8. Getting Down to Serious Work

If you’ve been following my escapades so far, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that my impressive record of failures in reconnecting with my ancestry only made me want to do it more. But I did realize I’d need to get a little less daffy about it all. And this is where the hard work part began.

Just about the time we were roaming the streets of San Demetrio seeking our inner Liguori, two guys—Brigham Young University graduates–were shifting their company into high gear, a company that would eventually be known as Ancestry.com. Their history gives a pretty good indication that I wasn’t alone in wanting to learn about my roots. In 1998, they took just 140 days to reach a million paying, registered users. My reason for joining in 2001 was not only simple curiosity about my forbears; there was another big reason as well. I can’t recall precisely when or how I learned about dual Italian citizenship by birth, but I did, and I was interested.

Italy is a country with citizenship jure sanguinis, Latin for “by right of blood.” Pretty much no matter where you were born, you retain your citizenship if your ancestors were born in Italy. Most jure sanguinis countries allow you to go back only one or maybe two generations for the citizenship claim. Italy places no limits on number of generations as long as the “line” you use, the chain of ancestors going back to Italy, meets certain conditions:

  • The last ancestor born in Italy was alive on or after March 17, 1861, the official date of the unification of Italy. There were no “Italian” citizens before that date because there was no Italy.
  • The first woman in your line gave birth to the next person in the line after 1948. Before 1948, when the Italian Constitution recognized women as equal, only men could hand down Italian citizenship.
  • No one in the line ever renounced his or her Italian citizenship before the birth of the next in line.

Doesn’t seem bad, right? And in a way, it isn’t. But that last item about renouncing citizenship is hard to prove. How do you actually prove that someone never did a thing unless doing that thing leaves unmistakable evidence? And then there’s the sheer volume of documents to collect. And there are the surprises, when you find out that what you think you knew about your family isn’t necessarily true.

But before I talk about the details of the whole process, I do want to mention one more fun thing that happened. In one of my random episodes of looking around the interwebs for anything about Macchia Albanese, I came upon an Italian language and culture program at Macchia and San Demetrio Corone! It was the DeRada Institute. This was maybe 2006 or so. I was amazed to see that the school was there, of all places, and I stored the information away for future reference.

In 2008, my daughter was finishing up her freshman year in college and decided she wanted to continue her Italian language studies over the summer. Well, where else would she go? So, she spent four or five weeks there right in San Demetrio. I had hoped she would come home with some new genealogy information, but she didn’t. I can’t complain, though, because she spent the time learning the Italian language, learning to cook, making friends and visiting many interesting places in town and nearby. I couldn’t believe that somehow, fate had arranged for my daughter to return to the place of her great-great grandparents’ birth. I was a little jealous, as you might be able to detect in the picture of me seeing her off. But as she sent home photos and descriptions of delicious food and fun adventures, I was very happy for her and it encouraged me to work harder on our dual citizenship.






Next time, I’ll get back to beginning the rollercoaster ride that ends with (spoiler alert!) recognition of my status, and that of my children, as Italian citizens from birth. Like reading Dickens, it’s one of those things I think you enjoy much more after doing it than while it’s happening.

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