One Country....Many Parts
by Cav. Anthony Lascio
We Americans are keenly aware that this land of ours known as the United States of America in reality is one nation comprised of many distinct parts. If you've traveled across America to any extent you realize that the good ole USA varies greatly from one region to the next. Whether it's geography, food, customs, accents, history, lifestyle or attitude, among just a few examples, each US region, sometimes even states themselves, represent a uniqueness. Why would we think Italy is any different?
Of all the European countries, probably no nation on the continent offers as much variety and diversity as Italia. Why is this so, what are some of the differences, and how does this affect genealogy?
To begin with, Italy was a prize for any perspective conqueror because of it's geography. Surrounded by water on three of it's four borders and the Alpine mountains on the fourth, this land was prime territory. As they say in the real estate business, location...location...location.
Secondly, the climate varied greatly from the wintery mountains North to the arid tropic-like South. Crops of great variety could be produced and the seas which formed it's enormous coastline provided an abundance of seafood, not to mention outstanding shipping ports.
Thirdly, Italy's geographic location in Europe and it's proximity to the Middle East ranked it high on the list of desirable real estate.
Because Italy has a history of hostile takeovers, its society was influenced in every aspect by a variety of foreigners, most notably the Spanish, Albanians, French, Greeks, plus others, and of course, our earliest ancestors, the Romans.
This is why the Italian genealogist will encounter a host of exciting and interesting revelations when conducting research in Italy.
Most of us know there are countless dialects across the Italian landscape. Some "experts" claim thirty or forty distinctly different dialects. Others say more. No one really knows. Some dialects are so localized, they encompass only one town and it's surrounding area. Others cover an entire region. It is difficult to separate one dialect from another in some areas because only subtle differences are evident. For this reason, counting the exact number of Italian dialects is mind boggling.
Customs are another facet of Italy which amaze the analyst. Some traditions and customs include only a small town while others extend across an entire province or even region. Who has visited each and every town in Italy to listen to the dialect, view the customs, learn of their traditions, sample all of the food and research each towns history? No one!
What affect does all of this have on the Italian genealogist? None, if you stay at home and conduct all of your research via mail, phone or e mail. But should you pack your belongings, head for the airport and find yourself landing in Italy, the preceding will have a profound affect upon you and your mission.
Once in the land of your roots, you will immediately begin to experience the results of how history has shaped your ancestors' birthplace. The manner in which your progenitors spoke, the way they lived, the reason they left will become evident to you as the pages of archival ledgers unfold before your very eyes.
Spring boarding from the past to the present will further portray the ancestral lifestyle you seek to understand. Should you be fortunate enough to discover relatives, what they tell you and how they tell it will provide you with a genuine flashback into your ancestors time because so little has changed over dozens of decades in most Italian towns, particularly south of Rome and in Sicily.
Should your Italian heritage originate in two or more different locations in Italy you are not only challenged you are also blessed. You will have the unique experience of learning about the richness of more than one of Italy's special regions.
Italy's differences may not always jump out at you, but under the veneer of surface similarities, the uniqueness lies beneath.
So prepare for a special treat if your genealogical plans include a trek to Bella Italia. You will discover that Italy is more than Alfredo sauce versus Marinara, sounding out each word versus dropping vowel endings, and ancestral fishermen versus farmers. It is a versatility and a depth beyond your most vivid imagination. You may discover why your ancestors pursued specific occupations; why they had given names for their town's patron saint; why they lived such short lives; even why they believed in certain superstitions. Your genealogy will come alive.....and so will you.
© PIP Chapter 1, 2003 ~ Webmaster: LPRoots@yahoo.com ~ page last updated on Wednesday, January 24, 2007