Blog · September 9, 2015

Cherishing Their Lives

916a134a3a7c586b67fa871c7f4dfdfeMy love of genealogy sometimes makes me want to know more about my ancestors other than their names and dates. It makes me want to push forward and learn more about them as people, as human beings that lived a very different life than I am right now.
I wrote about the life of my great-aunt Caterina in a blog a few years back, we were so lucky that she was interviewed for a book and by doing so told stories I never heard, and even my dad never heard. It was amazing.

In 2012 I took it upon myself to do something similar for myself, my children and future generations. I compiled a list of questions to ask my mom and dad about their childhood and the people in their lives. It was interesting to find out that even though I thought I knew my parents backwards and forwards, in many ways, I didn’t know them at all. I still need to transcribe that video interview… it kinda blew my mind.

So, while I was talking to mom and dad this past weekend, I asked them about their grandparents and what they could tell me about them-their personalities, their life etc.

My mom went first. She stated that her mom’s dad, Giacomo, died young in 1919, well before she was born in 1937, so she didn’t get to know him at all. He was an avid Physharmonica player. She only saw one photo of him, but has no idea of what happened to that photo. Well, boo. Her mom’s mom, Carolina, died in 1939, so my mom was only 2 years old. She barely remembers her at all. There is a photo of my mom right after the funeral, I mean, she was tiny. Carolina was an absolute stunner, even the 2 photos we have of her when she was in her 40s, she was gorgeous. While she was pregnant with my grandma Stella, she fell and broke her leg. Because it was never set right, she limped for the rest of her life. She is the only great-grandparent of mine that I ever visited at the cemetery and I actually know of a gravesite. This is mostly because she is buried in the cemetery of Ivrea (my hometown). Here’s the link to her listing and photo of her “loculo” at findagrave.
One of my goals is to find more gravesites for my great-grandparents on my next trip to Italy.
While my mom’s maternal grandparents had lived in the same area, her dad’s parents lived in Turin, which is not far, but not exactly close without a car. Her dad’s dad Antonio died in 1947 when she was 10 years old. She has very few memories of him and she stated he was very distant. He was not your loving grandfather by any stretch of the imagination, I suppose. When I looked him up in the Turin State Archives, it stated that he was a “salatore”… he salted things? Not sure. Maybe he worked for a salami maker of some sort. What else is there to salt? LOL. He was also listed as being a “hard laborer”. He did live in Switzerland (Bern) for a few years.
Her dad’s mom, Maria, died in 1968 and she was the only great-grandparent of mine still alive when I was born. She was equally distant. I am wondering if that side of the family is genealogically predisposed to be distant for some reason. It is *SO* not the Italian way! Maria had 4 middle names and just by looking at the only photo I have of her, she was quite tiny.
My mom’s ancestors were all from the Piedmont region of Italy as far as I can trace it, although there are rumors (and the DNA confirms) of some Spanish and Eastern European branches. Who knows, maybe someday I will find out the origin of those!

Dad’s ancestors are all from the Veneto region, in the mountains above Vicenza, near Asiago, and unlike my mom, he remembers all of his grandparents. The only one he remembers least was his dad’s mother, Anna, who died when he was 6 years old. I have one photo of Anna and she was already quite old in that photo, very skinny, wearing a scarf on her head, so it’s hard to say what she looked like. Dang. I wish I had photos of them younger, you know? After she died, her husband, my dad’s grandpa, his dad’s dad Matteo, went to live with them, and he’s the one he remembers best. Matteo had a single small gold earring on his left ear. The only picture taken of Matteo was one with my dad and his family. He was worried that his soul would be trapped in the photograph. Back then, before Social Security (the Italian version-which did not come about until a few years later), old people were forgotten by society and were… well, old. Older than old people are today is what my dad told me. My great-grandpa was 83 years old when he went to live with my dad and his family and dad tells me he didn’t talk much, but he sang a lot. Most of the songs he used to sing where from the Austrian-Hungarian wars which plagued the area he lived in when he was a child. His father Giovanni supposedly (I have no proof) fought in this war. My dad said that at least once a week he used to go out to a local bar and people used to buy him drinks to hear him sing. How I wished I could be a fly on the wall or jump into a DeLorean to witness this! Matteo died in 1940, at 86 years old. Not too shabby of an age for back then!
My dad’s maternal grandparents lived a long life too, living well into their 80s. My dad and his family had relocated from the Vicenza area to Ivrea when he was 6 years old so he didn’t get to see them for 10 years, so when they went back for a visit when my dad was 16 after WW2 in 1946, they were both not faring too well. His grandpa Angelo had been a cheesemaker all his life. He was an orphan. After his mother drowned in a river he was supposed to go to the orphanage, but his aunt – his mother’s sister, took him in. At a certain point his aunt could no longer afford him and was going to send him to the orphanage when he bid on a bingo event in town and won quite a bit of money-the first prize. That money allowed him to keep living with her until her death. He became blind at one point, and when he went to take the sheeps one day he fell  in a ravine and never got better. He was very sick and stayed sick for a long time until he died in 1950. His wife and my great-grandma Francesca was doing very well when my dad saw her again in 1946, but suddenly died in 1948. Francesca was shunned by her family when she married Angelo. Her father only gave her a cow and sent her on her way on her wedding day. Francesca would only see her father once more in her lifetime, and it was when he came in to repair himself from the weather one stormy night… One thing my dad told me, was that Francesca was an amazingly sweet woman. I do have an old photo dated 1913 of the whole family together, and it’s amazing for me to see the resemblance of my great-grandpa Angelo to myself, being one of his descendants. I have his skin, his round face, his coloring. Francesca though… I don’t know if the lighting is wrong or what, but it’s just scary. Let’s just say I lucked out majorly in the genetic department, things could have gotten much worse for me, lol.

As the title of the genealogical show says: “Who Do You Think You Are” goes… I think I have a pretty good idea. Italian to the core. Peasant, good people. Maybe someday I will find out a ton more.

Love & Light,