Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Citizenship Appointment

I finally made my appointment with the Italian Consulate of New York. I still have significant work to do: ammend documents, obtain Apostilles, and translate everything. But I have my appointment, finally.

The first available appointment was on October 12, 2010. October 12th is also my mother's birthday. Sweet.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Francesco Persano, My Grandfather's Travel Companion

For the longest time, I have wanted to share this photo of "La Bretagne", the ship that my grandfather took when he came to this country for the first time in 1909. Today seems like the appropriate day because something amazing happened!

Today I received an email from a man named Dave whose grandfather also came from Curinga. Dave happened to find this blog because he was visiting my other gluten-free blog! It turns out, our grandfathers were on the same ship. As I read through Dave's letter and I came upon his grandfather's name, I couldn't believe it. I recognized the name. It was Francesco Persano. I knew the name very well because I had studied the ship manifest and all my grandfather's travel companions. I know the names as if they were characters of my favorite novel. If you read one of my earlier posts , A Letter to Curinga, you will find the list of men from Curinga who traveled with my grandfather, Carmelo Orlando. Francesco Persano is the name right above my nonno's on the ship manifest.

This development in my research is yet another example of the fruits of my hard work. My patience has been tested and I have encountered my fair share of dead ends along the way. Nonetheless, I have stayed with this project because I can't imagine abandoning it. It's a part of me now.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more on this new development as Dave and I connect by phone to exchange stories about our grandfathers.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Maria Orlando: 1924-2009

Maria and Jennifer holding a picture of Maria's cousins, October 2009

Mi dispiace dirti che Maria Orlando e morta oggi presso l'ospedale di Lamezia Terme. I funerali si faranno lunedi alle 13,30.
November 21, 2009

I am sorry to tell you that Maria Orlando died today at the Lamezia Terme hospital. The funeral will be on Monday at 1:30pm.

I woke up this morning and stumbled to the kitchen to prepare my morning coffee. On the way to the kitchen, I grabbed my Blackberry and opened it up to that message. I stopped in my tracks. Maria died only one month after my departure from Italy.

It turns out that Maria was hospitalized two weeks ago for renal failure and an enlarged heart. She looked fine when I saw her at the rest home. She was slow and needed a walker to get around, but there was no indication that she was about to die. I am still stunned by the news. Stunned by the fact that I made it in time to meet my cousin. Only two weeks after my departure she would fall ill and start her journey over to the other side, that which awaits us all.

I feel a mix of sorrow and gratitude. I am sad because I have lost the most precious part of my trip to Curinga: Maria Orlando. At the same time, I feel grateful because I was given the opportunity to find her and meet her before she passed on. If you have followed my journey closely, you know that my meeting Maria was a major milestone in tracing my roots back to Curinga. Maria was the treasure, the last survivor of my grandfather’s family tree, and she was a surprise to top it all off. I never knew Maria existed because vital records for her mother did not indicate that her mom had given birth to Maria. Rosa was single, “nubile” as her death certificate read.

In the days since I returned from Curinga to my home in the United States, I have proudly showed everyone my picture of Maria. Each time I have an opportunity to tell my story about this journey, I pull out my Blackberry and I fondly show my friends the picture of Maria and me holding a picture of her first cousins, Bruno, Lucy, and Angela. She had not known about her first cousins, since they grew up in the United States and she stayed in Curinga her entire life. Nonetheless, I felt it was important for her to be aware of them, not only because they were all so close in age, but also because my mom was her first cousin.

When Sister Anna Lisa took that picture of us in the rest home during my second visit, I was overcome with a feeling of completeness. Despite the fact that my mother and her siblings had passed on and we only held a picture of them in our hands, our connection at that moment was the reunion of two branches in our family tree. Two branches that had been separated in 1909 by an ocean, a different language, a new life in Pennsylvania, and the early death of my grandfather in 1937. 100 years later, I would make my way to back to my grandfather’s town to discover Maria and introduce her to the rest of her family. We had come full circle together. We found each other and we mended the tree.

For me, the timing of these events is an affirmation that our actions and decisions are not necessarily a mere coincidence. There is a greater force at work here, call it/he/she what you would like. The fact that I would arrive to Curinga to meet Maria for the first time only a month and half before her demise, the fact that I didn’t wait until Christmas like I had originally planned, the fact that Maria had dreamt she would have a visitor from the United States two days before my arrival to the rest home...This experience has allowed me see God’s work in all its beauty. I am humbled and grateful to have been given this gift of Maria Orlando, as brief as our time was together.

Maria Orlando, September 14, 1924 – November 21, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lettera Aperta a Jennifer

Jennifer at her grandfather's house in Curinga

About a year before I arrived to Curinga, I sent an email to the webmaster for the Curinga Insieme website. I saw that they invited readers to send publications and letters, so I decided to take a chance and send my letter to be published on their website. The webmaster, Cesare Cesareo, was nice enough to publish my short note and we continued to exchange emails about my interest in Curinga.

During my last weekend in Curinga, I had the pleasure of visiting Cesare's home where I met his wife and adorable cat, Kalos. We talked about my genealogy research, my impressions of Curinga, and my desire to return to Calabria to experience more of Curinga and the surrounding areas.

Cesare has written a very moving letter about my desire to turn back the clock, or perhaps stop it as he says, so that I could find my roots and pay homage to my ancestors who once resided in this beautiful town on a hilltop overlooking the sea.

I plan to translate this letter to English, but for the moment, I have it here as Cesare has written it Italian.

Thank you, Cesare. Thank you for your genuine interest in my journey back to my roots, back to Curinga.

"Jennifer è una persona che è nata, vive e lavora in un piccolo stato del grande continenteamericano, nulla di eccezionale o di trascendentale Come lei, milioni, miliardi di individui vivonolavorano, amano, socializzano, ma Jennifer forse è un po’ speciale.

Un po’ speciale forse perché immersa nel nostro caotico mondo ritmato da un tempo che sembrasempre più veloce, ha sentito la necessità di fermarsi un attimo, di rallentare il tempo, di fermarlo,anzi.. ritornare indietro in un passato non vissuto ma vagheggiato ed amato.

In un mondo che corre solo verso il futuro il suo è stato un gesto controcorrente, un atto di fedenella ricerca di cose mai viste e lontane, che sembrano senza tempo, senza forma, immerse in unlimbo nebbioso che solo la volontà e la determinazione riescono a chiarificare.

Jennifer ha voluto rivivere, anzi vivere, un esperienza mai vissuta, che fermentava nel suo cuore enei suoi più reconditi pensieri. Un salto nel grembo di quella madre terra che ha visto nascere i suoiantenati. Curinga, un punto insignificante di questo nostro mondo ,Curinga, un nome come tantialtri, Curinga, però, punto di arrivo di un percorso d’amore e di ricerca interiore.

Ed eccola in questo lembo di terra tra mare cielo, tra ulivi secolari e fertile pianura, tra storia eleggenda , tra fatica di restare e forza per andarsene, Curinga piccolo per tanti, ma grande per chi dalontano lo vede come punto fermo inscindibile dal proprio essere.

Il passeggiare tra le strade percorse dai propri cari, il vicolo, la casa, la ruga, il contatto umano, ilcalore del camino, il baccalà fritto, i fagioli con l’olio nuovo, i sorrisi, i racconti, il dialetto, lasperanza e, poi… Maria… trovata, ritrovata …contatto vero con il mondo fino ad allora immaginatoe sognato.

Grazie Jennifer, per averci ricordato le tante persone le centinaia di famiglie che col pianto nel cuore hanno dovuto lasciare la loro terra, ma vivendo in una terra lontana hanno mantenuto e vissuto quanto di positivo e di bello era rimasto nei loro cuori."

Cesare Natale Cesareo

Letter at the Curinga Insieme website

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rosa Orlando

Filming by Rick Allred

I keep thinking about my great aunt Rosa, Maria Orlando’s mother. Rosa was born in 1881, and she was the older sister of my grandfather, Carmelo.

