San Francisco: New Mexico’s Sephardic Legacy, April 29

Along our journey of discovery, we meet many people who inspire us, who teach us, who enlighten us as to topics that others consider esoteric.

One of Tracing the Tribe’s most interesting encounters years ago was with Dr. Stanley M. Hordes of New Mexico, who specializes in Crypto-Jews of that state. He treats those involved in his research with great dignity and understanding, and his skill in genealogical research and history has enabled many links to be made.

San Francisco residents will have an opportunity to hear Stan present “The Sephardic Legacy in New Mexico: A History of the Crypto-Jews,” on Thursday, April 29, at 7.30pm, at the Jewish Community Library.

During his tenure as New Mexico State Historian in the 1980s, Stanley Hordes began to hear stories of Hispanics who lit candles on Friday night and abstained from eating pork.

Hordes is adjunct research professor at the Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico and a Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies board member.

Puzzling over this phenomenon, Hordes realized that these practices might well have been passed down through the centuries from early crypto-Jewish settlers in New Spain. His theory was corroborated after hundreds of interviews and extensive research and led to his award-winning book on the history of the crypto-Jews in New Mexico.

Dr. Hordes will talk about the conversos from their Jewish roots and forced conversions in Spain and Portugal to their migration to central Mexico in the 16th and 17th centuries and their part in the colonization of New Mexico.

Using slides, he will describe customs and consciousness that have survived to this day, the recent reclamation of Jewish ancestry within the Hispano community, and the challenges of reconstructing the history of a people who tried to leave no traces.

His book (above left) – “To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico” – received the Gaspar Perez de Villagra Prize in 2006 by the Historical Society of New Mexico for outstanding historical publication of the year.
If you have not yet read this book, do get a copy. It is a truly fascinating read. He is also working on another book, documenting the same culture in other New World communities.
The event is co-sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society, Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue) and Lehrhaus Judaica.
For more information, click here.

Florida: Secret Jews of the Caribbean, Feb. 4

“Hidden Jews of the Caribbean” is a symposium at Florida International University on Thursday, February 4.

It runs from 8-10pm, at FIU’s Biscayne Bay campus, in North Miami, Florida.

Dr. Stanley Hordes (University of New Mexico) will speak on “Identities of Crypto Jews in the Caribbean – A Historical Perspective.”

Hordes is an adjunct professor at the UNM Latin American and Iberian Institute. His doctoral dissertation was on the Crypto Jews of the southwestern US. He is the co-founder and immediate past president of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies, and author of “To The End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (Columbia University Press, 2005).

Dr. Seth Kunin (University of Durham, UK) will speak on “Contemporary Identites of Crypto Jews in the Caribbean – An Anthropological Perspective.”

Kunin is vice chancellor of arts and humanities at the University of Durham, and holds a PhD in anthropology. He has many years of experience conducting ethnographic research among New Mexico’s Crypto-Jews, and is the author of “Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity Among the Crypto-Jews (Columbia University Press, 2009). Read an interview with Kunin about his book.

Dr. Abraham Lavender (FIU, Sociology) is the respondent.

Hordes and Kunin are currently working together on the history of crypto-Jews in the Caribbean and the identities of their descendants today, with specific attention to Cuba, Jamaica and in the Miami area.

FIU is home to the President Navon Program for the Study of Sephardic and Oriental Jewry.

The program provides academic training in Sephardic/Oriental Studies for undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing a multidisciplinary track certificate (within the College of Arts and Sciences) and, in the future, degrees.

Lectures and seminars are presented by national and international scholars and artists,along with outreach program participation and close ties and cooperation between academic and lay communities.

Academics and artists will lecture or teach relevant courses, conduct research and share their findings and expertise at university-held conferences, seminars, and community-outreach programs.

For more information on the certificate program, click here. For general information, click here.

Sephardim, Crypto-Jews: Article abstracts

“The Journal of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian Crypto Jews” (JOSPIC-J) offers 10 truly fascinating articles in Volume I (Spring 2009).

Available online, in addition to the abstracts, is the entire first article and an article on three major DNA studies.

