Digging for roots

My great-grandfather was born in Genoa, Italy in 1866 and migrated to the United States in 1881. All of my other ancestors have lived in the good old US of A for many hundreds of years.

Despite my obvious American roots, I still mysteriously feel part Italian. I was raised with a heavy dose of Ligurian cooking, have adopted many customs (including mostly those surrounding food, family and social interactions) and have traveled to my forefathers’ homeland on several occasions. Sometimes, I even feel Italian-American.

In order to explore these roots a little better, we traveled 90 minutes to Genoa to track down information about my ancestors. After disembarking from the train, we immediately walked into a large, beautifully ornate church. We strolled by the alter and then proceeded to the administrative offices. As we were wondering around in the back halls, a nice older man approached and asked something that sounded like “can I help you?”

We said in our best Italian, “Grandfather, he from Genoa, we want birth certificate, 1866”. He smiled and gestured for us to follow him.

Moments later he opened a one foot thick metal door to a small, dingy vault. We entered and were surrounded by hundreds of books with dates listed on the bindings. On the top shelf, he extracted a dusty manuscript inscribed with “1866-1876”. As I panned down toward the floor, I saw books dating back to the 11th century!

We perused through the list of birth names but did not find anyone resembling my great-grandfather. After we finished, the man said in Italian, “We only cover a small parish; you must check all other churches”.

Wow, there are hundreds of churches in the Genoa area.

We walked around for another few hours, poking in random churches, but did not find any information.

As we were preparing to give-up, we stepped into a tourist office and solicited their help. A nice woman at the counter said,” you must go to the civil services office”.

We quickly jumped into a cab and headed over. As we walked in the third story office, a lone man sat at a small desk in an enormous marble room. We told him our dilemma and he responded, “We happen to have records going back to….guess when? 1866. If he was born in Genoa, we should have it.”

Lisa and I were filled with anticipation and excitement.

Twenty minutes later, he returned. His smiling face quickly turned to a frown and he said, “I’m sorry, we have no records of him. He may have been born outside of the city or the records have been placed somewhere else.”

We were disappointed that nothing was found. But it was still a fun journey to take.

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