Making the Connection with Your Italian Heritage

Sei di discendenza Italiana e sei cresciuto orgoglioso di essere Italiano? Tanti di noi abbiamo vissuto la nostra vita uniti con i nostri famigliari e abbiamo seguito le nostre tradizioni con i nostri nonni, genitori, fratelli, zii, gugini e quindi si è creata una collezione di tanti ricordi e di foto che fanno parte della nostra vita ed abbiamo la possibilita di andare indietro nel tempo e sapere le nostre origini tramite tutto cio che è stato documentato prima di noi. Ma non tutti hanno questa fortuna perchè attraverso gli anni certi dei loro parenti non hanno potuto curare questo aspetto. Io sono una di quelle persone ed ho dovuto fare tante ricerche su siti come ed altri per trovare informazioni sulle mie origini. Adesso che mi curo della Storia degli Italo Americani alla Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) ho trovato tante informazioni della mia provenienza e famiglia. La WRHS potrà aiutare anche a voi a ritrovare le vostre origini Italiane.

So, you are of Italian heritage, raised in a proudly Italian family. You've gathered on Sundays for large family dinners, played bocce in the backyard, and listened to your nonna or nonno tell tales of their life in Italy or describe their travels to the new country. Maybe you have roots in an old Italian neighborhood, like Little Italy or Collinwood, and are able to visit it and see the exact house in which your nonni or other family members lived when they first immigrated to the region. You can look through scrapbooks that hold photographs of family faces throughout generations. Inserted in the pages of the scrapbook you may find original steamship tickets, an atto di nascita (birth certificate) or naturalization papers. You may also be lucky enough to document your family lineage back to the 18th century or earlier in Italy - and even luckier to have gone to Italy to meet some of your relatives still living there. For someone like you, your Italian heritage is at your fingertips, alive and present. But we are not all this fortunate.

For some others of us, our direct links to our Italian heritage have gotten lost through time for a variety of reasons - family members passed before we were able to ask questions or document their experiences, no one kept any family photographs or documents, or extended family members have become separated by distance. And, try as we might, our research attempts reveal only more ambiguity. I am one of these people. Unfortunately, my grandparents and my father passed before I had the chance to glean from them important details about our family history. Other relatives have proven to be just as clueless about our family's past as I am, and a scant number of photographs have surfaced. The pieces that could connect me with my Italian heritage are missing, the family stories hazy and elusive.

I have not completely abandoned the research path using tools such as to attempt to uncover more details about my Italian heritage. But progress has been slow for me and has turned up little information over the years. With perseverance and A LOT more time, more pieces of my family history may surface. Yet it is difficult for those of us in the dark to continue to ignore the desire to more fully connect with our Italian heritage - especially each year during Italian Heritage Month! I can happily say that even without all the pertinent family details and artifacts that there exists a way to bridge the gap, to achieve the understanding of and closeness to our Italian heritage for which we yearn.

I am lucky enough to hold the position of associate curator for Italian American history at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Day in and day out, I am surrounded by Italian heritage. I have grown to appreciate the collection immensely. Yes, as curator of the collection, it's my job to care for it. But because I am of Italian heritage, my feelings for the work I do are very personal and extend beyond those one has for just any job. The many items in the collection, even though they are not from my direct relatives, have connected me more deeply to my heritage than I thought possible. The collection can do the same for you.

I never was able to speak to my grandmother, Domenica, about her journey to America. One piece of information I was able to find was that she immigrated here as a very young girl in 1910. But that's all I know. I have always wondered about her journey, how she felt and what kinds of things she saw and experienced. I'll never have the chance to hear my grandmother's story. But I can get an idea about her journey from an oral history recording of Teodolinda Angelone Germano that is part of the Italian American History Collection. Similar to my grandmother, Teodolinda left Naples as a young girl in 1919. While listening to her describe in her voice and own words the 19-day-long adventure at sea, I could more clearly imagine what my own grandmother may have faced and have a greater amount of respect for the risks she took to make it to America.

Many other fascinating and touching items are included in the WRHS Italian American History Collection and can help link us to our heritage. In his book, Nostalgia : my boyhood years in Cleveland's Little Italy, 1926 to 1940, Richard Calore's recollections place you in an earlier time in an ethnic neighborhood when all you heard spoken on the streets was Italian or a dialect. Reading the very personal, heartfelt, and explicit letters written by Antonio Vasquenz is like having a conversation with him in his farmhouse in Cerchio, Italy in the 1910s. And holding stoneworker Loretto Petti's tools and looking through his photographs gives you a sense of the impressive skills some of the immigrants possessed and used to support their families.

The fact that this collection is a part of the Western Reserve Historical Society means that it will be well-taken care of and in existence for many years to come. Future generations will have the opportunity to link with their Italian heritage, whether or not they have been able to find their own family story. WRHS saves your heritage from the aunt on the cleaning binge who may toss everything away, losing the memories forever. We at WRHS take history personally, and we can help you make a personal connection. In celebration of Italian Heritage Month, I encourage you to take a walk down memory lane and connect with your personal Italian heritage. If you're like me and have encountered a roadblock on memory lane, a detour through the WRHS Italian American History Collection may help you find your way.