By Doreen Carvajal

Last March the Hyper Cacher super market on the eastern edge of the French capital opened with a freshly painted white storefront, surveillance cameras and determination to show resilience since a lone gunmen killed four hostages here in Paris two months earlier in a terrorist attack.

In the days after the kosher market shooting, a seven-minute video emerged of the killer who demanded the origin of a store hostage and then shot him when he replied, "Jewish." That story haunts me every day in my own offices near La Defense where armed police guards were posted for weeks outside the doors of the tower housing the International New York Times where I work as a correspondent.

It forces me to think of my own ancestors and choices they made under threat. Years ago I embarked on a quest to investigate my own identity to understand why my Jewish ancestors converted and guarded their true religion in secret for generations dating back to the Inquisition.

I grew up as a Catholic in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, knowing nothing about their history. And so, in middle age, when I started unraveling our tangled genealogy, it baffled me that they had anything to hide in contemporary times. What was the risk?

But today, in light of what has happened in Paris, I appreciate the gift of the anousim, Jews who were forced to convert before and during the Spanish Inquisition. Many led double lives for generations to pass on their legacy in secret. And this year, their descendants - the children of the Inquisition - and historians gathered at Netanya Academic College in Israel for a conference that explored the path and history of Sephardic Jews who spread from Spain to Central and Latin America, Eastern Europe and parts of the United States.

Many of them share stories like mine. Hidden identity. Family secrets. Fading memories. A nagging feeling of not belonging. And then a genealogical quest, which in my case ultimately led from California, to Costa Rica, to Spain and an Inquisition investigation of my ancestors for heresy.

My cousin remembers that my great aunt, Luz, kept a bronze menorah in her cupboard in a garden apartment in San Jose, Costa Rica. I never asked her about it because I had no idea about our past - though in later years people would ask me constantly about my Sephardic last name, Carvajal, which in some spelling variations means lost place, rejected.

Now I picture Aunt Luz's menorah as a worn object, flecked green, touched by many hands. My Costa Rican relatives remember that her father would join his close friend, a rabbi, every weekend, and the family would gather for weekly Saturday lunches. But outwardly they represented themselves as Catholics - though both Aunt Luz's mother and father were descended from Sephardic Jewish families.

I later realized that Aunt Luz was the family historian who guarded the legacy of the anousim. But I had to become a family detective to figure that out.

I immersed myself by moving to the south of Spain for a summer with my family, starting with some work on the family tree my father had compiled going back 11 generations. He had started with yellow newspaper clippings carefully taped in a little book by my grandmother from Costa Rica.

We settled in Arcos de la Frontera in a white house clinging on the side of a limestone cliff and a short walk from the remains of a Jewish quarter and a synagogue transformed into an orphanage during the Inquisition.

There in Andalusia, I explored the history, geography, economy, music and art of their times. It was a form of right brain genealogy, making an emotional connection to ancestors. Family stories are like antiques, something revealed by rubbing old oak till it shines. But I still yearned for exactitude, hard facts to end doubts.

For proof, I tried a more classic approach, compiling the crossword puzzle of my family tree. I had already hit a wall on the Carvajal line after discovering that my second great grandfather had taken the name of his mother, Maria Carvajal. There was no document listing the father and I could not find more information about Maria.

That was a critical lesson in genealogy. I had stubbornly ignored other branches of the family tree. So finally I looked in a new direction: the ancestry of my grandmother, Angela Chacón.

I had assumed my grandmother was also a Sephardic Jewish descendant because of the clannish way she was married off at 17 into the Carvajal family when she was orphaned.

Her ancestor was Juan Vásquez de Coronado, a conquistador from Salamanca, Spain, who eventually became the governor of Costa Rica. Then he married a Spanish aristocrat, Isabel Arias Dávila, daughter of a conquistador and descended from a prominent family from Segovia.

History books are filled with references to the Arias Dávila family who were pursued by the Inquisition. They were secret Jews investigated for heresy and "judaizing."

Their dramas are preserved in Inquisition folder 1,413, No. 7, in handwritten script and housed in the Madrid national archives. Almost 200 pages are devoted to their daily habits, gleaned from neighbors turned spies - wedding rituals, burial clothes, prayers and their taste for adafina lamb stew of chick peas and cinnamon, slow cooked on hot embers overnight and served on the Sabbath.

At last I understood the fear inherited by generations. It was the most prominent trial in the medieval history of Segovia, a public demonstration of the rising power of the Inquisition with 231 witnesses testifying about the family.

They were wealthy conversos who struggled to remain Jews, split between two religions at the dawn of the Inquisition in 1478. Their patriarch was Diego Arias Dávila, my distant great grandfather, 16 times removed, born in 1380. His Jewish family converted to Christianity in 1411 in the tense period in Segovia after the arrival of a fiery preacher named Vincent Ferrer.

In their daily lives, the family mixed identities. Diego Arias Dávila, a royal financial advisor to two kings, made donations to the church, but his wife, Elvira, also a convert at age 11, helped fund construction of a synagogue.

According to the Inquisition records, when Diego was on his deathbed at 86, he thundered at the Franciscan friars who had come to administer last rites to go to the devil.

Their son, Juan Arias Dávila, was the powerful bishop of Segovia for more than 30 years. Yet not even he could fend off the inquisitors of Tómas de Torquemada who targeted the family in a political clash with the bishop.

It was whispered that when Diego Arias Dávila and his wife, Doña Elvira, were buried their remains were prepared according to Jewish custom, wrapped in a cape and a hood. That was enough cause to provoke an investigation of 23 counts of "judaizing."

Jews and Christians testified about their most banal habits. Doña Elvira sent unleavened bread and lettuce to Jewish friends at Passover. On Saturdays she "idled" with Jews.

As the Inquisition's investigation proceeded, the bishop secretly disinterred his family's remains from their tomb and took refuge in Rome. From exile, he fought the Inquisition's accusations without a record of a final ruling.

I tried in vain to find where the canny bishop hid the remains of his parents. Then one day, with the research of a relentless documentary producer for a project called "The Children of the Inquisition," I met some of my ancestors.

They were buried in crypt in a most unlikely place: a tiny chapel in the backyard garden of a Spanish marquesa who lived in an ancient mansion overlooking Segovia. Her father had rescued the sculptures of Diego Arias Dávila and his daughter some time in the 1950's from a building that was destroyed. They rested in the dark crypt, a short walk from another mansion where inquisitors conducted their investigation.

Today I am still looking for the missing sculpture of Doña Elvira. I feel a bond with her across time. It was clear from the Inquisition testimony that she yearned to maintain family bonds to her Jewish relatives who had not converted. They were so strong that she managed to share something precious with us sixteen generations later.

I was startled when I discovered Doña Elvira's real name, which she changed after her conversion. She was called Clara. It's a strong name that means clear and bright. By coincidence - or maybe not - we named our daughter the French version, Claire.

Now, I hope, it is my daughter's turn to shine bright.