Lately we’ve been talking about the new Rome L.D.S. Temple and why it is important to my family. If you missed the first two posts in this series, here they are:
When Tony and I got married, one of his aunts gave me a set of pasta dishes, along with Tony’s grandmother’s recipe for Chicken Parmagiana. “Welcome to the Famiglia,” began the recipe. I didn’t really understand back then everything it meant to become part of this family.
After our wedding, Tony and I went back to Utah and B.Y.U., where he busied himself finishing a business degree and I went to work at an immigration law office. A few more years brought the birth of our daughter, Tony’s graduation, and our decision to start a business in Southern California. We looked forward to a life of uninterrupted sunshine together on a long sandy beach.
On one of those eternally spring days in San Diego, I was sitting at my laptop with the windows open and a breeze blowing in, surfing the internet and daydreaming about taking a trip to Europe. All of a sudden, I found myself reading the story of a young American who had gone to the Italian consulate with his Italian great-grandfather’s birth certificate, and gotten Italian citizenship. I had to read it again. The Italian government had actually granted him citizenship, just because his great-grandfather was born in Italy. It was one of those moments where you suddenly see your life opening before you in a way you’d never considered before. Tony and I had always loved traveling, but I’d never thought we could live abroad. And in Italy! With citizenship, we could stay there forever.
I had to find out more. I knew that Tony had Italian blood on both sides of his family. What if we could become Italian too? I spent the next three days working fourteen hours a day on my laptop, researching Tony’s family tree. Tony spent the next three days watching our baby daughter and bemusedly bringing me Panda Express to eat at the computer. I needed to learn how far back his ancestors had emigrated from Italy to the United States, and when they were naturalized as Americans. If the Italian ancestor who immigrated had been naturalized in the U.S. after the birth of his children, he would have passed on his Italian citizenship to them at birth, and all his descendants would be recognized as long-lost citizens by the Italian government. If not, this was all a wild goose chase.
The story unfolded in pieces, on genealogical websites and through phone calls to family members and government offices. I started on Tony’s paternal side. They are the ones who look Italian, with dark hair, olive skin, and plenty of garlic in every meal. Tony tells me that family vacations and reunions on that side of the family always revolved around food. And their original last name, Famiglia, means “family” in Italian, although they dropped the “g” when they went through Ellis Island to make it easier to pronounce in English.
Anthony Joseph Familia came to America from Sicily in the late 19th century. His first-born son, Joseph Anthony, is Tony’s paternal great-grandfather. The family tradition is to pass the name down, flipping the first and middle names every generation. For some reason, even though my husband Tony is the third son in his family, he received the historic family name. His full name, like that of his great-great-grandfather, is Anthony Joseph Familia. Now I had to settle the all-important question of whether Anthony was naturalized before or after his eldest son was born. The census record for New York listed him and his wife Winifred as naturalized American citizens, and their children as born in New York. This looked promising. All I would need to do would be to track down the naturalization document to make sure.
Tony called his grandmother to confirm, but she said that Joseph Anthony had been born in Sicily, not New York, and had been brought over the sea as a baby. And Anthony Joseph had never been naturalized at all. In fact, she said he had never even learned English. It seems that he had just embroidered some details on the census to avoid any inconvenient questions. That meant we needed to find out when Joseph Anthony had been naturalized. And in fact, I did manage to find evidence online that he had done the first half of the two-part naturalization process a few years before his son William (Tony’s grandfather) was born. How we hoped he had not had time to complete it before the birth of his son. By this time it was evening, but I determined to call the National Archives the next morning to find out if they had a completed naturalization record for Joseph Anthony.
Since they opened at 9:00 on the East Coast, I was up and ready to call at 6:00 a.m. California time. I communicated my request to the woman on the other end of the phone, and she went to shuffle through records. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, heart pounding. Finally, she returned and read me the naturalization document. Joseph Anthony completed the naturalization process just nine months before William’s birth. His two older children inherited Italian citizenship, as did all their descendants. But we were out of luck.
With a little less hope, I turned to the other side of the family. Henriette and Domenico’s side. They had immigrated to the United States some forty years earlier, and immediately traveled over the plains with the pioneers to Utah. How would I even find a naturalization document from the 1800’s on the wild frontier of a place that wasn’t even a state? And even if we did find it, were we just crazy to think we could ride off together into some endless Italian sunset? Tomorrow you’ll find out . . .