Black Sheep Sunday

August 9, 2009 at 03:36 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Black Sheep Sunday, Carnival of Genealogy, family history, genealogy | 2 Comments
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I have had a difficult time trying to decide who fits the bill for this post this week. I finally settled on: MYSELF!

I’m the one in our family who has always been “out there in front” getting myself into hot water or being noticed or just having fun. Fortunately I never got into real trouble as in breaking the law or being arrested or kicked out of school – too much of a people pleaser for that! When I was younger I was the baby sister to the older quieter smarter and even prettier sister. I was always hearing the admonition to “please try to be more like your sister!” My parents loved me – I never doubted that. My sister and I are friends. But I do believe I aged my parents in comparison to my sister!

I was always looking for fun and more friends. I would rather smile than cry and always had another story to tell. Along the way I remember my grandmother always having her Brownie camera handy. She would line everyone up here or there for one more photo. She drove most of the family crazy then but we love those old photos now. Advance it a bit forward and my father was the one with the camera. Around the war years he took great sepia toned portraits that my mother lovingly hand tinted. They then sold them for extra money. Later he invested in a Kodak Retina Reflex 35mm camera. He took incredible floral and landscape photography and made a slide presentation that my mother gave professionally for years. By the time I was ready for college I owned the same 35mm camera and took studies in black and white everywhere I went.

Soon I was busy raising children and being a wife. I was engaged in all the usual activities with the boys as they grew. Our lives were a series of tall mountain peaks and lowly dark caverns too low to be called valleys. We marked those early years by one family crisis (mostly medical) after another. I was usually embroiled in being the medical advocate for one family member or another, always the vocal out in front one.

Fast forward to the camcorder era. Suddenly there I was again with a camera in hand taking the videos this time. We would travel overseas and strangers would gather to watch me film, marveling in the LCD on the back of the camcorder. Finally one of my sons took the camcorder from me in self defense. He became the videographer – and a very good one at that! Then came those interesting APS cameras. That was too short an era for me! I loved those long long photos great for landscapes and for family shots. They reminded me of those old fashioned photos years ago that rolled out 2 or 3 foot long in the dark sepia tones of my great grandparents’ era. Soon they were gone along with the special frames and photos albums they used to sell for the photos.

Then life changed again for us. My oldest son became a martial arts pro. He has the keen ability to make incredibly high jumps up into midair. And every one (or 90% anyway) of my photos blurred. This son began doing photo shoots professionally and introduced me to the world of Nikon SLR. He’s a little sorry about that now as he feels he’s created a monster of sorts. Once more I am out in the thick of things with a camera in hand. Our last trip to Italy resulted in over 1500 raw photos. And of course there’s this blog and my family history books and other books I write. There’s always one more story to tell or one more experience to share. Our life is probably crazier than most reality TV shows. I used to say I was practicing a script for a soap opera because no one believed half of our trials and travails! I always figured I would share it because to laugh is more fun than to cry.

So I attend City Council meetings where I have become politically but politely vocal. I write books and detail our family history on various websites. And finally I have taken to writing blogs. Am I officially the black sheep of the family? I am certainly the noisiest one. My in-laws laugh and encourage me although I am not sure they always understand me. My sons do not embarrass easily so they too usually encourage or even come up with one more idea. (I have a son helping me to grow my online presence.) And my husband? He winks and says he ‘knew’ I was crazy enough the night he met me. He smiles and tells me thanks for not changing ever. SO I may not be the totally black sheep of the family but I am one of the messier ones!

Treasure Chest Thursday

August 6, 2009 at 00:02 | Posted in ancestry, Bits and Pieces, family history, Fun Reminders of Italy, genealogy, Italy, Treasure Chest Thursday | 5 Comments
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Don Camillo Series by Giovanni Guareschi 

Original by Giovanni Guareschi for Don Camillo
Original by Giovanni Guareschi for Don Camillo

(copyrighted to Giovanni Guareschi)

I grew up in the small village of Easton, Connecticut.  Once a week, Samuel Staples Elementary School would walk a class over to the Town Hall basement to the town library. I would check out the maximum number of books allowed because I so loved to read. Soon I was through all of the books in my own division and the librarian made the decision to permit me more mature books. I discovered Don Camillo! Written by the Italian author Giovanni Guareschi, they were wonderfully written simple vignettes of Italian life in a Po River Valley town. The communist mayor was constantly battling the local parish priest. Aside from the flavorful way Guareschi presented an ageless moral and political struggle, this series seeped deep into my soul. I so loved these books, I hated to return them and would renew them over and over. Recently I was able to purchase old fragile copies of a few of them online and fell in love all over again. As a child they burned a dream into my heart of living in Italy but in time I got caught up in life and the dream was buried until I met Valentino. The visits to Itri awakened those dreams again. It was as if I had always known these familiar little villages and towns.

