“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.

Cretic – Arrival of Gaetano Urciuoli – Line 13


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara Winter says:

    What a delightful piece. Now that all my father’s sisters are gone, I am so sorry I didn’t ask more questions and record their answers. I think of new things all the time that I wonder about.

    1. We always will, won’t we? Even now, I’m sure I’ll look back and think, “Why didn’t I ask Grandma THAT?”

  2. Rebecca,
    There are so many questions I wished I’d asked my grandmothers but they were gone before I was old enough to understand the importance of roots. You are so fortunate to have a living grandma and she is equally blessed to have a granddaughter who will carry on her legacy of hope, faith and love.

    1. Thanks Terri. I am at once happy to have had this time with my Grandma also sad that I did not have the same time with my other grandparents that have already passed on.

  3. Linda Mastro says:

    May all of your journeys be blessed by the spirit of Abbondanza. Just think of the stories you are creating for the generations to come! Aboondanza is surely smiling on you.

  4. Vieginia Walsh says:

    I could be your grandmother! That could be a scary thought. Loved your piece. Surely want to follow you on your journey to and from Italy. Looking forward to meeting you soon. Ginny Walsh

    1. Looking forward to meeting you as well Ginny. Do you live in Hayesville?

  5. Ann Osisek says:

    I enjoyed reading your post and recalling what turned out to be such a revealing week for you and your family history…you are blessed to still have that Grandma to call…keep it going!
    Happy New Year!
    Ann O.

    1. Thanks for all your help with genealogy research Ann. You’ll be happy to know I interview Gram for three hours the other day – and recorded it all on video (which is currently being transferred to a DVD).

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