Before I even arrived to Curinga, I had been creating an image of her in my mind. The image was based on written documentation that provided a few scant details about her life. She was single, she was a spinster, and she died at the age of 70 in 1951. Then there were my own colorings, those that came from my vivid imagination and from a 21st century perspective. Even though I tried to be cognizant of the fact that she lived in a different time period, my own assumptions crept into the picture. The biggest assumption of all of them was that she never had children because she never married. I had painted her as a somewhat angelic woman who stayed at home spinning yarn and taking care of her elderly parents. OK, so I was a bit off. Nobody’s perfect though. So, we can cut her some slack.

I sit here and chuckle now as I recall my first reaction upon learning that my great aunt Rosa did have children despite the fact she never got married. Her first child died at birth in 1915, and Maria arrived in 1924. I think I felt a bit embarrassed because I didn’t know how my other relatives in Curinga would respond to this information. I know, it’s completely ridiculous. As if the Orlando family could disapprove of me because my great aunt, whom I never even met, had a child with a man who was married to someone else. “Oh dear! An affair!”

I also felt a strange mix of curiosity and sorrow. Curiosity about whether she had the two children with the same man, or if they were two different fellows. Curiosity about how they met and what sort of interaction took place between them up until the time she got pregnant. I felt sorrow too because I know that she lived in poverty and couldn’t provide for her daughter the way she would have wanted to.

In talking to people in Curinga about Rosa, I have two very different accounts. The first came from Maria, her daughter. Maria described her with great sorrow and tears in her eyes. She described her as “an old woman who was very poor and had to take donations ”. When I asked her if she was a spinster, she nodded and told me that Rosa would even spin thread from her bed when she was ill in her last years.

The other account I have is quite different. It comes from a couple I met on the same street where Rosa and Maria lived. Imagine what a serendipitous moment this was for me as I strolled along with my friend, Rick Allred. He and I were taking pictures together, and a man saw us from a distance. He signaled us to come to his woodworking shop so we could take pictures. He gestured and said, “Foto per l’America.” Then he asked us what we were doing in Curinga. I explained that I was visiting the house where my grandfather was born, just up the street. He asked me who my grandfather was, and I responded, “He was the brother of Rosa Orlando.”

Well, never did I expect that he would tell me he knew Rosa. But he did. He remembered her from his childhood. And he was convinced his wife would remember Rosa too because he said his wife “has a very good memory.”

So, Rick and I were gracefully invited into their home to have a coffee and talk about Rosa. In this account, Rosa was described from the perspective of two children who knew her when she was already advanced in age. Their impression of her was that she was nice, happy, and she liked to play games with them. She was a short woman, and rather rotund, and she had no teeth. I asked them whether she liked to sing (because my grandfather sang and played the accordion) and they said she would sing in the street.

Two very different accounts about the same person.

Rosa, the single mom who lived in poverty and had to ask for donations to eat and feed her child.

Rosa, the old spinster who was pleasant and who liked to play games with the children.

So much of how we perceive people depends on our own relationship to the person at the time in which we interact with them. What I remember as a child about the adults who surrounded me is much different than what I would notice today about the same people. My memories of my mother are far different from the impressions of the people who worked with her because they only saw one side of her at a given point in time.

This I believe is an important consideration when doing genealogy research. When we interview family and friends, it’s important to remember their context, age, and relationship and how all those factors can influence their perception.

Both accounts are real and valid for me. Which one is more accurate? I don’t know. What I like about the two accounts I have is that they balance each other out. If I had only talked to Maria, Rosa’s daughter, I would have settled with a very somber impression of Rosa’s life. Nonetheless, this couple brought some hope to my character sketch. They let me see a woman who clearly left a favorable impression on them.

In the end, the most important piece of Rosa that I discovered during this trip was Maria Orlando. Little did Rosa know back in 1924 that her new born daughter would be the missing link, 85 years later when I arrived to Curinga in search of my roots.

Thank you, Rosa Orlando.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Grandfather's House in Curinga

It has been two weeks since I returned to the United States after my two-week sojourn in Italy. My body has practically adjusted to the time change, the food and solitary dinners at home, but I hang on as best I can to some of the emotions and sensations that ran through my body during those two weeks in Curinga. I know that much of what I experienced in Italy was a better reflection of my true self, that is, who I really am at my core. It’s sad to think that I don’t have those feelings filling me up every day of my life. Isn’t that what life is about? Feeling we are being true to ourselves so we have no regrets later on?

Here are two small piece of the joy I recorded while searching for my roots in Curinga. One is the video of me finding my grandfather's house, and the other is this written testimony:

“I can't help but think that my mother, my grandfather, and Maria's mother, Rosa, are observing Maria and me in complete satisfaction. They must be filled with joy, and perhaps their happiness is what's overflowing inside of me. I rarely have felt so full. For our ancestors to observe such beauty, such love, without emotion would be impossible. I know my grandfather, Carmelo, is pleased with this journey I have made. He is playing his accordion to celebrate this homecoming, and the Orlando family ancestors are dancing to the sound of a tarantella, a song that has been composed just for this trip to Curinga.

There is no material possession that can substitute the happiness we carry within us. When our hearts are full, there is no need to look outside ourselves for something to fill the void. Sometimes we need experiences like these to remind us about what really matters in life."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finding My Blood in Curinga

The day I went to the rest home with Mr. Orlando and Eleonora, I had just about 15 minutes to absorb the news that I had a second cousin in Curinga before we came face to face in the visiting area of the "casa di riposo". Despite the fact that Eleonora told me in the car about my relationship to Maria Orlando, I still couldn't believe what I was hearing. I wanted to believe her, but part of me was still holding onto my own beliefs that I had constructed based on vital records from the town hall: Maria's mother had no children because she had never gotten married.

I was tremendously emotional despite my lingering doubts. I sat in the visiting area and tears were streaming down my face. A box of tissues was no where to be found.

I waited in suspense as Maria walked slowly from her room to the visiting area. Mr. Orlando greeted her in the doorway and said,

"Maria. You have a visitor from America. She is here to see you now."

Maria responded, "Isn't that strange. I dreamt two nights ago that someone was coming to see me from America."

My eyes opened wide and Mr. Orlando said, "Look! She dreamt you were coming. What a coincidence."

Once Maria was seated before me, I was at a loss for words. I had to ask Eleonora to help me because I couldn't get the words out of my mouth.

Word by word, question by question, Eleonora and Mr. Orlando introduced us and asked Maria questions to make sure we were really related. It was an emotional conversation as Maria was reminded of her mother, Rosa Orlando, and Rosa's brother, Carmelo, my grandfather.

"I remember when Carmelo died. The news destroyed my mother. After his death, she became ill and she never really was the same again."

Imagining my great aunt Rosa grieve her brother's death allowed me to experience my grandfather's existence in a very different way. There is something about hearing memories and seeing tears that is much more powerful than reading a death certificate from the town hall. It didn't matter how many times I read my grandfather's death certificate. I couldn't feel his death with a piece of paper. Until I could talk to someone who remembered his passing, it seemed as if he didn't really exist. Before this moment, I had only a handful of stories about him and no pictures to create an image in my mind. My mother shared very little with me about him because he died when she was nine years old. She was never able to tell me much about him, except that he was Calabrese and he would carry her around on his back when she was very little.

It occured to me at that moment while I sat with my second cousin that we shared a commonality. Neither Maria nor I had ever met Carmelo. We had only heard about him through our mothers and we understood the impact his death had on both of our families. With his passing, Rosa lost her hope for her younger brother's future in "America." With his passing, my mother would experience her childhood without a father and her siblings would leave middle school to become the bread winners of the family. Just by hearing Maria speak about this event, I was able to feel myself in the year 1937. I was able to feel some of the grief my family experienced when Carmelo Orlando died.

Two years of my family research culminated on that day in the casa di reposo where I met my second cousin, Maria Orlando. I had worked for 2 years trying to uncover the origins of my grandfather's family. I didn't know who or what I was searching for, but I knew that something wonderful and unexpected was waiting for me in Italy. I had never imagined it would be Maria. Afterall, I had convinced myself that her mother had never given birth to a child since she was listed as single on her death certificate.

