W.H. Ellis arrived in Mexico City for the first time sometime in the 1880s. It is tantalizing to imagine what the experience must have been like for a young African American from Texas to stroll along the colonial alameda or the grand new boulevard of el Paseo de la Reforma of what was even then one of the largest and most cosmopolitan urban centers in North America. What did he think of the Mexico City elite, with their European fashions and showy carriages? Of the district’s urban poor? Of Mexico City’s vast, bustling markets? Its elegant opera houses?
If a big part of Ellis’s story starts in Mexico City, it also ends there. Ellis died in the 1920s; his family vanishes from the historical record several years afterwards. For many years, I had the frustrating experience of scouring the genealogical records without success, trying to find them. Had they moved out of their home in Mt. Vernon, New York? Had Ellis’s wife, Maud Sherwood Ellis, remarried and changed her name, thus explaining why I couldn’t locate her by searching on the Ellis surname?
I did not learn the truth until I was fortunate enough to get in touch with some of Ellis’s descendants. It turns out that Ellis’s remaining family–Maud, son Sherwood, and daughter Victoria–moved to Mexico shortly after his death to look after some property there. I have been able to locate their Mexican visas (which intriguingly record their race as white) but after this they vanish once again from the historical record. Even though I now know where to look, it has proven hard to research Mexican genealogical data from the U.S. There was a Mexican census in which they should appear, but Ancestry.com–a staggeringly useful resource for historians as well as genealogists–has not digitized the records for Mexico City, which is, alas, where Ellis’s family settled (first on Chihuahua 71 in Colonia Cuahtémoc and then on Luis Moya 93 in the same neighborhood). Any Mexican genealogists out there with any bright ideas? It is hard to shake the sensation that some of Ellis’s descendants may even today reside somewhere in the sprawling megalopolis of today’s “defectuoso.”