San Antonio is on the verge of celebrating its tricentennial — 300 years since the Presidio de Bexar, the Villa de Bexar, and the Mission Valero were settled by soldiers, civilians and priests.
A lot of South Texans can trace their ancestry back to 1718 and beyond. For those who can’t, a nonprofit is making it easier to follow their family tree.
Jo Anne Gonzales Murphy is the president and founder of 1718 San Antonio Founding Families. Murphy is one of those Texans who has extensive family records.
“I came to find that I have some ancestors within that time,” she said. “My family tree came with the Spanish land grant.
Murphy said her father inherited some of that land 40 years ago and verified his plot with the Texas Railroad Commission.
“With Jose de Escandón, who was portioning out these land grants our family received a portion,” she said. “There were a lot of family members, and it would get divided and subdivided.”
Murphy’s brother was the gatekeeper to the family tree. And when she started thumbing through it, she saw names and dates dating back to the 1400s. And upon further research, she made some astounding discoveries.
“I found out that King Ferdinand was my 14th great grandfather in 1492,” she said. “Juan Ponce de Leon, who brought in the first longhorn into the Americas, is my 13th great grandfather.”
Murphy said the 1718 San Antonio Founding Families group helps people look through historical records and put the pieces of their family tree together. She says the group will work towards representing the history of San Antonio from 1718 and beyond.
“Next year is (San Antonio’s) Tricentennial,” Murphy said. “So this group will hopefully launch itself to better promote the history. It’s open to the public, to direct descendants and indirect descendents.”
Archaeologist Melinda Tate Iruegas works with archival material for the 1718 San Antonio Founding Families group. She had a chance to examine the records left behind by the Spanish army and clergy.
“The bureaucracy is amazing,” she said. “(The Spanish) documented when people were born, when people died, when people were married, the diaries of the entradas (formal Spanish expeditions) that came in through Texas,” she said. “All of that provides the basis for us learning and knowing about the 1718 group.”
Tate Iruegas said the historical records helped re-enforce a common saying. “One of my favorite sayings in San Antonio is ‘Everybody’s cousins.’ Everybody is related,” she said.
Tate Iruega’s husband, Sergio Iruegas, is also an archaeologist. He said the founding of San Antonio can be traced back to two men who established the first settlement in 1716: Captain Domingo Ramón and Fray Isidro Felix de Espinosa. And the area the two men entered was far from barren.
“People already knew, in particular the French, of the villages here in the San Antonio area along the Yanaguana River — that’s what the native Coahuiltecans called the San Antonio River,” she said. “In 1716, Ramon and Espinosa are on their way to East Texas. In 1718, more people are brought over. There’s a total of 10 families.”
San Antonio was founded in 1718, when the Presidio de Bexar, the Villa de Bexar, and the Mission Valero were established at San Pedro Springs.
The original San Antonio permanent mission was located along the east side of the San Antonio River.
“Everything within the bend of the San Antonio River, all of that area was the original settlement, and then the outskirts,” Iruegas said. “Many of the streets have the names of people who came here in the first place. Flores Street, Navarro, South Presa. Presa means dam, so it’s the road leading to the southern dam. If we look at the cartography of San Antonio, we can see history that way.”
Murphy hopes that 1718 San Antonio Founding Families will better educate South Texans about a little known area of history.
“We’re trying to connect with other institutions and entities that will have this information and help us research accurately, in a professional manner, so we acquire appropriate, substantial information and continue to build on that,” she said.