Saving History: Ria TerraNova Webb Preserves Her Family Stories

Another personal history has found its way into the Italian American Collection. As I mentioned previously, these personal family histories, memoirs, bios, stories, remembrances – whatever you want to call them - are some of my favorite items in the collection. The anecdotes about interactions among family and neighbors, so-called ordinary people and events, place the reader into a past both reflective of life in that time, but unique to an individual. I love learning history from them.

The title of the newly accessioned book is “It’s in the Basilico: A Memoir (Not a Cookbook.)” It was written by Ria TerraNova-Webb and self-published in 2015. Ria has been a Clevelander for over 40 years and is recently retired from the Cleveland School System where she was a Kindergarten and Drama teacher. She was born and raised in New York and New Jersey and most of her stories take place there with her family.

I met Ria at the July meeting of the Cleveland Italian Ancestry Oganization (CIAO.) CIAO is a group of individuals interested in Italian genealogy and related topics. The group enjoys getting together every other month to discuss the ins and outs of conducting Italian genealogy research as well as hear from guest speakers on a variety of Italian-related topics. Ria happened to be the guest speaker.

Ria explained that the idea to write down the family stories as she remembered them started with her Uncle Mario. Uncle Mario wrote a chronological family history of about 20 pages. Reading it sparked more memories and details for Ria. After sharing stories at a family wedding, she decided to write them down. Through email, her sister helped her refine the stories and classes at the Cuyahoga County Public Library helped her writing improve and become more expressive.

When the book was finally together, Ria needed a title. She remembered a conversation she had with an aunt about all the family drama and asked her where the craziness came from. Thinking of the one ingredient found in many of the family’s Italian recipes, her aunt replied, “It’s in the basilico!” By the way, how you pronounce it depends on where you come from in the “old country.” Sicilians like Ria’s family tend to pronounce it with a “g” sound, like “Basili-go.” Elsewhere in Italy, they pronounce it with the hard “c” sound.
Ria’s stories are wonderful to read and are relatable, especially for those who were raised in an Italian American household. You are welcome to visit the WRHS Library at the Cleveland History Center in University Circle to read the book. Being an Archives Library, books cannot be taken out. But, you can also get your own copy by contacting Ria TerraNova-Webb at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..