Friday, March 18, 2011

Italian Vs. Early American Genealogy

After years of working on my Dad's Italian family, I have been focusing more on Mom's family over the past year. Researching the 2 different branches of my family are so different! The only chance at learning more about my Italian family was very labor intensive and time consuming. I had to drive an hour to my local family history center, order microfilms, wait for them to come in and sift through the hundreds of Napolitano's in the Montalto Uffugo records to figure out which were mine. To do this, I had to find the only other name I knew in the records, Domenico Garrafa. I knew if I found his first wife, Emilia Napolitano, I could trace my own family. I had to learn enough Italian to be able to read those records. Once I learned enough Italian, all I could hope to find was names, dates and places. But I wanted to know their stories. What made our family dynamic what it was. What their lives in Italy were like. Through my websites, and all that work, I was finally able to obtain many stories, although I had to piece them together from emails I received from other families connected to my own. As I got further back, I was able to extract more stories by reading every document I could find. Very brief stories with little detail. As I searched the records of Tropea, I found much less. Missing documents, family documents that had mold and water damage so bad, it made them virtually unreadable. I was extremely happy to find a website called Tropea Magazine which gave me stories about my Tropean family. Because of their accomplishments in art, music and politics I was able to find information on this website about my great grandmother's first cousins and even information about the marriage of her parents. I thought I would never get this lucky again. I was wrong.
When I finally got to my mom's family, I was astounded! So much information! Then I discovered The Newberry Library in Chicago. So many books on each of my family lines it astounded me. Details on each ancestor and so many stories, I simply could not believe it. I am still sifting through books and stories about her ancestors. Detailed stories that include plots of land they owned, places they had been, posts they held in the town and details of military service and most importantly details about their lives. It seems the number of stories on how they lived and died was endless. Much of this information is from the 1600 and 1700's! To know such detailed information on the lives of my ancestors who lived almost 400 years ago amazed me. I could never hope for this much information on my Italians. In Italy, the records of death (atti di morte) give you the dates and place of death, age of the deceased and the names of his or her parents and last spouse. But my early New England families often offered me a detailed cause or description of their deaths. Several of my ancestors died in attacks by the Indians in the French Indian wars. Detailed accounts of their deaths could be found in many different books. I have found photographs of my great great grandparents, artwork of many of my direct line ancestors homes, photographs of their graves and homes and so much more.

But the flow of information on my mom's family did slow up in the 1800's and finding information on her more recent family generations became more difficult. Her father's family, the Dewey's moved to a remote part of New York state. Their are no microfilms of records for the towns they lived in. Mom grew up with her grandmother Etta Kent Dewey and the Kent's came from a remote area of Pennsylvania in Susquehanna County where there are no records available to me online or though the microfilms held by the LDS Family History Libraries. It is here it the mid 1800's that my Italian research and my American research become similar as I search for any bits of information to piece together to find the stories and the ancestry of my families. And so my search continues for both my Italian and American families. As I move forward in time, I cannot help but wonder what future generations will find on us.