Where to Next and Why…

It’s been a while since I have written a personal blog post. I have been strapped down by my studies and trying to spend quality time with my family. As most of you know, I am a dual Master’s student at Simmons College – changing to Simmons University come fall semester – majoring in history and archives management. I am set to graduate in May 2019, and while I am beginning the process to write my Master’s thesis, I must also come face to face with the daunting task of deciding what’s next.

Of course, my family comes first. I know that whatever I decide will be in the best interest of my family. At the same time, I also must follow my own dreams. I have been given the opportunity to apply for a Fulbright Scholar award and apply to continue my studies. These opportunities come with having a supportive family.

While I intend to apply for both, my heart is set on furthering my education. Fulbright would be an opportunity of life time. If awarded, I would go to Kenya, specifically the ancestral towns of my husband and his maternal family. I would conduct research on the people and culture of the Luo tribe. I would analyze which characteristics influenced my husband in his upbringing. I would investigate his family history. Looking at the family identity and how culture and genetics married to create his unique identity. I would also see which customs and traditions are similar to those of African Americans. Identifying what aspect of culture slavery couldn’t erase would be fascinating and an insight into the shared cultures African Americans have with our African mother nations.

On the other hand, I am really intrigued with trying to achieve a PhD before I turn 30. With a PhD, more opportunities are available. I’m sure many of you can guess what my PhD would be in; however, while this post is an explanation into where my head is at, it is also a comparison post into the fields I am most interested in. Let’s begin at the beginning:


I was born in Texas and adopted shortly after birth to single woman of Italian (Sicilian) descent in Medford, Massachusetts. As a young child, I was introduced to family history. I listened to my grandparents talk about their ancestors and their ancestral home in Italy. In school, we did family history and family genetics projects, but I always used my adoptive family. From a young age, I was curious to know who and where I came from. Fortunately, during my senior year of high school, I was able to meet and connect with my biological family. To this day, I continue to have a relationship with them. My birth family helped me begin to chart my own biological family tree. I dove head first into genealogy: digging in the archives to find records and using ancestral DNA testing to help advance my ancestral understanding when the records began to dwindle. I didn’t know it, but genealogy would soon become the answer to my life and how I identify.

After graduating from high school, I packed up and moved down South. I attended Spelman College. Initially I was interested in veterinary medicine, but my love for genealogy was stronger and I made a career change. I was an English major with a minor in African Diaspora and the World. I studied the African American literary experience, as well as the cultures and histories of African people within the Atlantic African Diaspora. My studies focused on utilizing ethnography – the scientific description of the customs of individual people and cultures – and ethnology – the study of the characteristics of various people and the differences and relationships between them – to garner a better understanding. The anthropological research I did, led to a better understanding and methodology in conducting genealogy research for myself and others. After finishing my undergraduate career a semester early, I began taking courses in genealogy research with the aspirations of becoming certified. While I am now a professional genealogist, I still want to get my certification.

Genealogy deals a lot with archives and archival records, as well as history and historical context. This knowledge is how I found my way to Simmons College. My studies here have been primarily centered around race and the African American experience, as well as digital record creation and management. In order to understand the next phases of my life, I defined the fields that I am studying:


Genealogy:         the study of family and is a continuous tracing of ancestors

Anthropology:   the study of humanity

Cultural:               the study of human societies and cultures and their development

Archaeology:     the study of human past and present, through the materials, which humans left behind

Historical:            pertaining to the ancient historical sites

Ethno:                   focuses on creating a connection between the past and the present

History:                the study of past events, particular in human affairs

Social:                   pertains to the history of ordinary people and their strategies and institutions to deal with life

Cultural:               examines the narrative records and descriptions of knowledge, customs, and past arts of a group of people. Combines the approaches of anthropology and history to examine language, popular cultural traditions, and cultural interpretations of historical experience

Public:                   deep roots in the areas of historical conversation, archival science, oral history, curatorship of museums and other related fields.

Archive:                a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people.


Looking at the definitions, I began to see a pattern. Genealogy, anthropology, and archaeology are all subfields of history. I looked deeper and forced myself to think about what it is career-wise I truly want to do.

I am interested in learning more about African Americans in terms of identity. I want to investigate how this particular community relates to other African communities within the diaspora, as well as understand the generation implications of slavery and what forms of resistance were executed. I want to take part in documentaries and become an expert in the field. Additionally, I would like to continue to practice genealogy on the side and take on clients to bring in side revenue. Utilizing methods from each historical field would enhance the family understanding and experience for clients, especially when analyzing various sites and artifacts.

