Day of the Lucani

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Sunday May 20 was The Day of the Lucani when Italy celebrates all those of Basilicatan descent wherever they may live. Now, references to this “holiday” are mighty scarce and not altogether consistent, but the Internet says it exists. And I believe everything the Internet tells me.

In a stunning coincidence the day truly was of the Lucani for my parents and I. We set about a trek around the Chicago area to talk to older relatives on the Tolva side and to pilfer through their photos and documents. It was depressing in a way, because talking to these few living family members reminded us that we’d already lost the majority of the family history. There’s no one on that side alive from my grandparents’ generation. Why do you only become interested in genealogy once your primary sources are gone?

But memories remain and what we found is that sometimes those memories aren’t rosy. There’s a tendency — OK, I have a tendency — to romanticize the past and ancestors. Giuseppe Tolve, my great-grandpa and the man who came to America from Italy with his wife Grazia, has reached almost heroic status in my mind, for instance. But it turns out he was not what you’d call a great husband.

We’d long known that Grace died in childbirth with my great-uncle Paulie in 1920. However, the story of her burial were made clear to us this last weekend. The Botte family would not bury Grace in the plots owned by Giuseppe because of how he treated her during her life (details are sketchy, but the word “conniver” was tossed about — most think he was a philandering drunk). They buried her under her maiden name in the Botte plot. Ouch.

Decades later when my great-uncle Bill was near death he asked Paulie to donate his body to science. Paulie made some inquiries and was told that he would need to make backup arrangements in case science did not want Bill’s body. So, he thought, we can just use the empty plot next to Giuseppe, since Grace was never buried there. When Paulie contacted the cemetary he was told that this was not possible since “Mrs. Tolva” was buried right next to Giuseppe. But Paulie knew for a fact that Grace Botte was not buried with him. It turns out that one of Giuseppe’s girlfriends (perhaps a barmaid, perhaps someone he legally married) indeed occupied the original plot for Grace. Double ouch!

Also, we learned that the four (of seven) children young enough to be placed in an orphanage earned the nickname there “Boozy Tolvas” because whenever Giuseppe came to visit he was drunk.

Ah, family history. I suppose if you dig you have to be prepared for dirt.

But there were also gems. Such as locating the original naturalization document for Giuseppe from 1904. This is step one in determining our eligibility for dual citizenship with Italy. What we need to determine is if the line “renouncing and abjuring all foreign allegiance …” is the same as officially renouncing one’s citizenship. If so, we’re hosed. If not, I may be on my way to EU citizenship. Any lawyers out there deal with this sort of thing?