It Was My Grandmother’s

It Was My Grandmother’s

Last names often are passed down patrilineally–through the father. My last name is Patiño because it’s my Dad’s last name. My Dad has his last name through my grandfather Manuel. My grandfather has his last name through my great grandfather Chico. My great grandfather has his last name through my great great grandfather Manuel Sr.. My great great grandfather has his last name through my great great great grandfather Louis. And my great great great grandfather has his last name through my great great great great grandmother. His mother. Not his father.

Not entirely patrilineal.

This is the story about how I have my last name because of my 4x great grandmother. We’ll call her Abuela Patiño. This story was originally told to my Dad through Grandpa Chico. Abuela Patiño was Grandpa Chico’s great grandmother. She would have been alive sometime around the 1850s. She was an Indigenous woman to the Northern Mexico & Southern Texas region. Before Texas was America’s and before it was Mexico’s, and before it was Spain’s… it was my grandmother’s.

She was a servant on a ranch for the Shepherds, a German family. We’re unsure of the actual spelling of the last name and it could have originally been Schaefer too, but it was some variation of Shepherd. I almost knew the spelling–because Shepherd was almost my last name.

As a servant, my Abuela Patiño became pregnant by the owner of the ranch–Mr. Shepherd. The situation of how consensual this was is unclear and even if was “consensual” I’m not sure how consensual it could have been when Abuela Patiño was a young Indigenous woman working for a wealthy German family in the Desert Southwest. But nevertheless, she was pregnant.

Of course, having a baby with your servant is already scandalous enough, but Mr. Shepherd was also married… and not to Abuela Patiño. Needless to say, Mrs. Shepherd was more than unhappy when she found out about the father of my Abuela Patiño’s baby.

Louis. Half Indigenous. Half German. My 3x great grandfather.

Mrs. Shepherd made sure that Louis would never be able to claim a single penny from the Shepherds. How? You don’t allow him to have the Shepherd last name. Even though Louis was a bastard child, he could still have possibly claimed some inheritance after Mr. Shepherd died if Louis held the Shepherd last name. Mr. & Mrs. Shepherd also had children together so if Louis had received any inheritance, it would have meant less for Mrs. Shepherd’s children. I’m sure Mrs. Shepherd has a lot to do with Louis not being named Louis Shepherd, but I also have to believe that my Abuela Patiño used the little agency she did have to choose differently. Choose a different name. Our name.

I don’t know how long my Abuela Patiño worked for the Shepherds after having Louis, but I do know at least one tie was broken. Louis, and the rest of my family, would be not be tied to the Shepherds in name. If I’m being honest, I’m grateful for that. Louis was named Louis Patiño. Patiño is my grandmother’s last name. My grandmother’s name.

It’s impressive enough that I know my 3x great grandfather’s name was Louis Patiño considering he was born sometime in the mid-1800s, was a bastard child, wasn’t rich, and wasn’t white. It can be difficult to trace non-white, not rich, not legally married, families that far back. But we can. I feel incredibly grateful. And I still want more. Just one step more. 

I call her Abuela Patiño because I don’t know her name. She’s the reason I have the last name I do and I don’t even know her name. I want to. I want to look through all the records and archives and find her name somehow. I hope to one day be able to afford the time and money to do all of that research. I could do all that and still not find her name. It simply may not be in the records.

But that’s part of why I’m doing all this–writing down my family’s stories. A lot of it won’t be found in records. We’re just average people with family stories. Most of us are. I hope to find my Abuela Patiño’s name. And if I don’t, these stories are her name too.

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