Joseba Etxarri. Born in Montevideo 46 years ago, Enrique Yarza Rovira is a Uruguayan on all four sides: that is, a melting pot of races and origins. Among his ancestors are Italians, Catalans, or Brazilians, as well as indigenous people, Canaries or Basques. He is a doctor of law and a historian and has dedicated a large part of his time, since 1991, to genealogy, including serving two terms as the president of the Genealogical Studies Institute of Uruguay. A few days ago, he presented his latest book An Anonymous Basque on an American Adventure: Testimonies of Emigration by our Elusive Ancestor Juan Martin Beracochea in the Minas Mountains (Uruguay).
This seems like an obvious question: “Elusive Ancestor” Juan Martin Beracochea?
-The title was born of a certain genealogical frustration. One tends to identity Basque immigrants that came to Uruguay as young, coming alone, who marries, has a family and has the means to educate his children. But there is one of my ancestors who never wanted to marry, who lived with his partner and had three daughters with the same woman, although he never gave them his last name. He never said where he was born and, although I have researched I have not made any progress on him. What is certain, as I say in the book, is not all of the Basques transcended, but they are definitely part of us, they founded families that are today part of our society.
On your father’s side you come from the Basque villages of Oñati and Oronoz.
-My great-grandfather, Manuel de Yarza y Balanzategui came to Uruguay in 1842 and he settled in Minas. There he married Josefa Lasarte in 1855, she was from Oronoz, Navarre. They lived in the country, among other Basques. My grandfather married an Italian but being born here he spoke Basque, that was common that time in an area like Minas, but he unfortunately died when my dad was 11. I have other Basque ancestors, more distant, on different branches of the family.
How did you become interested in genealogy?
-When you are young, there comes a certain time, when you begin to philosophize and, in my case I was twenty when I started asking the typical questions, where did i come from, where am I going and I realized that I didn’t know much about my origins. The only information I had was that my grandfather was born in Uruguay and was the son of Basques. On my mother’s side, Rovira, a Catalan last name, my maternal grandfather’s grandfather was born in Lleida, while my maternal grandmother was 100% Italian. What is sure is that in my ancestral universe, the Basques are the largest group – 29% of my origins; if we add them to all the my origins in all the Spanish autonomies I reach a 52%; I also have 25% Italian, 12% Portuguese-Brazilian as well as some indigenous peoples and a small bit that is still unclear, like 10% of Creoles from ancient data, born in nearly all South American countries from Panama and Colombia to Argentina and Chile.
In our culture the origin and last name that we inherit is our father’s last name…
-Psychologically we give more value to the last name we normally inherit. which is, right, our father's one, although, I always say that it is legal fiction, because the true is that we also are and carry all of our other origins, they are in our genes.
Is doing a family tree an infinite task? After 25 years of research yours must be pretty complete.
-On the line that goes furthest back, I have 20 generations, but I agree, it never ends. I am aware that I would need three more lives to kind of finish it. There is always more, new information appears, there are threads and fringe…
You presented your latest book a few days ago in Montevideo; you also did the same in Minas last Friday again to a full house. In a few weeks you will go to Buenos Aires, and who knows when you’ll go to the Basque Country. Are you foreseeing a presentation there?
-The presentations I’ve done so far have been very well-attended. But I realize that, for example, to speak at an auditorium in Minas means that among those present there will be many with last names like: Etchepare, Berrueta, Lete, Lujambio, Ezponda, Iriarte, Lasarte, Yarza, Zabalzagaray, Salaberry, Olascoaga, Tellechea, Ibargoyen...I have this book, and other titles related to the Basque and without a doubt I would love to present them in the Basque Country, and maybe eventually publish them there: it would make a lot of sense and would be a thrill.