The journey started when Rosemarie Romero discovered a box of old black-and-white photographs at her Grandpa Vicente’s house.

She began by taking small steps and asking a few questions when the Romero family was invited by the Historic Tomé Adelino Neighborhood Association to be one of 13 families to supply pictorials to be displayed at the Raices del Rio Abajo at Belen City Hall on April 5.

“I was overwhelmed with the idea of reclaiming our history,” Rosemarie recalls with a smile.

The lifelong resident of Tomé joined her primas for a remarkable, life-changing experience. The close-knit group of six cousins kept watch over one other while growing up in the Rio Abajo.

Rosemarie, along with cousins Melissa Romero Flores, Clarissa Romero Flores, Annette Romero Torrez, Lisa Romero Gabaldon and Carolyn Romero, got involved by gathering photos and visiting with family.

“We were so busy getting everything together,” she says. “It was very emotional to see our family history unfold beneath our eyes.”

The cousins set out to complete their research by meeting on a regular basis to sort through piles of unidentified pictures and letters from the past.

“We all grew up pretty close, meeting together at Grandpa’s house. We played together every day,” says Clarissa Romero Flores. “So many of us stayed in the area. In fact, some of us still live on the same land. This area has been in our family for generations.”

And working on the “Raices del Rio Ajabjo” project was the perfect jump start for the family to hold an upcoming family reunion.

“We really invested a lot of time and heart into this. I think each one of us saw a great deal of personal growth,” Rosemarie said.

“It’s important to know where you come from. It makes you want to dig for more history. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Although time has passed and Tomé doesn’t look quite the same, the cousins remember their childhood neighborhood fondly.

“There were no fences. Everyone used to know their neighbors who walked down the street. I can remember waving to family members from across the field,” Melissa recalls.

Rosemarie, the oldest daughter of six, remembers how her hardworking grandfather used to drive a horse and buggy. “He had to plan the day to go and get groceries, to stay the night in Albuquerque,” she says.

“It was very rural. Everyone had outhouses. My dad used to sell wood we’d use for fire. There was herding cattle. They were real cowboys.”

The daily exercise of researching their family history allowed the cousins to get to know their aunts and uncles on a new, one-on-one basis.

“This project forces us to visit. Even though we had access to research and documentary material, it took someone to invite us to be a part of this project to take the chance. We realized we could even discover more about our family. This is a start,” she said.

Happy and sad stories have filled the journey. The cousins say a few of the older relatives have had a hard time adjusting to the idea of the cousins’ quest for family lineage. Imagine the emotional rises and falls, lots of laughing and crying and staying up hours to laugh over yesterdays long ago.

“Some think it’s invasive, but that’s because they’re used to being so private,” Rosemarie says. “It’s truly an honor. Now, our aunts and uncles are more open to telling stories and breaking down the barriers after all these years.”

For anyone who is interested in tracing their family tree, the cousins suggest limiting research to specific subjects. “It helps to set goals,” Carolyn says. “You don’t want to get discouraged from being overwhelmed.”

Magical memories have formed through becoming part of this special project.

The cousins now treasure written relics of the past, such as old journals from when their grandpa watered the fields, sold hay or helped a new calf being born.

If not for Raices del Rio Abajo, who knows when these special relics from the past would have been discovered. These old boxes of photographs can be now be visited by the public in the family’s black-and-white pictorial.

Rosemarie describes being part of this premier project as a great honor.

“I can just picture my grandpa … standing tall in his cowboy hat. He’d be so proud. This is a way to honor him.”

Grandpa Romero was 72 when he passed away, and the cousins say they can still feel his presence when they open the gate near their house and hear the sound of the wind. “We imagine that he’s there,” Carolyn said.

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Jennifer Harmon