Tag Archives: genealogy

A Love Story and a Wedding

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Once my dad decided that the USA was a nice place to settle down, he sent word home that he was coming back to get married! Since my mom had lost her mother when she was 9 years old, my father’s mother took over that role for her. She took her shopping for everything – mainly the favors and the fabric for her wedding dress. The wedding was going to take place the day after Christmas and the dress had to be designed to fit the season. They decided that it was going to be made of pizzo di lana or wool lace. They chose the fabric and a tea length design to go with the fashions of the times. The seamstress made an incredible gown, that even today, is still in wonderful condition. This dress is definitely an heirloom and a treasure. My mother told me that before sewing the hem, the dress needed to be hung for several days so that the weight of it would settle and the hem could be made straight. One of my mom’s friends was a professional model in Milan, and her wedding gift to my mom was the veil! They went to a very exquisite boutique on the infamous Via Montenapoleone in Milan for the headpiece. Sadly, the veil did not made it through the years. The stays became rusted and ruined the fabric covering the corona.

A few weeks before the wedding, as was the custom, the bride and the groom would make the rounds of their guests and bring the confetti or favors. Because my dad was coming home only two days before the wedding, he wouldn’t be able to go with my mom to make these visits. My uncle ended up going with her instead. Even though she appreciated that he was escorting her, she wished that it had been her fiancé.

The day my father was expected to arrive home was a very foggy and gloomy December day. He would be arriving from Milan by train to their little town of Ispra. My mom wanted to surprise my dad by meeting him at the train station, but it was so foggy that she had a hard time seeing anything. Every person she passed, she stared at them hoping that it would be my father. None of them were, and she went back home forlorn and sad.

That afternoon, my father’s sister came running to her house announcing that my dad had finally arrived!  Why he didn’t go down to her home himself, I don’t know, but maybe that’s just the way things were done back them!

They spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together and all the final preparations for the wedding were made. My father had brought back some vacuum sealed cold cuts from America that were given to him by some friends that owned a salami factory in San Francisco. Vacuum sealing was a new concept at that time, and everyone was so impressed that these cold cuts had come all the way from America. (It’s funny how, at that time, anything that came from America was the best – and now we know that when it comes to cold cuts, Italian products are so much better!). Little finger sandwiches were made with these American delicacies for the wedding feast!

On the day of the wedding, my dad went to my mom’s house with the wedding bouquet. He and my mom walked to the church with their entire entourage of family and friends following behind them. The walk was not far, but the path was all cobblestoned. That didn’t seem to bother my mom as she wore her silk high heeled shoes. She said it was a good thing it wasn’t raining that day, or her shoes would have been ruined!

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During the wedding ceremony, my mom took off her engagement ring and presented it to the Madonna as she had promised when my dad had gone off to America. He had come back, they had gotten married, and now she was going to keep her promise. To this day, on the feast of the Madonna, when they parade the statue through the town, her ring is still there. My mom’s best friend looks for it every year and reports back to my mom!

The reception took place at the villa where my grandmother lived. They had finger foods, champagne, and a beautiful wedding cake (a gift from the town baker, a good friend of my dad’s). They posed for some gorgeous wedding photos and this album has become a beautiful (and rare) treasure to have.

After the reception, the newlyweds took off to begin their honeymoon. The first night was spent in Milan at the Hotel Principe di Savoia.When I went to Milan a few years ago, I was surprised to find out that my hotel was across the street from this very hotel that my parents had stayed at so many years ago. I had to go in to see it and it was still as beautiful and stately as I’m sure it was back in 1955. Before retiring for the night, they had made arrangements to go see a show – Walter Chiari at the Teatro Nuovo . They took the metro and stayed out enjoying their special night. The next morning, they were woken up by the maid because they were still sleeping at 11 am! They were probably so exhausted from all the preparations and excitement of the days before.

They boarded a train that would take them to their honeymoon destination: San Remo on the Italian Coast. I haven’t heard too many stories of this part of the trip only that they visited the famous casino there and dined in the vagone ristorante on the way to San Remo.

Once home from their honeymoon, my dad had to prepare for his trip back to San Francisco. In the meantime, my mom settled her dad with her sister while she moved into the villa with my dad’s mom and younger sister. She didn’t know when she would get the Visa to come to the USA and therefore felt it would be better if she got all her ducks in a row. Little did she know it would take almost three years before she would get that Visa to come to America.

During her time in Italy, while my dad was in the USA, she continued to work. When she got home, she would help my grandmother with her sewing jobs. She shared a room with my father’s youngest sister and they became close friends. They spent time with the custodian’s sisters who were from Sardegna. Young men would pass on the road, looking at these beautiful young girls, and they would refer to my mom as the frutto proibito or the forbidden fruit! My mom missed my dad and the wait was becoming harder and harder to bear.