Each discipline highlights a better understanding from a different view point. My interest in African American history within the African Diaspora can be looked upon from multiple lens through one individual. From a genealogy standpoint, I can really look at the family dynamics. See how a family lived and evolved over time. Look at the economic and political implications on one family. Looking at the same family and applying the understanding of archaeology, I can analyze the materials left behind by the family. I can explore slave plantations that the family may have worked on or compare how the descendants today compare with the ancestors back then looking at which artifacts were kept sacred or looking at which tools are used now versus then. Anthropology and archaeology are alike. Archaeology is a subfield within anthropology. While trying to understand a family in their place of time, I can look at the broader scope of the society and culture, or cultures, that they were living around and identifying with. History is a harder one to discuss in narrower terms. However, understanding social, cultural, and public history helps to better understand the historical context in which the family lived and one hardships hindered them and which opportunities they may have missed or taken advantage of. Utilizing archives enables me to learn more about first hand accounts, identities of the family, and just more knowledge in general that may help to depict the family as human.

Coming at one family from these various viewpoints enables the creation of a much larger narrative. There are many stories within history. As an African American, I believe it is my duty to help give these stories life. Whether through nonfiction accounts of my studies or through historical fiction to enable an interest through a much larger audience, the multiple sides of looking at one subject can be breath taking. Looking at one family, I can understand an origin. I can put names to the bodies and bring forth the artifacts they used and locations they resided. I can bring to life the emotions and historical context in which they lived. I can create a human connection with the past and present. This is what I want to do. I want to take individual families and bring them to life draw connections with the present generations.

Heroes Exist in Our Own Families

We often find ancestors who we hear through oral history that have done wrong. Many take that information and ignore their contributions that went into how the family came to be. My great-great-grandfather was one of those ancestors. I had heard his name in the oral re-telling of my family history, but not once had I heard of his accomplishments, until I went looking.


Charlie Cahee was born to Turner and Agustine (Baptist) Cahee on 23 November 1893 in Roanoke, Louisiana. A side note, Augustine (Baptist) Cahee’s paternal grandparents have been indicated as being born in Africa on a few census records. Charlie Cahee served as a private for the US Army during World War I. His unit was the 803 Pioneer Infantry and his service number was 37745620.

From information found through extensive research, Charlie Cahee fought overseas in Liverpool, England. Cahee can be located on the Maunganui Ship departing New York on 17 Sept 1918 traveling to Liverpool, England. He was also found returning from Liverpool, England on the Celtic Ship. He had departed England on 12 August 1918. This information indicates that Charlie Cahee traveled back and forth from the United States to England during his time in the war.

Charlie Cahee married Adelaide Jackson after he returned from the War on 22 September 1920. Adelaide Jackson supposedly attended Tuskegee Institute under the leadership/presidency of Booker T. Washington, and was taught by George Washington Carver.

Unfortunately, the War seemed to have had a mental and/or emotional impact on Charlie Cahee. In his later years, alcohol got the best of him. Adelaide (Jackson) Cahee divorced Charlie, taking their four children, and remarried.

Charlie Cahee died on 9 September 1972 in Roanoke, Louisiana. He is buried in Benevolent Cemetery.

Reclaiming the African in My African American Ethnicity

As I continue to question my identity, I try to place myself in the context of my ethnic backgrounds and my biological race. I know who I am. I understand some of the reasons as to why I am me. I have done extensive research into the hiSTORIES of my ancestors, both biological and adoptive. My ancestors, for the most part, were strong, courageous, brave, and determined. They did not allow the prejudices and racist views that society bestowed upon them, to hinder their abilities to progress in society.

Image result for african american flagHowever, I still questioned some of the more specifics. I know where in Italy my adoptive mother’s ancestors migrated from. I know where in Europe, or at least which countries, my Caucasian slave owners originated. These white slave owners include those whom intertwine in my biological bloodline, and those who I found participated in the ownership of my enslaved ancestors, but didn’t quite carry on affairs with any of my direct ancestors. What I don’t quite know, is where in Africa my enslaved ancestors were stolen from. I use the word stolen rather than migrate because although the enslavement of Africans to the Americas is considered a forced migration, there is a difference between my African ancestors and my European ancestors who willing and knowingly came to America even if their circumstances forced them to leave.

The paper trail, at least for me, does not paint a pretty picture of migration and immigration with specific locations in specific countries. No. My ancestry paints the tale of oppression and lost history, at least for my African ancestry. With the lack of documents available to aid in my persistence to find a country in Africa, I had no choice but to turn to DNA ancestry testing.

My DNA is in several ancestral DNA companies’ databases: AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTree DNA, MyHeritage, and GPS Origins. Each of these companies, confirmed what I already knew, that I had ancestors from Africa – a continent. Some of these companies were able to elaborate more on my European ancestry, down to the country. Yet, my African ancestry was just so broad. It was my DNA within GPS Origins database that led me to drawing upon my own conclusions. GPS Origins is a company that estimates two possible migration patterns based on one’s DNA.

