Another Angle

If you’ve missed the beginning of this story, I’m telling about how we moved to Italy. The rest of the story can be found here:

Since Grandma Familia had been a good source of information about her side of the family, Tony decided to call his mother and see if she knew anything about whether and when Domenico was naturalized. As fate would have it, she had recently paid a visit to her uncle Blaine (Domenico’s grandson and the genealogy guru of the family). With her sisters, she had been able to see his store of genealogical documents. They had copied an entire file box full of family papers from the Bodreros. Actually, they weren’t Bodreros. They were Boudreros. Since Domenico spent his young manhood in France, He adopted the French spelling of both his first and last name. For the rest of his life he went by Dominique Boudrero. Domenico also had a couple of brothers who immigrated to Utah but kept their original Italian surname. So in Logan there are two branches of the family: the Bodreros and the Boudreros.

Tony’s mother flipped through the pages in the box as she talked to him on the phone. There were a lot of fascinating stories, but no naturalization record. Finally, she came across a story of Domenico being excommunicated from the L.D.S. Church for having voted for the “wrong” candidate in an election, and then eventually being reinstated (evidently this was not uncommon in those days). We could definitely picture Domenico voting his own mind, whatever the consequences. But we were crushed by the news. If he was voting years before Louis was born, then he MUST have been naturalized previously. After all, non-citizens can’t vote. And anyway, what were the chances it would really have worked . . . ?

We sadly put the idea of getting citizenship and going to Italy on the shelf. Oh, well. Maybe when we were old and grey we could retire to Italy. Somehow, the thought failed to excite us. Instead, we moved to Washington state and watched the rain roll down our windows for a year. But we had not quite forgotten Italy. When our son came along, we named him Dominique. A few months later, almost magically, we were back in San Diego, down the street from the beautiful L.D.S. Temple there, which we began to attend weekly. Somehow, going to the Temple so often made us think about family history. On another breezy and beautiful San Diego day, this time in late November, we decided to go over the family lines again, in case we had missed something.

I emailed the Utah state archives to have them check several different county registers and find out if Domenico ever did become a United States citizen. Utah was only a territory back then, and the Mormons were not always on wonderful terms with the Federal Government. Besides, Tony’s mother said that her own mother had told her stories of being teased and called WOP’s when she was a child in Logan (a nasty nickname for Italian immigrants, who had a reputation for never getting around to being naturalized as Americans, and thus remaining With Out Papers. Not entirely undeserved, as evidenced by the Famiglia side of the family. The incredible thing to me is that they were still suffering under this epithet after three generations. Small town, I guess). But who knew? Maybe it was true. Perhaps they really never did have papers.

I checked the census record for Cache Valley. In 1870, three years before his youngest son Louis (Tony’s great-grandfather) was born, Domenico had indicated that he was not a U.S. citizen. Who knew if it was true or not, considering our previous disappointment with the creative inventions we’d discovered in the New York census. Unfortunately, the 1880 census contained no naturalization data, and the 1890 census for Utah had been completely destroyed by fire. That left the 1900 census, on which Domenico did claim U.S. citizenship. So sometime within that 30 year period, perhaps a naturalization record for him existed.

At this point, I realized we had another set of problems. Domenico was born in 1826, 34 years before Italy became a country. Nobody I could find had ever claimed Italian citizenship from an ancestor this many generations removed. And all of their Italian ancestors had been born after 1861, when Italy was united as a country. Domenico was not only born before the unification of Italy, he had already left Italy his country forever in the 1850’s. It was entirely possible that the Italian consulate would refuse to even entertain our case. And even if Domenico had been naturalized after Louis’ birth, there was still some question as to whether children born to parents who naturalized before the 1912 Italian citizenship law were able to inherit Italian citizenship. In any case, it was quite a long shot. IF Domenico had never naturalized, or had naturalized after the birth of his youngest son, we might, if we were very lucky, be able to convince our consulate to give us Italian citizenship.

But we had to move to Italy. By this time, we both felt it. There was some reason we needed to be there, and somehow we felt that Domenico and Henriette were the ones to help us. Sure enough, something timely had just occurred. Rumors on internet message boards were rife that there were desperate people who had bypassed the consulate entirely and just gone straight to Italy to claim their citizenship. Most of those rumors were in Spanish, since the collapse of the Argentine economy in the early 2000’s had sent a wave of Argentines of Italian descent back to their ancestral homeland. Only a year before, Italy had created a new type of Permesso (permission to stay in the country) specifically for people coming to claim citizenship jure sanguinis.

This was our answer. We would gather the documents, fly to Italy, and find Lagnasco, the tiny town where Domenico was born. Tony would walk into the city hall clutching his great-great-grandfather’s birth certificate and say, “Good morning. I am Italian. My grandfather’s grandfather was born in Italy.” Hopefully, the fact that we were moving our family to Italy, learning Italian, and wanting to live forever in the valleys of Piedmont like our ancestors would move someone there to approve our application, in spite of the sketchy points.

An airtight plan? Well, no. But for us it was a dream, a destiny, and a possibility too amazing to pass up, even if there was only a fool’s hope that it would all actually work out the way we planned. Even so, first we needed a few miracles on our own side of the Atlantic . . .