Finding nonna – Part 2

In the previous blog, Cathy Crenna wrote about the first steps in her search to find her information about her nonna’s  family who were born in
Caselle di Altivoli, provincia di Treviso. Here, Cathy provides more details about how to start researching for family history.

DNA Testing
DNA testing is one of the most effective tools to build your family tree. DNA testing was a tremendous asset, particularly in finding relatives in North America and Australia. It is not as popular in Europe and many countries do not permit DNA testing so it is limited in scope.

Angelina, Vincenzo and daughter Guelphina, (Cathy’s nonna, nonno and mother), Ontario, 1964

A DNA test will match you with other members of the same genetic family lines, from all around the world.  Most matches will be very distant going back  4 or more generations – and not all matches will want to communicate with you. It is important to respect this choice.

My DNA testing (I used both Ancestry DNA and 23andMe) connected me with matches from everywhere! Once I had a few surnames to research I began to weave the story backwards in time.

A few of those surnames led me to the Veneto.  Two founding family names of Tonellato and Piovesan were showing up in DNA matches and in family trees from coast to coast in Canada, throughout the USA and in Australia and Brazil.  A Google search of the names brought me to the Veneto market gardeners 1927 website!  I was beyond excited to find this site.  It is what I was hoping for, a connection to ancestors from the same area of the Veneto – in my case, Treviso.

When I read the stories of the Veneto families, I immediately felt the familiarity of the family traditions, and customs.  These original families brought with them their love of family, culture, food and their ethic of hard work and saving. These were very traits that helped them be successful in their new homes here in Canada, in Australia and around the world.

The oral histories of the descendants of the Veneto Market Gardens are keeping their memories alive, not only for their families in Australia and Italy, but also for others, like me, who are searching for those very connections.

Vincenzo and Angelina, Guelph, Ontario, June 1951 (Photo taken on Cathy’s parents’ wedding day)

With the more recent popularity of Ancestry research, there are many more research tools available to us.

The FamilySearch Research Wiki for Italy is a free, online genealogical guide created and maintained by FamilySearch, a non-profit organization. It contains links to genealogy databases, websites, other resources, research strategies, and genealogical guidance to assist in the search for your ancestors. Articles included are locality pages for countries around the world and topic pages that include pertinent genealogy record types explaining how to use the record, what it contains, and how to find it: Click here to view the genealogy site.

This is also a useful Public Broadcasting Service (USA) episode specific to researching Italian Genealogy:

The Italian State Archives house many of the available digital records of births, deaths and marriages in Italy.  Not all church records are available, you may need to go directly to the church records for information. You will need to know exactly where your relative was born to request records.  (The Family Search Wiki will show you how to do this and provides samples of request letters). Click here to access the Italian State Archives.

If you are like me and have lost the ability to communicate in Italian, you can refresh your reading and writing skills by learning the language! Its free on the Duolingo application. To access the Duolingo site click here.

Immigrant Italian families are a testament to the grit, determination and love of family that sustained them.  Their loyalty, ethics of hard work, saving, and owning land that can be passed down to the future generations made them assets in their new land.  These traits established the Italian family that was a well- known and respected unit of labour.

While the early immigrants may have been fully participating in a new life in a new country, their hearts were always anchored in Italy. We the descendants of Italian immigrants who are scattered across the globe may not have the same intimate connection with our extended families that those who remained in Italy enjoy.  Many of us are searching for that connection.

It is important to remember and honour the sacrifices, traditions and courage of our ancestors.   I didn’t find Zia Amalia in my ancestry journey but I gained a better understanding of the depth and breadth of Italian family.  I found a family that spans centuries, crosses continents and nourishes my soul.  I found nonna.

Angelina Botter and Vincenzo Giovanditto, wedding, Guelph-Ontario, July 9 1927 (Witnesses: Nicola and Carmelina Finamore)

Thank you nonna for having the courage to and strength to make your journey.

Cathy Crenna
4 October 2020











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