As a young child my parents told me about the many places my ancestors had originated before immigrating to this country. I soon became fascinated with this knowledge and went through a brief phase in which I would ask all of my friends and teachers about their ancestry. While my interest in my own and other people’s ethnic heritage persisted, I never learned many details about my ancestors beyond my great-grandparents. Thus, I set out over the course of this summer to learn some basic information about a number of my ancestors with the modest hope of tracing all of my bloodlines out of the country.
I found that this task was actually far easier than I anticipated and was achieved using only the online resources on Ancestry.com and FamilySeach.org. Even my fairly basic searches helped me discover the names of ancestors previously unknown to me or my family as well as some interesting facts about them.
While tracing my Irish heritage I learned that my first ancestors in the United States were my great-great-great-grandfather David Mulcahy and his wife Mary Cashman, who arrived in 1870. While my family knew that these ancestors were from Ireland we were unsure of exactly where, though my grandmother believed they had come from somewhere near Cork. Using FamilySearch.org I was able to find their 1869 marriage record from Lismore, County Waterford (which neighbors County Cork) and thus confirm and enrich existing family knowledge.
I devoted some particular attention to tracing my direct paternal ancestors and the history of my family name. It was unclear to my father and our family when the first Macksoud arrived in America. We knew that my great-grandfather Philip Macksoud was born in Brooklyn, but it wasn’t clear to my surviving relatives when his parents, Alexander and Sophia, had arrived from Lebanon. While I was unable to find passenger records for these ancestors, using the 1915 and 1925 New York State census records available on Ancestry.com I was able to determine that they arrived in 1900. This confirmed that my father’s family has been living in Brooklyn for over 100 years.
My Lebanese family has often told colorful stories about my great-grandmother’s elder brother, Cyril Anid, who was a Melkite Greek Catholic priest. Cyril, who died in 1968, was essentially responsible for bringing his siblings with him to the United States. In his tenure as a priest he founded a Church that still serves the Melkite community in Northern New Jersey near where I live and which I’ve visited on one occasion. Cyril was also awarded the honorary title of Archimandrite (the eastern catholic equivalent of Monsignor) and I learned from records on ancestry.com that he made a trip to Brazil and Rome in 1953 and this gives some credence to a rumor that he had met the Pope. In the hope of learning more about Cyril I also visited the website of the Church he founded, St. Ann located in Woodland Park. I found that the website had a history section which included a short biography of my relative. I found that Cyril had attended seminary in Jerusalem and that he wrote a published autobiography at the end of his life. I hope now to acquire a copy of this book to learn more about his life and perhaps those of other ancestors in Lebanon.
Using the same online resources I managed to determine the arrival years of my Finnish and Spanish ancestors. However, I had a fair amount of difficulty with the Spanish family because of Spanish naming customs and my lack of fluency in the language. If I hope to perform any research into my Spanish ancestors outside of the United States I will need to gain additional skills and knowledge.
My last finding of interest, and perhaps the most important discovery I’ve made from this endeavor, concerns my Italian ancestors. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother, Francesco and Luisa Papale, married in Italy in their home town of Capua Vetere. Passenger lists on ancestry.com confirmed that Frank came over first in August 1922 before returning to Italy 1924 to bring his wife and infant son over in March of that year. Our family tradition has it that they rushed to catch the ‘last boat’ and perhaps this has some truth to it, since the 1924 immigration act was soon to come into effect and set a low quota on Italian immigrants. When looking at the federal census records for 1930 and 1940 I noticed that Francesco was an alien in 1930 but naturalized in 1940. My grandfather was born in 1935, and I discovered from various Italian genealogy websites that according to Italian citizenship law all of my grandfather’s decedents (myself included) would be eligible for Italian citizenship if my great-grandfather was naturalized after 1935.
This realization is something that would not have happened if I were not investigating my family’s history and I now intend to determine the exact date of Francesco naturalization through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. If I find that I am eligible I may very well pursue citizenship which would afford educational, work, and travel opportunities throughout the EU. Certainly this finding demonstrates that learning one’s family history is not only intriguing but can impact our lives in very tangible ways.