BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — Pedro Chavez was 18 when he left his home in Mexico in 1910 and walked 1,000 miles to El Paso, Texas, in search of a better life.
His country was going through a revolution while the United States offered the promise of jobs building a railroad line.
"There were posters (in Mexico) encouraging workers to come to work on the railroad," said Mary Trunnell, Chavez's granddaughter.
Once in the U.S., Chavez traveled to Kansas, where he met and married Graciana Salazar, and then followed a railroad job to Chenoa in northeast McLean County. The couple later moved to Bloomington to raise their six children (one child died at birth).
A daughter, Pauline, became a union leader at the former Beich Candy Co., and her husband, Darrell Hardin, was a former Bloomington fire chief. Trunnell's mother, Dolores, was a certified nursing assistant at what was then Brokaw Hospital in Normal.
The family tree now extends five generations and Trunnell decided to chronicle their story for her mother through a scrapbook.
"She was the youngest person in the family," Trunnell said. "I wanted to give her something tangible so she could see the progress of what occurred."
The scrapbook was brought to the attention of Jeff Woodard, who is in marketing and communications at the McLean County Museum of History, and prompted the beginning of a Latino History Project designed to collect information, data and artifacts related to the migration of Latinos to McLean County. The museum is working in cooperation with Illinois State University's Latin American and Latino Studies Program.
"The project is central to the museum's mission to educate the general public on the history of the people of McLean County through developing research collections, publications and acquire and preserve collections that reflect the rich diversity of McLean County," Woodard said.
Sal Valadez, lead researcher for the project, said those working on the project have tapped into U.S. Census information and cemetery, immigration and naturalization records for information. "Rabbit" Sandoval, a former railroad worker, also linked them to railroad foremen's time books.
"Latinos helped McLean County grow through labor and contributed to the diversity and vitality of the community," said Valadez.
A case in point was the Vasconcellos family, which moved to Bloomington from Spokane, Wash., sometime after the birth of a son, Arthur, in 1912. While the father of the family came to work as a craftsman in the Alton railroad car shops, Arthur took advantage of another one of Bloomington's offerings — the American Circus Corp.
Arthur, who changed his last name to Concello, started training as a trapeze artist at age 10 and by 16 was touring professionally with the circus. He and his wife, Antoinette Comeau, later became known as the Flying Concellos — one of the main attractions of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Concello later ran the circus.
Valadez also is researching others Latinos who settled in McLean County, including the George Segobiano family (descendant Paul Segobiano currently is a McLean County Board member); the Agapito Garcia family; and the Sarita Mendiola family.
He's hoping as word spreads of the project, others will come forward with their family's stories.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.