To learn more about the journal, click here. Read the entire first article – “The Secret Jews of Spain, Portugal, and Italy and Their Descendants Today: Major Issues in a Growing Field of Academic Research” – here, with an extensive bibliography.

According to author Dr. Abraham D. Lavender’s detailed article:

“Crypto-Judaic Studies is a rich field of potential research, with multi-disciplinary interests, especially as it is integrated with other areas of study. For the truly curious and open-minded, the field is unlimited.”

Read “Recent Research Articles: From Roth to DNA,” which discusses three recent articles about the growing field of Sephardic and Crypto Jewish DNA.

For many people, the consequences of the Inquisition still live today, as we will see these consequences in this and future issues of JOSPIC-J. Sociology, history, religion, and other areas of study join together to analyze and explain these consequences. Crypto Jews lived in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, and today their descendants live in a large number of countries, providing a fascinating international flavor to this area of study.

The journal is published by the School of International and Public Affairs, within the College of Arts and Sciences, at Florida International University in Miami, Florida.

If Sephardic or Crypto Jewish studies is an interest, you will want to subscribe to this journal.

Here are the abstracts:

— “The Secret Jews of Spain, Portugal, and Italy and Their Descendants Today: Major Issues in a Growing Field of Academic Research”
Dr. Abraham D. Lavender

The Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto Jews (JOSPIC-J) brings together in one place, for the first time in a refereed academic journal, research on the three countries whose historic Jewish communities, each predating the Inquisition for centuries, suffered directly and greatly from Inquisitions. There is no consensus on whether to use the term marranos, conversos, crypto Jews, secret Jews, hidden Jews, lost Jews, New Christians, or anusim. But, whatever the term, significant research continues in international, sociological, cultural, religious, political, historical, and other areas, and the number of books and articles is increasing. Research on crypto Jews and their descendants should be integrated more with other interdisciplinary research, a major goal of this journal.

— “The Crypto Jews of Spain and Portugal”
Dr. David M. Gitlitz

Prior to the riots of 1391, Spain’s Jewish community was the largest in Europe. By 1491, following expulsions and conversions, Spain had the largest single community of former Jews in the post-biblical history of Judaism. Depending on the definition of Jewishness applied, these conversos were arrayed along a continuous spectrum ranging from fully Jewish to fully Christian. This article analyzes four groups on this spectrum—Christians, Jews, seekers of truth, and skeptical dropouts. Brief attention is also given to Portugal which originally had less violence and less forced conversions than Spain, but which also developed a more tenacious crypto-Judaism which led to the establishment of an Inquisition in 1539.

— “The Barajas Women, Madrid 1634″
Dr. David M. Gitlitz

For the past quarter century, the author has immersed himself in Inquisition trial testimony in the archives of Spain and Mexico. The historical documents are difficult to read, but are worth extensive research, revealing fascinating and inspiring lives of unfortunate conversos. The following, based on these historical documents but with the addition of fictional narration, describes the lives of one representative family, Beatriz Álvarez and her daughter of the same name, known in 1630s Madrid as Las Barajas. It is an excerpt from a forthcoming book with the working title The Lost Minyan.

— “The Jews of Sicily and Calabria: The Italian Anusim that Nobody Knows”
Rabbi Barbara Aiello

Rabbi Barbara Aiello is the first woman rabbi and first non-orthodox rabbi in Italy, where she has served a progressive synagogue in Milan. She is currently rabbi of Ner Tamid del Sud, the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years. Rabbi Aiello has written extensively about her crypto-Jewish background and her efforts to uncover the hidden Jewish traditions of Calabrian Jews that date back to Inquisition times. Her work in the deep south of Italy and Sicily includes directing the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC), an organization dedicated to the anusim of southern Italy to help them discover and embrace their Jewish roots.

