Free associations, I don't know where this post is going.
Working on the family tree brings back many memories for me and for my parents. They've been in touch with relatives that they haven't kept up with over the past few years. As their contemporaries are fewer, further and farther between, the communication has dwindled. Fortunately, they were in touch recently enough to have email addresses and phone numbers, so a few of the older relatives are filling in bits in pieces about my younger, more far-flung third and fourth cousins.
One of my second cousins who speaks Italian does keep up with cousins in Europe, so she's working on filling in some of the more recent missing info on cousins there. I knew some of these family members from their visits to the US and my parents visited them and stayed in touch by letter and phone until just a few years ago. My mom didn't get to know all of her first cousins in Europe, though she knows most of the names and visited those still in Italy, as well as a pair of cousins who settled and raised families with French spouses in Paris. There are also some cousins in Germany.
My Dad stayed in touch by letter and phone with his cousins in Bari until a few years ago. I never met them, though some have visited my parents and my parents have visited them.
One thing that continues to impress me is the fact that even though most of my mother's family arrived between 1910 and 1920, they maintained frequent contact by mail with the extended European family. Until the 1960s, they sent money back, but that stopped as the relatives prospered amid increasing opportunities for enterprising Southerners and Sicilians.
On my father's side of the family are the currently unknown Argentine descendants of a great great grandmother and her Foggia-born daughter. The last American cousin maintaining communication with that part of the family died in 2010 without leaving information. Just why that great2 grandmother and great grand aunt ended up in Argentina while my great2 grandfather ended up in New York with the rest of the children remains a mystery.
By now, the relatives in Argentina are fourth or maybe fifth generation post-immigration. The cousin who stayed in touch did mention that the younger ones didn't seem interested in maintaining contact with her, which is understandable. As the familial connection became more remote, the inclination for contact wasn't as great. Those relatives probably feel less Italian in their roots than perhaps Spanish or maybe German or native or who knows what.
Then there is the Jewish in-law family, which is extensive because almost all the intermarriages in my family are Italian-Jewish and there was a lot of it. Most of my first cousins, many of my second cousins, my aunts and a few uncles are Jewish. I've had no luck tracing their roots back to the home countries of their ancestors. I know from family stories and immigration records that some came from Russia and some from other parts of Europe. I did not know that an aunt and uncle grew up speaking Yiddish at home -- that according to census forms. They were born here, but their parents were immigrants.
Though I heard a lot of Yiddish growing up, I didn't think anyone in the family had ever been fluent. The Yiddish I heard was like the Italian I spoke: words, expressions and slang that Italian families continue to use even when they're otherwise speaking English (e.g., stunad, which is Southern It-Am slang).
Along the way, I've also uncovered a few secrets, which means they aren't secrets any longer. The internet reaches back to reveal truths buried 100 years ago or more, such as a cousin who faced a court martial during WWI, followed by time spent as a guest at the Leavenworth Inn.
The records don't not reveal his crime, but if I had to guess, I could imagine he punched out an officer, given what I've heard about him from family stories. He was a physically intimidating specimen who did not always play well with others, though he could also be warm and benevolent. That describes many Italian men of a certain era who came from tough circumstances. Loyalty and care for family and friends were extremely important and that could be extended to strangers, but these men could also be explosive and vengeful, to put it mildly. There's a social and cultural history that explains the value of that pattern.
Maybe I'll write more in another post about specific memories and a few more secrets unearthed, but now a image break.
This was my grandfather's childhood home, probably in the family for centuries. I'd always thought they were peasants because they left Sicily in a state of poverty, but they were landed and carried titles of nobility in the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. Perhaps they owned this home for a couple of centuries or more, but don't know.
In the fifties, my mother and her sibs signed over the ownership to an aunt who lived there. One of her sons developed a successful business and built a palatial home. This became his office with some storage space behind that garage door. He owned it up until at least the early 2000s, though I don't know if it's still in the family.
Disputes with men, pertinaciously obstinate in their principles, are, of all others, the most irksome; except, perhaps, those with persons, entirely disingenuous, who really do not believe the opinions they defend, but engage in the controversy, from affectation, from a spirit of opposition, or from a desire of showing wit and ingenuity, superior to the rest of mankind. The same blind adherence to their own arguments is to be expected in both; the same contempt of their antagonists; and the same passionate vehemence, in inforcing sophistry and falsehood. And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.
For the time being, I've dropped work on my mother's side of the family with about 1350 relatives traced and have shifted efforts to my father's side with close to 500 family members identified.
One of the challenges of tracking my American family is that immigrants and their children are often identified by multiple names. Records may show formal Italian given names, middle names that replaced first names and American names. Carmela becomes Clara and/or Millie, and in one case Rosario is Rosario Carlo or Charles. My father is like this. He's got three different first names depending on the official record and two different nicknames. My mother was given an Italian first name, but uses an English first name.