So this series of wonderful books is my offering to this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday. Make an effort to read these books and discover as I did the lure they have. They’re my treasure because they led me to a desire to know Italy. When I met and fell in love with my husband, it was the icing on my cake to fall in love with a native Italian! He is my real tresure and the reason my heart bursts and sings!

Addition to Wordless Wednesday

August 5, 2009 at 10:54 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, DiCrocco, family history, genealogy | Leave a comment
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Favorite Photo Ever - 1977 Italy

Favorite Photo Ever - 1977 Italy


I am blessed! It’s still the same!

It’s Tombstone Tuesday!!

August 4, 2009 at 15:19 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, family history, family research, genealogy, Italy, Itri, Italy, Tombstone Tuesday | Leave a comment
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In honor of Tombstone Tuesday here in Genealogy Blog-ville, and in honor of A. Coffin’s blog (great reading I might add!) at  We Tree   I am posting just a few photos of graveyards in Italy. It is interesting how the Italians have compensated for lack of available ground to bury their dead. Aside from the wall crypts, they also have chapels in each cemetery where after so many years, they remove the bones from graves and transfer them to bone rooms under the chapels. This too is consecrated area and where families place flowers and say prayers. Sadly the result is that not enough of the old graves exist for families to use then to track their ancestors. Records of those graveyards tend to also not be complete.

Memorial to Victims of Bombing Raids, WWII in Itri, Italy

Memorial to Victims of Bombing Raids, WWII in Itri, Italy

Just about every city in Italy has its own cemetery usually walled off with the chapel as in Itri.
Sidewall Itri, Italy Cemetary

Sidewall Itri, Italy Cemetary

Entrance to Cemetary Itri, Italy

Entrance to Cemetary Itri, Italy

Closeup Entrance to Itri Cemetary

Closeup Entrance to Itri Cemetary

Sadly many of the gravestones to the older existing graves are falling into disrepair due to lack of funds or to local family there to tend to them. Many localities are trying now to preserve the older graves. Interestingly many graves have simple flat metal crosses, many without names. Most gravestones will have photos of the deceased. I am not posting those closeups because Italy has been enforcing stricter privacy laws and it would not be fair to disrespect them by ignoring their wishes.
Broken Gravestone Campodimele, Italy

Broken Gravestone Campodimele, Italy

Old Gravestone Campodimele, Italy

Old Gravestone Campodimele, Italy

Imprinted on DNA?

April 4, 2009 at 00:53 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, family history | Leave a comment
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Growing up there were always shelves and shelves of books in our home. They would be almost bursting with the books! I cannot remember a time as a small child when my mother did not read to me… mostly there were children’s bible stories at bedtime but always there was time for the classics too at some point during the day. My mother also wrote her own poetry. Some were humourous and some serious. But she had a small brown notebook where she  would add poem upon poem whenever she was inspired. Each special occassion in our lives would have another of her poems just for us.

My father invested in books, wonderful leather bound volumes trimmed in gold leaf on the edges. All of the classics. Later there would be year upon year of Readers Digest Hard Cover Condensed Books™. I still have a huge box with several of my favorite ones. This box has travelled with me, moved from house to house, state to state with me for well over thirty years. Then followed several years’ worth of subscriptions to National Geographic Magazines™. They joined us on all of our moves too. It felt irreverent to destroy any of them. When a small flood or a hurricane destroyed a book, it was like losing an old friend. For my father even the reading of a newspaper was not undertaken lightly. He taught me to read every section, every article no matter how uninteresting they seemed at the time. The point was to read it, to learn from it, to file it away mentally against the time it might have more meaning or be useful. If nothing else, it taught one how to learn, how to think, how to become more informed so that one could form an intelligent decision later because you were informed enough of the facts as well as the emotions of a topic. When it came to writing reports, he taught me to properly cite sources. He taught me how to find those sources and he taught me to write those reports in a detailed concise logical manner using the information he had already taught me to read and remember. He always emphasized to not be stuck in a habit of reading only one genre of literature but to read all types to gain a full appreciation of everything written.

