Vital Records: Episode 205 <<

Jeff's Story: Home to a Place He Had Never Been

Jeff Gallup always felt a special bond with his Sicilian roots through his immigrant grandmother, Nona. For 25 years, he ate Sunday dinner at Nona's house. She and her husband had immigrated to the United States with their oldest children around 1920. Every Sunday, the entire family would gather to eat the traditional foods and talk in Arbresche, the language of the Italo-Albanian people. Nona was the family's physical and emotional link to the old country.

When Nona died, she left Jeff and the rest of the family with a tremendous feeling of emptiness, a desperate need to reconnect with "their people" and to understand more about the life that their grandparents left behind. For years, they tried to research their roots in Piana, their Sicilian hometown, but never succeeded in obtaining any records. Jeff's mother, Virginia, tried to help, too, but was repeatedly told that the records had burned. After about fifteen years, they gave up any hope of finding records in Piana.

The whole family was frustrated at not being able to get any genealogical information, so Jeff and his brother, Craig, decided to try a different approach -- to take their mother and Aunt Rose, who had been born in Italy, back to Sicily.

When they arrived, they were greeted by many cousins. One of their cousins, Graciella, knew the local archivist and was convinced that the fire story wasn't quite true. After years of rebuffs, the family was not quick to accept Graciella's word. Hoping against hope, a cluster of them descended on the Municipio (make sure this word is in italics) to see whether the records really existed or not.

Within a few minutes of their arrival, Aunt Rose found her own birth record in a ledger! The records had not burned, but were very much intact. What they hadn't known is that an excuse such as "the records were burned" is considered the polite way to turn down requests that one simply doesn't have the time or resources to fulfill.

Jeff, Craig and Virginia Gallup were able to visit Piana and discover their ancestors' records for themselves, connecting them to past generations. While we can't all make such a pilgrimage to the land of our ancestors, many people feel this same sense of belonging and connectedness as they uncover, layer by layer, details about the events that shaped their ancestors' daily lives. Vital records speak to the commonality of our experiences as people and as families, and are an important component of your genealogical search.