Velma Bernal

1901 - 1998

A Descendant of San Jose's Spanish Settlers
Says Goodbye in a Modern Way

Velma and Grandson Greg in the redwoods - click for enlargement

Velma Bernal, a woman who was known for her love of plants, people, animals, knowledge, music and dancing, passed away from a heart attack. This by itself would not be noteworthy except that Velma was 97 years old and was a sixth generation Californian and San Jose native. Though she is buried at the Santa Clara Mission Catholic Cemetery, her headstones are best represented by the Bernal Roads that branch off of Highways 101 and 680.

St. Joseph's Church in downtown San Jose, before 1906 - click for enlargement

Born in San Jose, California in 1901, she is a direct descendant of Juan Francisco Bernal who came to Northern California with the de Anza expedition of 1776. He was a soldier for the Spanish expedition, and was part of the team that established the sites for what was to become missions and towns of San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Clara in California. In return for his services, Bernal was granted the land whose roads now bear the family name. More about this part of California's History can be found in many history books on the era of the Spanish Land grants. Suffice to say that by the late 1890's most of the original land was in new hands, and the original settlers were bringing in a new way of life.

Brother Claude Bernal and Velma enjoying a party - click for enlargement Velma and brother Claude - click for enlargement

Velma was the first child of Henrietta and Dan (Dionisio) Bernal. Dan Bernal died of tuberculosis when Velma was a child. Though she never left her native California during her life, she lived in several sites that were later regarded as historically important. As a child, Velma Bernal lived on Gregory Street near Market Street in San Jose. The Peralta Adobe was her ancestors' home before it was a state historic site near downtown San Jose. Velma grew up with two brothers, Claude Bernal and Manual Escobar, and two sisters, Henrietta Valentine Hansen and Anita. She often remarked, with pride, that her brother Claude rode a bicycle to see the devastation caused by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, a feat even more remarkable since he had lost a leg during a trolley car accident in downtown San Jose earlier in his life. After Claude's accident, Velma helped to take care of Claude and encouraged him in his musical and theatrical ambitions which later became his vocation. Her brother Manual served in (and survived) what she called, "The War to End Wars".

Velma and brother Claude - click for enlargement

Velma spent her early years by running errands for her mother who had owned a restaurant near Pismo Beach. One of her first jobs was at a store in San Luis Obispo. It was in this city where she was educated by nuns, and Velma often spoke about how strict the nuns were. As a teenager and young adult, Velma worked at the Del Monte canneries that were once the prized industry of a more agricultural San Jose. She was witness to the acres of Prune Orchards, and yellow mustard, the Cinnabar Mines of Almaden and the rapid growth of Silicon Valley.

Velma and her sister Babe - click for enlargement

Velma's favorite activities as a young adult, and throughout her long life included gardening, reading, listening to guitar music and dancing the night away in what she called, "The City" (S.F.). In her early twenties, Velma met and married George, a tractor operator, at one of her favorite dance halls. During the early years of their marriage they lived at the site of the Hetch Hetchy Dam while George helped to build this important source of water and power for California. Velma and George had only one child, Yvonne. Velma tended lovingly to Yvonne, who she remarked was often sick with pneumonia.

Velma and brother Claude - click for enlargement

Despite the financial hardships of The Depression, they managed to save enough to buy a two story Victorian house in Willow Glen on one acre. During her married life, she tended the colorful one acre garden resplendent in persimmon, walnut and fig trees, and flowers such as roses, California poppies, lilies and morning glories. She also raised (and sold) canaries and other birds, a fact that is made more ironic when she recalled that the street she lived on was Bird Avenue in Willow Glen.

Velma - click for enlargement of both photos Velma's husband George - click for enlargement of both photos After Velma's husband George passed away in the early 1960's, Velma lived alone in the old Victorian two story house until it was torn down to enlarge Bird avenue to allow for more traffic in the 1970's. In her later years, she enjoyed crocheting, reading and tending to her plants. She especially loved to read about the history of Spain and early California and she would often recite (from memory) family names of those who laid the foundation for the Spanish colonization of California. She also enjoyed educating her grandson, Greg Smestad, in her love of plants and animals and encouraged him to become a scientist and educator which he is now doing.

