One of the primary reasons we started The Italian American Podcast was to help fellow Italian Americans learn more about their Italian ancestors. Our goal is that our podcast interviews will inspire you to want to learn more about your ancestors and where you came from; but once you become inspired, how do you actually do it?
The following are some actions I have taken that have helped me, not only to learn about my Italian ancestors, but also to locate and connect with family members in Italy.
- Talk to those family members that remember your Italian ancestors. If you are lucky enough to still have grandparents, or even great-grandparents who remember their elder relatives, talk to them about their memories. Ask them specific questions like, “What did your mother and father do,” or “What kind of dishes did your mother used to cook?” I go to my grandmother’s house every so often for lunch and record our conversations, through which I have learned a tremendous amount about my Italian ancestors. In fact, I have played many of the conversations with my grandmother on our podcast, one of which was at the end of our episode with Lidia Bastianich.
- Gather documents from family members. Talking with your older relatives is a good first step, but to learn more, try to collect documentation about your ancestors like birth, death, and marriage certificates. These documents will give you a lot of information; most importantly they may indicate your ancestors’ ancestral villages in Italy. In addition to documents, try to find photos. Photos go a really long way in telling the story of where your family came from, especially if you want to share the stories with younger generations. In episode 2 of The Italian American Podcast, genealogy expert Mary Tedesco gave many tips for doing genealogy research.
- Research the villages that your Italian ancestors emigrated from. If you are able to find out where your ancestors came from, doing some research about those villages can give you a deeper sense of your family roots. For example, I learned through speaking with my grandmother that her grandparents were killed in the Battle of Salerno in 1943. I recently read a book about the Battle of Salerno, which explained a lot about Salerno in those times, and of course about the war itself. After reading that book, I certainly feel more connected with my great-great-grandparents and my roots.
- Use online tools to do more research. You may not be interested in doing heavy genealogy family research, but tools like ancestry.com and geni.com can still be very helpful in learning interesting things about your Italian ancestors. For example, by using these sites I was able to find my great-grandfathers’ draft cards, which told me their occupations. One of them was a barber and the other was a self-junk dealer, which was important to me, because I am entrepreneurial myself, so it was interesting to see that this trait runs in my family.
- Visit the villages where your Italian ancestors emigrated from. Now this last step isn’t for everyone, but if you really want to learn about your Italian ancestors, take a trip to their ancestral villages. Before you do this, you want to ensure that one of your relatives still lives in that village. You can do that through a combination of your ancestry research and through online websites. For example, I found out through talking with my grandmother that one of her uncles went back to Italy and raised a family there. Through some online research, I located a few addresses in the village and sent them letters (in Italian) in the mail using Google translate. I included my Facebook profile URL in the letter; one of my cousins who is about my age received the letter and connected with me on Facebook. This July we will be visiting them in Salerno.
Any of these steps listed above can help you learn more about your Italian ancestors. Taking time to do so will really help you understand where you came from.
Please post comments below with any successful actions you have taken to find information about your Italian ancestors, and click below if you would like to receive an email when we publish all future episodes of The Italian American Podcast.