One Woman's Story

One Woman's Story
Lenni Griego

Romolo Griego's Family
One must know one’s roots to be able to grow and flourish into a complete person. To know who one is, it is necessary to learn one's heritage–of what that person is made. When I began my nine year search for our family roots, I never realized what a wealth of history would be uncovered; the sense of pride people would feel when learning about their heritage; and the heroes who would be brought to light in our family. What I also learned in my genealogical research is that my daughters have a truly unique heritage, few other people have.

My mother died in October of 2000. During her lifetime, she and I never talked much about her heritage, her youth, or her relatives. Because there is longevity in my family (my grandmother lived to be 102, great-grandmother 100) I thought I'd have plenty of time to learn our family history, talk about relatives and "interview" Mom. Sadly, she died too young, never allowing me that important opportunity.


Romolo Griego and siblings
Not wanting my mother to be remembered as a distant ancestor with only a birth, marriage and death date written in a family bible, void of her life story, I began researching my family tree to immortalize her, my grandparents and great-grandparents. What evolved through this healing process of grieving was a rich history of the Marie and Swift families, from the Midwest back to England, France and Ireland as far back as the 1200s. I traveled to Iowa, connected with distant relatives, sifted through boxes of old photos and papers, visited libraries copying newspaper articles and walked cemeteries looking for family graves sites. I was fortunate to have had a family who was already interested in tracing their roots, so was able to add to work that had already been started. I learned my ancestors arrived in the New World in 1634 on the Ship Frances. My extensive research was documented and recorded for my daughters in 2002 into a large hardbound book. (Not a good idea the hardbound book part!) Once my family tree was full, but by no means complete (thanks to the Internet, genealogical research is a never-ending process), I went to work on my Dad’s family tree.


Four generations of the Griego family
Realizing I could not just do one half of my daughters' heritage, I began researching their father’s ancestors, the formidable Griego family who has roots in Arizona, New Mexico and ultimately, Greece and Spain. This genealogical search was years in the works as the Griego family was large with not much family information written down. My husband, Bob’s father, Romolo, was one of 8 surviving children of Trinidad Dolores Gallegos and Antonio Maria Griego. Each of their children had many children. Tracking them down and cajoling these descendants into giving me family information, history, photos was a challenge, but I persisted. I began my bare bones search with the journal Romolo's sister kept, where she listed family births and deaths going back to the 1910s through the 1930s. I purchased every New Mexico history book and journal with the extended Griego family names listed in the index. I spent hours at the Church of the Latter Day Saints Genealogical Center in Mesa, Arizona staring at microfiche, trying to translate from Spanish; surfing the Internet researching the names and the history of the Griego ancestors.


Extended Griego Family
What resulted was a 600 page historical document "One Man's Story" filling a thick 3 ring binder. I made 19 copies of this tome that included illustrations, colored photos, maps, drawings, the 400 year family tree, stories about heroes in present and past generations. These were given to my husband Bob's siblings and cousins in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.

The genealogy book showcased the rich history of the descendents of Juan Griego and his wife Juana Bernal. Juan Griego was the "sole Greek" who crossed the Rio Grande in 1598 with Juan Oñate as they made their way north to a new land creating a new story that is still being told 400 years later. Over those 400 years I learned the Griego ancestors traveled far, risked indescribable hardships to get to the New World from their native lands, fended off indigenous peoples for centuries, eked out a hardscrabble existence in the high desert of the Rio Puerco Valley culminating to date with my grandchildren's generation. These people toiled to create the opportunity for descendants today. It is indeed an impressive family with a rich and important history.


Map of the Camino Real that the
Griego family entered in New Mexcio.
Illustration by Jose Cisneros.
The Griego ancestors were one of the First Families of New Mexico coming to this land several years before settlers landed in Jamestown in 1607 or the Mayflower sailed for Plymouth in 1620. They celebrated their first thanksgiving on the banks of the Rio Grande in 1598. Because of the research and the documentation of the Griego family lineage, I was able to obtain for our extended Griego family the coveted Primeras Familias certificate from the New Mexico Genealogical Society stating it's been proven and documented these family members were descendents of one of the "First Families of New Mexico."

We have great pride and fascination in our heritages and continue to promulgate the legacy as those first ancestors did to this land. I find it highly exceptional that my daughters have paternal ancestors arriving to the New World from across the Rio Grande in 1598. Their maternal ancestors arrived in Massachusetts in 1634. Within a mere 36 years, 400 years ago their ancestors began their uniquely American heritage from two different part of the continent joining up in Omaha, Nebraska in 1969.

Since I began my research, sadly, several family members have passed away. It has been most important to me to have their lives documented for posterity in these genealogy books.

A person only "lives" for as long as they are remembered. It is my hope many people will be remembered through "One Man's Story" thereby "living" for a long, long time. It has also been my hope that each person who reads the stories of our families will grow into more complete individuals filled with pride and knowledge of who they are.


Primas Familias Certificate given by the
New Mexico Genealogical Society