The day following my visit to the rest home, I pulled out my digital camera and I looked at a picture of Maria. I felt a surge of energy and assurance run through my body, and it was as if everything fell into place at that moment. I looked more closely at the picture and suddenly I could see my mother's eyes and my uncle's mouth. At that very moment, I had absolutely no doubts that Maria Orlando was my cousin.

I had found my own blood in Curinga.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Vital Records Don't Tell You

After all my research on the internet and in the town hall here in Curinga, there was still a missing piece in the puzzle. That piece is Maria Orlando. I never knew she existed. Her mother, Rosa, had been listed as a single woman on all her vital records, so I assumed she never had children.

I expected that I would come to Curinga to hear stories and read vital records about my grandfather's family, but I didn't imagine I would find Maria. In fact, the afternoon that we realized that Maria could be related to me, I don't think I even understood who she was during all the excitement. I wish I could turn back the clock one week to replay that moment when Eleonora and her father, Guiseppe, discovered that I had a living relative in Curinga.

We were talking to Eleonora's grandmother on my first Saturday in Curinga, and Eleonora was certain that "la nonna" would be able to get us closer to finding a relative. I listened closely, but I got lostat times in the Curinghese dialect. For me, at this point, I had pretty much accepted the fact that there would be no living relatives who were so closely related to my grandfather.

At some point in the conversation with Eleonora's grandmother, Eleonora and her father Pino stood up suddenly and said, "Andiamo!" (Let's go!) I followed them without knowing where we were going or why they seemed so excited. It felt a bit like we were detectives, about to run off to solve the case thanks to a clue her grandmother had given us. The problem was, I didn't understand the clue.

In the car, I asked them where we were going in such a rush. They told me we would visit Maria Orlando at the rest home.

I asked, "Who is Maria?"

"Maria is the daughter of Rosa Orlando, Rosa was your grandfather's sister."

I let this information sink in for a moment. "But, Rosa Orlandonever married. It says "single" on her death certificate."

Eleonora responded, "Rosa had a daughter, Maria, but she didn't have a husband. She was single."

In 1924? A single mom?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Finding Grandpa's Neighborhood in Curinga

Today I went to the town hall of Curinga to continue my research on my grandfather's lineage. I have now confirmed that he was born in Curinga and I have a copy of his birth certificate for mycitizenship application.

The Orlando family and I are trying to figure out the connection that exists between our two families. If it exists at all.

Eleonora and her father, Guiseppe, had done some research for me before I arrived, but they were not able to figure out how we were related. Today, I believe I might have found the connection. Granted,there are still a few other documents we would like to find to confirm my belief,but it looks as though my great grandfather, Bruno Orlando,was the brother of his great grandfather, Guiseppe. On Monday, we will continue the research and look for the marriage certificate of Guiseppe and his wife, Concetta. This document will include the name of the father of Guiseppe, which might be Santo Orlando, my great, great grandfather. This would confirm our connection.

I jumped around a lot with my research this morning and I only had 1.5 hours to do my work. I also looked at the death certificate for my great aunt, Maria Rosa Orlando. She was my grandfather's sister. She died in 1951. On her death certificate, I discovered the number of the street where she lived. It was 376 Garibaldi Street. I was thrilled with this discovery because I figured it would mean thatI had found the house of my grandfather. Maria Rosa never married, so chances are she always lived in the house of her parents.

Well, I discovered afterwards that every ten years, the numbers of the house get changed. This means that it's not so simple to find 376 Garibaldi. In fact, we went there, but we couldn't find a 376 Garibaldi. We could only find numbers close to it. 335, 337, but not the number I was hoping we would find. This was a big disappointment. Not only that, the area where we think my grandfather lived, it is completely abandoned. It looks as though no one had lived there since about the time of Maria Rosa's death in 1951.

Perhaps I had hoped to find someone living there who could tell me more. Seeing the houses abandoned as they are, it leaves me feeling sad about Maria Rosa's death. I had hoped to see life in their neighborhood, something that would tell me that there is still life in the house of my grandfather, Carmelo Orlando.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Curinga, Medicine for My Soul

Curinga at sunset, with a view of the Eolie islands and Stromboli (Volcano)
Tonight I wrote to a dear friend of mine who lives in Spain. I tried to describe this trip and what it is doing for my general wellbeing. I know that many people will ask me when I return, what did I see? Where did I go? When I tell them I went to Curinga and I spent 10 days in a town without seeing other cities or areas of Calabria, they will wonder what I could have done in the same place for 12 days.

It's very possible that I will see some other towns in the area, but frankly, I don't know if I need to see more during this trip. Vacation is about rest. It's about rejuvenation and reflection. To achieve what I am looking for, I don't need to go very far. I have found it right here in Curinga.

Curinga is medicine for my soul.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jennifer's Arrival to Italy

I have arrived to Rome. All has gone pretty smoothly for me except for my check-in at Blu-Express. They got me good for having gone over their weight limit. The limit is 17 kilos for the checked luggage, and 5 kilos for the carry-on.

It was a joke of sorts, watching the people before me rearrange their suitcase content moving it from one bag to another. I stood in the line wondering if I would soon be the next fool opening up my suitcases for everyone to see inside. Sure enough, it happened to me too. I was told my carry-on was too heavy. So, what do you think I did? I transferred all I could to the larger suitcase only to have the man at the desk tell me, "Now your other suitcase is too heavy." First, my carry-on was too heavy, now the carry on is practically empty and the other suitcase goes over the 17 kilo limit.

So, yes, I had to pay extra. But only with Blu-Express! The sad part is, I really tried to travel lightly. At the last minute, I was taking out items from my suitcase in my house, leaving them behind for fear that this would happen. And it did. I even left behind my Italian grammar book which must weigh at least 2 pounds!

Now I am sitting here waiting for my flight, wondering what other surprises Blue-Express will have for me. I am hoping there won't be any others.

Aside from the unpleasant experience at Blue-Express, everything has gone pretty smoothly. I was pleasantly surprised by Alitalia when they told me they had a gluten-free meal option. Well, actually, they didn't tell me, I overheard the steward confirming with a passenger behind me that he was having a gluten-free dinner. This I had not expected. So, when I had a chance, I signaled the steward over to me and I asked him if a meal was being served on the plane. When I purchased my ticket online, it said, "no meal". I explained this to him in my simple Italian, and he chuckled! No, it wasn't my Italian, it was the idea that a plane full of Italians and tourists visiting Italy could actually survive an 8 hour flight without a meal.

Blue Express had one more surprise for me on my flight to Lamezia Terme. This time it was a surprise at boarding time. I got off the shuttle with all the other passengers and I made my way towards the plane. A stewardess wearing a hat and fitted suit stood at attention at the staircase. She looked like she was in the Navy. I noticed that several people were walking at a quick pace and a few men actually cut me off while going up the stairs. What is all the rush? I no sooner got on the plane and the man behind me saw me looking for my seat, JG35. He informed me, "There are no assigned seats. You can sit where you want." Ahh, I get it! That's whythat herd of horses just ran me over so they could get their favorite seat for a 50 minute flight. It's amazing how easily people can forget to be courteous when it's a first come first serve kind of situation.

How will my flight back to Rome work out? Will I pay extra?

I have already started strategizing about this one. I am using up and tossing out all toiletries before the 19th of September. It occurs to me that I may also put things in the multiple pockets I have in both my hip hop pants and my rain coat! I will be the heavy one, not my suitcase. Blue Express doesn't have a\rule about the weight of its passengers now, does it? Just you wait and see Blu Express, I will take several lbs out of the suitcase!

If any other ideas occur to you all, please do share!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Accordion

Photo taken by iMarco89

One of my goals for my trip to Italy is to hear live Calabrian tarantella. I have watch videos countless times on YouTube, but I would love to hear and see the musicians performing in person. I wouldn’t mind dancing a tarantella myself, to tell you the truth.

