How it started…
When I was a kid, I loved to listen to my grandfather’s stories. I was fascinated by the difference of the world where he grew up compared to the world where I was born.
When I got older, I moved away from my home country, Italy, and I started travelling abroad for study and work. However, still today, the few times a year I see my grandpa I hang from his lips when he narrates again the stories of his childhood and youth. I try every time to imagine and picture how it would have felt to live in the same time and place where he was when he was a kid.
A few years ago, while I was in UK, my grandpa had an accident. Fortunately it was nothing too serious, but bad enough to make me realise that he wouldn’t be there forever. One day he will go away, and with him all the marvellous stories that I love to remember and that I would want my kids to know. I always believed that knowing the stories of our ancestors helps create personal identity, brings families together, and facilitate us to get perspective on the world we live in.
A recent article from New York Times confirms this, showing scientific evidence of the importance of remembering and collecting the stories of the ancestors in creating a happier family. Click here if you are interested in reading the NYT article.
Back to our story. During my summer trip to Italy after my grandpa recovered from the accident, I felt the sudden urge to start collecting his stories. I first asked him to remember who our ancestors were, and which city or village they came from. I thus begun my family tree, first from my dad, and then from my mom’s side. It was a great experience that felt like a treasure hunt. I managed to get into old archives and to read papers from the 16th century!! However, after I jotted down all the names of my ancestors, I realised that I knew nothing about them besides their date of birth and death. They didn’t have a face and I didn’t feel like I knew them. I felt like the only thing I shared with them was a fraction of my blood.
More than a family tree!
I felt that the family tree was not enough. It was just a cold collection of names, places, and dates. I wanted something more. Why did my great grandparents move from one village to another? Where exactly were they living? I thought that although I didn’t meet my great grandfather, or my great-great grandmother, I have relatives who had met them or heard stories about them. They could have given me answers. So before my Christmas visit back home I started thinking about the things I would want to know, and who would be the people that could have an answer to them.
I realised that doing everything alone would have been almost impossible. I knew my parents would be interested in knowing the old stories of my family, so I thought that my aunts and uncles might feel the same way. I was right. All of them had been thinking for years about collecting the family history, but nobody ever started! They kept procrastinating, and if I didn’t contact them my family stories would have probably disappeared with time. When we met at Christmas time, everybody was enthusiastic about my idea. It was something that the majority of them had wanted to do, but that nobody had ever brought it up in family meetings. All they needed was someone enthusiastic about starting, and that somebody was me.