— “Crypto Judaism in New Mexico and the American Southwest”
Dr. Seth D. Kunin

Crypto Judaism in New Mexico is a highly complex phenomenon, both respecting history and modern ethnography. This paper outlines many of the significant aspects of both of these areas. It presents the historical arguments relating to the movement of conversos and descendents of conversos into New Mexico, and the aspects of the settlement of the colony that may have shaped aspects of crypto-Jewish culture as manifested in New Mexico today. The paper also touches on some of the ethnographic research relating to modern crypto Judaism, examining the forms of identity and the cultural elements out of which those fluid identities are formed. Given the significance of arguments about authenticity in relation to this community, the paper examines Neulander’s arguments in light of both empirical and ethnographic data. It suggests that when tested on that basis Neulander’s work cannot be seen as academically credible. The uniting theme of the paper is the need to eschew simple explanation in the light of a historically and ethnographically complex community.

— “The Sephardic Legacy in the Spanish Caribbean: Crypto-Jewish Settlement in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica”
Dr. Stanley M. Hordes

The Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico has initiated a research project to document the history of crypto-Jewish settlement on the Spanish Caribbean islands of the Greater Antilles, comprising Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and pre-British Jamaica. Based on archival research in Europe and the Americas, as well as ethnographic analysis, this study will examine the role played by the descendants of Iberian conversos in the economic, religious and cultural life of an area of Spanish America that was situated on the major trans-Atlantic shipping lanes, yet administratively remote from centers of Inquisitorial persecution. The data derived from these investigations will be of great value not only in helping to understand the socio-cultural fabric of a vital part of the Caribbean, but also in bringing to light the activities of the earliest Jewish communities in the Americas.

— “The Jewish and Crypto-Jewish Participation in the Age of Discovery”
Dr. Barry L. Stiefel

The following article is on the Jewish and crypto-Jewish participation in the age of discovery, from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Though relatively small in number compared to their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, the Jews and Crypto Jews played a pivotal role in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas as financiers, scientists, and explorers. Not only did they contribute to the prosperity of the empires that they lived under (even when the respective monarch did not show the same kindness to those of Jewish extraction), but also to the perpetuation of crypto-Jewish and Sephardic Jewish life and culture wherever they ventured.

— “Jews, Catholics, and Converts: Reassessing the Resilience of Convivencia in Fifteenth Century Plasencia, Spain”
Dr. Robert L. Martinez

A systematic reappraisal of fifteenth century Jewish and Christian convivencia, or coexistence, is long overdue because within it resides a hidden history of cooperation among Old Christians, conversos, and Jews. Utilizing a historiographical lens to evaluate interfaith relations in several Castilian and Aragonese communities, one finds a broader range of communal outcomes than is traditionally acknowledged. New findings pertaining to the cohesive collaboration and intertwined relations of Jews, conversos, and Old Christians in the Extremaduran city of Plasencia refute the long-held assumption that Jews and Christians were routinely segregated from one another and corrects the misguided belief that the converso Santa María family persecuted former co-religionists. This study reveals the previously unknown strategic partnership of the converso Santa María and Old Christian Carvajal family in Plasencia and it’s role in maintaining medieval norms of interreligious cooperation.

— “Catholic, Jewish, and Crypto Jewish in the 1600s: The Geographic and Spiritual Peregrinations of Pacheco de Leon in Spain, Italy, and Mexico”
Dr. Matthew Warshawsky

Due to his knowledge of Judaism and his influence among Judaizers in Mexico City, Juan Pacheco de León (Salomón Machorro) was a prize catch among conversos arrested in 1642 for crypto-Jewish heresy. Yet his name is less well known than those of more famous crypto Jews in Latin America, including Luis de Carvajal the Younger, Tomás Treviño de Sobremonte, and Francisco Maldonado de Silva. This essay rescues Juan de León from such relative anonymity by exploring the interrelated questions of why the Inquisition prosecuted him so painstakingly, what his case teaches us about crypto Judaism in colonial Mexico and the ordeal its practitioners suffered at the hands of the Inquisition, and why he did not achieve fame more proportional to the gravity of his trial. In order to answer these questions, it examines how León differed from other Inquisitorial victims due to his biography, knowledge of Judaism, and personality.

