Le radici ti aspettano. These were the words my cousin in Italy, Michele Pietrasanta, sent me – essentially saying my roots are waiting for me. These four words hit home with me as my brother and I have been on a mission to obtain our Italian citizenship – for various reasons but it could be that I feel the pull from the homeland of my ancestors.
My mother’s father, Giovanni Pietrasanta, came to the United States in 1912 followed by my grandmother, Maria Vatrano with their baby, Michele. They made their way from New York to New Jersey, Connecticut and finally to Florida. My mother, Grace, was born along the way in Connecticut in 1915. So the story goes – she met my father here in Jacksonville, they married and had us six kids.
My childhood wasn’t entrenched in the Italian culture as much as I would have liked – thinking back on it now, except for our aunts and uncles who lived nearby. I do have fond memories of my Uncle Mike’s wife, Aunt Antoinette, or Tita as we called her. She was such a lovely lady and her house was always filled with the aroma of Italian sauces – as she usually had them simmering on the stove. I also remember my Uncle Mike playing his mandolin as we all sat around their living room relaxing after a delicious Italian meal. It must be this Italian influence that made me want to learn to play the mandolin.
My mother frequently made her Italian sauces that she would use for spaghetti and lasagna. But my father was more of a “meat and potatoes man” who was raised in Georgia on homemade biscuits, breakfast sausage and other farm fare. He loved his dessert of biscuits and cane syrup mixed with butter. (He loved his sweets and I get that from him.)
Being one of the youngest in the family, I don’t remember my Italian grandparents. My mother said her father, Giovanni, wouldn’t let them speak Italian at home as he wanted them to be “Americans”. I can understand that he was proud of his life here, but I would have like a bit more Italian culture infused into my childhood.
So, in spite of the little bit I learned of my Italian family as I grew up, I worked my way back around through my interest in our genealogy. My heritage lies in southern Italy around the arch of the “boot”. The towns most prominent are Bernalda, Montescaglioso and Botricella. As part of the requirement by the Italian Consulate for citizenship, I had to get records of my grandparent’s births and marriage. As a result, I met Giovanni Montanti who conducted extensive research of the Italian records for me. He found quite a few records that helped me extend my family tree out a few generations. (He is a great resource if you ever need help researching Italian records.)
According to Italian law, I am already an Italian citizen based on my heritage; however, I have to prove my lineage so they can assign current citizenship status. I also have to prove that neither I nor my mother or grandfather “denounced” the Italian government. For my grandfather, that could have been in the form of naturalization prior to the birth of my mother.
To submit our application for Italian citizenship, we had to get birth records, marriage records and death records. I had to have the Department of Homeland Security conduct a search for naturalization papers and have them send me an official Letter of No Record. My mother didn’t have a birth certificate so I had to contact several agencies and church organizations in Connecticut to try to find records of her birth. None found, we were able to use the baptism certificate from Assumption Catholic Church here in Jacksonville. We are fortunate to have found that, and fortunate that she was baptized here.
After we collected all of the required documents, those from state archives had to have apostilles attached to them. That is nothing more than an authentication page by the Secretary of State that a document is legitimate and adequate for use in any country who participated in the Hague Convention of 1961.
One of the final steps was to have all documents translated into Italian. Once that was done, we completed the application and we were ready for our appointment with the Italian Consulate in Miami. An important point regarding that appointment – we made it almost two years ago. Yes, we had to wait two years for an appointment. I realize it takes a while to assemble all of the documents, but…two years? Crazy. Another crazy point if you are interested in pursuing this yourself is how much it all costs – molti soldi.
So all went well. They did ask for copies of census records and a few other documents (which I happen to have with me). We were hoping for finalization the day of the appointment, but that didn’t happen. We have to wait a few months for them to verify our files and conduct internal research. Nothing comes easy.
Meanwhile, le radici mi aspettano. Ciao.