During the summer of 2010, I took a trip back to my “ancestral village” in the remote mountains of Molise, about 100 kilometers from nowhere. I didn’t know much about the place; only that my great-grandfather had left there in 1880s with 20 lire in his pocket and a one-way ticket to the American Dream.
Recreating his journey in reverse was one the best travel experiences of my entire life. Although I was excited about seeing the origins of my roots, I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that awaited me at the end of the road. It’s hard to explain the overwhelming feelings when confronted by the reality of how much he sacrificed—and how much I’ve benefited from his choice. (Well, I literally wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t, but I’m referring to a more philosophical argument.)
Anyway, if I have one regret about that trip it’s that I wasn’t nearly prepared enough to get the most out of the experience. My cousin and I did all of the “research” beforehand, relying on our own limited skills and a few random websites. Suffice to say that were left with some considerable holes in our findings. We did the best we could, but in the end it was a pretty weak effort.
Alas, we saw his village, and even met a few people with the same last name. But we never did realize the grand reunion/homecoming that I had been imagining. We should have hired a professional. Lesson learned.
Digging up Roots in the Boot
Many people are into genealogy these days, and yes, there are plenty of websites to help. But like any search tool, they’re only as good as the person wielding them. It’s A LOT harder than you think it’s going to be.
At the time I didn’t speak very good Italian, so that’s obstacle number one. Then you have to be persistent to the nth degree, with the tenacity of a bulldog. And of course, there are certain “tricks” and techniques that can only be acquired through trial and error. Lots of error.
So this brings me to my guest on today’s podcast, who is exactly the person I should have contacted ahead of my homecoming trip. Not only would she have saved us time and aggravation, but the process would have seen its way to the triumphant end instead of falling short and leaving us a more than a little disappointed.
Like me, Laura learned the hard way through her own homecoming journey. Unlike me, she kept pushing through until she achieved her goal. Now she’s an Italian citizen living in Calabria, and she has tons of experience in battling with the comuni, churches, and other sources of genealogy information.
By the way, that’s a lesson for getting anything done in Italy: the first “no” is only the opening salvo in any negotiation. Let it bounce off, retreat temporarily, and then come back at the problem from a slightly different angle. “Non è possibile,” (It’s not possible) really means, “I just don’t feel like it at the moment. Try again another time and maybe I’ll be in a better mood.”
[bctt tweet=”Lesson for getting anything done in Italy: the first “no” is only the opening salvo. ” username=”RickZullo1″]
Laura Watson is a proud third generation Italian American who ventured abroad to Italy in 2005 with the intention of digging a little deeper into her Italian roots. She visited her ancestral villages in Sicily, where she met and developed ongoing relationships with distant cousins. She’s also had her Italian citizenship recognized along the way.
It was after this amazing journey that she decided to dedicate herself to promoting the richness of Italian cultural heritage, while helping other individuals realize their dreams of a homecoming experience.
I’d like to give a big GRAZIE to Laura for chatting with me on the podcast today, and reminding me of how wonderful it is to have roots in the boot. Check out her website where she offers various genealogy services including document research, citizenship consultations, and Italian heritage tours. Honestly, I could have used her help in all three areas, but it’s the heritage tour that I really missed out on.
If you have any Italian ancestry, check out her free Heritage Tourism Guide where she lays out a simple 5-Step approach to getting started on your own journey. This alone would have saved me weeks, even if I would have still needed her personalized help in the end.
So if you’re interested in “Digging up YOUR Roots in the Boot,” I hope you’ll tune into today’s episode. And even if it doesn’t directly apply to you, I know that you’ll still find the discussion fascinating. Life as an expat in Italy is many things…but it is never dull!
Click the link to check out other episodes and see my list of the best podcasts about Italy.