I recently learned that my grandfather owned an accordion. I was touched to learn this fact as I have always tried to put together a picture of his personality. Knowing he was musically inclined explains a lot about my family. My uncle Bruno, my mother, they were both very musically inclined. It explains a lot about me too. I have always been drawn to music, musicians, and the arts. I guess you could say I am a “frustrated artist” who talents have been underused. It’s never too late to start, I suppose!

I like to imagine my grandfather playing the accordion. This image of him playing “tarantella” conjures up positive feelings. I get the sense that even though he had a very difficult life here in this country, he was a happy person.

So, that’s one of my goals for this trip to Calabria. Do you think I will be able to find live Tarantella music?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

News from NARA about My Nonni

Response from the NARA office today:

"The National Archives is the repository of naturalization records for the Federal District and Circuit Courts. The indexes for the Federal Courts in the Middle District of PA were searched for the years 1901-1990. We found the naturalization record for Antoinette Piccione Orlando, naturalized in 1948. According to her papers, her husband was deceased by that time and had not been naturalized before his death."

In short, this all means that I still have the green light to go ahead with dual citizenship!

Let my work continue! And let's dance a little tarantella together in the meantime!!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This is Curinga, the Town of My Nonno

This is Curinga, the town where my grandfather was born. God willing, soon my feet will walk through these streets.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Making Hotel Reservations Brings More Surprises...

So, I am moving ahead now with making reservations in the towns where I will be staying while I am in Italy in October. I have selected my hotel in Rome, my hotel in Lamezia Terme, and my hotel in Curinga.

I called the Hotel Golden in Curinga just the other day to make my reservations. I successfully made myself clear in Italian, and I proceeded to ask the receptionist if he could email me a confirmation. He promptly responded and I felt assured by his confirmation.
It took me a few days to respond to his email which said:

"Spett. jennifer Rafferty le comunico che abbiamo ricevuto la sua richiesta di prenotazione per il periodo 08/10/09 al 19/10/09 per una camera singola. in attesa della sua conferma le mando cordiali saluti."

After I gave some thought to the conversation we had, I realized that I might like to specify a "room with a view". So, I sent him an email indicating that I would like a room with a window overlooking the city, if possible.

A few days later, I received another response from him:

"Spett. signora jennifer rafferty navigando in internet ho trovato una pagina web in cui cerca carmelo orlando mia madre si chiama orlando e spero che le possa essere d’aiuto domani le chiederò se ricorda qualcosa e le faro sapere al più presto."

So, in case you need a little assistance with the Italian: The man who helped me make my reservations at Hotel Golden, his mother's last name is Orlando. Yes, that's right. It seems as if the owners of the Hotel Golden in Curinga might just be distant relatives of my grandfather, Carmelo Orlando.

Is this not the most surreal thing you have ever heard? I choose one of two hotels in the city of Curinga, and that hotel happens to be owned by someone with the last name of my grandfather. Possibly my distant relatives.

This is no small coincidence.

This was supposed to happen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Grandma Piccione and Grandpa Orlando Tied the Knot

I don't know much about the circumstances surrounding the marriage of my Italian grandparents. I know that my grandmother was in the United States less than a year before she married Carmelo, but I can't tell you who arranged the marriage between the lady from Santo Stefano (Sicily) and the man from Curinga (Calabria).

What I do know is that I hold the original copy of their marriage certificate. The document is in delicate shape these days, and I usually keep it a transparent plastic sheet for protection.

Today I took it out of the plastic so I could take a picture of it for my cousins. I thought they might like to see this great artifact from our family! Thanks to Facebook, I am now connected to four of my cousins more regularly and I am able to keep them up to date on my research.

What got me back on the marriage certificate portion of my research is that I have requested a certified copy of the long form of my grandparents' marriage certificate. I need a certified copy of this document for the application of dual citizenship.

My nonni were married on December 20th, 1921. Just five days before Christmas. I wonder how they spent that holiday. They were the first of their siblings to come to this country, and in the case of my grandfather the only family member, so with whom could they have celebrated the holiday? What did they eat? Did my grandmother cook or did they get invited to someone else's house for the Christmas meals?

The long form of the marriage certificate won't answer these questions, I know. But I sit anxiously awaiting that form since it contains more information than the original certificate that I hold in my possession.

I will let you know what I find out when I receive a response from the Registry of Wills in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Response from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services about My Grandfather

After a three month wait, I finally received word from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services about my grandpa. The letter reads:

Dear Miss Rafferty:

Your index search request was received in this off on 4/18/2009 regarding Carmelo Orlando, born about July 16, 1887, in Italy. We have completed our search for records based on the information you provided, but did not locate any. While you are always free to request another search for this immigrant, for an additional fee, without new information one could not expect any different result.

If you need a certification of non existence of a naturalization record for the above immigrant, write to the following address (include a copy of this letter):

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Attn. Records Operations Branch
1200 First Street NE
Washington, D.C. 20529-2204

If you can provide new or different information about this immigrant and want to pursue another search, please submit a new search request for an additional fee of $20. The requirements for filing are available at our website, http://www.uscis.gov/.


1. How will the Italian Consulate respond to the fact that I have a certification of non existence? Does that letter pretty much indicate to them that my grandfather never became a citizen? Or do they look at that letter with more scrutiny?

Finally it seems I have some sort of answer. At least enough of an answer that I can proceed with this process. An Italian passport just seems too far away from my reality right now, but I am going to forge ahead since everything seems to indicate that I am still elligible to become an Italian citizen.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Italian Blogger Strike- July 14th, 2009

In support of my fellow Italian bloggers, I am also on strike today. For an explanation of the strike, you can visit http://dirittoallarete.ning.com/. Freedom of speech for everyone!

You can also read this article in English.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Intangible Nature of the Dead

Curinga, Calabria (Andrea Marutti)

Today marks the 8th week since I submitted to the USCIS my second, not first, online search request form for immigration information about my grandfather, Carmelo Orlando. Now that we have reached the 8th week point, I feel I am in my right to politely ask for a status update on the search. And that I did today by email.

If you remember what happened the first time, I was sent a letter after about 8 weeks of waiting for a response. The letter I received informed me that they had found a file for Antonio Orlando. For a moment, I stood there looking at the letter thinking, “Did my grandfather have another name?” Then it hit me that I was dealing with a government agency, and clearly and a state employee who didn’t even bother to do a spell check before sending me the response. I was fuming.

So, now that I have sent that email to USCIS, I am nervously waiting for another response, hoping they don't tell me they did a search for Guido Orlando, not Carmelo.

What could possibly go wrong this time? They are going to find the files, right? And they are going to send me the information I need so I can proceed with this investigation I started back in 2007. Of course they are. How many times could they possibly get it wrong?

I need a pep talk. I have entered into a deep valley of doubt. I come back to the same sad conclusion that goes against everything this journey has been about. I think, and for what am I doing all this? My grandfather is deceased. I will never meet him. No matter how hard I try to give life to this blood relative of mine, I don’t have a picture, I don’t have relatives who remember him, and the few vital records that I’ve looked at endlessly have now lost their novelty. And when I get to Curinga in October? Will I be disappointed that Carmelo is not there waiting for me at the threshold of the house where he was born? Will I be ok with the fact that it’s just me going back to my grandfather’s village and he and my mom are not there to share the joy?

It’s important for me to share my frustration here. I don’t want to discourage others who might be thinking about getting their Italian citizenship or doing genealogy research. I just want to be honest about the highs and lows. If I document only the high points of the journey, I would be misleading you. Hopefully your process will be an easier one than mine has been.

Well, tomorrow is another day. Another day for hope. Another day closer to the time when I will come face to face with my Calabrian roots.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Antoinette Picione

My grandmother, Antoinette Picione, was 27 years old when she arrived to the United States on August 18th, 1921. When she arrived, she was posing as a surrogate mother for two children who were traveling with her: Caterina and Gaetano Girolamo, the children of Rizzo Girolamo. Caterina was 11 and Gaetano was 9. All three were detained upon arrival because no one came to identify them as family at Ellis Island.

