Internet Angels ??   

submitted by Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk


Many genealogical researchers today use the Internet as a means of finding information about their ancestors or their homeland. We can surf the Internet to find others researching the same names or in the same locations. We might even find information about their immigration to the United States and a picture of the ship they arrived on. There is an amazing amount of information out there to be found - but many researchers overlook the most powerful tool of all - connections to relatives we don't even know.

While we may use the web to look for our family names and hope that someone else might have already done some work we should remember that we must also put some of our known information out there in cyberspace as well. There are many web sites that allow you to post the surnames you are researching, even the Italian ones. Over the last 5 years or so I have posted my Italian names on any site that I found. I didn't hold out a lot of hope that there would be too many researchers looking for the same individuals from the same small comunes in Italy but you never know.

While I have had some contacts over the years from others wanting "whatever you have on the Bruno family from Italy" there have been some connections with others searching in the same comunes or regions in Italy. Exchanging cultural and historic information with these individuals has expanded my understanding of the history of my Italian ancestors.

Several months ago I received one of the many emails from an individual wanting to know what my interest was in the comune of Grotteria. His name was Giuseppe Ientile and he stated that he was born in Grotteria and now lived in Rome. Being a bit homesick for his native town he was "sailing the Internet" one morning and came across the photos I posted from my trip to Grotteria in 1999.

I responded to his questions and explained that my grandfather, Cosimo Bruno Iannizzi, was born in Grotteria in 1876 and that I had visited there in 1999. I sent him the other surnames I was researching as well.

Several days later he responded that he knew many of these names from growing up in Grotteria and amazingly his mother was an Iannizzi! While I was thrilled to have made the connection, there are many Iannizzi families in the area now, I was curious but not hopeful for a close connection. I read his email again as he listed his Iannizzi grandfather’s name and then his great-grandfather’s name. His great-grandfather, Francesco Iannizzi, was married to an Angela Maria (he could not recall her maiden name). Now I was getting excited!

Hoping for the best I responded with the question "Was Angela’s name Femia?" I asked this question because my grandfather’s only brother was Francesco and he was married to a woman named Angela Maria Femia. I sat tight and waited for his response.

When I finally received the reply I was totally overwhelmed. Yes, his great-grandfather was indeed my grandfather’s only brother!

The only real information I had on Francesco was that told to me by my Aunt Susie when I interviewed her in 1997. She spoke so lovingly of her "Uncle Frank" that I knew he must have been a special man. Susie said that after her mother deserted the family (due to abuse by my grandfather) it was Francesco who took care of Susie and her siblings. Francesco came to the US sometime before 1907 when my grandfather listed Francesco as the person he was going to live with in Boston, MA (on the passenger list). I found Frank living with the family in the 1910 census but he was nowhere to be found in 1920. Not knowing what happened to him always intrigued me. I searched death records, other state census records - anything I could think of with no success.

When I asked Aunt Susie about Frank she told me that he went back to Italy and it broke her heart. She really did love her Uncle Frank. She then told me that he had developed a large growth on his face and had committed suicide because he could not bear to be disfigured. Susie said more than once what a handsome man he was.

Careful about bridging this subject with Giuseppe I asked if the story was accurate. Yes, indeed it was. Giuseppe then stated that many people asked him if he was afraid of sleeping in his bedroom as it was the very room where Francesco killed himself. Giuseppe said that he was never afraid and always laid on the bed looking up at the blue ceiling and peach colored walls and imagined all of the generations before him that had done the same - including Francesco.

His parents still live in the family home where my grandfather was born! Francesco had the house because he was the first born son in the family.

We have since been sending messages back and forth across the Atlantic and slowly learning about each other’s side of the family. He told me that I knew more about his ancestors than he did. This surprised me since I have always believed that the family history was well known to those still living in the ancestral comune. Apparently the municipio officials are more helpful to American researchers than they are to the residents. Giuseppe’s aunt actually works in the municipio office and would not assist him in tracing the family.

Giuseppe went home to Grotteria for the Christmas holidays - sharing his excitement about finding his cousin in America. He said that the family was thrilled to know that there was someone out there that knew of them and their history. He has taken pictures of the town and its Christmas celebrations, the family, and of the house they live in. I am anxiously awaiting the pictures that I will receive.

I am in the process of putting together a family tree chart to send to his grandfather, Francesco’s son who is the last of Francesco’s children still living. He is in his 80s and speaks English since he served in England for many years after WWII. Giuseppe’s mother and father are my age (we won’t say how old that is - but it is more than 40) and Giuseppe is the same age as my oldest daughter, Diana. The parallels between our families are amazing!

I truly believe that Aunt Susie is at work here. She passed away in November of 2000 and I know that she is with her beloved Uncle Frank. Since I am (along with Marge DiSciullo) taking Italian classes Giuseppe lets me practice on him while he practices his English on me. It is a great way to learn a bit more about the other’s language.

Giuseppe and I will continue to explore our families and learn about each other. He plans to one day came to the United States and work for a year or so. When he does, or when I get back to Italy, we will certainly meet each other. In the meantime we will use that incredible tool - the Internet - to bring our branches of the family together after all of these years!

Part two of this story

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