Goosebumps and chills.
It may have been 83 degrees Thursday afternoon in Amado, but when Travis and Eddie Aroz crested the 25-foot rocky hill and looked down at an abandoned cemetery near Interstate 19, they both said the hair on their arms stood up.
They had just found the resting places of their great-grandfather, grandfather, great uncle, great aunt, great uncle-in-law and two babies who are surely relatives as well.
“When I saw this from 30 feet away, I was so overwhelmed I had to stop,” Eddie said. “It hurts. It makes me sad. It’s like they’ve been tossed on the side of the highway, but I guess back then this was common.”
Thursday’s discovery answered decades’ old questions for the Aroz brothers, but it also drove home that they still have mysteries to solve.
The Aroz brothers, Eddie, 51, and Travis, 49, grew up in Fresno, California, with their two siblings, Arlisa, 52, and David, 41.
From a young age, the siblings often heard the story of how their grandfather, Manuel, was murdered in Arizona in 1949, when their father, Eduardo, was 2. They’d heard the cotton field worker had been in a bar fight and their Aunt Nellie found him dead outside their home.
They didn’t have any idea where he was buried, but they knew their grandmother had remarried and taken all of her children to California.
Two years ago, Travis shelled out $69 to Ancestry.com for a DNA test.
“I just wanted to find out my makeup. We’d heard all of theses stories about what we are,” he said.
The test whetted his appetite and before too long he was paying a monthly fee to use Ancestry’s search engines to dig up more information.
“The big mystery was my dad’s paternal side,” Travis said.
He followed a big paper trail and soon realized documents showed the family name as spelled Aros or Aroz.
He also found census records from 1920 showing his 40-year-old great-grandfather, Jose Maria Aros, was a widower and living in the Amado area with three children. He discovered Manuel’s sister’s marriage license. He also found articles from the Tucson Citizen confirming some of the family’s stories about Manuel’s death.
The biggest shock came just a few months ago, though.
Intrigued by what Travis had been telling him, Eddie decided to Google Manuel’s name. Up popped a June 17, 2017, article from the Green Valley News about the Arivaca Junction Cemetery where a man named Manuel Aros is buried. The article was part of a series on cemeteries written by reporter David Rookhuyzen.
The story described details of Manuel’s death that mirrored what Travis and Eddie had grown up hearing, right down to the dates of their grandfather’s birth and death.
The article mentioned Amado resident Ellie Kurtz, who had discovered the long-abandoned Arivaca Junction Cemetery near the frontage road about two miles north of Arivaca Road.
After a few phone calls, Travis and Eddie were booked on a flight so they could meet Kurtz and visit the cemetery.
“It’s amazing. All these right here are family,” Eddie said shortly after arriving at the site.
“I just wish I knew him and I wish my father had gotten to know him,” he said, looking at his grandfather’s grave.
The brothers spent about an hour at the cemetery paying their respects and speculating. Who do the 20 to 30 unmarked graves nearby belong to? Who lays under the concrete slab with the broken crosses? Who placed the artificial flowers on their relatives’ graves?
What will become of the cemetery as the years go by?
Travis plans to continue his search. He’d like to know the circumstances and order of his relatives’ deaths and he’d like to explore the Mascareno family his great-aunt, Maria Jesus Aros Mascareno, married into. He’d also like to know about the two “Baby Boy” Mascarenos buried nearby.
At least they now have some answers for their children and their grandchildren, Travis said.
Travis, who works in human resources for a global manufacturing company, has four children. Eddie, a frozen food supervisor, has two daughters and four grandchildren.
“I never liked history in high school,” Travis said, “but I’m starting to love it now.”
Kim Smith | 547-9740