I can’t help but wonder what my grandmother went through when she got off the ship with two children that didn’t belong to her and her fake husband wasn’t there to pick her up. Poor nonna. I can remember what happened to me when I arrived to Paris for my year abroad and my luggage was lost. I went into a complete panic and I almost passed out in the customer service area while waiting for someone who spoke English to help me. Yes, I got my luggage eventually, that same day in fact, but what could it have been like for my grandmother who spoke no English, had never set foot on American soil, and no family member was there to welcome her when she arrived to this country. She was the first of the siblings to come to this country. Then followed her brother Guiseppe and her sister Genoveva. So, grandma was really on her own when she got to New York, no cell phone, no Blackberry, nobody. Just a supposed Rizzo Girolamo who was listed as her husband on the ship passenger list.

You may ask, was this really her husband? Were those her children? I have gone through the story many times and I have reached the conclusion that she was posing as a surrogate mother so that she could enter the country. There has never been any mention of two children from a first marriage. And I have a very hard time believing that my grandmother would have abandoned these children to marry my grandfather, Carmelo, and start a new family. So, no, my grandmother was single upon her arrival to the United States. And thank goodness she didn’t marry Rizzo because I would not approve of any man who left his children and waiting at Ellis Island for two days!

The detainee record states that nonna was admitted to the country with the two children on September 6th, 1921. Yet, in the column that identifies who will be called to pick her up, it’s empty. Not only that, in the column that identifies the number of meals they ate while detained, it says, 6 breakfasts, 9 dinners, 6 suppers. Based on that number of meals, it seems to me that they didn’t stay until September 6th. I would guess that they stayed for 2-3 days.

I am left to wonder who came to pick her up at the port. Did Rizzo ever come or did he send someone else out of shame? Could he have been sick? How did grandma end up in Wilkes-Barre, PA when Rizzo was from Trenton, NJ? So many unanswered questions from this ship passenger list. We are forced to fill in the blanks and use are imagination to complete the story.

One very important fact that I have found on one of the ship passenger lists, aside from my grandma's detainment, is the fact that my grandmother was naturalized after my grandfather Carmelo died in 1937. I would have never taken note of the annotations next to her name. Annotations mean something and we have to pay close attention to them. You can study annotations yourself by visiting, A Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Annotations. You see, the annotations include the following:On May 5th 1931 she left the United States to return to Sicily for a brief visit with her biological children. I have yet another passenger ship list from 1931 from that exact trip! In addition to that date, the following numbers and codes are written next to the typed up information: 719000, V/L814/535, 3-190326(505), 11/20/40. The last series of numbers is yet another date. According to my genealogy friend, it’s the date she was naturalized. If she became a citizen after Carmelo’s death, this leaves me some hope that grandpa never became a citizen. That, of course, would mean that I can still apply for Italian citizenship, unless they change the laws by the time I get all the documents collected!

Let me tell you, this job is not for the passive kind. You need to be extremely proactive in this process of digging up documents. If there is anything I know about myself, it’s that I persevere. I don’t give up. Right now, it’s a question of waiting. I persevere better than I wait. Oh yes, I told you about my patience. It clearly still needs improvement.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I Have My Ticket to Lamezia Terme!

So, tonight I took the next step and I purchased my ticket to Calabria. I took the advice of fellow blogger, Cheerye Moore, at My Bella Vita, and I went with Blu-Express Air. She has many great articles on traveling in Italy, and her article about Blu-Express was right on for me! Thank you, Cheerye.

The ticket cost me $57.98 euros, which is approximately $77.47 in USD. The flight is a short one, just 1.5 hours.

So, I am on my way...A step closer.

Now, how many days will I want to stay in Lamezia before I make my way down to Curinga? I know I will be itching to get to Curinga, but let's build the anticipation a bit. A little exploring in Lamezia Terme wouldn't be a bad idea...Just a night or two. So, I can recover from the jet lag.

Any tips for me about Lamezia Terme? :)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Adventures in Sicily

Although I spend most of my time talking about my Calabrian roots here at La Mia Famiglia, there is a whole other story to be told about grandmother’s side of the family. That story has its origins in a town called Santo Stefano di Camastra (ME), Sicily. Santo Stefano is a small town of about 4,500 inhabitants and it lies on the northern coast of the island about half way between the cities of Palermo and Messina. Ask a Sicilian if they know Santo Stefano, and they will probably tell you, “Si, il paese della ceramica (The town of ceramics.).”

A few weeks ago, Cheerye at My Bella Vita was conducting a poll for her Travel Tips Tuesday blog post. Because I have only spent two weeks in Italy, I felt limited about my participation in her poll. Nonetheless, it occurred to me that I did have an amusing piece of advice to offer, even if it was outdated and no longer really applicable in the year 2009. You see, I was in Italy back in 1992, a time when cell phones were still not widely used. Back in those days, foreign travelers, especially poor students like myself, relied on public phones. Or at least we tried to rely on them, when they actually worked.

Back in 1992, my arrival to my grandmother’s village was facilitated by the use of several modes of transportation. I took a plane from Rome to the Punta Raisi Palermo airport, a bus from the airport to the Palermo Centrale train station, and then a train from Palermo Centrale to the station in Santo Stefano. Being the organized young woman that I was, I carried my aunt’s telephone number in my backpack and I planned to call her as soon as I got off the train in Santo Stefano.

I remember when I arrived in Santo Stefano, I was amazed by the altitude of the cliffs that hugged the train station which was down at the base of the incline. It seemed that the town was nestled above overlooking the Tyrrhenian coast. I could see a Vespa making its way up and around the hairpin turns.

I got off the train and I entered a small, one room train station. I happened to arrive right about siesta time, and there was not a soul to be found except for the train attendant in a little office.

I entered the phone booth directly across from his view and I picked up the receiver. No dial tone. I called his attention and said in my basic Italian,

“Excuse me, Sir, the telephone doesn’t work.”

He shrugged his shoulders. I walked over to his office and looked through the glass window to see if he had a phone.

“Sir, may I use your telephone so I can call my relatives? They are waiting for me to call so they can come and pick me up.”

“The phone in my office doesn’t work either.”

My emotion started to build up at this point. The attendant seemed uninterested in helping me. The only suggestion he could make was that I go into town to find a phone.

I stepped outside the train station and looked around. There was no town in sight, only the village at the top of the cliff. It would to take close to 30 minutes to climb up that road, and I had a backpack and a heavy suitcase. Oh, and did I mention that it had to be at least 90 degrees outside?

The tears started rolling and my Italian went from bad to worse.

“Sir, please, I just came from Spain. I am from another country and I have never been here before.”

I started to understand him less as my emotions intensified. What the hell could he need to do at this time of day in his office? No phone, no television, no travelers, just a stranded American girl with no way to get to her aunt Concetta’s house because the public phone didn’t work in the train station. Couldn’t he lend a helping hand?

“Per favore, signore, ho bisogno di chiamare. Come posso parlare con mia zia si non funziona il telefono qui?”

Tears turned to sobs as I paced nervously around the small room. When would the next train come? Would there be a passenger getting off? Could that person help me?

“Signore, couldn’t you drive me up to the town to a phone? Per favore…”

I think he sensed the desperation in my voice and started to soften up a bit. Suddenly he stood up in his office and looked at me with a serious face. He opened the door, looked at my luggage, and dragged it in the little cubicle without saying a word.

I followed him outside as I dried my tears. It seemed there was some hope. He was going to do something for me, but what? I looked around in the parking lot and I saw no cars. My first thought was, “Is he driving me up the mountain?”

Sure enough, Mr. Train Attendant pulled out a Vespa from the side of the building. He jumped on and signaled for me to hop on behind him. I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing, I just got on the Vespa and we took off towards the road leading up to Santo Stefano.

With my arms wrapped around the waist of a stranger, we made our way up the hill in the blazing hot sun. I put all precautions aside with this Vespa trip; no helmet, an Italian stranger, and no idea where we were going. I could only hope he would be taking me to a working phone so I could finally call my family.

We arrived at the first plaza at the top of the hill. He zipped right up to the public phone and didn’t even get off the moped. He picked up the receiver and listened. No dial tone. Madre mia, where am I that none of the phones work!

