For the past few months, I’ve thrown myself down many rabbit holes, doing as much research as I could to find out more about my family history. I prepared myself for the inevitable dead ends I would encounter, and kept my expectations low in terms of what sort of information was available out there for me to find. On my dad’s side, I was able to go back six generations in my lineage, all the way back to two sets of my 4-times great grandparents (Atanacio Caybyab & Francisca Del Rosario, and Santiago Tuazon & Eduarda Gonzales). Though all I found was a long list of names in my paternal lineage, nothing can quite describe the feeling of being able to create that extensive family tree. There was something quite extraordinary about being able to see my ancestors’ names appear as I, their distant descendant, wrote each of them down one by one. Seeing that my research on my dad’s side of the family wouldn’t go any further, I began my research on my maternal lineage – and discovered a lot more than I ever expected.
I remember being told as a child that my maternal grandmother was born in Hawaii, and thinking how groundbreaking it was to find out that my family had roots in places other than the Philippines. Because my grandma and her siblings spent the first part of their lives in what was then an incorporated territory of the United States, I stumbled upon more documents on Ancestry than I could have ever imagined, and was able to piece together the narrative of how my relatives lived, and how that ultimately culminated into my existence.
Having only my grandmother’s name and her place of birth to work with, the first document I found on Ancestry was the 1930 census from the county of Honolulu. From this census, I found my grandma – who was 9 years old at the time the census was taken, as well as her siblings, Alex and Leonard (who were 7 years old and 5 years old, respectively). The first piece of new valuable information I found on this Ancestry journey were the names of my great-grandparents, Julio and Patricia Reloza, as well as my great-great-grandfather, Aniceto Palabay, who lived with my great-grandparents and their children.
Other information I found from this census were their occupations – my great-grandpa Julio was a foreman on the pineapple plantation they lived on, and my great-grandma Patricia was a housewife, my great-great-grandfather also worked on the plantation as a laborer and my grandmother and her siblings were all in school. I also found that a man by the name of Feliciano Bilar lived with my family at the time. This information isn’t really relative to any of my other findings, but it was still a cool thing to discover.
Now having my great-grandmother’s full birth name and her father’s name, I was able to use that information to try and find more pieces of history within my lineage. Sure enough, after poking through more search results, I was able to find their names on the list of passengers who also made the trek from the Philippines to Hawaii in 1912. In this passenger list, I found that my great-great-grandfather took his wife (my great-great-grandmother), Juana Manzano, and his two children, Patricia and Enrique Palabay, with him to Hawaii to begin working on the plantations.
At this point, I was pretty satisfied with the information I had discovered since I found far more than what I was expecting to find at the beginning. I was about to end my search here, but then I realized that if my great-great-grandfather and great-grandmother immigrated to Hawaii in 1912, they had to be in the 1920 census in addition to the 1930 census I found first. Initially, I was only able to find my great-great-grandfather Aniceto on the 1920 census. Since I didn’t find any new information on the sheet with his name on it, I decided that was where my search was going to end.
I hope you’re all still with me, because this is where things get dicey. The only new information I found on this sheet of the 1920 census was that Aniceto was unemployed in 1920 while he lived in Maui. I searched and searched for my great-grandmother and what her whereabouts were in 1920, but always came up empty. I decided to just let this go as the final dead end until I revisited this page of the census a few weeks later and began noticing details I hadn’t noticed before. For each of the households recorded in a census, the head of the household is usually listed first with the title “Head” in the “Relation” column. On this particular page, though Aniceto’s name is at the very top of the page with a whole new household listed underneath him, I noticed that he was listed as “Father-In-Law” in the Relation column. I went to the previous page of the census and found the person’s household he lived under.
On this page was where I found my great-grandmother Patricia, but under a different last name. This was when I realized that the reason I couldn’t find her on this particular census was because I was searching for her by her birth name (Patricia Palabay) and what I believed to be her only married name (Patricia Reloza). Listed as her spouse on this census was a man named Isaias Ballesteros, a name that up until that moment was unknown to me. Also listed in this household was a 5 year old, Alfredo Ballesteros, and an 11 year old, Andrew Palabay. Alfredo Ballesteros was listed as the son of my great-grandmother and her (apparent) first husband, Isaias. In 1920, my great-grandma Patricia was 19 years old, which would mean that she had her first child, Alfredo Ballesteros, when she was only 14 years old – just 2 years after she immigrated to Hawaii. On top of all of this, I remembered the fact that my grandmother was born in 1920, but the man that my great-grandma Patricia was married to in 1920 was not my great-grandfather.
