Like Great-Grandfather, Like…

A little bit of an update on my incipient effort to discover if I have Italian citizenship and, if I do, to have it officially recognized. I’ve been in the process of moving, and, fool that I am, I had the family books packed up in the warehouse the moving company is keeping the stuff in that I’m not using in my hotel room (I’ve got unfinished business locally even after I closed on my home sale, hence why I’m sticking around in a hotel…), so I had to go to the warehouse and get the movers to uncrate the stuff so I could extract the family records. That cost me $250, but the information I gleaned just might be worth it.

Zeroing in

I’ve now confirmed that my great-grandfather was born in Marigliano, Italy, just where I remembered. There’s even an exact birth date: June 13, 1891. So procuring his birth record should be simple enough. 😀  Heck, I even have the names of his parents, my great-great-grandparents, and their place of birth: the same place, though the dates are unknown. But I don’t need their information, just his, which I have.

My claim to Italian citizenship would be broken if he naturalized to the United States before my grandfather’s birth date, September 10, 1922, but there is no indication in any of the records I have that he did. My grandfather in his military records put down that his father (my great-grandfather) naturalized, but only in 1933, 11 years later!

What will those Records reveal…it’s still an open Question!

Even that claim is suspect, considering that my grandfather was wont to stretch the truth in his military forms in the interest of making his profile look more flattering when he knew full well nobody would bother to check it, for example, he put down he graduated from eighth grade when it was well known in the family he dropped out after third grade (he did honestly complete a GED and even attained some college-level credit, but that was much later). Even aside from that his service record contains quite a few irregularities: his hair color changed from brown to black, his complexion changed from “dark” to just “white”, and (this is my favorite) his height somehow changed slightly with every measurement. So military records of this type aren’t exactly the most reliable sources.

Some smoke is raised by this claim that his parents naturalized in 1933 appearing on forms that date to the 1960s at the earliest, long after the alleged date, though looking through his records I notice that before then, stretching back to when he first enlisted during World War II, the military didn’t ask about the parents’ citizenship status, but rather the enlistee’s; rather, the parents’ place of birth was filled out. In his case both parents were, of course, born in Italy, but that doesn’t tell either way about whether they naturalized later, and if so, when.

I don’t recall any family lore concerning anybody ever naturalizing, and there’s certainly no documentation in my possession such as a naturalization certificate. It is well-known, however, that my great-grandfather only spoke broken English at best, only ever being fluent in his native language: Italian. Some modicum of English language proficiency was a requirement to naturalize at the time.

Even more suspect is how he claims my great-grandmother naturalized too, and in the same year no less (1933), despite the fact she spoke even less English than her husband did. She’s a rather mysterious figure anyway; while the family genealogical research book, which was gleaned purely on word of mouth from relatives in New York, states she was born in Marigliano, Italy too, my grandfather’s World War II military records state that my great-grandfather’s place of birth was Naples — it checks out: Marigliano is close to Naples, so close it was actually part of the Province of Naples (today known as the Metropolitan City of Naples) — while my great-grandmother’s place of birth was unknown. Hmm.

Her exact date of birth is unknown in all records I have: it’s either 1899 or 1900. There’s even some suspicion that the death date might be wrong: although an exact date of death is recorded (1934), my grandfather vividly remembered that he was 10 when his mother died, which would place it in 1932. Sure, he might have just been mistaken as to his age, but it all paints a rather sketchy picture.

Upshot: I can haz Italian Passport?

A picture that, nevertheless, looks better for me than I first feared: even if my grandfather were telling the unvarnished truth about their citizenship status, it wouldn’t affect my claim, since he would have been born an Italian citizen in 1922, and would have passed that status onto my mother in 1964, who then passed it onto me in 1994.

I even potentially have two paths to being an Italian citizen: one from my great-grandfather and the other through my great-grandmother; although the law specifies that women could not pass down citizenship to children born before 1948, courts since 2009 have thrown out that rule, so I could pursue a claim through her. That would require judicial action, which adds complexity and expense (just a few thousand euros, not much as far as legal services go, but still!), so in my case pursuing recognition through my great-grandfather would be preferable.

I thought it would be fitting, to honor the heritage I got from him, but looking through the records, me getting an Italian passport through him would be more fitting than I even suspected. This is a bit of an aside, but apprehending everything today, I must say find myself almost in terror at the power of genetics.

Do I take after my Great-Grandfather a lot more than I realized?

My great-grandfather was considerably older than I seemed to remember he was; he was born in 1891, and his first child was born in 1921, when he was about 30. My own grandfather, his second child, was born in 1922, when he was 31. My age now? 30; and lo and behold if I don’t have baby fever right now. I want to get started with having my first child! At almost the exact same age my great-grandfather did indeed have a child. Did he get baby fever too? He even had five children total. My ideal number I have in mind? At least six. Not exactly the same, but similar enough to raise some eyebrows.

Around the same time he started his business of a movie theater in New York, which by all accounts was his dream and his passion project; he screened the silents in there, followed and showcased all his favorite actors and actresses, even had a costume shop attached to the place. That’s how he spent the 1920s.

He started the thing around the time he turned 30, and lo and behold around the time I turn 30 I decide out of the blue that I want to start a brick-and-mortar business…a dance studio. Which is in practically the same industry, no less: arts and entertainment! He even involved the children he had around the same time he started the business in it, which is exactly the plan I have in mind for my thirties. Downright creepy.

It’s not a happy ending: during the Great Depression he lost the movie theater…and his wife, ending up being reduced to working as a bricklayer, which he had to do for the rest of his life. Even more creepily, he was around 40 when all that happened to him, and it was like he was spent; at that point he felt finished and like his life was over.

I can’t help but wonder if he felt at 30 the same way I do now, like the youth and vitality in you, your very faculty of enjoying a life that you actually want to live, is being lost and if you’re ever going to salvage anything worthwhile out of life you have to act to get it all now or it’ll never happen for you, even if you do somehow get the accoutrements of it. I can sense in myself now that by the time I’m 40 I’ll be finished in some essential sense; did he sense it in himself too?

Perhaps he did. Even his reputation for constant angry rants in Italian at that stage in his life sounds uncomfortably familiar.

We truly are doomed to walk the same path as our ancestors; I can only hope that my journey will end up in a more successful place than his did…

One Reply to “Like Great-Grandfather, Like…”

  1. I like your enthusiasm for these. Ancestors are like rivers, flowing from distant places and spreading out our lives. It’s amazing to see the stories you wrote about your grandparents and their parallels to your own lives and plans. I look forward to seeing you, who has a magical Italian aesthetic and blood, write more stories and expectations in your own life. May your dreams come true.

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