Here is what I know without DNA:

I know that my African born ancestors came to America by way of enslavement.

I know that none of my paper trail ancestors came to America as indentured servants.

I know that I possibly have one ancestor who is the descendant of African-born parents based on census records.

I know that the British began slave trading in Africa around 1562.

I know that around 1640, slaves from Cameroon began to make their way to America.

I know that many of the tribal groups from Cameroon who became enslaved consisted of: Tikar, Ewondo, Babungo, Bamileke, Bamum, Masa, Mafa, Udemes, Kotoko, Fulani, and Haua people, as well as others.

I know that the Hausa people were nomadic and also came from Nigeria.

I know that from the 17th Century to 1865, slaves from Nigeria began coming to America.

I know that Calabar, Nigeria was one of the major slave exports in Nigeria.

I know that some of the people who came from Nigeria were of the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa tribes.

I know that many of the Igbo people were sold in Maryland and Virginia.

I know that my own ancestry has been traced to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana.

From my knowledge on my ancestors, and knowing I have a few ancestors who indicated that they were born in Virginia, I believe that it is safe to assume that I have at least one ancestor who came directly from Nigeria and at least one who came from Cameroon. I know no more than those assumptions, but the DNA and the historical facts seem to correlate with what my ethnicity reports indicate. To be able to go back further, I turn to GPS Origins. The test outlines two possible migration routes based on my DNA:

Migration Story A

Ancient ancestry in Israel and Palestine

Your ancestors came from Israel and Palestine prior to 1260 AD, so let’s take a look at what was going on in Israel and Palestine up to this point:

The Byzantine Empire Takes Charge

Between 390 AD and 633 AD, Israel and Palestine was ruled by local leaders in a period known as the Byzantine era. In this period, the Roman Empire split and Palestine became part of the Byzantine Empire. In the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire collapsed leading to Christian migration into the Roman province of Palestine Prima and development of a Christian majority. Judaism was the only non-Christian religion tolerated. In 611, Sāsānian Persia invaded the Byzantine Empire and captured Jerusalem in 614. Jews were left to govern Jerusalem when the Persians took over. However. Byzantine Emperor Heraclius once again banned Judaism from the Byzantine Empire. People migrated from the Byzantine Empire and the Sāsānian Empire to Israel and Palestine due to the incoming administration and migration across the Byzantine Empire and the invasion of the Sāsānian Empire. At the same time, populations moved from Israel and Palestine to places like the Sāsānian Empire and the Byzantine Empire. as a result of the invasions of Israel and Palestine by the Sāsānian Empire and the recapture by the Byzantines.

Islam Arrives

Between 634 AD and 1098 AD, Israel and Palestine was ruled by local leaders in a period known as the Islamic era. At this time, from 634-636, the Arabs conquered Palestine Prima and renamed it Jund Filastin, ending the Byzantine ban on Jews living in Jerusalem. Islam quickly replaced Christianity as the dominant religion. From 636, Jund Filastin was ruled by the Rashidun Caliphs, the Umayyad Caliphate and then the Abbāsid Caliphs. Jewish scribes establish the Masoretic text in this period, the final text of the Hebrew Bible. People migrated from the Umayyad Caliphate and Rashidun Caliphs and Abbāsid Caliphs to Israel and Palestine as part of the expansion of different Caliphates. At the same time, populations moved from Israel and Palestine to places like the Umayyad Caliphate and Rashidun Caliphs and Abbāsid Caliphs as part of changing control over the region.

The Crusades

Between 1099 AD and 1290 AD, Israel and Palestine was ruled by local leaders in a period known as the crusades. The first crusade arrived in 1099 and established a Catholic Kingdom of Jerusalem. Both Muslims and Jews were indiscriminately massacred or sold into slavery. In 1187, the Ayyubid Sultan Saladin defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, taking most of the territory. A Crusader states centered around Acre survived in weakened form for another century. From 1260 to 1291 the area became the frontier between Mongol invaders and the Mamlūks of Egypt. The Mongols were eventually defeated. People migrated from Western Europe and the Holy Roman Empire and the Ayyubid dynasty and Egypt to Israel and Palestine with the Crusades, the successful occupation of the territory by the Ayyubid dynasty, and the use of Israel and Palestine as a frontier in the conflict with the Mongols. At the same time, populations moved from Israel and Palestine to places like Western Europe and the Holy Roman Empire and the Ayyubid dynasty and Egypt as a result of the failure of the Crusades, the invading Ayyubid dynasty and the successful campaign of the Egyptians against the Mongol Empire.

