Using the resources at Ancestry.com, particularly their world records section, I was able to locate a good portion of my Italian heritage. The task was challenging from the outset, particularly due to my family being poor historians. Questions as to spelling of last names (even the knowledge of first names!) were often met with uncertainty. Even my grandfather’s actual date of birth was somewhat of a mystery, as my mother noted he possibly lied about it upon his return America as a young teenager. My grandparents on both sides were all born in New York but it was their parents and their grandparents and so on that required the real digging.
Although I had names, the Italian spellings were still my biggest enemies. I’s changed to e’s, incorrect information on censuses, ‘Marie’ vs. ‘Maria’. We’re lucky to have online resources such as Ancestry.com whose functionality in terms of search makes tracking down these misspelled/uncertain names easy, allowing for records to come up with only the first three letters of names. I would imagine genealogical research prior to a service such as Ancestry would have been more arduous and the need to be more creative in terms of one’s own searches a necessary trait to possess.
In my own research one of the obstacles came in the form of the surname Badalamenti vs. Badalamente. My family uses the latter whilst many records are indexed under the former. Italian records provided numerous individuals with this surname, in both forms. Also with Italian records there is the challenge of the Americanization of first names: Giuseppe becomes Joseph, Nunziata becomes Nancy. Normally the given names are the ones found on the Italian records but things begin to shift once immigration to America occurred. I would find myself searching for all possible forms and spellings of the names.
I was able to get as far back as the 1820s in Southern Italy for my family. My ancestors on both sides seemed to always be near either Naples or Sicily. Many of the later records are only indexed with a name and a date of birth on Ancestry.com, without detailed information. A trip to the town’s archives is the next logical step and if I do make it to Italy one day it’s something I’ll definitely want to research.
There are always a few gems when performing genealogical research. Mine were a census record which I had believed to document my grandfather living with my grandmother prior to their marriage. It made my mother question if she’d gotten the dates wrong or if these simply weren’t the same people. We stumbled upon other information from another census which was clearly my grandparents, in the proper New York Borough and closer in age and decided the former was not ours. Nevertheless, this debate caused quite a stir among the family. The other find was a newspaper article depicting how the uncle of my grandfather was gunned down in the streets in Michigan in an organized crime-related death. Shortly after this my grandfather moved to Chicago to help out his uncle’s wife and their children. I attempted to find my grandfather’s whereabouts from his time there but came up short.
Family legend has it, however, that he knew Al Capone.