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A Picture Worth a Thousand Posts

Given the interest in genealogy sparked by shows like Lisa Kudrow’s Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC and Henry Louis Gates Jr.‘s Faces of America on PBS, and given the ubiquity of social media networks like Facebook, it was just a matter of time before somebody somewhere would start using Facebook to mine information about their grammas and grampas.

Yadhira with her mystery Facebook post (Photo by Tessie Borden)

It happened to the Autry’s own Yadhira de Leon this week. I’m not saying she is the first one to do this, but her post of a picture sent to her by her father turned into an online game of “guess who this is” and generated more than 80 comments from family members in two countries.

Seems like everyone is interested in finding out about their roots these days. Kudrow’s appearance at the Autry on Thursday, March 22, to talk about the show, is sold out. And our preview post got lots of people talking about what they’re doing to investigate their family tree. But de Leon’s family is so spread out on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border that the only real opportunity she has to get to know her extended family is through Facebook. And that’s where the mystery of the picture started.

“My older cousins from Mexico had been posting pictures, antiguas, (antique photos) just in this one album on Facebook,” said de Leon, the Autry’s director of public relations, whose family hails from San Antonio, Texas; Leon, Guanajuato; and a little town in north central Mexico called Anahuac. “(They) kept saying ‘Oh, mira esta foto, (look at this picture) this is so-​and-​so, this is Mom, this is Dad, this is our cousins, here’s a picture of Grandma. And I didn’t know them very well.”

The mystery picture, with grandfatehr Epigmenio Lozano in the middle (Photo courtesy Yadhira de Leon)

Late last year, de Leon mentioned to her father, Gonzalo Lozano about of the cousins’ posts of pictures of his side of the family: of him, of his parents, of his childhood home. Lozano often affects a gruff demeanor. He didn’t seem too pleased and told her they should be taken down. But then, not long afterward, he told her he had a photo of his father and mother.

“Te la voy a mandar,” he told her, “para que la pongas y les enseñes que no nomás ellas tienen fotos antiguas.” I’ll send it to you, so you can post it and show them that they’re not the only ones who have old pictures.

He delayed and delayed, until it was de Leon’s mother who gave her the photo, when she came to Los Angeles this week for a visit. It’s a sepia-​tone print, showing a trim older man flanked by two women and two children. De Leon was glad to have it, but it still didn’t reveal much, because it was blurry. She had heard her grandfather had blue eyes, and she couldn’t tell that from this shot. Even so, she posted it last Sunday, tagging her cousins with a dare: A ver, primas, quienes son? O.K. cousins, who are they?

“Next thing you know, we’re having this conversation back and forth about who was in the picture,” she said. “It’s my grandparents with a younger woman and two children.”

But who was the woman? Who were the children? The guessing began quickly, with some saying they could swear the woman was their mother or their aunt Josefina or Josefina’s daughter, or at the very least “a daughter of my grandparents because she’s holding hands with him.” Others wondered who the kids were and gave their guesses on them. De Leon kept chuckling and saying, no, it’s not this person, it’s not that person. Eventually, other details started to surface, about how old the photograph is, about how Josefina was so pretty and resembled another aunt, about how so-​and-​so was an architect, about how someone else in the photo lost her house in the Mexico earthquake of 1985.

Finally, de Leon double-​checked with Lozano and revealed the identity of the people in the photograph: her grandfather and grandmother, an aunt Alicia and her two children. But the conversation didn’t end there. Other cousins that de Leon didn’t know except on Facebook joined in. And the anecdotes flew, as if everyone were sitting at a virtual kitchen table — a very big virtual kitchen table.

“We’ve all kind of gone like this,” de Leon said, spreading her fingers wide. “Now I have a cousin in Florida? How did she wind up there? … We’ve all been together in one room — at a funeral. But not with this familiarity. Not at this level.”

The conversation got de Leon thinking. Now, she has started her own online family tree, tentatively filling out names and dates for grandparents and great-​grands. She wants to contact all her many cousins to find out who is who and who’s related to whom and who knows what stories about the Lozano clan.

But forget calling them on the phone. She’ll just friend them on Facebook. Of course.

To see a clip of Who Do You Think You Are? click here:


This article is filed under:

Autry Events · Behind-the-Scenes · Conversations

About the author

Tessie Borden is a former newspaper journalist. She writes about the arts in light of the cultural and political history of the Americas, the American West and California.