As someone who has spent the last 4 years doing genealogy research on my maternal grandfather’s family, I can say that there is nothing like that very first moment you make a discovery about your ancestors. When I do research diligently and I uncover something after hours in front of the computer, I get a rush of confidence and I start to think that I have cracked the code, found the secret to researching my family tree. I plug along, inspired by that first initial discovery, but I eventually realize that genealogy research is not for the faint of heart. Major revelations in my family tree and ancestral history have not been overly abundant in the past 4 years, but there have been some gems and those key moments keep me moving down this path of finding my place in the world through genealogy.
I started my research on my grandfather, Carmelo Orlando, back in 2007. I initiated the search for my grandfather’s identity because I was interested in obtaining dual American Italian citizenship. I never, ever thought I would become the family genealogist.
I didn’t know much about my grandfather because he died in 1937, 33 years before I was born. My mother was only nine at the time of his death and her family lost the only picture they had of my grandfather. It’s amazing how a picture validates someone’s existence. My grandfather seemed to be more of a myth to me without any picture to look at. My mother seemed to have so few memories of him that he never took up much space in my mind. That all changed the day I discovered that he would be my link to obtaining my Italian citizenship.
I didn’t know the first thing about doing genealogy research when I got started. I imagine that it’s the same for many of you too. Today, thanks to the Internet, genealogy work has become a lot easier because we can search for records online at websites like Ellis Island dot org and Ancestry dot com.
I initiated my research on my grandfather at ellis island dot org, an amazing, free resource that has ship manifests for passengers who immigrated or traveled to the United States from 1892 – 1924. There I searched for all the Carmelo Orlandos who came to the United States from between the years of 1892 to 1921, which was the year that my grandparents got married in Wilke-Barre, PA.
I printed out lists of names, I googled cities in Italy, and one by one, I eliminated all Carmelos who were not from Calabria. Although I didn’t know my grandfather’s town of origin, I did know that he was Calabrian because my mom always made it a point to mention that he wasn’t Sicilian like my grandmother. So I had that one anecdote to help me.
The process was slow and it took me more than a few days to weed out the wrong Carmelos from regions other than Calabria. Once I was down to a manageable list of about three men, I started to look at the dates of arrival and birth dates for the few who were still left on the list. Amazingly enough, I found someone on the list who had my grandfather’s name and who had a destination of Wilkes-Barre, PA. This man was from Curinga, in the region of Calabria, and he arrived in to New York on March 31st, 1909.
I took a closer look at the ship manifest to see if I could uncover any more details about this man and to my delight, I found something that brought tears to my eyes. As you may know from reading my blog, my grandfather named his first son Bruno. That was my Uncle Bruno, my mom’s brother. In Italy, as it is in many other countries, it is a tradition to name your children after the parents of the husband. I didn’t know how seriously Italians immigrants took this tradition in the early 20th century, but I discovered it reading that historical document. The ship manifest listed my grandfather’s father’s name: It said Bruno Orlando. Just like Carmelo’s first born son. I sat with that information for a moment. I did nothing but look at the words written on the 18th line of the ship manifest as if the hard to read cursive were a portrait of Carmelo’s face. I had found my grandfather: Carmelo Orlando.