We continued to drive through what appeared to be ghost town. No one was outside because it was so hot. It must have been a Sunday too because all the businesses were closed.

As we approached the next plaza, I could see another phone booth. Would we be lucky this time? I was starting to think I might never see my relatives. He picked up the receiver again. This time there was a dial tone. It was a small miracle. I dished out some coins and I showed him the telephone number. He dialed and waited until he heard a ringing sound. As soon as he heard the ring, he passed me the phone. After about the fifth ring, my aunt picked up.

“Concetta! Sono Jennifer! Sono qui a Santo Stefano.” (Concetta! It’s me, Jennifer. I am here in Santo Stefano.)

“Vengo subito.” (I am coming right away.) And she hung up.

I smiled and thanked the train attendant. He acknowledged my few words and gesture and we made our way back down the mountain, back to the train station where I would wait for my aunt to arrive.

I sat patiently waiting on a bench outside the train station. Concetta arrived shortly after I did. Two planes, one bus, one train, and one Vespa later, I had finally been united with my aunt Concetta.

2 Days Later

Not having the ability to explain to my relatives what had happened to me in the train station, I left the ordeal behind me. I certainly didn’t want them to worry either. They might think I am some crazy American girl if they actually knew what I had to do to find a working telephone.

As life would have it though, hidden stories have a funny way of making themselves known when we least expect it. Two days after my arrival, I was seated at the big dinner table with all my relatives. They conversed about the news of the town, and I was able to understand pieces of their conversation.

At some point, my older cousin, a student at the University of Palermo, started to talk about when he arrived by train the day after my arrival. He explained that the phones were not working and he had to walk up the hill to find another public phone. I was so proud that I understood everything he said, I nodded and agreed with him. He looked at me quite surprised and said,

“So, the phones weren’t working when you arrived? How did you call the house?”

We sat in silence for a moment. All eyes were on me as they waited for an explanation as to how I had made a phone call if all the phones were dead.

I was horrified. How would I explain this story? What would they think of me getting on the Vespa of a stranger?

“Eh, c’e un uomo e un moto.” (Well, there is a man and a moped.)

They looked at me with concern. I gesticulated with my hands the rest of the story and I threw in some motorcycle sounds to explain that I had gone up the zigzagging hill on a moped with a man from the train station. Nobody said much. They all looked at me as if they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. I stopped my story and smiled in embarrassment.

And so, that is my story about my arrival to Santo Stefano. If it were still 1992, I would tell you to not rely on public telephones. But clearly, this is a story that dates itself. And it dates me.

No such thing will happen when I return in October 2009, vero?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Curinga Where You Least Expect It

Last Saturday I went to the mall. If you know me well, you know I don't like malls. Malls drain me. I spend less and less time in malls because I seem to leave them feeling like I have been robbed of my life force. What brought me to the mall was that I just happen to have a coupon for Macy's and a big need for some dress pants. So, I endured the visit telling myself that it would be a short, simple trip.

Try again. It seemed that I had circled the department store several times before actually finding something I could try on. Nothing appealed to me. The few articles of clothing I did try on made me look like a matron, and I could hear my mother saying, "Jennifer, why don't you pick something from the catalog and I will order it for you. Everything here looks so poorly made."

Yes, that was my mom. She could pick out a cheap piece of clothing from 20 yards away. Now, when I go to the store, I can hear her voice telling me, "No. Look at the fabric. You wash it once and it will fall apart." These days, when I really need to find an outfit, I say a little prayer and I tell my mom to lead me in the right direction. Usually this results in me walking out of the store without having spent a cent. I suppose this is a good thing. I am saving money, right?

Well, on Saturday mom's voice was in my head and she was telling me nothing I tried on was worth buying. Until I found a simple pair of black dress pants. These met her approval. Finally! I can use the coupon!

I get back into my sweat pants and sneakers and I make my way to the register where I hand my item to the clerk. She takes my credit card and coupon. She does her little magic thing with the bar codes and then starts to tell me, "This coupon can't be used with these pants. See the price? It ends in .98 cents. Whenever an item ends in .98 cents, you can't use this kind of coupon. It actually says it on the back here in little print."

Little print? Who is looking at little print? This sounds like I signed a contract for cell phone service. Lovely. I just overstayed my time here in the mall, using the darn coupon as my carrot, and now you tell me that I have to pay the full price. Arghh!

"That's fine. I will take them anyway," I said as I looked at my watch. I had spent over an hour shopping, far longer than I wanted to be here, and now I have to pay the full price. Go figure.

I left Macy's and I stepped into the mall. Part of me wanted to run straight to my car and forget I had ever made that stop at Macy's. Another part of me wanted to walk to my favorite beauty boutique so I could lather on some sweet smelling Pacifica lotions and forget what I had just spent on the pants. Ahh yes, some Mango Grapefruit Pacifica lotion. I can squirt some from the tester and look at all the pretty perfume bottles.

Instead of seeking refuge in my car, I pushed on and made my way to the last and final stop: Sephora. I walked around, testing the new natural product lines, and then I made my way to the skin products.

A saleswoman approached me and she tried to help me. I was indecisive about making a purchase. She showed me a few products and we started to talk about skin care in this country and in Europe. She talked about how she lived in Europe before she came to this country, but she didn't say where she came from.

You know where I am going with this, right?

Well, I proceeded to ask her what country she was from, and she explained that she was from Italy, but she had grown up in France. Immediately, I started to speak Italian with her, wanting to know where she was from.

"I am from the southern part of Italy." My eyes widened.

"Really? What part?" I thought, "She is probably Sicilian. I never meet anyone from Calabria around here."


"Really?! What city?"

"Lamezia Terme." I didn't quite understand her.

"I don't know if I know this town. Where is it exactly?"

"It's the town where the airport is."

"Madonna! My grandfather is from Curinga!"

"My husband is from Curinga! I am from the same area!"

Can you believe this? I come to the mall to buy some clothing and I meet a woman whose husband is from Curinga. She is from a nearby town. Does it get much better than this?

We continued to talk for a while, a mix of Italian and English. She informed me she would be in Curinga, just one month before me this year. We would just miss seeing each other there.

* * * *

That afternoon I left the mall with a refreshed feeling. It was unlike most other days when leave feeling tired and drained of my energy. Saturday was different, however, all because I had make a Curinga connection. I had met someone from precisely the area that I have been dreaming about for the last year and a half.

I guess the mall isn't so bad after all. And those full priced pants I searched so long and hard for in Macy's? Maybe it wasn't so bad that it took me so long to find them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

NIAF Abruzzo Relief Fund

As of today, news reports indicate that at least 207 people have perished in the devasting earthquake that hit the region of Abruzzo, Italy. Close to 50,000 people are without shelter and 1,000 people have been injured.

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) has established a special NIAF/Abruzzo Relief Fund to help the victims and their families who perished from the recent earthquake in the town of L’Aquila and other small towns in central Italy in the region of Abruzzo. To make a contribution, please visit NIAF Abruzzo Relief Fund .

You make also make donations to the Italian Red Cross.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Another $30 for USCIS?

So, this is the response I received regarding my search for my grandfather Carmelo Orlando. No, I am not going to try to convince them to do the search free of charge. I have worked with too many government agencies at this point to know that it would drag out the process even more...

Response from USCIS:

We conducted the searches based on the search criteria that you entered when you submitted your requests via the USCIS Genealogy Program website.

On December 24, 2008, you submitted an online search request for information relating to Antonio Orlando aka Anthony Orlando. On December 24, 2008, you also submitted an online search request for information relating to Antoinette Piccione aka Angeline Orlando.

Our records do not reflect that we are in receipt of a search request from you for information relating to Camelo/Carmen Orlando. If you want a request to submit Form G-1041 / Index Search request, please visit the Index Search page for more information. You can also review download and/or submit Form G-1041 / Index Search Request. Before submitting a search request, please be sure to visit our website: www.uscis.gov/genealogy to review the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page and the Historical Records Series page, which summarizes the records that are available through the program.