— “Cecil Roth’s Disrupted Love Affair With the Secret Jews of Italy: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”
Dr. Abraham D. Lavender

Cecil Roth’s 1932 book A History of the Marranos popularized the term “marrano,” and increased knowledge about the secret Jews of Portugal and Spain, and also discussed secret Jews in Europe and the Americas. But, the secret Jews of southern Italy were mostly neglected. Roth corrected this omission in 1946 in The History of the Jews of Italy, discussing the secret Jews in Sicily, the Kingdom of Naples, and Sardinia. Cecil Roth and his wife, Irene, who was also his constant research companion for forty-two years, expressed strong emotional attractions for Italy and had planned to retire there before their plans were disrupted by World War II and the Holocaust.

— “Recent Research Articles: From Roth to DNA”

Many historical research resources have been used to study crypto Jews. But, especially since the 1990s, DNA research also has been able to add more information to crypto-Judaic studies. DNA research frequently cannot provide definitive answers about a specific individual’s possible secret Jewish ancestry, but it can provide insightful information about history. There are many articles on Sephardic DNA, but this brief report describes three recent reach projects about crypto-Jewish DNA, including the research project from Iberia which documents that about 20% of all Hispanic males (mostly Christian today) whose ancestors came from Spain or Portugal have a Jewish genetic ancestry.

Learn more about the journal and subscriptions. Single issues are $10 (+$4 p&h), while annual subscriptions for individuals are only $10 (+$4 p&h). International subscriptions are $6 for postage and handling.

Kulanu: Chinese, Indian Jewish articles

If the stories of Jews around the world in some exotic places capture your imagination, you aren’t alone.

Kulanu’s Fall 2009 Newsletter is now online. Some of the articles are:

— “French Black Jews” by Cynthia Weisfeld
— “Endings and Beginnings in Uganda” by Lorne Mallin
— “Kaifeng Descendent to Tour U.S.”
— “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” by Janis Colton (Elderhostel trip to New Mexico on Converso/Crypto-Jewish story)

Some notes on the stories:

A descendant of one of the original Jewish families in Kaifeng, China, Shi Lei spoke to our JFRA Israel group in Israel a few years ago while he was attending Bar Ilan University (2001-2002). Nearly 100 people came to hear him speak. He is now back in his home town. A spring 2010 lecture tour to the US is planned. Perhaps your JGS is interested in inviting him to speak. Email Kulanu to get details.

Colton’s story on her New Mexico trip this summer was interesting. For those who are so inspired, the Jewish Womens Archive is planning a long weekend trip to Santa Fe, NM, where some of these issues will be on the program, including a talk by Dr. Stan Hordes, who specializes in Converso/Crypto-Jewish studies.

There was also information about the Jews of India, including information on a new documentary about Mumbai’s Bene Israel community; a new website,; and a new book, “Being Indian, Being Israeli,” by Maina Chawla Singh. Near Haifa, Israel, a new Indian Jewish Community Center (called Shaare Rahamim) has been established. It will house a permanent museum displaying Indian Judaica and historic documents. For more information, send an email.

Do read all the articles at the main Kulanu Newsletter link above.

Jewish Women’s Archive: Santa Fe trip, March 2010

The Jewish Women’s Archive is planning a trip to one of my favorite places, Santa Fe, New Mexico, during March 2010.

The theme is Jewish memory and narrative through art and craft, with a talk by Dr. Stanley Hordes, author of the excellent “To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico.”

The trip is set from Wednesday-Sunday, March 3-7. For details, see the JWA.

For a century, artists have flocked to Santa Fe. The work of Jewish artists there combines both their heritage and their understanding of themselves as modern Jews. Life in Santa Fe is influenced by the existence of the hidden Jews – the Conversos – and their descendants who survive in Spanish outposts like New Mexico.

Jews living here have the freedom to be or not to be Jewish – surrounded by the ghosts of Jews who were not free to make that same choice, who were forced to give up their heritage but preserved it anyway as family custom and lore.

The local Jewish community lives alongside two others struggling to keep their cultural heritage. Both the Native Americans, with their extraordinary baskets and carvings, and Hispanics, with their tapestries and folk art, are engaged in the quest of how to remain affiliated and proud despite the forces of assimilation, homogeneity, and modernity.

The venue is the historic downtown Hotel Santa Fe, the city’s only Native American-owned hotel. It is in the new Guadalupe Railyard District, called Santa Fe’s Soho, filled with museums, galleries, shops and restaurants just outside the hotel.

