Ghosts of Old New Almaden

July 15, 2009
Petra and Pascal Michel, my grea-great-grandparents from Sonora

The Michels, my great-great-grandparents

While I’m hardly a genealogy nut, I do consider myself the keeper of the keys when it comes to family history, and I try to keep opening old doors whenever I get the chance. One research trip that’s been on my list for way too long is a trip down to the New Almaden Mining Museum south of San Jose. According to my mom, her great-grandfather Pascal Michel worked there in the 1850s as a mining engineer, and I’ve always wanted to check the payroll records and get the full story. A few years back I phoned the museum and they confirmed that they had tons of records dating back to the early days, but they told me I’d have to come down and do the research myself – and only on a Saturday or Sunday.

Weekends are tough for me, since I usually work – but finally the planets lined up and I had the time, so I hit the road for the 90-minute drive down to the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. On the way down, munching a chorizo burrito and blasting Los Cenzontles to get me in the mood, I reflected on what I knew about Pascal Michel. A French Mexican, he was either born in or emigrated to Sonora, where he married Petra Murillo, an eductated girl from a good family in Hermosillo.  Mining was the family business, and he plied the trade in Sonora for some time before heading north. According to the stories, he and Petra started a family together down in Mexico, but all the kids from that first batch were wiped out in an epidemic, which had a lot to do with their decision to start over in Alta California.

Read the rest of this entry »