I never kept a diary. Oh, I owned diaries, a cute pink vinyl Miss Ponytail series, or later more “adult” type ones with cute little gold keys to hide somewhere private. But I never filled those diaries beyond the “If found, please return to…..” line or the “This diary is the private diary of ….” line. I was not willing to write out my private thoughts for someone else to read. The very thought of someone finding the book and reading my thoughts terrified me. What would they think of me? Would they think me crazy? Or would they think me conceited that I could possibly think anyone would be interested in me? My cheeks would burn in shame at such thoughts – and yet I enjoyed writing assignments in school. Just not my own personal diary type thoughts written in neat little books.

Every holiday since I was a newborn my grandmother would send me a card, an Easter or Christmas, or even a Halloween card. Later they would become a wedding card, congratulations on the new baby card, baptism cards. Then soon each baby would begin to receive their own special cards from her. Now they are neatly tucked away in scrapbooks to be read again and again. Through all of my college years, every week the mailbox would hold a beautiful envelope addressed to me in her neat handwriting. I would love those missives from home. There would often be a cartoon or little newspaper clipping tucked inside. I would answer her back writing letters on lined notebook paper.

When my dad passed away I realized he was truly gone when there were no more bags of books being dropped off along with the admonition to not let little hands tear or scribble pages. How I missed those books! No more talks about which story was the most interesting or about some new unusual find detailed in the pages of the magazine. Soon after my grandmother also passed away. Suddenly my mailbox was also empty of the cards I so loved. No more beautiful scented stationary or pastel envelopes with pretty flower decals on the back sealing the flap or with neat address labels pasted in the upper left corners.

I began to find myself drawn to boxes of all occasion cards. Two for one sales at Hallmark Cards enticed me more than other sales. Flea market books stalls lure me with their rows and stacks of old books, drawing me to browse for hours feeling their old jackets and reveling in the smells of old books. A trip to Barnes and Noble is a favorite way to while away a day. It is the wonderful collections of journals that now tempt me. Not the cutesy diaries of my youth, but the luscious leather embossed journals filled with lined pages begging me to write in them. They call to me to pour out all of my thoughts, my personal dreams and fears and aspirations and ramblings. Delicate rice paper books and elegant linen stationary beg me to take them home. Who will I write such important letters to? Who will read these letters and journals? Maybe no one will want to read them. Maybe they will simply be tucked away hidden from everyone only to be burned someday instead of read. I only know that for now I must write, I must fill them. It is something burning inside of me that cannot be ignored, cannot be denied. Is this then some act of DNA, something passed from mother to son to me? I do not know if my grandmother wrote to me because she wanted to stay in touch with her granddaughter or if it was something more for her. I know she loved me unconditionally and shared that love in every letter and card, not ashamed for anyone else to read her private emotions so beautifully written out. Was she also driven by some force of DNA to write instead of calling on the phone? She never said. I do know this legacy of the love of the written word and the power it holds is one she passed to her son who then passed it on to me. It came also from my mother who could not deny the call to write. Was she also passed a speck of DNA that compelled her? Is this love of the written word imprinted deeply, so deeply in our family DNA? I only know as I hold those poems, those books, those magazines, those cards and letters, I sense again their love and know that this is the legacy I hope to pass to my sons and their children.

Project Completed .. Or Just Begun?

March 15, 2009 at 14:41 | Posted in family history, family research, genealogy | Leave a comment
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As a major undertaking of love for our sons I began a Family History Book for them as Christmas gifts. I had taken over two years to write short vignettes, recounting of family tales, first impressions, sad times, good times,  about how Val and I met, married, traveled to meet his parents for the first time, and of later visits back to Italy. I loaded it with favorite photographs I had taken over the years. Then I went to Ancestry.com and took advantage of the MyCanvas program they offer free on site.