Each day, meet Jewish artists and visit their studios, enjoy meals with poets and artists at some great dining locations, enjoy private tours of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the new facility of the Santa Fe Art Institute, visit galleries like the Casa Nova Gallery, tour the School for Advanced Research on the Human Experience, lunch at and and tour the Institute for American Indian Arts with legacy guide Carol Franco and Jewish Native American Lois Frank, visit the Museum of New Mexico with director Fran Levine.

There’s a Santa Fe-style Shabbat dinner at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi with Rabbi Malka Drucker and local hosts. On Saturday morning, join Shabbat serves at any of the local synagogues or privately tour the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art. Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz will speak at the O’Keeffe museum (separate tickets) when she receives the museum’s 2010 Women of Distinction award, and end the day at a farewell banquet at the Geronimo Restaurant.

On Sunday, listen to one of my favorite people, Dr. Stanley Hordes, author of “To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico,” as he discusses the remarkable story of Crypto-Jews and their tenuous preservation of Jewish rituals and traditions over the past 500 years, from their origins in medieval Spain and Portugal to their efforts to escape persecution by settling in the far reaches of the northern Mexican frontier.

What a great way to take a Santa Fe break! Your first visit will not be your last. If you’ve been to Santa Fe before, this is a new way to enjoy the city’s atmosphere.

New Mexico: More details, resources, traditions

Tracing the Tribe has been reminded by a Converso friend about Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, who was Onate’s historian (and who left detailed writings) and also about the Aguilar Expedition.

Our friend also stated that most researchers in the area don’t know their own roots.

Remember that, after the 1492 Expulsion, there were supposed to be no Jews left in Spain. And New Christians (the Conversos) were prohibited from leaving Spain for the New World.

This makes sense as the Church realized that those who left would soon take up their Jewish traditions again when they were living in freedom, and this was also the impetus for the Inquisition setting up branches in Mexico and other South American countries. The Inquisition was determined to find the “backsliders” and convict them for Judaizing, which meant burning at the stake in an auto-de-fe, confiscation of their assets or transport to the Philippines, which was a penal colony at that time.

In Mexico, an auto-de-fe was held as late as 1815, and the Inquisition wasn’t abolished there until the country’s 1821 independence. Not so long ago, was it?

This means that there were confirmed Conversos following Jewish traditions there as late as 1821 – in the official sense – and, of course, until today There was no need for an Inquisition office if there were no Conversos or New Christians to be accused of, or to be informed on, for Judaizing.

For a person to leave Spain, a limpieza de sangre certificate was required. This guaranteed that the passenger was pure of blood (and religion!) and was an Old Christian (or who had acquired some sort of dispensation through “connections.” As expected, there was a very busy black market in forged documents based on elaborate false genealogies which enabled people to leave with their assets for the New World.

Many people also are not aware that in the port of Veracruz, Mexico, soldiers were ordered to inspect the goods of arriving passengers and to carefully look for “suspicious” items. Suspicious meant anything having to do with Judaism. Many Conversos brought Jewish artifacts, Hebrew books, even Torah scrolls, Shabbat candlesticks and menorahs, and the “inspectors” were bribed to look the other way.

There are families in Southwest states who still have these “suspicious” possessions hidden away. They are priceless family heirlooms.

The Inquisition in Albuquerque was eventually closed as it received little cooperation from the mostly Converso inhabitants who refused to inform on their neighbors and relatives.

For readers interested in Jewish, Sephardic and Converso history, here are some links to see the names (and details) of participants who traveled with Don Juan Onate, on the expedition’s historian Gaspar Perez de Villagra well as information on the Aguilar Expedition.

For additional information, compare the family names of the people on these expeditions with the and name search engines for documented Sephardic names. Another source for comparison is Pere Bonnin’s Sangre Judia, (4th expanded edition), which lists thousands of names documented as Jewish from pre-Inquisition records, Inquisition court records and other sources.

There are many sources for New Mexico genealogy research. Sites hold transcriptions of census records; birth, marriage and death; and much more. Google “New Mexico genealogy” and have fun sorting out all the hits.

The Gateway to Mexico page has an amazing amount of information. The complete and very detailed Onate list is here.