Velma and grandson Greg - click for enlargementThough she was diagnosed (as many old people are) with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, she was quite lucid to the end and was heard, by her grandson, on her 97th birthday (2 weeks before she died) saying, "I am at peace must be patient." She met death knowingly with the honor and dignity of those early Spanish Explorers. Here are her words of wisdom for the secret of a long and happy life:

  • "Education is very important; Get a good Education"
  • "If you have your health; the rest doesn't count"
  • "Patience, you have to have lots of patience"
  • "Do a job or task 'little by little'"
  • "I don't want to cause (no) friction."
  • "Eat, it's all you take with you"
  • "Let's go dance at a Fandango and hear some music"
  • "When you want to grow a plant, take a slip and poke it in the ground"
  • "I read the newspaper to keep up with the latest scandal"
  • "Vaya con dios, go with God"

Click on any illustration to see enlarged version.

Bernal Family History

In 1775/6, Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition of Spanish colonists up from what is now Mexico, Southern California. Among the colonists were Juan Francisco Bernal, his wife Ana Maria Josefa de Soto Bernal, and his children: Jose Joaquin, Juan Francisco, Jose Dionisio, Jose Apolinario, Ana Maria Bernal y Soto, Maria Teresa and Tomas Januario Bernal. Since Juan Franciso was first "Californio Bernal" all the old family Bernals here in California are related. Velma Bernal and Greg Smestad are descendants of Jose Apolinario. Here is how--
Chart of Bernal Family
(1a) George; b. 1904, d. 1963; His Portuguese father came from Azores to Milpitas CA via Hawaii.
(1b) Velma; b. 1901, d. 1998; Brother Claude Bernal's family is now in L.A. Sister Henriette Valentine Bernal's family is now in the East Bay and the Pacific Northwest.

Henrietta; b. 11-27-1873, born at the New Almaden Cinnabar mines, S.J., d. 10-3-1941, Married to Cadwaller at time of death.

Henrietta was born at the New Almaden Cinnabar mines in San Jose, and was known for her good food and her musical talents. Her mother was Encarnacion Caseres, a healer and Tamale parlor owner, and her father was Manuel Escobar, a miner.

Manuel Escobar - Click for enlarged photo     Encarnacion Caseres with baby - Click for enlarged photo     Henrietta as a baby - Click for enlarged photo     Henrietta's wedding - Click for enlarged photo
Manuel Escobar   Encarnacion & baby   Henrietta as a baby   Henrietta's wedding


Dionisio; b. 4-1865, baptized at St. Catherine's, Martinez, d. 5-22-1922, S.J. Siblings include: Ramon, Placido (PA), Frank, Jose, Juan (John), Antonio, Nicolas Bernal Jr., Paeblo.

Dionisio Bernal - Click for enlarged photo     Encarnacion Sibrian - Click for enlarged photo
Dionisio Bernal   Encarnacion Sibrian

