We genealogists have an inevitable tendency to visualize all our ancestors through the lens of romanticism and redemption. In most cases we may well be very near the mark, as I am sure many of our forebears were generally nice people. But unfortunately (and somewhat excitingly) every now and then you find yourself unearthing quite the reverse. And this is exactly what has happened to me while researching the life of my 5x great-grandfather Alonso.
Alonso was born in Puerto del Son, in the north-west of Spain, in 1765, his parents’ first son and child. His father was a local notary, and therefore would have enjoyed a certain social standing among the local community. Alonso’s mother came from an old, prestigious family connected to some of the oldest families in the region, which undoubtedly helped her husband in his long professional career. The family was certainly comfortable thanks to the fact that neither Alonso’s mother or father had any surviving siblings, and thus their respective families’ entire property would have eventually been passed on to them.
Alonso was the eldest of eight children, one of whom died in childhood. At least one of his brothers became a notary as well, and another one had a rocketing career in economics and liberal politics which led him to actively participate in the drafting of the 1812 Spanish Constitution and eventually become, albeit briefly, the President of the Congress of Deputies of Spain.
But Alonso was not a liberal; far from it, as we shall see. Being the eldest son, he probably developed an arrogant personality early on in his life. He was also a philanderer. In 1786, when he was just 21 years old, he jumped the guns and left a local girl pregnant (and not just any girl, but the daughter of a notary from a neighbouring village). It took months for the families to decide whether the match would be an appropriate one, but eventually they went ahead, and Alonso married his intended in early 1787, only two months before the birth of their child, who died shortly thereafter.
Jacoba, Alonso’s wife and senior by eight years, belonged to an even wealthier and respectable family than his who I am sure would have feared for their lives when inexperienced Jacoba, their only surviving daughter, was made pregnant by the local waster (Alonso had no job at the time). It seems that the match was a good one, despite their rather unconventional start, and they went on to have a further eleven children within just thirteen years of marriage. In fact, Jacoba was constantly pregnant during her marital life, enjoying short intervals of three or four months between giving birth to one child and becoming pregnant once again. But having Jacoba as his wife must have been a good prospect for Alonso, who five years into his advantageous marriage became a notary himself, clearly following the steps of his father and grandfather.
All seems well until 1812 when Jacoba died aged just 54 years, and left Alonso to raise their nine surviving children. Jacoba, being an only child herself, was the heiress of a family house built by her grandparents shortly before she was born. The property, which could only be passed on from father to eldest son, went to Jacoba’s father and from him to her without causing much trouble. But the problems started as soon as Jacoba was dead and buried. Her eldest surviving son Miguel (my 4x great-grandfather) was only a young man of 16 at the time of his mother’s death, and thus was nine years short of being legally considered an adult, according to Spanish law at the time. His father, therefore, was sworn in as the protector of his wife’s house until young Miguel came of age.
In 1820, as soon as he turned 25, Miguel received what was owing to him from his father, but by then relations between Alonso and most of his motherless children had become painfully sour. Alonso does not seem to have much time for his six grown-up and single daughters, whom he probably regarded as more of a nuisance than a blessing. I do not know if they ever did anything to annoy their stern father, or if they were themselves irritated by his second marriage to a wealthy spinster in 1821, but at any rate by the early 1820’s they had all been thrown out of the house and went to live in different places, scattered all over the region.
Following his father’s example (perhaps unwillingly), Miguel had a dalliance with a girl from a neighbouring village, and she became pregnant. Honour-bound Miguel was resolved to make her his wife, but his father clearly had other plans for him. Legally Alonso may not have been able of stopping his son’s marital plans now that Miguel was an adult, but perhaps owing to the young woman’s pregnancy, he certainly raised enough impediments which effectively forced Miguel to turn to the Governor-General of Galicia for an authorisation which allowed them to marry. Alonso swiftly kicked Miguel and his pregnant daughter-in-law out of the house Miguel had inherited from his own mother a few years before. At this point, Alonso only had his youngest son at his side; in fact, so convinced he was in the Absolutist cause led by the tyrannical King Ferdinand VII that he even offered the boy as a soldier to take up arms against the Liberals who threatened the Ancien Régime that the untrustworthy monarch had instituted after abolishing the 1812 Constitution.
Miguel understandably denounced his father’s actions against him and turned to the law to get back what was historically and legally his own property. I do not know if he was successful, but the fact that by 1838 he was already living in another town suggests to me that he did not get what he wanted. His father Alonso died a year before, probably shortly after his son’s move. Miguel, on the other hand, had nine children and enjoyed a long married life until a severe attack of gastroenteritis led him to his grave. What became of most of his sisters is also a mystery, although we know one of them turned to her father’s liberal brother for help and consolation: she eventually married him, but had no children together.
The break in relations between Alonso and most, if not eventually all of his children, would explain the loss of the family property. By 1826 the family house Miguel had inherited was already in disrepair and no longer suited as a dwelling. Whether it still stands today or not is a mystery in itself. But I do hope that at least through this sad and inexplicable family rift Alonso’s descendants understood how important it is for families to stick together, no matter what.