If you have not yet looked this program over, it is worth the time. There are a few bugs or quirks that I learned to work around such as making sure to not privatize the file before importing it. Photos cannot be bulk uploaded yet but it is unlimited uploads. There are great backgrounds available so I was able to personalize ours for an  Italian look easily. One of those quirky issues is that it is not possible to save to a file on your hardrive or to a CD – they want to sell the books. They do however, allow you to print out copies – but with a few simple restrictions. When you print, the pages with backgrounds do “eat” ink so be prepared. Read all the directions very carefully so you do not forget issues like in order to keep all the page enhancements be sure to print in normal mode when that button is shown. It only remembers five pages at a time to print (although you can do multiples of those five pages). I chose not to add page numbers because I kept adding too many pages – next time I will be more organized about who I add when and where so that I can use page numbers too. Overall this is a great product and well worth the time to learn to use it! I bet those leather covers are gorgeous too!

Now we are getting ready for a trip to see family. So now I am saving all my work of the family stories and family tree to a .pdf format and burning to disc for everyone. Carrying multiple books would  be much too heavy, not to mention cost prohibitive to print. Almost all have access to computers so they can enjoy the book in its electronic version and then save a family tree file to their computer to continue to work on! It will be fun to see their reactions to all of the research. The last time we shared information I had about 300 people – it is now at 743 and a total of 9 generations. Unfortunately, the maternal line is only grandparents and a dead end! Absolutely no information has been found on the maternal side yet! Hopefully this trip will finally break down some of those  bricks and allow a little light in! Of course this is all in reference to Val’s family – my side has probably double that many included so the files put together would number a few thousand folks.

My sister has been doing most of the work on the Scottish and German clans of our parents. She has made a couple of beautiful books on both families. She has been able to include a lot of the information of our area of Connecticut where we grew up and is expanding that now to Scotland and Germany. I figure I can let her work on that while I try to pursue as much of Val’s family as possible before we lose any more information. So many of the records from Italy have been destroyed over time and are continuing to deteriorate. And of course, older members of the family have been passing away. So I must do all I can now before we cannot go further back.

So I want to tell you all about a great blog Nan’s House – http://nanashouse.wordpress.com  – she is the type you feel like you are sitting at the kitchen table with and just gabbing away together! Anyway – she is also a genealogy fan and has some great suggestions – one of which I am planning on learning and using for my project. It is called Passages Express – you will find the link on her blog – they offer a free trial before you buy and the price is fantastic! Less than Starbucks lattes for two weeks! I am now working on the trial offer version but think I am going to invest in their deluxe because the price is too good to believe and it seems to be perfect for what I want to do! I like especially that it allows burning of CDs/DVDs in both North American and PAL formats – perfect for overseas family members!Check out Passages Express and Nana’s House – you won’t be disappointed!

Cooking with Family… or… How I hate to Diet!

March 13, 2009 at 17:04 | Posted in ancestry, family history, Itri, Italy | 2 Comments
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We’re a typical Italian family (even if I am was not born Italian, my husband claims I am one now thanks to 32 years of marriage with him!). This means most of life takes place around the dining room table – or in the kitchen, laughing, yelling, crying… all the stuff that makes a family real and vibrant and breathing! It seems almost every family story starts or ends in the kitchen, sitting eating, or cooking! We have four young adult sons who all still enjoy returning home to family meals — and now our granddaughters are falling right into line.

We laugh till we cry when the girls start begging mommy to let them go to grandma and grandpa’s house because they are hungry. Meg visits several days a week for lunch and enjoys grandpa’s fresh baked bread. Katie and Julie insist it is “pasta zoulie” at our house that is best. That’s pasta fagioli (pasta and beans) for the rest of you!

So this Christmas I visited the MyCanvas program on ancestry.com to make a family cookbook for everyone. I realized that those times in the kitchen were pretty special about the time the sons had good friends returning on furlough from the service who came to visit, too. We are “mom and pops’ to a lot of great guys who have been friends for most of their lives with our sons. Yet these young men so mature and even married will still look forward to “coming home for dinner” at our table!

