This article appears on FamilySearch Blog.
Italian Americans have a wonderful legacy. I should know; I am one! There is so much to connect with—the food, the history, the culture, the food— But, many Italian Americans know little about their heritage beyond the little they have heard from a relative about the “Old Country.”
If you want to connect more with your own Italian roots, here are three simple ways to start.
- Discover where your ancestor immigrated to in the United States, and where in Italy they came from.
- Learn enough of the history of Italy and the immigrant experience to understand what the lives of immigrants were like.
- Pick up a little of the Italian language along the way.
Discover Where Ancestors Came From
When I began the search for my Italian ancestors many years ago, I found I didn’t have to go far to find the answers I needed to discover their places of origin. Most Italian immigrants to the United States came sometime between 1880 and 1920, making us one of the more recent immigrant groups. As such, it is possible, even likely, that you have a living relative with firsthand knowledge about the trip your ancestors took from Italy. This living memory can provide valuable information about your ancestors’ places of origin.
Knowing the approximate year your ancestors came can also provide valuable clues. For example, if your ancestor came to the United States after 1900, they are more likely to hail from the south of Italy; that’s just the way the numbers play out. In fact, my own grandparents grew up in the United States speaking the Sicilian dialect—even before they learned English in elementary school. My grandmother liked to tell how she would trade her tomato sandwich for peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter and jelly was not something her parents even fathomed. They cooked and lived as they had in the Old Country.
If you don’t have the benefit of living relatives or aren’t sure of the place of origin of your ancestors, there are many historical records that can provide clues and fill in the gaps. Start with what you know, and use those facts to begin your search. Read more and get links for various resources at FamilySearch Blog…
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