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Family Histories
The Peopling of America
Photo of Jennifer Petrino Jennifer Petrino
An Italian Family Returns Home
Jennifer Petrino's family is Italian, but they've been in America for three generations, and over time, the connection to Italy has grown weaker. As she was looking at some old home movies one evening, Jennifer realized that she wanted to know more about her Italian heritage. "I called my grandmother and asked her everything I could think of to ask - all the names of her sisters and brothers and her grandparents and great-grandparents, and anything she could remember, and it just kind of snowballed from there."

Next, Jennifer began looking for documents. The first document she found was copy of the 1920 Census listing her great grandmother's family. To find out more about her great grandmother, Caterina, Jennifer went to her local Family History Center, a genealogical resource run by the Mormon Church.

In the microfilmed records of the ships arriving at Ellis Island, Jennifer learned much about her family's immigration history. The first surprise: "Through my research I learned that my family - Caterina - went back and forth to Italy three times total. Sort of like birds of passage, they go back and forth and they visit their family and come back, and sometimes the family comes with them and stays."

The next surprise: on the ship with Jennifer's great grandmother the last time she arrived was a second Caterina with the same last name. Jennifer had found her great-grandmother's younger sister Caterina, who returned to Sicily after a brief stay in America. She was 18 years younger than her sister, and in a decision that would cause some confusion later on, their parents had chosen to name them both Caterina.

Now Jennifer wanted to know if the younger Caterina had any descendants in Italy. She wrote to the Civil Records Office in Misilmeri, a small town in Sicily, which she knew from her grandmother was the ancestral home. The reply came, giving the name of the younger Caterina's daughter - Francesca Saglimbene.

Jennifer wrote to her, and a visit was arranged. A few months later, Jennifer travelled 5000 miles from her Florida home to the small town of San Giorgio su Legnano, outside of Milan, to meet the younger Caterina's daughter, Francesca, and her grand-daughter Barbara. Jennifer brought along old photographs given to her by her grandmother. On the back of one, her grandmother had written "the fountain where grandma Aiena went to get water." This was the fountain in Misilmeri on the piazza where the two Caterina's had lived as children. The next day, the two families went to Misilmeri, and made the fountain their first stop.

At the Civil Records Office in Misilmeri, Jennifer learned more details about her family tree. She also learned that dozens of her relatives still lived in Misilmeri, and the mayor had invited them all to the town hall for a celebration of the unique bonds between Italy and America.

Francesca's grand-daughter, Barbara, expressed the joyful mood of the reunion: "We were two families, and now we are re-unified. We are all together now and it is really beautiful that we have a piece of us also there in America."
Jennifer found documents about her family at a genealogy center.
A surprising finding: a 2nd sister named Caterina.
The fountain in Misilmeri, where the two Caterina's lived.
Barbara and Jennifer, the grand-daughters of the two Caterinas, reunited for the first time in 80 years.


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