In this special edition of #ItalianoftheWeek, we learn more about Diana Burdisso Britting, the winner of the Sons of Italy’s Do You Know Roots Contest. She writes about the journey to discover her roots and how My Italian Family helped her do just that.
My decades-old search for the story of my family’s roots began after my maternal grandmother (Italian) passed away just a few months after the birth of my first child in 1969. While helping my mother pack up my grandmother’s things, I found a letter from France dated 1931 in an old purse. This old, tattered letter sadly informed my grandmother that her husband had died while visiting his family in France. My mother was only nine years old when she lost her father. The tie was broken and she never knew his family.
Being an only child, I loved large, family events with cousins, but sadly they grew smaller each year, and I found myself feeling like my family was disappearing—it was a loneliness I can’t describe. The old letter in my Nonna’s purse that I had found that day in 1969 sparked my interest and inspired me to learn everything I could about my ancestors. I took a chance and wrote to the address in France and was thrilled when they wrote back. A door had been opened, and I felt like I was chosen somehow to breathe life into all who have gone before me. Ultimately, my parents were able to travel to France where my mother met her relatives and visited family homes and her father’s grave and my sense of “family” grew ten-fold.
My paternal grandparents, both Italian, had died in 1954 and 1955, respectfully. I was very young and because I adored them, their loss created a huge void in my life. Meeting my grandmother’s much younger brothers (her father’s second family after his wife’s passing) was truly a gift. The oldest brother provided me with old photos and stories, and I found myself wanting more; to tell the story of my whole family, documenting each fact of their existence, because they are the sum of who I am. Without these ancestors, I would not exist, and so I love each one as far back as I can reach.
Armed with dates and bits of information, my first attempts at putting the family puzzle together started with countless trips to the local San Francisco National Archives; delving through what seemed like miles of microfiche resulting in too little results for the huge investment in time and energy. Ultimately, over the years, I have made several trips to Italy and France visiting family, churches, cemeteries, and county offices—a fun but tedious process due to language barriers (my Italian is good, but my French abysmal).
As fate would have it, during my years of searching, I have crossed paths with Bianca Ottone of My Italian Family several times. Many years ago, she helped me with a search in Russia for my husband’s ancestry. Then, while I pursued obtaining dual-citizenship in Italy, I crossed paths with Bianca once again. A few months ago, when I learned that I had won a contest sponsored by the Sons of Italy for a genealogy search by My Italian Family, I was surprised and excited. I sent Ms. Ottone what information I had on my paternal grandparents and their small village in Italy, providing her with a starting point to research my ancestry and enabling her to focus on locating living relatives, which she successfully accomplished. I am grateful and thrilled to now be in contact with two young ladies named Monica and Nadia whose great-grandfather was my grandfather’s brother. Monica and Nadia are actually the same age as my daughters! I hope to visit them and their families in the next year or so.
My journey is a passion and a joy. I’ve learned a lot about how my ancestors lived and died and what critical world events shaped their lives, the lives of their children and grandchildren. To know how they lived, worked and sacrificed for their families has brought me to where I am today. Over the years I find my interests have shifted from just collecting names and information to writing a family history book. I continue to gather and collect data, but genealogy is so much more than filling in charts with names, dates, and places. It is now more about bringing the treasure of my family history and its proud heritage alive for my family. I will continue to share my research and stories with my family; hoping that one member in the next generation will step up to the call and one day and take my place as the storyteller.