So it was that I decided to make family our own family cookbook. I filled it with photos of great meals over the years, someof us in the kitchen actually cooking, and, of course, the finished presentation! Each recipe page featured a few lines about who taught me the recipe or who was the best at making it or when we enjoyed it the most. Anything that would make the recipe relevant to each other and remind them years from now of family times together no matter where life takes them. Hopefully it will be the memories of long talks until late in the evening at the big table that will guide and sustain them no matter what curves life throws them or what the economy does or who comes into or leaves their lives. Because as every Italian knows, if the sauce is cooking and the smell is tempting them to stir the pot and dip a piece of bread, Mama and Papa’s love is still surrounding them, embracing them, holding them tight!

Try this sure to please everyone recipe:

Spaghetti Carbonara

1 lb. bacon 2-4 eggs 1/4 cup basil

2- 4 tblspns. cream (I use milk)

at least 8 ounces grated cheese – good quality 1-2 lbs. spaghetti

Brown bacon until crispy and crumbly. St aside. Drain pan but reserve 2 tblspns. bacon grease. Add cream to the bacon grease and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Set pan aside. Boil spaghetti. While it is boiling, scramble eggs in separate bowl. add basil and cheese to the raw eggs and mix. It will be a thick batter consistency. When pasta is cooked, drain and rinse. Add back to pot – add warm milk and bacon grease to pasta – then stir in egg and cheese mixture. The heat of the cooked pasta and warm milk will “cook” the raw eggs. Toss well with the crumbled bacon, reserving some as garnish – put in large bowl – top with last of crumbled bacon. Once they stop eating the only thing you will hear is “Why didn’t you make more of this?”!

Tick, Tick, Tick…

March 11, 2009 at 14:33 | Posted in ancestry, family history, genealogy | Leave a comment
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If today’s post seems to ramble, bear with me – my thoughts and emotions are also rambling today. I hear the ticking of a clock in my head and I would rather not be hearing it. Today I am sixty… 60…. SIXTY… how did this happen? When? Why? I am not ready to be sixty….that is more than half my life gone. I do not feel sixty (although there are admittedly days I feel 120 but that’s another post some other day).I am still trying to come to grips with forty. Yes, the photo found here online is current. I just plain am not ready to be old. Who wants to be old..OLD?? Sigh. When I was young(er), I often would comment on women who tried to be younger than their age. This observation of course, does not apply to Sophia Loren .. probably one of the most beautiful women ever — someone I want to be just like when I finish growing up! Talk about gorgeous in style, looks, attitude!

See — told you I was rambling today! I wanted to grow old gracefully – be the gracious, sophisticated, even elegant older woman.  We seem to respect only youth and beauty – hence the booming plastic surgery statistics. It’s not that I want to undergo the knife – I just am not ready to give up energy, vitality, sexy life yet. Who is proud anymore of being their age? We all seem to want to be something we are not. For me it is not just tied up in a number. I never discuss age with anyone. I hate they think of me as old and over the hill (yeah.. I know dumb point given conceivably the entire world could be in the know now thanks to the Internet). At work, I strive to be a little better, a little more efficient, a little more organized, a little more knowledgable than the others to compensate for age. At home, I struggle to be more active, to do more work, again to belie my age. But it is still more than that. What have I accomplished in my life? It is more than half over – what do I have to show for it or have I wasted too much time? Even though I went to college for five years as a teen and twenty-something, I returned to college for a BS in Business Administration to update myself. I finished with a 3.8 overall – so old dogs do learn new tricks. I changed careers in my fifties from retail and office management to the medical field. I know I have contributed to saving lives. So that probably also counts for something. My husband and I together raised four great sons to adulthood. They are all successful in their own rights. That should count too. In the past I did church volunteering to feed hungry folks, taught classes at church for women’s groups, did church counseling. We have done emergency shelter care for families and for children when a need arose.

Yet, has it been enough? I realized today I have lived longer than my father – he died four weeks before his sixtieth birthday. Last month we celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary – by today’s standards, that is an accomplishment too. As I work on all the family records from Itri, I note the women in the family who died in their twenties and thirties. There are few records to detail why or how – life in old Italy was difficult and death early was not unusual. Did they have time to think about growing old? Did they want or expect to accomplish anything worthwhile or bigger than themselves — or did they consider being the best person they knew how to be enough?  Was their focus merely surviving – or did it entail wanting to make a better life for their children than they knew? Once again I find myself caught in thinking of the past generations. I want to know, to understand, to feel what they did — I want their lessons to be ones I learn and then pass on to the next generations to come. That is the accomplishment I seek – to pass that love of family above all to the next generations to anchor them no matter what they face.