My dad would come home when he could, and the last time he came home before my mom was allowed to immigrate was going to be the last time. If she wasn’t granted a Visa, he wasn’t going to return to San Francisco. But in a last ditch effort, he asked a priest whom he had known his whole life for assistance. This priest knew the cardinal of Milan, Cardinal Montini. He and my dad went to Milan where they met with the Cardinal’s secretary. They came back very hopeful and were assured that things would work out shortly. Within days, my mom was summoned to the American Consulate in Genova. She was given a physical, and asked some questions as to her intent to emigrate. She was sent home and within a week, she received the notice that the Visa she desired was approved with the help of Cardinal Montini. She was on her way at last. Little did she realize that this same Cardinal Montini would become Pope Paul VI! She still has the letter from the Cardinal granting her the wish she so desired!

She packed a giant trunk and filled it with her dowry. She had linens, tea sets, clothes, and a Madonna that used to be in her bedroom. The mirror on the back of the Madonna was the only thing that broke on the long voyage to San Francisco. Seven years of bad luck definitely did not follow her, though!

Digging up the Past – and Discovering Treasures

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The purpose of my trip to Italy this year was to do some research into my mother’s side of the family – particularly her father’s family. I became interested in finding out about them because, unlike the other places in Italy where I have roots, the province of Padova has online records available through http://www.familysearch.org and I was able to do some research before the trip. The records available date from 1879 – 1910. This part of Italy is also where you find Cittadella – my “home town” and where all my civil records are located! My mom was born there and when I became an Italian citizen, I had the opportunity to choose either the town of my mom’s birth or my dad’s as my “home”. I chose Cittadella because it’s a beautiful medieval walled town which I’d be proud to call my Italian home!

Through my online research, I discovered that both my grandfather’s parents died in 1910 within months of each other. He was only 11 years old and was one of the oldest of 8 children. So my first thoughts were: who raised them? Were they kept together? What did his parents die of? My mother didn’t know any of this and I wasn’t sure how I was going to find out since those kinds of details aren’t readily available in civil records. Determined to figure it out, I did a search for my grandfather’s last name in the White Pages for the town where I knew they lived (in my case, Campo San Martino). I came up with 3 names and addresses, and so I wrote them a snail-mail letter! In this letter, I spelled out exactly who I was and asked if perhaps we were related. Lo and behold, I received a response from 2 of them. One response was from a man who had the same last name but was not part of my direct line of ancestors but nonetheless, he was excited to know another person with the same last name and offered to help me find my family. The other response was from the son of my mom’s first cousin! This was a direct hit! His response included pages from a manuscript which told the story of my grandfather’s family and what happened to them. It turned out that my great grandparents died during a cholera epidemic, leaving all their children behind. An adopted uncle raised the children along with his own children. In 1916, he was responsible for 21 people! This manuscript was beautifully written, but I only had parts of it and I wanted to find out who wrote it and how I could get a full copy! All of these things, plus the desire to meet these newfound cousins, sparked my desire to make this genealogical research trip to the Padova area. Here is my story of discovery and amazement – how all the pieces came together, even more so than I had ever expected!

Our first stop on this journey was Busiago, within the city limits of Campo San Martino. This is the town where my mom’s mother’s family grew up and so I thought that this might be where my grandparents had gotten married. We tried to go to Mass but got the time wrong and so ended up at the church after Communion. We hung around after Mass to see if we could meet the priest and ask some questions about locating my grandparent’s marriage records. We didn’t get to speak to him but we learned that the church had been rebuilt in the 1950’s and therefore the original edifice was no longer there.

We wandered around Busiago a bit – there were prosecco grapes growing all around!  That was all the research we had time for that day, but we had plans to return.

The next day, Monday, we headed back out to the Campo San Martino area and made a visit to the archive office. I was able to locate my grandparent’s marriage certificate as well as my aunt’s birth certificate. Another mystery opened up to me – my grandparents didn’t legally register their marriage until 1927, even though my aunt was born in 1925! Their marriage certificate indicated that they were registering their marriage to legitimize the birth of their daughter. My aunt’s birth certificate showed only my grandfather’s name and no mention of her mother. Did they perhaps get married in church years before and didn’t legally register their marriage civilly? As I found out, only beginning in 1929, did the priest have the authority to legally marry a couple. Before that, a church wedding did not constitute a legal one. I am currently awaiting news from the priest from to see if he can locate the church records of my grandparents’ wedding to see when it really took place.

A trip to the cemeteries of Busiago and Marsango was next. Sadly, most of my ancestors’ graves have been dug up – evidently, the graves are dug up from the ground after 30 years. The only old ones remaining are those that have a crypt. Wandering around Marsango’s cemetery, though, I found two graves which were of interest. I took pictures to remind me of the details.