The Bernalillo County (New Mexico) page offers excellent information, such as a partial list of the Onate settlers (some are not on this list but do appear on the Gateway to Mexico list above). There is a list of married women who joined Onate’s expedition in 1600. For a partial list of settlers who arrived in 1600, click here.

The New Mexico Genealogical Society has been publishing a journal for 40 years (available on CD), offers many articles online and information on archival resources.

The Converso community is not limited to New Mexico – they are found in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California – indeed everywhere Hispanics live today. Some know who they are, some suspect, some are not yet aware of their history, some don’t refuse to accept the facts when the evidence is provided.

Family customs and stories are the most important clues to ancestry origins.

Does a family today (or did the grandparents) follow la dieta (kashrut, no pork)? Are there distinctive family customs surrounding birth, marriage, death – that are not followed by everyone – only within a certain group of families? Of grandparents repeating what their own grandparents said: “Be careful whom you marry. Do not break the chain.” Do certain families marry only with certain other families? Are children told not to eat in the homes of their friends?

Are there unusual wedding customs, such as stepping on a cup or glass, or of women embroidering cloths used at a wedding? Are special engagement ceremonies held by some families? Is there some sort of bathing ceremony for bride or bride and groom before a wedding? Are animals or chickens killed in a special way, perhaps by the members of one particular family in a community? What is done with the blood? Are the girls in the family told about family secrets by their grandmothers? Do older family members touch a certain place on the doorframe when entering or leaving their house?

Common customs include avoiding pork and lard, lighting candles on Friday nights, observing Saturday as the Sabbath, burying within a day, men in certain families not entering a cemetery even for close relatives’ funerals, mirrors covered in a house of mourning, observing unusual holidays with specific foods for those events, circumcision, and sometimes a ceremony on the 30th day after a male infant is born, special customs for 40 days after giving birth, burying or burning nail clippings, sweeping the floor to the center of the room, throwing a small piece of dough into the fire when making bread (accompanied by words or not), or special traditions for washing hands before eating.

Sometimes a family has retained only a few customs. They don’t know why they still keep those traditions, but they continue to do so because their ancestors did it and tradition is very strong in those families. Other families know why they observe some traditions but have forgotten much of what their ancestors knew.

Tracing the Tribe has always been fascinated by these communities and awed by those families who have maintained so many traditions and so much knowledge over the centuries since arriving in the New World.

New Mexico: Don Juan Oñate’s Jewish roots, Nov. 12

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on the research of genealogist José Antonio Esquibel, whose research into New Mexican ancestry, including the familias viejas (the old families who came with explorers such Don Juan de Oñate) has also provided information on Jewish family history.

Esquibel, who been researching the genealogy of New Mexican families for 25 years, will speak on “The Jewish-Converso Lineage of Don Juan de Oñate,” at 6pm, Thursday, November 12, at the New Mexico History Museum, in Santa Fe. There is no charge for admission. The event is part of Santa Fe’s ongoing 400th birthday celebration.

According to Esquibel, people tend to underestimate the contributions Jewish people made to the history of Spain, particularly those folks who converted.

The article demonstrated his evidence that Oñate, – New Mexico’s first governor – was a Converso, descended from Spanish Jews who were converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition and as early as 1390.

Oñate was ordered by King Felipe II of Spain to spread Catholicism through the province of Santa Fé de Nuevo México. New Spain’s viceroy Luis de Velasco gave permission for the explorer to lead the 1598 colonizing expedition up the Rio Grande to what is today New Mexico. Velasco also had Jewish ancestors, including one who was an accountant for the king and converted.

Oñate founded the first Spanish capital, San Juan de los Caballeros, across the Rio Grande from San Juan Pueblo. His ancestors on his mother’s side included a rabbi who converted to Christianity in 1390 along with his siblings.

According to Esquibel’s research, María Núñez Ha-Levi converted to Christianity in July 1390 along with her brother, Rabbi Salomon Ha-Levi, who became known as Pedro de Santa María and was later Bishop of Cartagena. She married Juan Garces (Rodríguez) de Maluenda, also from a Jewish family that converted to Christianity.

