One thing that is for certain for just about everyone who is from the United States of America is that their family are immigrants. Believe it or not when many hear about immigration in the United States they only think about the most recent wave of immigrants coming from Mexico, South America, and the Middle East however the first migrants were during the 1600s, and after that the early 19th century. The largest influx of immigrants from Europe occurred between 1880 and 1920 but there were also many who came after WWII. The majority of my family came during the early 1900s and more recently (my grandmother) during the 1940s. My heritage is no different than many of my friends who are Irish, German, or Polish decent with generations going back much further than mine, however we are all one, under the same flag, and it’s one characteristic that makes the United States beautiful. There is always one question looming over all of our heads, no matter how detailed our family trees or stories passed down by the word of mouth from generation to generation, where did our family come from, why, and how did they get here?
This question plagued my mind for the vast majority of my young adult life, I was always a proud Italian American, but I wanted to get closer to my roots and learn more about my ethnicity and family. As I am currently writing this my father and sister are still doing more research on our family tree, so far, we have gone back to the 16th century. My father was always interested in connecting with other sides of the family and building a more detailed family tree and this is when ancestry.com helped pave the way for him. In addition to the family tree I was curious to know more about my ethnic makeup because I always knew that it is nearly impossible to be 100% of only one thing, I always had a feeling my interest in other parts of the world were somehow connected to other regions of the world. So, I decided to take a DNA test and the results were pretty amazing and eye opening. The stories about my family having some Greek ancestry was confirmed with the DNA test and later on more findings in our family tree. I am not only a mix of Italian and Greek but over one quarter of my ethnic makeup is from the Caucasus and the Middle East with a small amount of Jewish. These findings along with my father’s family tree results pushed me to take my first trip to Italy.
The first trip I took to Italy was in 2014 where I visited Rome, Florence, Venice, Sienna, Verona, Bologna, and Milan. I spent 3 weeks in Italy before traveling north to Austria and spending 6 days in Munich, Germany. When my trip was close to being finished I felt like something was missing, and I did not have enough time because I didn’t get the chance to visit the region and town where a large part of my father’s side of the family is from and half of my mothers. Before I left Rome, I made a wish to return to Italy within the next three years and to get back to my roots.
Three years had passed after a trip to Turkey in 2015, and Israel and Georgia in 2016 where I finally returned to Italy. My 2017 trip was much different than 2014 not only because I knew where to go and how to get there but I was also meeting up with my father in Rome and then Naples where we would drive to Sulmona which is the closest city near where our family is from in Abruzzo, Pratola Peligna. The drive was stunning, rolling green hills and snow-capped mountains with fresh crisp air I realized at that moment that this is why I preferred the mountains over the sea. Abruzzo is one of the real faces of Italy, not the tourist side you see in Rome or Venice with many ignorant and selfish people, actors dressed as gladiators, and Indian and African immigrants trying to sell fake goods and toys to tourists willing to spend money because they’re on holiday. Abruzzo is quant and peaceful, no crazy crowds of people and is somewhere that is untouched and special.
When we first arrived in Pratola the first thing I noticed was how similar many of the people looked like to those in my family, and it was a good feeling even when I’ve been told I look like a local in many of the other countries I have visited. Let’s not forget Italians are a mix of all kinds of different ethnicities over the centuries, essentially which is what makes Italy so unique. Our first stop was my grandmothers old home, where the woman still living there today remembers the day when my grandmother and her mother left for the United States and she and her family moved in. Next stop was the church where my grandmother and grandfather were married in, Maria Ss. Della Libera. This was one of the most emotional and humbling times for my father and I, it was like hitting the lottery and an unreal feeling to finally be where it all started. After searching for close to an hour in the local cemetery we finally found my great grandfathers grave. My grandmothers father stayed back in Italy while she and her mother left for the United States to start a new life. I made a promise to myself that I will return back to Abruzzo in the near future to do more exploring because 2 days was just not enough time.
I wanted to end this with something that everyone should consider doing, especially if you’re from the United States, and that is to get back to your roots. Learn about where you come from because the more you know about yourself the more you appreciate other cultures. I also recommend to anyone who is curious to know more about their ethnic makeup to take a DNA test, the technology is continuing to improve and be more accurate and it can unlock a lot of clues about your background. Getting back to my roots was one the humblest experiences I have ever had, and I am sure it would be the same for you as well.
Below are some photos I took with my DJI Mavic Pro, and Canon 5D MKIII.