Some of the name translations are direct and easy to track. For example, Vincenzo becomes Vincent. But for reasons unknown, many Vincenzos went with Gimi, which became Jimmy or James. And the feminine version, Vincenza, becomes Vivian or something entirely different. Then there's Concetta, which becomes Tina, then Christina. But Christina can also come from Crocifissa which literally means Crucifix. Giovanna often becomes Jennie, but sometimes turns into Jean or Jane.
Also mind boggling is the mapping of intermarried cousins, marriages of multiple siblings in one family to multiple siblings in another family and marriages between members of different sides of my family at multiple points.
One instance occurs in my immediate family, so it's easy for me to understand, but people I've explained it to are often confused. My father's maternal aunt is married to my mother's brother, so my dad's aunt is also his sister-in-law and his nephews are also his first cousins. My first cousins are also my first cousins once removed and my mom's brother is sort of her uncle by marriage. And lest I forget, my cousins who are both first cousins and first cousins once removed are also my third cousins once removed, which arises from some earlier inbreeding shenanigans.
Stuff like that happens all over my family tree. The weirdest realization of all was that I'm my own 4th cousin.
Studies now link regular attempts to focus our minds and calm our bodies via breathing exercises, chanting, or other meditative techniques to a host of benefits—everything from decreased stress and blood pressure, to increased cognitive abilities, to fundamental shifts in the way we process the world. Last January, Time even ran a cover story on America’s meditative “Mindful Revolution.”
Yet this rush to validate, package, and promote meditation as a universal good may actually come with unforeseen risks. Although sitting and thinking may seem like an innocuous process, the fact remains that meditation is an altered state that we use as a tool to transform our bodies and minds. And like any tool, although intended for good things—like introspectively confronting our thoughts and feelings and coming to terms with troubling realities—it can wind up causing harm when set towards tasks that it just isn’t meant for (like acting as a quick-fix concentration booster or anesthesia for emotional strife). In the case of meditation, as the practice proliferates in the West, we’ve become increasingly aware that for some people, especially those with mental or personality conditions, mindfulness can trigger anxiety, depressive episodes, or flashbacks to past traumas.
This reminds me that progressive relaxation can paradoxically trigger panic attacks in some patients, which is a concern I mentioned in this post about the behavioral treatment of a phobia case.
Here's a repost of something I wrote in January about the broader cultural implications of ancestral trauma and communicability of psychological symptoms, both across generations and from person-to-person within a generation.
During the week, I watched this PBS documentary on reactions to the staggering and unexpected death toll of the American Civil War. Interesting stuff.
I've long pondered not only the effects of the catastrophic death toll on the psyches of those who lived during the Civil War, but also its psychic imprint on American culture itself.
I don't see that imprint as having a benign influence. Aside from the complicated racial legacy of the war, I think that a derivative chain of reactions to the collective trauma imbues many other facets of American life with a heightened sense of conflict.
For example, I suspect that the traumatic trail of the war fortifies tension between an alternating appetite for belligerent exercise of power in foreign affairs and a similarly robust counter-tendency toward belligerent isolationism. While the roots of such a conflict can be found in archetypal conflicts intrinsic to the human psyche, I do think that the overwhelming trauma of the Civil War amplifies the conflict in troubling ways.
Something else just came to mind. I was thinking about this idea in relation to a news story reported earlier in the week. Pope Francis described the Armenian genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century. The reaction included tears of gratitude, this in reference to an event that occurred 100 years ago.
The genocide is a highly emotional subject that still looms large in the psyche of Armenians, eliciting powerful reactions a century later. I wonder how this trauma continues to affect politics, attitudes toward non-Armenians and international relations for Armenians whose interior lives are imbued with the symptomatic trail of such brutality.
I have much more to say, but this was just a quickie on the cultural and political dimension.
Not much time for posting today, but I did get drawn into this NY Times article about a man charged with sexual abuse of his wife who suffers from dementia. The husband had relations after nursing home staff informed him that she was incapable of consent.
If likes on comments are any indication, it appears that considerably more NY Times readers disapprove of the prosecution than approve.
Psychoanalyst Galit Atlas wrote in the NY Times about a 44-year-old patient who obsessively investigated the lives of strangers listed in newspaper obituaries. For much of his life, the patient also felt he had a dead twin that his parents never told him about.
The patient's mother scoffed at that suggestion, but after her death, the patient's father revealed that a brother, one year older than the patient, died at the age of 8 months. The parents didn't want to burden their second child with this knowledge, so they decided they wouldn't tell him about this traumatic piece of family history. The revelation became necessary upon the death of the mother because the parents wished to be buried in plots beside the deceased child.