Movement from Israel and Palestine to Libya

At some point before 1260 AD your ancestors moved to Libya. These are the events your ancestors would have lived through in Libya.

A Weakening of Byzantine Control

Between 501 AD and 641 AD, Libya was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Byzantine Libya. At this time Justinian reconquests saw Libya return to control of Rome. However, the country was in disrepair and unpopular Byzantine governors failed to implement any new public services. By the end of the 7th century, Byzantine control over the region was weak, Berber rebellions were become more frequent and there was little opposition to Muslim invasion. People migrated from the Byzantine Empire to Libya with invasion and imperial settlement. At the same time, populations moved from Libya to places like Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, and France and Spain as a result of the changing fortunes of the different empires.

The Arrival of Islam

Between 642 AD and 971 AD, Libya was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Islamic Libya. In 642 Arab forces drove the Byzantines out of Libya and took Tripoli. By 663, Berber resistance was also overcome and the Exarch of Libya even enjoyed their support. Libya came under the rule of several Islamic dynasties in this period including the Ummayad, Abbāsid and Aghlabid dynasties. People migrated from the Middle East and the Maghreb and Italy to Libya as part of the movement of peoples and armies in the Arab Islamic conquest of Northern Africa and the power struggles that followed, including the invasion of Sicily by the Normans. At the same time, populations moved from Libya to places like the Middle East and Spain and Portugal with the changing fortunes of the different dynasties and empires.

The Fatimids Spread West

Between 972 AD and 1550 AD, Libya was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Fatimid Libya. In the 10th century Libya came under the control of the Fatamid dynasty. However, control over the region proved difficult owing to the changes in allegiance from Sunni to Shi’a. Libya also had several changes of regime: Tripoli was pillaged by the Normans of Sicily in 1146, the Almohad supporters arrived from Morocco in 1158 to Tripoli and an Almohad emir ruled Libya from 1207 to 1221. His dynasty, the Hafsids, ruled Tripoli separately for nearly 300 years, encouraging art and literature. People migrated from Saudi Arabia and Morocco and Chad to Libya with the Fatimid dynasty’s relocation of two opposing tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, the Alomhad invasion from Morocco and King Danama of Kanem annexing small territories in Libya. At the same time, populations moved from Libya to places like Saudi Arabia and Morocco as part of the changes in imperial control.

Image result for cameroonian flag on mapMovement from Libya to Cameroon

At some point after 1260 AD your ancestors moved to Cameroon and once they reached there this is what they would have experienced:

The Sao People Create a Kingdom

Between 400 AD and 1400 AD, Cameroon was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Sao Cameroon. During this period, the Sao kingdom arose in northern Chad in the vicinity of Lake Chad. It reached its height in the 9th to 15th century, after which it was conquered by the Kotoko state. People migrated from Chad to Cameroon when the Sao people moved. At the same time, populations moved from Cameroon to places like Chad with the changes in the fortunes of the Sao Kingdom.

Migration Story B

Ancient ancestry in Egypt

Your ancestors came from Egypt prior to 692 AD, so let’s take a look at what was going on in Egypt up to this point:

The Brief Rule of Sāsānian Egypt

Between 619 AD and 629 AD, Egypt was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Sāsānian Egypt . For a decade, the Sāsānian Empire ruled Egypt. They ruled from 619 until the Sāsānian rebel Shahrbaraz made an alliance with the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, which returned Egypt to Rome. People migrated from Persia to Egypt following the Sāsānian invasion. At the same time, populations moved from Egypt to places like Persia due to the fact that the treaty returned territories to the Romans.

A Brief Roman Interlude

Between 630 AD and 640 AD, Egypt was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Byzantine Egypt. During this period, Rome regained control over Egypt. They were, however, overrun by the Arab Islamic conquest of Egypt from 639. People migrated from the Middle East to Egypt with Byzantine imperial conquest. At the same time, populations moved from Egypt to places like the Byzantine Empire as part of the Arab conquest of Egypt.

Islamic Empires Arrive In Egypt

Between 641 AD and 908 AD, Egypt was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Islamic Egypt. In 641 Byzantine Egypt was overrun by the Islamic conquest of North Africa, which brought Sunni Islam to the country. The city of Fustat was the seat of power and a grand mosque was built there in honor of the victor Amr ibn al-As. While there were many conversions, the Christians were left to practice largely in peace. This period saw several changes in Caliphate from the Umayyads, the Abbāsids, the Tuluids and the Ikhsids. People migrated from the Middle East and the Maghreb to Egypt when new settlers arrived from the Empire and slaves arrived from Sudan as part of the terms of the Baqt Treaty of 641 AD. At the same time, populations moved from Egypt to places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Oman, Israel and Palestine, Syria, Yemen, and Italy and Sudan when Byzantinian settlers returned to Italy and settlers moved across the Maghreb.