Tracing the Tribe notes that Salomon Ha-Levi was chief rabbi of Burgos, Spain. David M. Gitlitz (“Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews”) and other scholars indicate that his new name was Pablo de Santa Maria – not Pedro – and that he was also known as Paul of Burgos.

Although Esquibel says in the article there is no clear evidence that Oñate knew or acknowledged his Jewish heritage or that his family continued to practice their faith in secret after converting to Christianity, he added that there is a good chance that Oñate (born c1552) was at least aware of his Jewish background.

Tracing the Tribe knows that Northern New Mexico is home to a very large population of Conversos who know who they are and who continue to secretly observe many Jewish traditions today. Indeed, most of the people who accompanied Onate were Conversos themselves and their names are listed in Inquisition Court documents in Spanish archives.Who better to help his fellow co-religionists to find freedom of religion in the isolated region of New Mexico than a leader who identified with them and who had the same background?

Tracing the Tribe maintains that those who know northern New Mexico families understand how secretive they remain even today, centuries after arriving in the area. In general, they still do not talk to researchers and keeping the family secrets is still a very serious concern.

Many Sephardic sources researched by Tracing the Tribe note that Jewish families converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition often had a son enter the church. Having a priest in the family meant he could – without suspicion – study Hebrew and the Old Testament and could visit other Converso families and maintain relationships among them. Indeed, many families continued to marry other Converso families, even after converting in the late 1380s, or following the mass conversions of 1391 when many Spanish Jewish communities were decimated, as well as those who were forcibly converted during the late 1400s. Many families continually married other families with the same background and to secretly observe Jewish traditions, in spite of their fear of the Inquisition.

[NOTE: The DNA genetic genealogy database at has gathered many samples of New Mexican families. Results demonstrate that many of the “old families” belong to haplogroups commonly found in Jewish families, including Kohanim modal signatures, indicating Jewish priestly descent. Tracing the Tribe recommends that those interested in this topic visit Indeed, there is another FamilyTreeDNA project (IberianAshkenaz) which has genetically matched some 75% of Ashkenazi Jewish participants (with a Sephardic oral history or other criteria) to Hispanic Jews who know or suspect Jewish origins.]

Former New Mexico state historian Dr. Stanley Hordes, now teaching at the University of New Mexico, included some of Esquibel’s research in his 2005 book, “To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico.” Hordes believes Rabbi Salomon/Pedro (Pablo) de Santa Maria, a prominent Catholic theologian, would have been known to the Oñate family, but adds that none of the family were accused of practicing Judaism.

Esquibel published some of his Jewish-converso ancestry research on Oñate in the Colonial American Historical Review (1998). He has been doing genealogical research on New Mexico families for 25 years. On his father’s side, Oñate was Basque, and the Jewish roots are on his maternal side.

At the end of the 14th century, when the Inquisition forced the Jews in Spain and Portugal to convert or leave, Oñate’s Jewish ancestors converted to preserve their wealth and political positions in Spanish society, he said.

Don Adams and Teresa Kendrick, in a 2003 article, “Don Juan de Oñate and the First Thanksgiving,” reported that Oñate’s mother, Catalina de Salazar, was the daughter of Gonzalo de Salazar, the royal treasurer of New Spain and a Converso.

Esquibel said that the Ha-Levi descendants became so interrelated with families of the Castilian nobility that a royal decree was issued by King Felipe III between 1598 and 1691 in recognition of a papal brief written in 1596 by Pope Clement VIII, officially recognizing the Ha-Levi as an honorable and noble family of Christian faith. This was given because of services provided by their descendants to the Roman Catholic Church and because the Ha-Levi were believed to be descendants of the same Hebrew tribe as the Virgin Mary.

Oñate resigned as governor of Nuevo México after committing atrocities on the Acoma tribe and other native peoples. Eventually convicted of cruelty against the Indians and the colonists, he was later cleared.

Read the complete article at the link above. Tracing the Tribe highly recommends two books for those interested in Converso history: David M. Gitlitz (Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews), Stanley Hordes (To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico). Also visit the Society of Crypto-Judaic Studies, which offers many articles, a newsletter and an annual conference.