To begin a search request, you must provide the subject/immigrant’s name (including any other names or aliases), date of birth (actual or approx), and country of birth. We also ask for information about when the subject/immigrant arrived (actual or approximate) in the United States and when or where he/she naturalized (again, actual or suggestions). In cases where more than one name combination is provided for the same subject/immigrant, we run multiple searches. There are no additional fees as long as the name combinations that are provided to conduct the search are for the same subject/immigrant.

My Response:

Well, if I need to submit another request, I will. However, I have a hard time believing that I typed in Antonio or Anthony into the online form since we have no one in the family with that name. I was completely alert and aware of what I was typing into the form at that moment. I entered, CARMELO/CARMEN ORLANDO because that was my grandfather's name. There are no relatives in our family with the name Antonio so that name could not have possibly been in my head as I filled in the form.

In fact, you make reference below to the search you conducted for my grandmother, Antoinette Orlando/Piccione. I did not type in Angeline as a possible alias. I entered Angeline as a daughter of hers in the section that asked for additional information that might help the search process.

Is it possible that your online request system is not working properly? I have a very hard time believing that I typed Antonio.

I will follow up with you as soon as I have completed the form to make sure that the proper names have been received on your end.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Excuse Me, USCIS, Who in the World Is Antonio Orlando?

The awaited letter has arrived. Today I received the letter in response to my request for naturalization documentation on my grandfather, Elia Carmelo Orlando.

As I approached my mailbox, I could see the return address on the white envelope. My heart rate increased. I kept my composure outside the house and retrieved the mail while holding my briefcase, lunch box, and purse.

I no sooner stepped through the threshold of my front door, and I dropped my bags, except the laptop... I took a deep breath, told myself to be prepared for whatever, and I ripped open the envelope.

The first line read,

"Your request was received in this office on 12/24/2008 regarding Antonio Orlando. "

Antonio? I think you have the wrong granddaughter. I mean, I think you have the wrong grandfather. Was this a clerical error in composing my letter, or was it that they actually searched for the wrong man? They couldn't have. I was very clear in my request, completed online by the way, that my grandfather's name was Carmelo Orlando. In fact, I think they asked for variations in the name or spelling. I provided Carmen as a back-up.

Surely this must be a clerical error, right? They typed the wrong name, but they looked for the right guy. It took them three months to respond, a whole 4 weeks after what they say is the typical wait time for processing a document.

Well, I guess it's back to the drawing board. I will have to do a few things now.

I will have to contact them regarding this letter to see if they mistakenly typed the wrong name or if they actually searched for the wrong man.

I will also have to follow up with the National Archives and Records Administration as they instructed me to do for both my grandmother and my grandfather.


I have to laugh. Both of the letters I received had errors. The letter for my grandfather got his name totally wrong, and the letter for my grandmother had at least two spelling errors.

Humm.... This is where the plot thickens, I guess.

This is where I get to exercise patience, once again.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Family Tree Just Grew Again!

Who would have ever thought I could tell you the name, profession, and year of birth for my great, great maternal grandfather? I certainly did not. When I started this journey back in 2006, I set out to identify my maternal grandfather and that was pretty much the extent of my hopes and wishes. It’s taken me two years to uncover Carmelo’s identity and origin, but persistence has paid off. My genealogy research continues to reward me beyond what I ever expected.

Patience has never been a virtue of mine. Typically I want my requests fulfilled yesterday. That’s right, yesterday. With such a small threshold for waiting, I have done pretty well on this ancestral journey.

Yes, I admit, recently there are days when I come racing home after work to see if there is mail from USCIS. Afterall, it has been three months since I requested information about my grandfather. Somehow though, I have been taking the wait time in stride. I figure that in due time, the information about Carmelo citizenship status will be revealed. I have begun to see this waiting game as a great exercise that will bring me to a new understanding about myself and my family history.

In the interim, just when I think I am going to explode from waiting for news from Italy or some government office in this country, I receive treasures that I never asked for. These treasures enrich the Orlando tapestry and given it more dimension.

One of these treasures is the Orlando family I contacted to help me research my grandfather’s identity. They could have easily hung up the phone that day I mustered up the courage to call all the Orlando numbers from the phone book in the town of Curinga. They didn’t hang up the phone though. E. did the research for me, updating me along the way, and always reassuring me not to worry. I look forward to meeting her in October. I feel such gratitude towards her. It will be a special moment when I finally come face to face with Eleonora.

Another treasure is something Eleonora sent me yesterday. She was able to find out more information about my grandfather’s family. She said I was extremely fortunate that they found the documents they did because many of the civil records for Curinga had been lost or burnt during a widespread uprising that took place around 1948. In fact, she said she found less information about her own family than she did about my grandfather’s lineage.

So, I introduce you to yet another Orlando family member: Santo Orlando, my great great grandfather born circa 1802. The document found in the town hall of Curinga also included some priceless information about my great great grandfather’s profession. I leave you with this little You Tube video to celebrate Santo’s craft. Enjoy…

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Jennifer Studies Italian These Days...

In preparation for my trip to Italy, I have been studying Italian in my free time. I have been studying for about 7 months now, and I have a number of ways that I practice the language.

RAI Television
I have a subscription to RAI television and I keep the television on a lot more than I used to. It’s true that I don’t understand everything, but exposure to sounds and authentic language is absolutely necessary when studying a foreign language. I, especially, do not respond well to studying only from a book. My dad, on the other hand, can sit and read an Italian grammar book without feeling the need to hear the words pronounced by someone else. We just have different learning styles. I admit, I should sit down and look at my book more than I do, but I have used the television before for language studies, and it never fails me. I must also put a plug in for all the exposure I get to current events and Italian culture.

Italian Music

Several months ago, I picked up a CD at a second-hand music store. I listened to the CD before I purchased it to make sure I would tolerate the sound, and it passed the test. Some might prefer opera, but I opted for pop music. I listen to my CD primarily in the car when driving, but I also try to sit down at home and read the lyrics as I listen. And yes, I confess, I sing along too. The exercise wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t actually practice pronunciation!

Second Life

Some call me the futuristic girl, others think I have lost my marbles. For anyone who is immersed in virtual worlds like Second Life, you know that I am a hip, cool, non conventional language student! And so is my instructor, Anna Begonia.

What is an Italian lesson in Second Life like? Well, for starters, you need to register with Second Life and create an avatar. From there, you enter the orientation island where you learn to walk, fly, and dress your avatar. Eventually, you stumble upon people like yourself who use Second Life for language studies.

I was in Second Life for at least 1 year before I discovered Anna Begonia. She has a virtual Italian meeting called 'Italianiamo' every Monday at 5:30pm EST, and there are between 4-6 students who gather to practice speaking Italian. The students are located in all parts of the world. Most of them are in Europe, and then there is Paloma Mabellon (that’s me…) who is in the United States. Oh, did I mention our avatars have names?

I must admit, whenever I am in my Italian class, I get a rush of energy. I think it is the coolest thing that I can be gathered with a group of people I have never met in person, and we are practicing the language through simulations and games.

You probably notice the picture in this post. I took a picture of my class this week when we visited a simulation of ancient Rome. We even got to dress up in togas! Other weeks have included a visit to Puglia, an art exhibit on Futurismo, and the cinema to watch a short film in Italian.

I could go on for hours about how much I look forward to this weekly meeting. If you ever want to join me, just contact me and I will introduce you to my wonderful instructor, Anna Begonia.

Il Circolo Italiano
I have a friend who is an Italian instructor at Springfield Technical Community College. She has organized a monthly conversation group that meets the first Saturday of the month at the Italian American Cultural Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. When I can, I drive up to Springfield to participate.

Meet Up Group in Connecticut
Are you familiar with MeetUp? It’s a way for you to meet people who have similar interests. I went to the website and did a search for an Italian conversation group in Connecticut, and I found one! I have only been able to attend one event, but it’s another option for me when I can’t make it up to Springfield on Saturday mornings.

CDS & Books

Yes, I do have the more traditional resources for studying the language as well. I have not invested in Rosetta Stone, which I hear is quite good, but I picked up a few different CD book programs at Barnes & Noble and I have synched my mp-3 player with the CD content.