Movement from Egypt to Chad

At some point before 692 AD your ancestors moved to Chad. These are the events your ancestors would have lived through in Chad shortly afterwards.

The Arrival of Islam under the Kaem-Bornu Empire

Between 900 AD and 1521 AD, Chad was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Imperial Chad. In the 10th century Chad fell under the Kanem-Bornu Empire. This influence and accompanying Arab travellers were responsible for the conversion of areas of Chad to Islam. Kanem-Bornu persisted despite the emergence of other kingdoms and peaked during the reign of Mai Idris Aluma from 1571-1603. People migrated from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt and Nigeria to Chad with the movement of nomadic Arab horsemen and the movement of peoples across the Kanem-Bornu Empire. At the same time, populations moved from Chad to places like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt and Nigeria when nomadic Arab horsemen moved across the region and peoples moved across the Kanem-Bornu Empire.

Image result for nigerian flag on mapMovement from Chad to Nigeria

At some point after 692 AD your ancestors moved to Nigeria and once they reached there this is what they would have experienced:

The Nok People in Nigeria

Between 500 BC and 200 AD, Nigeria was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Nok Nigeria. Around 500 BC, the Nok people made the transition to the Iron Age. Evidence shows that they started to raise crops and cattle.

Igbo Culture

Between 201 AD and 800 AD, Nigeria was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Igbo Ukwu. During this period, the Igbo tribe inhabited areas of southwest Nigeria. Archaeological specimens have been discovered that show trade between the kingdom and Europe and even India. People migrated from Egypt and Chad to Nigeria due to trade from Northern Africa.

Of course, this is from GPS Origins, and I am only using the information to highlight the possible migration pattern that could have resulted in my ancestors who, possibly, came from Nigeria and Cameroon having lived in those regions. I do not know for certain that my more distant ancestors originated in Egypt, but I can understand the possibility of that. I can look at the information and understand why my ancestors may have left and migrated and continued to migrate until they finally settled in Nigeria and Cameroon. I do not know if they would have kept migrating, because then slavery happened. With slavery came a loss of agency: a loss of self and a loss of culture. With a loss of culture, came a loss of history because the oral history could not be passed down as families were torn apart and the records regarding enslaved people of African heritage were not well kept. The paper trail only goes back so far, but when you can get back far enough, that’s when the DNA can help and it’s the ethnic DNA that can come in handy in trying to navigate through the possible landmarks.

I cannot say for certain that I am Nigerian nor Cameroonian. I can say that I am likely descended from people from the Nigerian and Cameroonian territories, but I cannot claim a tribe. More extensive DNA would need to confirm me to a person with known history in Africa who is linked to only one or two tribes in order for me to feel confident in claiming an African tribe. Before I considered myself Black American. I didn’t know my “African” roots. Now I know some of them. My ancestors, probably, came from Nigeria and Cameroon. So I am, likely part, Nigerian and Cameroonian. I am now, African American.

Enslaved by Kings

I am speechless. These last couple of days, I have returned to researching more on my own biological side of the family. Prior to then, I was researching my mom’s Italian ancestors from my adoptive side of the family because I just love Italian research and I am working on a biography about my mother’s paternal grandfather. 

Well, yesterday, I made some great discoveries on my maternal family. I found marriage certificates and death records confirming names that go way back into slavery. While I have not been able to go beyond that, I know I am getting close to hopefully discovering more parentage or even confirming an origin for a few surnames. 

Today, I decided that I was going to try to research my paternal family. I don’t know too much about that side of my family, but I did know that I was beginning to get tired of looking at shrub. My biological father’s tree was beginning to look like a sprouting branch compared to the other side, my biological mother’s tree, which looks like a massive red wood tree – for those who knows trees, that’s tall. 

Using my DNA matches and records I had found online, I was able to confirm my earlier findings and trace back 2 generations. When I had found all I could reach, one surname stuck out. I do know why, but it did. Lake. It just doesn’t sound like a slave owner’s last name. I looked around at the 1870 and 1880 US Censuses, which this ancestor appears. No Lakes nearby. But I see a King family. In 1870 this King family is living close by and he’s a farmer. I notice that my Lake, Perry Lakeis a farm laborer. Perhaps my Perry Lake and his family are associated with this King family – George W. King. 

