Every other week, I carve out an hour or so to tuck into the history room in Anaheim to read Orange County personal and business directories that range from 1880s to present.
I am seeking out my family, trying to make sense of the people who make the foundation of who I am. They are not saying what or who I will become, but they do make up the DNA from which I am formed. They are my earth and stardust.
I was struck dumb a couple of weeks ago when I discovered that my grandmother had not been raised in that sweet Sears kit home I had visited, but only lived there for 2-3 brief years. I was crushed because I really, really liked the story that my family had been the original owners of this home. I wondered if somehow that made my visit less important. And so I floundered.
And then because of a typo I believed they lived in the middle of a lumber yard. This vision of my family as hobos juxtaposed my family’s royal-like lineage and took some getting used to. But these were real people, not movie stars for the benefit of my imagination or hubris. And so I returned for more research and discovered typos were common and they had lived for more than 20 years in the same home on Santa Ana Ave and for a brief period lived on Lemon, but then returned to their original home.
Back and forth through the directories, the original home on Santa Ana Ave showed Juan Ruiz as head of household. It was a name familiar to me (based on death and birth certificates I had purchased years before.) Juan Ruiz, my nana Della’s paternal grandfather, had been a ranch owner in 1922. But throughout the directories, her father was a laborer (these early directories revealed who was head of house, those of at least high school age who resided in the home and their occupation). One year, 1939, showed that my grandmother Della was a packer – living only 3 blocks from Anaheim Packing House where I work today. I wondered how our family went from ranch owner to day laborer in one generation? Was it the depression? Gambling? Politics? Only more time in the rabbit hole will tell.
In another family tree branch, a 1924 directory revealed great uncle Isaac Peralta Cooper lived in Rural District 3 of Peralta (Anaheim) Hills in exactly where I remembered attending the party of 300 family members and standing on a balcony covered in vibrantly colored bougainvillea where I first learned of my family heritage at nine-years-old – forever imprinting a juicy tale upon me as a future storyteller.
Tentatively I went back in time to find another great, great grandfather, Ramon Cooper, who lived on the same property in 1917, which coincided with the lore that Pancho Villa paid for his tequila at the family’s owned Anaheim Hills’ Saloon with bullets.
The dates added up. But now I know enough now to wait for more evidence to believe in this vision.
Or do I?