Happy Birthday me.

Courageous Women of the Family

January 10, 2009 at 18:25 | Posted in Amore di Italia, ancestry, family history | Leave a comment
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Courage of Our Women

Watching news reports of the missiles and bombs in Gaza has been leading me to reflect on the women of our family and how remarkable they were. Regardless of whether one is pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, one would have to be made of stone to not have compassion for the women and children of both sides caught up in the current hostilities and wars.

My own mother faced my father going off to the South Pacific in WWII with the American Navy. She was left home to work and care for their infant daughter. Cell phones and Internet email were not options  then. Regular mail – handwritten (or the occasional typed) letters were slow to arrive and usually blacked out in many lines by the censors.

My mother-in-law saw the same war as a victim of location. She lived in Itri, Italy – a small town at that time located midway between Roma and Napoli. That meant all armed forces no matter whose marched through and bombed their way through Itri just as they had since before the Romans! The family home was in the old part of Itri up the slopes near the castle and the old church, Santa Maria. Fortunately during one of those bombing raids, Concetta heard the planes approach, and ran outside to the archway of the church when the bomb struck, destroying the house and leaving her with concussion deafness. Family along with several other families moved to the cave near her farm. It was safer for the families than the center of town but even with the farms, families were starving. Finally Francesco (my father-in-law) was  able to sneak to a German encampment after one of the bombing raids. There he found horses killed by the blasts  and butchered them, taking the hind quarters back to the caves to feed the families.

All the years growing up, Valentino rarely heard his mother speak of those times. I certainly did not hear the stories from her years later either. She never complained that life was unfair. It was  a fact of life that she had to deal with at the time and she did what was necessary for her family to survive. No televisions crew came to televise their stories, no reporters wrote glowing words to invoke reader sympathies. There was no UN food team or Red Cross clothing drive. She kept the family together and fed them and took them to church and gave them the values of God, family, and Italy to carry through their lives.

I walked the bombed out ruins that linger abandoned today in Italy. The rough edges  are softened by wild vines and grass and moss clinging to the rubble everywhere one walks. I visited old family homesteads  and an ancient concentration camp further north in Italy. I read poignant tombstones in local cemeteries. And I was dumbstruck at the sight of rows of white crosses at Avellino. So much loss  and heartache on all sides. Would I have been able to be as strong and courageous as Concetta? Could I have faced what she did and still have enough love and hope to care for, nurture, and encourage my children? I wonder? But I am so grateful she did.

 

 

 

 

 

Sentimental Journey

January 7, 2009 at 14:51 | Posted in family history, family research | Leave a comment
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This month is always a letdown from the holiday hustle and bustle. But it also is a welcome relief – December is not only Christmas but also an anniversary month but additionally a birthday month for more than five people in our family! Sigh…. but we love them all and would not ever want to ignore!
Unfortunately, this month has also seen the passing of a brother-in-law in Italy and a cousin here stateside. Both were people we loved and enjoyed being with. This bittersweet time has taken me on a very sentimental journey as I think about family and pick up my genealogy research again.
What courageous folks my husband’s ancestors were to make the journey here to the US shortly after the turn of the century. They had no idea for sure what they would face – only the promise of a better life by those they knew who had sent back word. And how did that word get back to them? Most were unable to read and write – education even for the young was only affordable by the very wealthy in Italy. TV was not available, not telephones, certainly not Internet. Yet these brave folks were sure that they would find a better life for their families. We have all seen photos of the big city tenements and sweatshops. Most immigrants would settle in neighborhoods where others of the same ethnic background lived in order to be able to speak to others. Language was a huge barrier for many in addition to learning new money, new attitudes, new ways of life.
Val’s family seemed to settle for the most part in New York and in Rhode Island. Cranston, Rhode Island became a little enclave of folks from Itri, Italy. Therefore many family traditions and Italian culture remain to this day. We are blessed that our family held on to some of those special memories. It is my hope that by taking the travel back in time working on their family tree, I will pass those same traditions — and wonderful values of family — on to our future generations.

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