Largest Slave Sale in Georgia History  One of the largest sales of enslaved persons in U.S. history took place on March 2-3, 1859, at the Ten Broeck Race Course 1/4 mile southwest of here. To satisfy his creditors, Pierce M. Butler sold 436 men, women, and children from his Butler Island and Hampton plantations near Darien, Georgia. The breakup of families and the loss of home became part of African-American heritage remembered as "the weeping time.":

I go further back into the records. I find this same George King and his family in the 1860 and 1850 US Census records, and I also find George W. King, himself, in the 1860 and 1850 Slave Schedules. Looking at the number of slaves and their ages that George W. King owns, I approximate the ages based on the records I’ve found for my Lake family members that would have been born during the time that slavery still existed. 

For those who do not know, not all slaves kept their slave master’s surname. Also sharecropping was very common for former slaves post the Civil War, and often did this on the lands of their former masters. 

Based on my findings, I theorize that my 3rd great-grandfather, Perry Lake, and his family were enslaved by George W. King prior to the Civil War and Emancipation

This realization is shocking. It brings perspective to such harsh history, but reality. Slavery did occur, and my own ancestors were once enslaved. I’m glad my own people were strong enough and brave enough to survive long enough to have me. I appreciate them. Yet, seeing such a revelation, is still mind blowing and disconcerting. I am glad that I was able to come to this hypothesis, but at the same time, I am saddened. 

***Disclaimer: I am not saying that the King family and my Lake family are associated. I am not saying that the King family owned my Lake family. This is simply just a hypothesis and I know that more research needs to be to confirm or disprove this theory. I also know that I may never know. But it puts everything into perspective. 

Tragic Do-Over

Sometimes, we need a do-over. I have realized that in genealogy, this feeling may come often or after researching one’s own family and forgetting to document. After taking several genealogical courses and learning about proper citation and documentation, I took it upon myself to start fresh.

After researching my family for over 5 years, I have decided to start all the way over. I still have my completed tree with everyone, but I decided to rebuild both my biological family and my adoptive family tree only using real records, and very little family tree hints. My goal is to have these two new trees represent my true paper trail of my ancestors. I want to have proof of my relations to my ancestors, and it will come in handy when applying to legacy societies, like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) or others.

I have come to terms with the fact that it is very important to cite all sources and document your research. There are times when I have caught myself repeating the same research I had done, or tried to do, previously. This happened because I didn’t keep a record or log of my research. I have since learned from my mistakes, and while I will likely duplicate a lot of my previously done research, this time I will log everything.

My go to web service is Ancestry. It is easy to manage multiple trees, and save all records. At the same time, I do know that I need to keep an ancestral chart on paper and store within my files. Genealogy is similar to banking. You have access to your information online, but you also keep your information

Nine Lives from Immigration

PhotoMany people think about making movies about their own life, and I have to admit that I am guilty of that. However, if I had an option, I’d likely make a movie about an ancestor from my adoptive mom’s family, her grandfather – Fortunato “James” Carmelo Fiorello. I’m not sure what the title would be per say. I have a working idea, something like, Nine Lives from Immigration. The life of Fortunato is fascinating, at least to me.

From family recollection and digging through historical records, I have found some astonishing details about this quiet man. He was hardworking, but quiet in his later years. He was born on 22 Nov 1895 in Itala, Messina, Sicily, Italy to Pasquale and Concetta (Cucinotta) Fiorello. He was one of six and the second oldest born. Unfortunately, Fortunato and his family were living in Sicily during a time shortly after the Italian war for unification, and the economy, especially in Southern Italy and Sicily were not doing so well. At the same time, the mafia was growing stronger and becoming a lead force in the social structure. As a result, Fortunato’s family left there home in Itala, and headed westward for the United States of America, in 1909. Unlike many immigrants who arrived in New York, Fortunato and his mother and siblings, meeting his father, arrived in the port of Boston, Massachusetts. There, is where home was built.

Fortunato, back in Italy, had learned the trade of carpentry. He carried that talent with him to America. He attended some schooling, but mainly worked to help support the family. Unfortunately, the year 1915 was a hectic one. Fortunato lost both his mother and one of his sisters, Helena, to tuberculosis and he voluntarily enlisted in the Italian army during World War I (1914-1918. He traveled back to Italy where he fought on the front lines. He considers his time in the war, “most exciting [years]” of his life.

He spent three years in the Po Valley, located in the Alps of northern Italy. Fortunato was a man who lived by his name; he was fortunate. During his time fighting, he survived seven bullets and a bayonet injury. He was wounded a total of three times, but continued to return to battle, fighting in a different regiment each time. In addition, he was one of only five men from his original regiment to survive the war; fighting on the forefront the entire time. In one memory, Fortunato recalls: “Early one morning he heard the sentries shouting, ‘Gas Attack! He quickly grabbed a gas mask with one hand and a box of hand grenades with the other. He started throwing the grenades. He was very effective, probably because he used his experience of playing baseball in Boston – playing the position of catcher. The enemy was very surprised by his actions. The hand grenades stopped the enemy [from advancing], and they quickly ran back to their lines.”