Though I found more answers, these only led to more questions. Where was my great-grandpa Julio? What happened with her first husband and to the child she had with him? What happened in the ten years that occurred between the time she was married to Isaias and then to Julio? More importantly, was my grandmother’s biological father, in fact, Isaias or Julio? With all of these questions in mind, allow me to redirect you to the page I initially discovered with my great-great-grandfather’s name.
Combing through all of the faded pages of the 1920 census taken in Maui, I began what I thought would be a needle-in-a-haystack search of my great-grandpa Julio and his whereabouts while my great-grandma Patricia was married to Isaias in 1920. I didn’t have to look far, as I stumbled upon his name on the same page I initially found Aniceto’s name. In 1920, Julio Reloza was a laborer on the sugar plantation, single, and lived just a few houses down from where my great-grandma Patricia and her family lived. My first thought upon finding out this information? Patricia was a bit of a loose lady.
That same day, I shared all of this information with my mom and asked her if she knew about her grandma Patricia’s first marriage and my grandma’s half-sibling. Though all of this information was a lot to take in, my mom was able to tell me that my grandma told her as a child that before Patricia was married to Julio, she was in an abusive relationship, and that my great-grandpa Julio was the guy who saved her from that toxic relationship. This small piece of information was enough for me to reconcile all of the scandal I had just found while my family lived in Hawaii. I realized that it probably wasn’t fair of me to regard my great-grandma Patricia as a loose woman, when there were circumstances there that I didn’t know about.
Though infidelity is never okay, I tried to empathize with Patricia. She was uprooted from her home at the age of 12 and moved away from her friends and family to a completely different country where she didn’t know anyone and she didn’t speak the language. At the tender age of 14, she met someone who she thought would be her ticket to a happy ending and had a child with him. But when she discovers that this man was actually really scary, threatening, and not at all who she thought he was, what else was she supposed to do? Who are you supposed to turn to when you’re a teen mother with a five year old in an abusive relationship? It is comforting knowing that she got her happy ending, and I am forever grateful that my great-grandpa Julio stepped in and saved her from such adverse circumstances.
Though what I know about Julio is extremely limited, I can immediately see that he was a passionate and hard-working man. He started out as a laborer on a sugar plantation, and eventually became a foreman on a pineapple plantation. Wanting to know a little more context behind the working conditions of working on these plantations in Hawaii at the time, I found that the conditions of working on a pineapple plantation were far better than those on a sugar plantation. Now having a wife and children to provide for, Julio worked hard to give them the life that they deserved. He readily accepted the role of being the father and husband of his family, and was able to climb up the professional ladder to ensure his family a bright future.
Now having a more firm grasp on my cultural identity, I understand that being hard-working and wanting to provide a future for not only myself, but for my offspring as well, is in my blood. Being raised the way I was – to excel in everything I do and to always have family as a top priority – now makes a whole lot more sense to me now as an adult and having all of this background information about where my family came from. I, just like my parents and those who came before them, want success for not just myself, but also for my family.
I’ve always thought that my testimony began with my birth and how my walk with the Lord has evolved since then. After going back in my family’s history, I can see now that my testimony began long before even my grandparents were born. From leaving her friends and family in the Philippines to being in a tumultuous relationship, Patricia was put through so many obstacles before finally meeting the man God created for her to be with. My lineage exists because of the abusive relationship Patricia was in before she met Julio. If she didn’t have the courage to leave, I wouldn’t exist today. My testimony begins where Patricia’s marriage to Isaias ended. Being here today and discovering all that had to happen in order for me to exist brings everything full circle, and is prime evidence that the Lord’s grace is real and everywhere. The Lord’s grace is so prominent in those events and in the events that happened afterward, and will continue to exist long after I’m gone.