The next day, we visited the archive office of San Giorgio delle Pertiche which comprises the town of Arsego. Arsego is where my mom lived when she was born and before moving to Lago Maggiore. We didn’t find any real info at the archive office, but decided to visit the church in Arsego to see if maybe my mom’s baptismal records were there. When we met with the priest, he informed us that he had a gentleman who was responsible for the research for these types of records and for me to give him a call in the afternoon to set up an appointment. When we met him in the afternoon, he welcomed us into the rectory. I explained my research and when I gave him my mom’s name, he reacted with a surprised stare. When I confirmed the name, he sat back and said that that was a name that meant a lot to him since he was the grandson of the man who had been adopted by my great-great grandparents and who raised my grandfather after his parents had died! This was a huge surprise and totally unexpected. I told him about the pages of a manuscript that had been sent me and he informed me that he was the author of that manuscript!

He had been a professor of history and therefore very knowledgeable about the historical details of the time period in question. He promised me that he would make me a copy of the entire manuscript to have for my records. He and I were so excited about this coincidence that we had to celebrate! So he took us to the children’s afterschool snack shack at the church where we ordered prosecco! Ha! Ha! Only in Italy! We made plans to see each other the following afternoon, when he would give me the manuscript.

The next morning, Wednesday, I had made plans to visit with my mom’s cousin. When we arrived at their house, we were greeted by a whole group of people. They were so warm and welcoming and invited us into their home…and fed us some delicious pastries! They pulled out a lot of old family photos and were explaining to me who everyone was. They were all so excited to meet us and promised to show us around the Veneto the next time we go! Such a warm welcome from everyone!

That afternoon we went to pick up the manuscript. It was given it to me with so much enthusiasm! He was so excited to be able to share his story (and the story of my ancestors) with me! It’s a great memory which I will always treasure. I plan on translating it into English so that I can pass it down to my children! Once more, to celebrate, he took us to the local bar for another toast (Prosecco)! They sure like to celebrate in Italy every chance they get!

Our last day of family research took us to the church in Marsango. This may actually be the church where my grandparents were married, even though I’m still waiting for the results of that search.

Also, with all the excitement, we realized that we never located my mom’s baptismal certificate in Arsego. But then, after talking to the priest, he mentioned that she was probably baptized at the hospital in Cittadella immediately after her birth, and that those records are probably there. Getting these additional records and maybe some others that are missing from my research will be for a future project. For now, I am so excited about the discoveries that I made – this trip exceeded all my expectations!

Finding my Family’s Roots

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I have always been interested in finding out about my Italian family, but the roadblocks were almost impossible to maneuver unless I were to make a special trip to Italy and spend lots of time in the churches or city halls.  But Familysearch.org changed all that by making some Italian civil records available online (and they keep adding more)!

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Lo and behold, when I looked up what was available, I found that the province of Padova, in the Veneto region, had online records!

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My mother’s family “immigrated” from there to Lago Maggiore in Lombardy back in 1936, so I knew that I might have some luck in locating information about them while they lived in Padova.  I began by finding out where my mother and her sisters were born – that gave me the name of the town in the province. People didn’t move around as much back then, so once you have the name of the town, you can usually find loads of family members’ statistics. And I was right!  The records I found contained a lot of information – among them parents’ names, locations of birth, and whether the parents were alive or deceased at the time of whatever event you are researching. The records available online are from 1871 – 1910, and they contain birth, marriage, and death records, and therefore I knew that I should be able to find information about my grandparents within those years, as well as their parents (and maybe grandparents). With just a few simple word clues, you can decipher a lot of information from those documents (of course, it helps immensely if you can read Italian).  For instance, if the words “fu” or “furano” preceeded the names of the parents, that means that they were deceased.  If it said “di”, then chances were they were still alive.  It was tedious going through all the records, but fortunately there were yearly indexes to help with the search.  The hardest part was keeping all the clues straight!  I had to make a spreadsheet and cross reference all the information I found to see if they really were part of my family’s branch of the tree.  I was successful in tracing my grandfather’s part of the family tree back 4 generations!  I also unearthed a mystery which I was determined to figure out!

My mom’s mother died when she was 9 years old, so she really hadn’t ever spoken to her about her family back in the Padova Province.  But her father lived into his late 60’s so I thought she’d have more information on his family.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  He never really talked about them, other than to say that he had lots of brothers and sisters. Well, from doing the research, I realized why he never spoke of them – when he was just 11 years old, he lost both his mother and father (and baby brother) within one year of each other, leaving him and his 7 younger siblings orphaned.  But who took care of them?  Who raised them?  These are the kinds of questions that genealogy research leads to – these human interest stories that make you want to find out more.  I was like a dog with a bone and needed to find out what happened.  I decided to try something the old fashioned way and did a white pages search (online) for my grandfather’s last name in the vicinity of where they had lived. I found three people with the same last name and decided to write them a letter.  Yes, a real letter! In that letter, I described who I was and mentioned the names of my grandfather’s siblings, in the hopes that one of them had descendants still living in the area. In this letter, I did give my email address so that communication would be easier!  A couple of weeks after my letter went out, I received an email response from one of them.  I found out that they weren’t direct relatives but shared the same last name. She told me that she would be glad to help me find my relatives!  She was so nice and I feel like I made a friend – these are definitely the benefits of putting yourself out there and asking for help.  People are more than willing to help you!

