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.