By Tim J. Randall
For Chandler native Jenny Vidal Salzman, the search for her family’s roots began with a simple trip to a cemetery.
Her cousin, Carlos Vidal, ventured from California to the Valley to visit family and pay respects to his grandfather in April. While at the Mesa cemetery, Vidal noticed that, along with his grandfather’s grave, there was a plot registered to a Cristina Vidal.
“The name from 1923 was an 11-month-old baby, who was my father’s sister,” Salzman said. “There were eight in my father’s (Vidal) family when they moved to Chandler in the early 1920s.”
The family was disconcerted because the burial plot was unmarked.
“Something stirred inside of my cousin that day,” Salzman said. “He insisted that the family get a marker for Cristina.”
From that point, the family began a flurry of activity. Vidal and his siblings sought to raise $600 to purchase a proper headstone for Cristina.
“At first I thought it was a wild idea,” Salzman said.
Fast forward to July and Vidal and his family members from California placed the marker at the gravesite.
“I thought the least that I could do was attend the ceremony,” Salzman said.
As with all great mysteries, the plot thickened.
“When we went as a family, we found three more relatives who were buried in the cemetery, who also had no markers on their plots,” Salzman said. “One of the deceased was my father’s brother, Manuel, who was one of my uncles.”
Once again, the family came together to recognize their roots and heritage and began raising $1,900 to purchase proper headstones.
“As soon as I saw that bare piece of land and no way to identify who was in it, we were all moved,” Salzman said. Besides her uncle, her paternal aunt and her cousin also received markers.
The process of uncovering this information was a daunting one, with family members conducting research at the cemetery office as well as combing through family records for information on birthdays, dates of death and other important milestones.
“My husband Bart conducted a lot of research,” Salzman said.
As it turned out, the endeavor to record the Vidal history was not quite complete. The family uncovered yet a fifth relative without a headstone.
“Another of my father’s brothers, Raphael was not buried in Mesa, but instead in Chandler,” Salzman said. “He was buried next to my aunt who had a marker.”
The family extended their fundraising to ensure that the fifth Vidal would have a proper headstone.
“We all came together and it was amazing,” Salzman said. “Our effort came to be named in the family as the Not Forgotten project.”
With the four headstones on order, Salzman expects a January ceremony to mark and remember the Vidal legacy.
“Once you see the empty spots of family members you are motivated,” Salzman said. “Anything is possible and this has been an incredible journey. I hope other families get inspired by our story.”