How Genealogy and FamilySearch Helped Me to Live


by Gonzalo Alexis Luengo Orellana (with Sarah Chambers)

My name is Gonzalo Luengo, and I would like to share my journey through the past 10 years of my family history work and how this work has transformed me. I would also like to share the role FamilySearch has played in the process. I do not mention places or surnames in the text, but you can see them in the descriptions of the pictures I have included. I follow an important idea from a Valencian genealogist, Enrique Boix, who says: “Do not let surnames prevent you from enjoying your genealogy.” Many beginners to genealogy spend a lot of time obtaining information about their surnames, discovering who were the first people or famous characters bearing those family names, without knowing more about their own great-grandparents. Genealogy and family history are about people, not just about surnames or beautiful places.

Partial vision of the papers my grandmother sent us.

When I entered the realm of family history and genealogy, I was around 16 years old. My father died when I was 12, and I lived with my mother. Our home was not an affectionate place. We never received guests, and I cannot remember two consecutive days without a conflict. I was a problematic child at school and in our neighborhood due to all the toxins in this type of environment. In some kind of survival instinct, I discriminated or separated myself from everyone else, especially my classmates and neighbors, obsessing on our differences. My mother never was on good terms with others or had strong relations with people in our city, so she never had a good job. My maternal family, seeing our situation, started to help by sending us parcels with groceries. One day my maternal grandmother sent us, like any other parcel, a box full of family photographs, souvenirs, and old diplomas. I glimpsed the face of a great-great-grandfather on one of all those photographs. This photograph was a turning-point that really touched me, as we come from a very ordinary family lineage.

The photograph of my great-great grandfather, Antonio De Filippi Montaldo, who arrived inChile during the 1880s. The photo was taken in Naples in 1866.

The first thing I felt when looking at this photo of my ancestor wearing a naval uniform in 1866 was the desire to share. I had to share this photograph because I knew that I was not the only descendant of this man. Because the great-great-grandfather in the photo had a particular surname that is not common in Chile, I easily found many relatives that I could have never imagined I had. I started by looking for every person with that surname in the telephone directory. Then I went to the civil registry office and asked for a birth certificate for each one of those names. Chile has one of the best—if not the best—civil registry offices in the world, managing a private database containing an index of all the people in the nation. You just need to give them a name and surnames and can almost instantly receive a certificate or photocopy of the original record. This office was a key source that allowed me to write a real biographical census of all the descendants of that ancestor.

This is me in one of the first years at the Chillán Stake Family History Center.

But, alas, the civil registry office started only in the second half of 1884, so I had to check more records, such as parish records. I cannot remember exactly how I heard about FamilySearch and came to learn about its vast collection of vital records worldwide. But when I did, I knew I would need that resource. Ten years ago, in 2006, when I first entered my local family history center, my life really started to change.

Two years after I started going to a family history center, I asked the director to accept me as a voluntary consultant. This service helped me heal from many social wounds. The most important thing I discovered was that we all come from common ancestors and that being fair and valuing each other is a great way to honor our ancestors, as it is true that we are all cousins. One day when I was working at the family history center, two kids entered the center. I knew I probably had to invite them to leave, as they were just children and would possibly disturb the patrons, but I resisted that thought. Instead, I invited them to understand what genealogy is and helped them to get started. They later ended their work and left the center happy.

A group photo of one of the Chillán Ñuble's Stake's family history activities where I have given speeches, invited by Mrs. Mercedes Olivares de Ardiles. She welcomed me and asked me to share my knowledge there.

What makes me really proud is that I did not need to know that one of those kids was actually my fourth cousin once removed, something I discovered about a year later, before I showed him respect in an unassuming way. It was then that I finally understood that every person deserves respect and to be welcomed. With that principle in mind, I started to make friends, and over time I have researched many family histories with people who visited the family history center, finding that we are indeed cousins!

For me, genealogy is another way to see the world from above for a moment and understand that we are all together, connected, that we cannot live apart. When we see an ant colony, we don’t ask ourselves if all those ants are related. That truth is already evident; we unconsciously already know it. Family trees and genealogies are just like that, they give us a vision of everyone together.

With a friend of mine, Fernando Errázuriz, posing with an old family tree at the Chilean National Archive, last January. While we were analyzing it, we discovered that we are ninth cousins once removed.

When discovering the variety of ancestors and distant relatives we have, we can understand that we are a product of diversity and that we also produce diversity. This discovery has given me a clear perspective to no longer judge others as I did during my school days. Now I can discover more about myself without fear of what others will say. I know that being myself is the best way I can collaborate in the harmony of this complex, enormous family tree of humanity. That perspective brings me to respect any other person (that is, any other relative, as we are all cousins!). 

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