Tolomato Cemetery was open to the public on the 3rd Saturday, and as usual, we sat at the gate ready to answer questions from our visitors. A family came in and asked about an ancestor, Francisco Xavier Sanchez, a First Spanish Period resident who is buried at Tolomato. Immediately behind them, another family arrived, still wearing the tourist trolley stickers, also inquiring about Francisco Xavier Sanchez, who died in 1807 at the age of 71. We showed both of the families the burial record – although the exact location of his grave at Tolomato is no longer known - and then witnessed one of the most surprising family reunions we have ever seen.
It turned out that both families were related to Francisco Xavier Sanchez, but while one family was directly descended from him, the other was descended from his brother, Jose Sanchez de Ortega. The two families did not know each other and in fact neither one of them knew of the existence of the other. But suddenly they found their long lost cousins right there at the gate of Tolomato Cemetery.
The slightly complicated story is that the two brothers were born and baptized in St Augustine during the First Spanish Period, but their paths in life took them to completely different places. When the British arrived in 1763 to take possession of St Augustine as a result of the settlement of the French and Indian War, most of the Spanish citizens left and went to Cuba. Eight Spanish citizens remained behind, mostly for the purpose of settling property transactions and handling the transition, and Francisco Xavier Sanchez was one of them. However, Jose Sanchez de Ortega went to Cuba with the rest of the Spanish, Indian and black population of St Augustine.
Of the families at the gate of Tolomato, the first man who had inquired, Earl Sanchez, was the descendant of Francis Xavier Sanchez. The second man, Alfredo Sanchez, was from Cuba (he had arrived here as a refugee after Castro’s takeover and lives in South Florida) and was the descendant of Jose Sanchez de Ortega, most of the rest of whose descendants still live in Cuba.
And here they were, more than 200 years later, purely by coincidence meeting at the gate of the cemetery where their common relative, Francis Xavier Sanchez, has rested for these 2 centuries. In the photo above, they are standing at the vault of the James S. Sanchez family (a descendant of Francisco Xavier Sanchez), where they all said a prayer for their departed family members. Goosebumps all around!