Genealogy in Houston. Emilio Saenz, became a U.S. citizen in 1892.
Ancestry.com showed Trevino old newspaper articles.
Saenz worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and most likely would have been delivering the mail on horseback, when he was attacked between Rio Grande City and Brownsville, in what was still very much the Wild Wild West.
Another news article talks about the arrest of a suspect, and what his attackers ran away with.
“They secured 50 cents from the driver and 2 cents from the mail pouches...wow,” Trevino said.
The killing left Trevino’s great-grandmother without a husband, her children without a father and a humble family in economic strife.
His great-grandmother never remarried, but also never gave up. Records show that by 1910 she’s working as a seamstress and is renting her home—and in 1920 she owns her home outright.
It’s a story of hardship and tragedy, but also the story of a widow’s Texas-sized true grit.
“I like to think her fighting spirit is still there, somewhere inside me,” Trevino said.
Services like Ancestry.com are not free, but you can do a lot of your own family tree research on your own and you don’t have to spend a dime. One of the best resources in the Houston area is the Clayton Genealogy Library. Also, websites from all over the world offer free genealogy information too.