This summer, we welcomed a guest with an interesting story.
It begins with Susan’s grandfather, an Italian who immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland. Family lore has it that her great-grandfather arrived in America in the 1850′s, long before the mass immigrations through Ellis Island. (Also before the strict immigration laws of the late 1800s). The family is now thoroughly Americanised and no one from her family has returned to Italy. And until now, no one else was particularly interested in drawing the family tree. Now Susan had decided to learn more about her family in Italy. She did some beginning research, but couldn’t locate many documents. Fortunately for Susan, her great-grandfather left a clue on his gravestone: his birthplace of Coreglia-Antelminelli.
As Susan planned her trip, she found Casa La Pace on the Internet. She contacted us and made a reservation for 3 days, hoping to find out as much as possible in that short time. (The rest of her vacation in Italy would be with a group of hikers in the Cinque Terre.)
Susan speaks no Italian and made no appointments in advance with anyone in Coreglia. Before she arrived, Pepper made a few telephone calls to the commune (city hall). He arranged for Susan to go there on her first day and see if there were any documents that might be helpful. Pepper also agreed to accompany her, translating and providing introductions to the mayor and other friends who work in the commune.
I was pessimistic about Susan’s chances of finding out anything useful in such a short time. We have friends who research genealogy. When we were trying to track down Pepper’s mother’s family in the Canary Islands, they gave us helpful advice. But they warned us that older documents are harder to track down. Most often, they are not computerized and often not even in a central location. Research can takes days and weeks, going from church to church and government office to government office, often with no results.
Was I wrong! By an amazing stroke of good fortune, Pepper and Susan bumped into a woman at the commune who documents the history of Coreglia. She doesn’t work in the commune, but happened to be there on an errand. Eliza has already researched many of the families of the town. Incredibly, one of these is the “Mulinari” family. Instead of digging through musty books, Susan was handed a book that contained her family tree, including her grandfather, his brothers and sisters.
Susan learned much more about her great-grandfather’s generation. A brother accompanied her great-grandfather to America. Another brother ventured to Russia, returning to Coreglia later. All of these brothers were figurinai, carvers and plaster-cast makers. This craft was much prized in the 1800s and the Serchio Valley provided the four corners of the world with these craftsmen/artists.
Susan provided Eliza with new branches of the Mulinari family tree, i.e. the American descendants of her great-grandfather. As often happens here, Susan’s great-grandfather departed for the New World and was never heard from again.
Eliza was as excited as Susan, telephoning us almost hourly with updates and corrections. In Coreglia, there are no longer any “Mulinari”, but there are “Molinari” and Eliza was unsure if they were related to Susan’s great-grandfather. Before day’s end, Eliza had untangled the branches. She realized that a distant cousin of Susan’s now lives in Lucca. So the next day, Susan travelled to Lucca for dinner with relatives the day before she didn’t even know existed.
Susan left us with great memories and much more information than she dared hope. She was enthusiastic to share with her American family what she learned in those 3 days here at Casa La Pace.