Southwest Jewish History
Volume 2, Number 1, Fall 1993

Gone But Not Forgotten

By Melissa Amado

As a child I was captivated by family stories concerning early Tucson history, and my interests in the Amado family history have continued to grow. I have interviewed many of my older relatives and, according to a family story, the Amado family of Southern Arizona can be traced to four brothers who left Spain sometime during the 1790s to serve as presidio soldiers. Three of these brothers settled in the Tucson and Sonora areas. The other brother is said to have settled in California.

During the 1850s my great-great-grandfather, Manuel Amado, was involved in freighting cattle and goods from Mexico to California. Manuel did very well with his freighting business and was able to diversify his business interests to include ranches, a dairy farm and a butcher shop. In the 1880s the U.S. government established the San Xavier Indian Reservation and confiscated the dairy farm and family home belonging to Manuel and his wife, Ismael Ferrer de Amado. Manuel and Ismael moved their ranching interests further south and established Amadoville, Arizona. In 1920 Demetrio, their son and my great-grandfather, was the postmaster and formally changed the name of the town to Amado.

Among Manuel's and Ismael's Tucson landholdings, a house was built on the Amado compound in 1880 (in the present day area of Fifteenth Street and Stone Avenue). I now have in my possession the original quit-claim deed for the purchase of lots 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on Block 15 of the Grand View Addition to the City of Tucson, Pima County, Territory of Arizona. This property was purchased for the sum of fifty dollars from Albert and Bettina Steinfeld by Vicente Ferrer, father of Ismael Amado. This purchase was incorporated with the Amado property on Block 15, which later was listed in the Tucson City Directories as the "Amado Block." The original Amado house is now used as the headquarters for the Tucson Symphony Society on Stone Avenue. In 1905 my great-great grandmother, Ismael had a two-story Victorian home built on Fifteenth Street. She also had a private prayer room built on a raised landing outside of the house on the westside of the structure. The entrance to this prayer room could be reached only through the inside of the house. The family sold the property in the 1940s and it was purchased by the Tucson Symphony Women's Association during the 1970s. This organization has successfully restored the home to its old glory and the house is protected by the U.S. National Historic Register. However, the prayer room no longer remains but the landing is still present.

In 1989 I was in Los Angeles and decided to reach any Amados listed in the telephone directory as an attempt to find the lost California branch. I received replies from two individuals, one of whom was definitely related to me. The other was from Richard Amado, who started his letter with "I don't think I can help very much...." and ended his letter with "I am a Sephardic Jew." His letter raised many questions on the religious origins of the Spanish Amados. I am greatly indebted to Richard Amado for responding to my inquiry since he provided me with insights to the other side of the Amado family.

In May of 1989 I had a meeting with Professor Abraham Chanin and started asking him questions, and he responded by offering a variety of reading materials dealing with Sephardim. Through cross-referencing materials I have found information on Amados in Spain where they were known as a converso family. Currently I am pursuing leads on Amados throughout the United States and trying to find any links to my Spanish ancestors.

In the literature dealing with conversos, the family name Lopez is frequently cited as being tried or wanted by the Spanish Inquisition. I began to wonder about my mother's family origins, the Lopezes. On several occasions I heard references to the family being Jewish but no explanations were given. In 1991 one of my maternal great-aunt's decided I should know about the family. She explained to me that the family has always known about being Jewish. Yet she and her siblings were baptized as Catholics in a small Arizona town. My great-aunt is the only practicing Catholic among her siblings. As a child she went on to make her first holy communion in Los Angeles. However, none of the family attended the service. In discussions with one of my cousins he has explained to me that the family frequently intermarried among cousins and maintained knowledge of a Jewish identity. Some of the family households would light candles on Friday evenings. To this day, many members within the family continue to abstain from consuming pork. The present generation of the Lopez family are members of various Christian religions, but some have continued to carry on the family's secret traditions.

In searching for information on my own family, I have broaden my interests to include other Hispanics. I use the term Hispanic to include individuals with Mexican, Mexican American, Cuban American, Puerto Rican and Spanish/British ancestries since I have interviewed people from these various ethnic nationalities. I approach this subject with great sensitivity since some members within my own family as well as other families have refused to share with me any information on a Jewish past. Yet, there have been many others who are very receptive to searching for their family origins. My graduate work at the University of Arizona has been focused upon interviewing and tracing converso descendants. The legacies of the conversos will never be forgotten.

Melissa Amado holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Arizona. She is completing her coursework on a second Master of Arts degree at the University of Arizona. She is an adjunct faculty member at Pima Community College and continues her research interests at the Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives.

pioneers gif