“I’ll just go call Grandma,” I said to my instructor. I was in my Genealogy class at the John C. Campbell Folk School where I had one major advantage over all my classmates: I was the only student who had a grandmother still living. This is probably because I was the youngest student in the class by at least thirty years. When my classmates had questions they needed answers to, they had to do a bit more searching. I could just call Grandma.
I’d heard a lot of her stories before, but now I was going to get them straight and get them down. Like the story of the great-grandmother who, ill after the death of her young child was told she was going to die and she should leave Brooklyn for the country (aka Poughkeepsie). She lived to be 92. Then there was the great-grandfather who died in an explosion leaving his wife with three children under four years old – the oldest of whom was my Grandpa Gallo. I had another great-grandfather who took his family to one church in town until the day they walked in and were told all the Italians had to now go to a different church. And that’s just my father’s side of the family.
“I wish my grandchildren took an interest in the genealogy work I’m doing,” a classmate lamented. “Me, too,” another agreed. “I sometimes wonder what they’re going to do with my research after I’m gone – I hope they don’t just throw it all out.” Our teacher, Ann Osisek, had answers to a lot of our questions – and had an answer for this dilemma as well. She told us that libraries in the town in which our relatives lived will usually take our family history research, and have it available if anyone in the future wants to continue the search. I, though, had something to add, which I gave in a little speech on our last day that went something like this:
“My grandmother is 87, and I just started doing our genealogy. So don’t give up hope. You’re all much younger than that – so wait at least til your 87 before you think your grandkids aren’t interested.”
They, in turn, told me to get my grandmother’s story down. So that’s what I’ve started to do. But I’ve also found I’m telling her parts of her story she didn’t know. Just today, on my regular Sunday visit to Grandma’s for meatballs, I let her know I found the Ellis Island records of her father’s arrival in the US (see document below – line 13). She knew he came over with his mother when he was seventeen. But she didn’t know that they were initially detained because they had no money upon their arrival. My great-great-grandmother (see document below – line 12) arrived in this country with two children, by two different husbands, neither of whom was still alive. Another child – by yet another husband – was already in the US and paid for her passage. Yes, this woman had lost three husbands by the time she arrived – and she was only 50. I’d heard she was tough – no wonder! Could you imagine that life? All that for a woman whose name – Abbondanza – means abundance, plenty, richness, and wealth. Her abundance was not material the day she stepped foot on Ellis Island. But she did have plenty – of hope, courage, and faith.
In March, I’m embarking on a journey, too. I’m reversing Abbondanza’s trip – leaving from New York and heading to Avellino, Italy. My trip will be a lot easier than hers in many ways. But with me I’ll take a dose of her hope, courage, and faith as I try to find out more about her.