Ancestry success in Ischia
Several years ago, I began digging for genealogy clues about my great grandparents from Italy. Like millions of others who emigrated from Southern Italy in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they left their homeland with few possessions. They did not bring any birth, marriage, or family records with them. Thankfully, my genealogy dig has yielded clues and facts about the people in my Italian family tree. I've found birth documents, marriage records, military records, hometowns, and ship manifests in the last few years. I have also had the luxury of visiting several of my ancestral towns, both in Campania and Calabria. Since the summer of 2015 I have learned - through trial-by-fire, how to locate historical information on both sides of the Atlantic. I feel extraordinarily accomplished in my feat and equally grateful to all the people who helped me. I did not do this alone.This blog post is my attempt at chronically big wins and significant challenges. I did not keep a written journal during this period, but I should have done so. Some of the details of what was accomplished are fuzzy. Fortunately, I saved emails, scanned correspondences, and posted photos and videos of my family on Instagram. This post is selfishly more for me than anyone reading. Other than friends and family, I doubt anyone else will be interested. In 2015, while studying at a language school in Assisi, Italy, I met an Italian man and Polish woman in a wine bar. Manolo, Paulina, and I made fast friends. In a matter of a week, Manolo and Paulina agreed to accompany me on a road trip to a small six by four-mile long island off Naples' coast to dig for clues about my Italian born ancestors, specifically, my great grandfather Francesco Paolo Iacono.
Armed with a seed of information from my septuagenarian great aunt and clues from my sister, we traveled to the famous green island of Ischia via car (macchina) and ferry (traghetto).
We arrived in Ischia Porto in late summer. We were all filled with uncertainty, excitement, and one pressing goal. All we needed to do was to find and procure the original birth record of my great grandfather, Francesco Paolo Iacono. My new friends had significant doubts about what, if anything, we would find. I was doubtful as well.
Would we be granted any access to birth records at the local town offices?
Would we have enough time on our spur of the moment adventure trip to locate anything substantial?
Would we find any clues about Francesco's life on the island?
To my travel mates, the quest for Francesco's birth record seemed impossible. However, the can-do American spirit in me knew it was possible. I refused to give up hope before we'd even begun.
Once settled in on the island, we wasted zero time asking locals for help and questioning them about the Iacono last name. As a matter of fact, until this trip to Ischia (my first of many), I thought our family name was pronounced "EYE UH CONO." However, according to the islanders, I learned our family name is pronounced "YACK A NO."
My Italian acquaintances, now friends, Manolo, and his fiance', Paulina, helped me compile a family tree based on the knowledge I already had from family records and lore. Armed with a scribbled family tree on scrap paper and his language skills, we made our first visit to the Comune in Forio. Think of the comune as the town hall, a place where records of births, deaths, and marriages are kept. It's been a couple of years now, and I can't remember exactly how our first visit went, but I recall being filled with excitement and nerves walking into the building. As we all waited our turn for service, we passed the time taking pictures and being silly with one another. In retrospect, we probably looked like idiots, but I know none of us cared. After a while, we had the chance to present our needs to a mature man behind the glass window. He looked familiar to me. His face was warm, welcoming, like an uncle I wish I had or a long lost Italian family friend.
The man who stepped forward to help us is named Leonardo, pictured here with me at the Comune in Forio on a second trip we made in the fall of 2015. Leonardo understood my desire to connect with my past. Although I spoke only limited Italian at the time, we communicated with each other in the way Italians do, with eyes, gestures, and body language. In short, he got me. He saw the passion for my past in my eyes. And thanks to my friends who speak Italian, he understood what we needed. In a short time, I forget the actual time frame, he located and produced my great grandfather's birth record. As I recall now, several years later, he smiling with delight as he watched me shake and sputter positive comments at the sight of those two beautiful Italian pages.
During my second trip to Ischia, we returned to the Comune in Forio to obtain my great grandmother's birth record. After Leonardo found Regina Foglia's record, he told me we share an ancestral name, Migliaccio. I recall him saying his grandmother was a Migliaccio. My great-great-grandmother was also a Migliaccio. Based on my relative, Len Iacono, there are many Migliaccio's in my family line based on genealogy information I recently obtained. I don't have hard evidence now, but I feel like Leonardo, and I are related.
On September 1, 2015, the day that lives in genealogy success history, the impossible became possible. Holding my great grandfather, Francesco's, birth certificate (below) in my hand was exhilarating. I remember calling my father on WhatsApp and sharing the good news with him. I knew in my heart at the time; his birth record would be life-changing for me.The rest of my story has not been written yet, but I am confident I will return to Ischia.