(4) Encarnacion Sibrian; b. 12-1-1832, d. 9-21-1889. (This name is sometimes spelled Cibrian.) Daughter of Rosa Maria Pacheco & Jose Claudio Sibrian, the granddaughter of Leocodio Sibrian & Petra Archuleta, and Miguel Pacheco & Juana Sanchez, and the great granddaughter of Ygnacio Archuleta & Ygnacia Pacheco, and Jose Antonio Sanchez & Maria Morales. Buried in sec. I, block 189 of Oak Hill Cemetery in S.J., in an unmarked grave. Marriages: Ruiz, Bernal and Flores. Ref. [3, 4, 5].
(5) Jose Nicolas de Jesus; b. 12-6-1834, d. 2-27-1867. Strong family and land ties to Contra Costa County. Married at St. Catherine's, Martinez, 10-9-1865. Mentioned in Our Lady of Pillar Church, Half Moon Bay, Spanish Town 1860 families Ref. [3, 4, 5].
(6) Maria Encarnacion Soto; b. 4-24-1809 San Jose, d. ? after 1847, Parents were Francisco Jose de Soto and Ana Maria Higuera. I am looking for the date of her death, and her place of burial. I know they lived for a time on her Rancho de los Palos Colorados in Moraga, and that she also owned a lot [land] in San Francisco. Ref. [2]. She might be at rest in San Jose, San Francisco, or Contra Costa County. After Juan Bernal died, she married a cousin, Ramon Higuera y Soto.
(7) Juan; b. 11-1-1802, d. 5-1847 [blind]. Strong family and land ties to Contra Costa and Alameda County. Half owner of Rancho de los Palos Colorados in Moraga, CA until an American land speculator and lawyer named Carpentier "acquired" it.
(8) Teodora; b. 4-1-1786, d. 1850. Daughter of Luis Maria Peralta and Maria Alviso, Rancho San Antonio, Alameda County. Apolinario and Teodora found the Englishman John Gilroy on the beach in Monterey in a dying condition, and brought him to the Peralta's San Antonio Ranch, where they nursed him back to health. Ref. [6]. A CA city now bears his name.
(9) Apolinario; b. abt 1765, d. 1806. Ref. [1, 4, 6]. Apolinario Bernal y Soto and Joaquin were brothers, both having come as children with Anza, as did Ana Maria Bernal y Soto, their sister and mother of Joaquin Moraga. Thus Juan Bernal y Peralta, Juan Pablo Bernal y Sanchez and Joaquin Moraga y Bernal were cousins. Ref. [3]. Jose Apolinario Bernal also had 2 children with Maria Apolonia Soberanes of Monterey. Marie Northrop, "Spanish-Mexican FamiliesÖ.", 1976 lists a Josef Apolinario Bernal, page 62, born about 1765 in Sinaloa, Mexico. Children include Juan Bernal, born 1802 at Mission Santa Clara, Buried 2 May 1847, Mission Dolores. Another listing, page 66, lists an Apolinario Bernal, born 22 July 1785, Mission Dolores, buried 14 April 1813, Mission Dolores. It goes on to say that he is killed by Indians in San Ramon Valley. His parents were Juan Francisco Bernal and Maria Petronia Gutierrez. At the top of page 66, it says that Juan Francisco Bernalís parents were Juan Francisco Bernal and Ana Maria Josefa de Soto. This means that Juan Francisco Jr. gave his son (who was killed by Indians) a similar name as that given to his brother, Jose Apolinario. The California Pioneer Register and Index extracted from The History of California by Hubert Howe Bancroft also has a listing for Apolinario, ii. 134, 339, and also indicates that he was killed by Indians in 1813. I believe that Juan Bernal is descendant from Jose Apolinario (Apolinario) Bernal, and not from the other Apolinario who was killed by Indians.
(10) See Ref. [1, 2, 4, 6]

[1] Marie Northrop, "Spanish - Mexican Families of Early California: 1769-1850," Polyanthos, New Orleans, 1976.
[2] Hubert Bancroft, "California Pioneer Register and Index 1542-1848". Extracted from History of California by Bancroft, Baltimore Regional Publishing Co., 1964.
[3] D. G. Mutnick, , "Some California Poppies and Even a few Mommies, with a History of Upper California during the First Hundred Years" Vol. 1 & 2.
[4] D. G. Mutnick's charts for the de Anza trail families.
[5] La Peninsula, May 1945, San Mateo Hist. Soc., St. Matthew's Catholic church.
[6] From the Records of the Los Californianos Genealogy Library, Irene Soberanes, Bancroft Lib., University of Calif., History of the Bernal Family, 67 8072, MRD-2.

Learn about the connection between immigration to the U.S., Mexicans and Californio history by reading Greg Smestadís, "A Personal View of History", Latin American and Latino Studies Reader, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida, 2007, pgs. 50-53.

To learn more about California's History and the Bernal family, check out the following websites:

Juan Bautista de Anza Trail Guide and Audio CD Project
Juan Bautista de Anza in "Alta California" 1774-1776
Los Californianos
Peralta Adobe

To add information to this website about Velma or to add a personal note, please send an e-mail to the address listed below.

Update Velma's Info
Phone: 415.979.8730

You are invited to visit Greg Smestad's Sol Ideas web site.

Last updated March 7, 2018.