Looking for my grandfather, Arturo Martín
As a child growing up in Madrid, I frequently used to ask my mom, María Luisa Jerez Marín, about her parents, whom I had never met. My grandmother, Modesta Marín, died of cancer at the early age of 42. And my grandfather, Arturo Martín, I was told ‘died in the war’, like so many others. Whenever I would ask my mother about more details surrounding my grandfather’s death,she simply had no idea, and her mother had not helped much in clarifying such things to her. It seemed as though my grandmother did not want her daughter to know anything whatsoever about this man. She married my step-grandfather, Vicente Jerez, and always wanted my mom to think he was her real father. But rumors reached my mother’s ears, and she ended up finding out that Vicente was not her biological father. The secrecy surrounding my grandfather had its roots in the rumor that he was in fact a married man with two sons when Modesta and he had their affair.
These twists in the story of my grandfather made me want to know more, and plunge myself into the past in hopes of shedding some light into my mom’s unclear origins. With the little information I had, I was determined to find out more about the lost trace of my real grandfather. And so my journey began, during the years of 2009 and 2010.
All we knew about my biological grandfather was the following: his name was Arturo Martín, lived in Madrid, was married and had two small children, was imprisoned during the war (and supposedly so was my grandmother), and was rumored to be a doctor. My grandmother, on the other hand, fled from Madrid to Alicante during her pregnancy (most likely to hide her pregnancy), where my mother was born. Additionally, my mother, not much of a political person, had never expressed much interest in knowing what side of the war he might have been on.
So, where to start? Without knowing the two last names of Arturo, using just Martín as a clue made my job much more difficult. The first logical step was to try to find my mother’s original birth certificate, where hopefully I would be able to see the two last names of Arturo Martín. The birth certificate my mother had named her then step-father as her biological father.
Consequently, I contacted the Registro Civil from Alicante numerous times, but to no avail. I also researched the Listas de empadronamiento (Census Records) from Madrid from the years 1930 and 1935 to see how many Arturos Martín lived in Madrid in that period. I came up with a list of 23 possible candidates, recognizing that one of those individuals could very likely be my grandfather. I also contacted several prisons, historical archives, military archives, university archives, medical school, but nothing of significance was discovered.
Interestingly, I did find a doctor named Arturo Martín de Nicolás who had fled to the United States during the war and settled down in Houston, Texas. Through Facebook, I made contact with his son, who was fascinated with my story. As our conversations progressed (we even shared family photographs) we were becoming convinced that we might be family, and were already thinking of DNA testing.
Then, in the summer of 2009, I received a call in Madrid from a young man at the Diputación Provincial de Alicante stating that he had found something, “nothing big, but it is something, a small document that might be of interest”. As it turned out, this was the first major break in my research, and put my investigation on the right path. The document had information about my mother’s birth place, which was at a Departamento de Obstetricia in Alicante, and where my grandmother is referred to as “Refugiada número 1589”. Nonetheless, the most shocking information about this document was that my mother’s birth date was different. It turned out that she was one year older. It now became clear that this change in the dates had been the reason why it had been so arduous to locate her original birth certificate.
Hereafter, it was a matter of slowly pulling the thread to tie the details together. I was indeed able to finally obtain her first original birth certificate. And with it came the moment I had so eagerly been waiting for: my grandfather’s complete name, Arturo Martín López. What a moment that was. I was finally able to select one Arturo from my list of 23. He was listed there as an “empleado” (“employed”, no more details about his profession were given) who lived on number 4 of Madrid street Bretón de los Herreros. The birth certificate also stated that he was from Fuente el Saz, a small town in the outskirts of Madrid.
Shortly after this discovery, my parents and I paid a yearning visit to the town. It was a particularly cool day in February. We were looking for the street where my grandfather was born and raised. We asked an older man passing by, who told us that street did not exist anymore, that it had a different name now. “But, anyhow, what are you looking for”, he asked. We briefly told him we were looking for the street where a relative of ours who was killed in the war used to live. He asked about the name. When we said Arturo Martín López, he started to sob. “I grew up with his sons!” he told us. The whole thing was very moving and somehow strange.
Simultaneously, now that I had the complete name of Arturo, I went online and simply typed it in. An interesting obituary from 1939 from the Spanish conservative newspaper ABC appeared. It indicated that a cashier Arturo Martín López, together with six other workers, all of them employed at the hardware store Hijos de Mendizábal de Madrid, had been “infamously killed by the red herds” in October of 1936, and a mass was going to be celebrated in their honor. I immediately thought that could not have been him. I was shocked at what I thought surely was fascist propaganda brought about by the victorious nationalists. At the time, the newspaper ABC was little more than a conservative mouth piece for the Franco regime. It was easy to question the accuracy of their journalism.
The truth of the matter is that all this time I had romantically envisioned my grandfather as having been a heroic republican that fought and died for a free and democratic Spain. It certainly was my hope that at the very least, he fled the fascist invasion to seek a better life for his family. As I reread the obituary, the thought crossed my mind that it could be conceivable that the newspaper had blamed the republican government for the deaths of these workers. After all, nationalist planes had bombed the neighborhood where the hardware store was located Maybe they were actually killed by these nationalist planes? I even found a war era picture of that particular street where the store was located at, and it had been destroyed due to air bombardment.
I will never know how the rumor had been started that my grandfather was a doctor. Perhaps it was a way of shading the entire relationship with my grandmother. In any case, to my dismay, the large and controversial archive from the Causa General confirmed what the obituary stated. Arturo had been imprisoned in a “checa” twice. His first arrest occurred in August of 1936, from which he was soon released. Afraid of the possibility of being captured again, he went into hiding (not even his wife knew of his whereabouts). But in October of the same year he was rearrested again, from which point he was never seen again. I also found out, to my great shock, that my grandfather was affiliated with Falange (the fascist party of Spain). I have to admit that I was disappointed. However, I also learned about how chaotic and violent the first months of the war in Madrid were.
The final steps of my research focused on trying to locate the two sons my grandfather already had when he met my grandmother. And I did. After finding out that both of them were alive (and in their 80s), I made a nerve wrecking phone call to the oldest one, Arturo. At first, he did not believe much of what I told him. I mailed him a big envelope containing my gathered documents and family pictures to support my story. Shortly after, we decided to meet at a VIPS Café in Quevedo. My mother and I were particularly anxious and nervous. In the beginning, everybody was slightly tense, and my mother and I were trying to explain as clearly as we could our side of the story. Joaquín (the younger of the brothers) patiently explained that all this had caught them by surprise. He also confessed he was very skeptical when he first heard of our story. Nevertheless, he admitted that when he saw the picture of my oldest son, Marco, he saw a stunning resemblance with their dad, and claimed that that was more convincing than any document I had provided them with.
After this first encounter, we have seen each other on several other occasions. We are slowly getting to know each other better. Even though we do not know the exact details of how my grandparents met and many other facets of the story, we are very glad we have met. To my mom, this encounter has certainly given her some final closure to her secretive and mysterious past.