How do you like to study a foreign language? Clearly, immersion is the most ideal scenario, but not all of us can afford to just jump on a plane and spend time abroad. What works best for you when immersion isn’t possible? Tell us about it here!

In Search of Travel Companion for Italian Adventure

Last Friday, you might have seen the posting at My Bella Vita. Cheerye Moore did me a great favor by telling the world about my travel plans and my desire to find a companion for this trip. I can’t thank her enough.
Each week it seems clearer to me that my trip should take place in October 2009. I have decided to travel at this time because I would like to attend La Bettola in Curinga, the town where my grandfather was born. La Bettola takes place the third Sunday in October. This time of year is also a bit better for me work-wise.
Are you interested in visiting Calabria and Sicily in October 2009? Take a look at the article at My Bella Vita, and then inquire within!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Calabria-Simu o No Calabrisi?

Michelle Fabio from Bleeding Espresso recently shared this great video on her blog. I just had to share it with you here too.

Curinga Insieme

I found a really neat website about Curinga this week. It's called Curinga Insieme. What I love most about the site is the photo album. I have been really wanting to find pictures of Curinga. This website has a nice collection.

The website also has a section where readers can send letters. I am happy to say they published my letter. I will now be known throughout all of Curinga! Not only do they know me in the town hall, they know me on Facebook, and the readers know me at Curinga Insieme! By the time I arrive, they will hold a special parade for my arrival!

Here is the letter.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

La Bettola

You are probably wondering why I am sharing this video with you. Well, first of all, it takes place in Curinga. La Bettola is a festival that takes place during the third Sunday in October, and I am thinking that I would like to travel to Curinga at this time.

This was the first video that I was able to find about Curinga. I watch it periodically, and I am amazed at how much more I understand since the first time I saw the video. I use the video as a benchmark for my progress with the Italian language.

I love the food in this video. I am not a great fan of tripe, but I would eat it just to be at the festival. The chickpeas and bacalao look delicious too. All typical food of Curinga. If you go to the Curinga Insieme website photo section, you can find pictures of this event. I love the pictures of the locale where the event takes place. Check out those pomegranates on the ceiling!

Enjoy the video.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

News! Notizie!

"News!", read the email I received today from Curinga, Italy.

What would the news be? That quickly? E. had just emailed me last week saying that she had been to the town hall in Curinga, and she expected that the process for researching my grandfather would be rather slow since there was only one clerk on staff to do the research.

My heart rate quickened and I opened the letter. It read,

"I have been successful in finding the first piece of news about the Orlando family. The real name of your grandfather, Carmelo Orlando, is Elia Carmelo Orlando, born July 13th, 1888 in Curinga, Catanzaro. Carmelo's father's name was Bruno Orlando (born around 1850), and Bruno was married to Lucia Gigantino, the mother of your grandfather."

E. proceeded to tell me that she found information about the great grandfather of her father. He was called Guiseppe Orlando, and he was born on November 8th, 1884. She suspects that since the dates of birth of Guiseppe and Carmelo are close, she thinks that perhaps Carmelo and Guiseppe were cousins.

"The research is not over. It continues. This is just some small news that I share with you! "

I sensed the excitement in the tone of her letter. Perhaps E. too would end up with the geneology bug. That itching desire to uncover the history of our past, our present, and the connection we have to other souls who have moved on to another dimension where they wait for us to come home.

E. concluded her letter by saying that she would let me know more in about a week or 10 days, as soon as the clerk has done more research.

* * * *

"Bruno e Lucia, Mi presento. Sono Jennifer, vostra pronipote femenina. Ho viaggiato molto lotano per conoscerli. Molto piacere."

"Bruno and Lucy, I introduce myself. My name is Jennifer, and I am your great granddaughter. I have traveled a long distance to meet you. It is such a pleasure to finally know you."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Waiting, and More Waiting...

I will be honest, I come home every day and I look in my mailbox for a letter from the USCIS. We have reached the six week point, and the website states that it takes 6-8 weeks to process orders. I suppose the fact that I submitted my request the day after Christmas probably slowed things down even more. Boy, it would be a nice birthday gift to receive that letter and know my fate. Italian citizenship or no Italian citizenship?

Keep in mind, this is only the first of two requests I must make to the USCIS. Once they have determined whether or not there are any documents on my nonni, I will have to request the specific documents, if they are available. We're looking at June to finish this stage of the research, if all goes well.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the puddle, as they say in Spain, I have been in touch with the Orlando family in Curinga. E. Orlando has gone to the town hall to for me. She reported back that because the documents are so old, and there is just one clerk, the search might take a while. Thank goodness I am requesting them now! Imagine if I get there in December and they tell me they need longer than two weeks (the length of my proposed trip) to find the documents. And yes, once again I will be dealing with the holidays, which might slow things down more.

My absence in this blog doesn't mean all this research has died. It's just an extremely slow process. Painstakingly slow for me at times. I think of grandpa daily, and yesterday I even did some imagery work while I was receiving a reiki treatment. To relax into my treatment, I thought of my grandpa giving me a tour of Curinga. He strolled with me up the cobblestone streets, and described his town and the villagers that populated it. Eventually we ended up in his modest little home, where my petite and round grandma was waiting with her apron and a smile. She kissed me and we sat down the three of us to eat a meal together.

Keep in mind that a scenario such as the one I imagined probably would have never taken place had my grandparents remained in Italy. These two people probably would have never met. My grandfather was calabrese, and my grandma was Sicilian. They had an arranged marriage of sorts, and they met as a result of being immigrants to this country. Chances are, my grandmother would have married a Sicilian had she stayed in her home town. And chances are, that Sicilian would have been from the town of Santo Stefano di Camastra, or a very nearby town. As life would have it though, Antoinette married a tall man from Calabria, from Curinga to be exact.

So, I was aware that what I imagined wasn't a likely possibility, but I said, "What the heck! It's my image, let me have fun with it!"

The other part of my image that was unlikely was the paucity of other family members in the home during meal time. It was just the three of us at the table. It was a special, intimate meal where they gave me all their attention because their children and other grandchildren were not present. Very unlikely, but not impossible. During my time in Italy, I don't remember one meal (except maybe breakfast once) when I sat at a table with just two people. There were always at least 4 or 5 with me at all times, and there was always at least one child.

So, while I don't have any documents to prove that my research has moved forward, I do have a very healthy imagination that seems to be getting me through those moments of waiting, and more waiting.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Awaiting a Response from the USCIS

I have been quiet lately, I know. It doesn't mean that I have abandoned my geneology work. Actually, I decided to slow down a bit as I await a response from the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services. I have submitted two forms for both my grandfather, Carmelo Orlando, and my grandma Antoinette Picione, to see if they have any documentation regarding their naturalization. Once I have the verdict on their naturalization, or whether or not grandpa was naturalized, then I can proceed with my paperwork to become an Italian citizen. Or not. That is the big question.

Because I put my heart and soul into this research, I need to step back every so often and regain my balance. Sometimes it feels like if I try hard enough to dig up information about my nonno Carmelo, I will actually find him and meet him. And then I remember he has passed and that is impossible right now. At least in this world.

So, I submitted these two forms and paid $40 to find out if USCIS has any documentation on my nonni. Once we know what they have, then I will have to submit another form to obtain the specific documents, if they have them. It's a slow process. That's why I am not gathering anymore supporting documents here in the US until USCIS responds.

Meanwhile, no word from the Orlando family in Curinga. I want to send them an email to check in, but I don't want to be pushy. Maybe I just need to go through the official channels to seek the documentation from the town of Curinga. In the case of my grandfather's documents, I am interested in obtaining the documents regardless of my citizenship destiny. I just want to know him. Understand the circumstances of his life, the town he was born in, the family members who raised him.

This is the form I used to conduct the search. It's called a Geneology Index Search Request.

If you are wondering about that media player up there, I installed it to play a song that my Uncle Bruno recorded. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get the song to play. Still working on it...

Circolo Calabrese