My second response came about a month later and it was the answer to all my questions.  The author of the letter was my mother’s first cousin, whom she never met because she never went back after she moved to Lago Maggiore. Back then, if you moved even only a couple of hundred miles away, you may have well moved to the moon!

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Communication, many times, sadly was lost. Not because of family feuds but simply because it was just too hard. Anyway, this letter contained photo copies of pages from a typed manuscript which detailed what happened to my grandfather’s family. Turns out that his parents and baby brother had died of cholera, during the outbreak of 1910 in the Veneto. When they had fallen ill, they had sent the other children (my grandfather included) to live with the grandparents and an adoptive uncle.  This adoptive uncle had, at one moment in time, more than 21 people in his household to take care of!  Amazing that families cared for each other so closely! This manuscript was written like a story with heartfelt words.  But who wrote these beautiful words? How can I get a copy of the entire manuscript, which I’m sure has lots more family treasures? These are questions that I posed to the author of the kind letter after I profusely thanked them for sending me these treasures. I am currently anxiously awaiting their response!  I can’t wait to find out more, and I’m so thankful that my curiosity paid off!

The next part of my search:  my maternal grandmother’s family!  Hopefully I’ll unearth more lovely stories about my ancestors.

Digging up the Past

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A few weeks ago, after watching “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I was inspired to try, once more, to find out about my Italian ancestors.  You see, I tried awhile back, but found it almost impossible to trace anyone back in Italy.  The only way I could do it was to write to the churches or the town halls – but there was one little problem – I didn’t know where anyone was born, married, or even died.   I knew that they were from Lombardy and the Veneto regions, but that was about it.   I know all about my parents, but nothing about anyone before them except for my grandparents’ names and birth years!  I felt like I was trying to find a needle in an extremely large haystack (more like in a barn full of haystacks).

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When I had tried doing research a few years back, I had signed up for Ancestry.com only to find out that they had very limited records from Italy.  At that time, they only had a handful of provinces online, and none of them were anywhere close to the part of Italy I knew my family was from.  But much to my surprise, when I went back to the Ancestry website, I found that they had added some more provinces – and some in the Veneto region!  So, I readily subscribed – only this time, I joined the Italian site – Ancestry.it.  It only cost me $9.95 a year, and it seems like I have access to many of the online records.

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Slowly I started doing a search of the towns in the province of Padua, since I figured that was a good starting point since my mom was born in Cittadella in the province of Padua.  My mom was actually born in a hospital because her mother suffered from asthma, so even though I knew that she was born in Cittadella, I knew that they didn’t live there.  So searching those records wouldn’t help much.  But, because of my super-sleuthing abilities, I pulled out my googlemaps and began searching for towns nearby.  Then I looked at the records for those towns to see if I could find my grandparents!  Lo and behold, I hit the jackpot with Campo San Martino where I found my grandmother’s birth record (and also my grandfather’s!).   In Italy (and maybe here, too, I don’t know), they try to link up other major life events and include them on the civil records.  So, on my grandmother’s birth record, I was able to find her marriage date and location, and her death date and location!  I felt like I hit the jackpot!  Her birth record also included her parents’ names, their ages, and their occupations!  This little paper held so much information – and with my luck, so many of the ancestors came from the same place that I was able to trace the family back about 4 generations!  At times, though, deciphering the fancy script was a challenge…but I think I got most of the information.

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Sadly, no one from my family – I don’t have any old pics of my own 😦

It has been so interesting exploring my family’s roots and discovering some of the secrets that these records hold.  My imagination starts to wander when I think about their lives and the hardships that they endured.  One sad story that I discovered was that my grandfather lost his mother, father, and baby brother all in the same year – and he was only 11 years old and had a slough of younger siblings, too.  Who ended raising him and the rest of his brothers?  What did his parents and brother die from?  What could have been going through his parents’ heads when they knew that they were going to die?  These are all questions that I will probably never know the answer to, but I feel like, at least, I have more than I had before.

I look forward to learning more and more as more records are added to the Ancestry.it site.  What other secrets will I uncover?

If anyone out there has had luck in doing genealogy research in Italy and can share how they did it, please send me a comment!  I’d love to get more suggestions to see what else I can unearth!