When the war was over, Fortunato stayed on a military base near Trieste, a commune in Northern Italy. It is important to note that for years Trieste was associated with the Istrian Peninsula, which for a time went back and forth between various ownership depending on the lines of territory. Alas, the peninsula was split and Trieste became associated with Italy. While in Trieste, he met a young woman by the name of Giuseppina Sulich, who had lost a brother, Rudolpho Sulich, during the war. Rudolpho was on the opposing side, fighting for Austria and is presumed to have died on the Russian front. Giuseppina Sulich was the daughter of Antonio Sulich and Anna Zornig (or Sornk depending on the language variation). Antonio had been a prison warden under the Austrian police force. The family’s place of origin is Prvacina in the Vipava River Valley. After the war, Antonio was discharged of his duties, as the Italian authorities replaced all public officials with Italian personnel coming from other parts of Italy as part of an “ethnic cleansing” policy, which had heavy consequences on thousands upon thousands of families living in Trieste, including the families of the Sulich clan. Unfortunately, Antonio was then forced to become a janitor in one of the local buildings in the neighborhood.

Fortunato returned to Boston, and shortly after requested a visa for his wife. She joined him and they married in 1920 in Boston, Massachusetts. Giuseppina was fortunate to speak three languages: German/Austrian, Italian, and English, which helped her once she joined Fortunato in the United States. At the same time, Fortunato requested to become a citizen of the United States and was awarded his citizenship on 21 November 1927. After their marriage in 1920, just two years after World War I had ended, Giuseppina, who later changed her name to Josephine, and Fortunato, who later changed his name to James, gave birth to their first son, Edward, on 18 October 1921. In total, Fortunato and Guiseppina had 4 sons. Edward, however, is my mother’s father.

World War I took a huge toll on the financial economy both internationally and on the United States. The Great Depression, which began in 1929 and ended in 1939, resulted from the crash of the stock market in October 1929 and sent Wall Street into a panic and wiped out millions of investors. The Great Depression was the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in the history of Western industrialization. Now Fortunato and Giuseppina were forced to figure out what they were going to do. Fortunato and Giuseppina decided to move back to Italy, to be close to her family. Fortunato, Giuseppina and their family lived in Italy for several years, until The Great Depression had nearly ended in the United States. Unfortunately, there is no exact reason or length of time for how long the family stayed or why they decided to return to the United States; however, in doing so, the four sons sadly lost the Italian language that they had grown to know, but excelled in the knowledge that their father had taught them.

The Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, came to power in 1925, who both helped and hindered Italy. In the beginning, Mussolini greatly helped the people of Italy by improving the Italian economy. Fortunato Fiorello was unaware of the evils that Mussolini would bestow upon Italy; as a result, he was at first in favor of Benito Mussolini and the fascist regime. While participating in a parade near Hanover Street in Boston, Fortunato was one of several Italian Americans attacked. The terrorizing event occurred May 1928 and newspapers were quick to deliver the details: “Italians Battle in North End”; “Three stabbed, many beaten and seven arrested on Hanover Street”; “anti-fascists make attack on parade.” According to one article under the headline “Marchers Are Attacked,” Fortunato Fiorello is mentioned as being one the victims.

“The paraders gave them little attention until at Cross Street, which is just above the station, a man stepped from the sidewalk with cries of, ‘Down with Mussolini!’ ‘Down with the Fasciti!’ and reached for a decoration on the breast of Fiorello, Fortunato of Somerville. Behind him came three others who attacked Carmine, Parella of Watertown, vice-president of the Ex-Combattenti, who was acting as color-bearer, and attempted to wrest a Fascisti flag from him.

Fortunato, a member of the band, used the cornet he was playing to bash in the face of his assailant, while Parella, furling his flag, used the pole as a club and opened the heads of two of the three belaboring him. A whistle sounded and, as at a given signal, nearly one hundred members of the anti-group plunged from the sidewalk and reached for the throats of the paraders nearest them.

Knives and clubs were quickly produced and for nearly five minutes the battle waged back and forth across the thoroughfare, until the door of the Hanover Street station suddenly burst open and some twenty patrolmen, headed by Captain Arthur B. McConnell and Sergeant Maurice Sullivan, buried themselves into the fray and, separating the factions, arrested the ring leaders.” Little did Fortunato Fiorello know, he would soon enlist in the war to help assist in the fight against Mussolini.

