Woman’s effort to uncover her family tree led to discovery of part of Hays County history

Hays

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — “When my dad passed away, I asked the question, ‘Where was daddy born?'” says Gina Rogers, a Lakeway resident.

That one question would guide her next five years.

“It was not much longer after that that tons of documents and records surfaced,” she says.

That’s when she discovered that the first-ever registered birth in Hays County was an Alba.

Her great-great-grandfather, Victoriano Alba bought 160 acres in Dripping Springs in 1903, becoming one of the first Hispanic families in the area.

The former Alba Ranch was six miles northwest of Drippings Springs near the intersection of McGregor Lane and Fitzhugh Road, was a 160-acre piece of property owned by Victoriano Alba.

“They were some of the first persons who helped to create the St. Martin de Porres catholic church … they had donated land for school in the area,” Rogers says.

Victoriano Alba and his wife Loreta Tijerina. The photo was taken before 1897, the year she died at age 45. (Photo courtesy Gina Rogers)

“It’s a really interesting interplay between a family’s story and a place’s story,” says John McKiernan-González, a southwest studies professor at Texas State University.

González says even more striking than the Alba family’s early roots is their persistence.

“After the 1890s, it was a time of a lot of land loss for Mexican American families and a lot of displacement,” he says.

Gonzalez says some Texas towns didn’t want black or Hispanic families as neighbors.

Many of them were driven out by increasing property taxes.

“One of the reasons was that the better jobs, jobs that actually paid, were kept for working-class white men instead of working-class black men and working-class Latinos,” says González, who specializes in Mexican American history, Latino studies and immigration history.

Sometimes, he says, these families of color were even driven out by terror.

This is the ledger recording the first birth at the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos, a Mexican male family Alba relative. The ledger is located in the County Courthouse complex in San Marcos. (Photo courtesy Gina Rogers)

“My friend and colleague Monica Muñoz Martinez talks about, and has found records that say, sheriff’s offices and real estate investors said, ‘It’s cheaper to buy from the widow than from the man,’ so the connection to terror and land dispossession,” González explains.

Still, the Alba Ranch remained in the family for more than a century and at one point, the family owned about 1,000 acres.

“They were not even a footnote in history. That’s really the reality of it,” Rogers says.

That changed in January, when the Texas Historical Commission gave the land a historic designation.

The ranch was one of 15 places in Texas to be designated as undertold, meaning its story “addressed a historical gap” and represented an aspect of Texas history not well-documented.

One of the stone houses built by Victoriano Alba and his sons in the early 1900s on their ranch outside Dripping Springs. (Photo courtesy Gina Rogers)

González says traditionally markers and plaques were pursued by those who may have had the time and money to go through the long process.

“People who were family members of the richest and most important families in town, and the plaques and the landmarks mark that power structure that relationship right there. And bringing in these other landmarks and these other stories democratizes, and tells a much more complete story,” he says.

“A lot of Tejano families are tired of not seeing themselves in the story of Texas,” González says. “It’s about time to sort of like get the kind of public memory and public recognition that the work the families put into Hays County.”

Six houses were built on the property, Rogers says, and all but one was made of stone. Three of the stone houses still stand today, and through subdivisions and ownership changes, two of the houses were restored and are now part of the wedding venue named “Stone House Ranch.” One of the homes hasn’t been restored, and the remnants of the stone walls still remain on the property.

In her effort to get the Alba Ranch recognized, Rogers joined the Hays County Historical Commission and is now the Tejano committee chair.

She’s working on more markers to make sure other Hispanic people, families and places don’t vanish once they’re gone.

“It pleases me to see that we discovered him,” Rogers says of Victoriano Alba. “And he won’t be lost again. Because he was lost.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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