The United States did not enter World War II right away. Although the war began in 1939, the United States joined the side of the Allies on 7 December 1941, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Germany, Italy, and Japan had teamed up and Adolph Hitler was trying to create an Aryan race and was the ring leader of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, which was a mass genocide of the Jewish population.

Fortunato Fiorello and his three eldest sons – Edward, James, and George – enlisted in the war. Edward Fiorello, the grandfather of this writer, was a mechanical engineer in the war. His youngest son, Carl, was too young at the time and later enlisted and fought during the Korean War. On the other hand, Fortunato Fiorello was hired in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Shipyard. His knowledge of carpentry made him very effective. He was familiar in working with steel in measuring and laying out steel. His talent was exceptionally good, for he went from third class ship fitter to first class ship fitter in just a “couple of months.” “His work was exemplary and his name was placed in a special gold book.” He was put to work building destroyers, destroyer escorts, and submarines.

In the late 1960s, Fortunato returned to Trieste, Italy to visit Giuseppina’s family. One individual whom Fortunato met was Giuseppina’s great-nephew, Diego Vatta. Together – just the two of them – they spent many hours revisiting some of Fortunato’s most horrific experiences. Diego led Fortunato to see many of the battlefields in which he had fought at. While revisiting some of these battlefields, Fortunato recounted some of the horrendous memories. Memories in which Diego found unforgettable. As a volunteer, Fortunato was mercilessly assigned to the very front and spent three full years in first-line combat.

Diego was at a loss for words. He truly admired the man that stood before him. He was an angel. One day, Diego took him to Redipuglia War Cemetery, a place where the remains of one hundred thousand soldiers are buried. It is also “Italy’s largest and most majestic memorial dedicated to the soldiers who fell in the Great War [sic].” They climbed the steps of the huge monument, reading many of the individual bronze plaques with the names of forty thousand deceased. When they reached the summit, they saw the chapel, framed between two massive blocks, which contained the remains of sixty thousand unidentified dead soldiers. At this time, Fortunato sat down and burst into tears. He could not stop crying, as his head was cupped in his hands and his elbows rested on his knees. He sobbed desolately. The moment was moving. In this moment one thing was understood. Fortunato was a very lucky man. He could have been among the thousands of names listed, but his good fortune allowed him to survive. His reward was meeting and marrying Giuseppina, a woman who truly loved him. Together they built a magnificent, disciplined, and laborious family.

Fortunato is a man with courage, strength, and many lives. His service has been recognized all over Italy, and is honored by our family. Just these details alone, indicate why a movie about him would be my choice. He is a hero. He risked his own life, and still found happiness. He lived a life of hardship, and was able to create a life of substance and sustainability. He is truly an inspiration.

New-Aged Letter from an Ancestor

To my loved ones,

I cannot tell you where I am. I can only count the nights that have passed and the full moons that have graced the sky above. I am sorry for my absence and I hope this finds you well. I will try my best to explain what I have gone through, but I don’t even truly know.

I was walking alone. I was just thinking, trying to clear my head and gather materials for the home. I heard sounds like bushes moving. I looked up and saw nothing. I assumed it was just animals frolicking around. I was not careful. I heard your warnings, but I did not listen. As I bet down, a net fell upon me. When I was able to look up, I saw brown faces, unfamiliar to me. I was confused. Our people were not at war, not that I knew of. I was scared. I didn’t know what they may do to me. They took the net off and tied my hands together. Then, we began walking.

I know we walked in the direction of the sea. After two nights pass, we were met by other men who had captured men, woman, and children. I was not the only boy, there were many of us. I looked at the adults, but they seemed confused as well. I tried to find familiar faces, but there were none. We all spoke different tongues.

After 4 nights since my capture, we arrived at the water. We were placed in a cold, dark, and damp building. Others captured were already there. We were locked away in our section. I’m not sure how much time passed, but finally, we were marched on to a huge ship. The view leaving that dark place was beautiful. I think that was the last beautiful thing I saw.

Once on the ship, we were placed underneath and forced to lie cramped next to one another. The journey was long. I missed you all and thought of you all the time. Many people died and the food they gave us was bad and not enough. Bodies were thrown over board and a few times, I saw these giant water creatures with sharp teeth, eat them. With each passing night and moon, I began to realize I may never see my family or friends again. I began to realize that I was no longer close to home and would never return.

This filling of no return, was confirmed when I arrived in this new place they called America. I went from being on a boat to being on this wooden platform. White faces looked at me. Numbers were being called and finally it was over. I was put back in structure with bars until the man came to get me. They say I am his property. They tell me my name is Harry. I am myself. I am the son of a mother and a father. I am a brother and a friend. Now, I am someone new. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

I hope this letter reaches you. I will try to write again.

Much love.