It was in August 2019 that my father and I decided to begin researching our family history. We had both read a news article that stated one only needed to prove bloodline to become an Italian citizen. We entered the journey like two boys looking for treasure and hoping to find on the other end a red Italian passport that would link us to a history of our lives of which neither of us was truly aware.
As a child growing up in southern California, I always heard stories of our family being from Abruzzo. This sounded to me like a far-off distant land. My grandmother (Maria Isabella Jaqubino) would use small Italian phrases to this day I cannot remember. But somehow, I was always proud of my Italian heritage, even though I really knew nothing about it – aside from my last name – Tomassi. A name that, because of the Italian spelling, had surely been changed or misspelled when my ancestors arrived in America – more likely something along the lines of Tommasi or Tommassini. I went through my life accepting that my name was the result of a disinterested customs agent, tired and blurry-eyed from the hundreds of immigrants that passed through Ellis Island each day early in the 20th century.
In 1994, my wife and I were fortunate enough to be stationed with the U.S. Air Force at Aviano Air Base in northern Italy. I had secret dreams of finding relatives and learning about my family. However, as a naive young man in my late twenties, I left Italy four years later not speaking the language at all and no further along in my casual pursuit of family history.
Years passed by as they do, my grandmother died and with her much of the knowledge of where our family originated. When my father and I both read this article in 2019, it opened a new excitement and thirst for knowledge that sent me spiraling into the internet for days and weeks in search of our ancestors.
Because I live in Germany and my father in Florida, I researched deep into the night with him on a video teleconference. We were using an account my mother created years ago with ancestry.com for her own research and we started adding people we knew into our family tree. It was at that point I discovered the Portal of Ancestors at http://antenati.cultura.gov.it/.
Through this portal I discovered my great grandfather (Antonio Michael Tomassi) married his wife (Anna Francis Incorvati) in Chicago, Illinois, 17 Apr 1911, and the marriage was registered with the Parrocchia Santa Maria Assunta in Amaseno, Frosinone, Lazio, Italy.
Through Facebook, I was able to contact the parish priest, Don Italo Cardarilli, who personally sent me images of the marriage certificate and of Antonio’s baptism record. This unbelievable stroke of luck and kindness from Don Cardarilli, led me to find Antonio’s parents who were from Fagnano Alto, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy.
Bingo. I found the connection to Abruzzo my grandmother always talked about and I continued to dig deeper with my research. Suddenly it wasn’t an unknown place far from comprehension, it became real and somehow reachable. Unfortunately the Portal of Ancestors currently doesn’t have digitized files for Lazio (hopefully it will someday soon), but the files for L’Aquila abound. As I delved deeper into the archives, I discovered ancestors I never knew existed. Antonio’s parents (Angelo Giovanni Tomassi and Vittoria Di Fabio); Angelo’s parents (Emido Tomassi and Anna Vincenza Bernardi); Emidio’s parents (Giuseppe Tomassi and Domenica Chiodi); and Giuseppe’s parents (Domenico Tomassi and Ascenza Elisabetta Presutti) – all the way back to 1727!Along the way I discovered relatives from every branch of our family tree using the Portal of Ancestors – Atenati. I’ve learned to decipher Italian birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates. I’ve studied the beautiful, alluring scroll of old Italian script. I recognized that an “s” can sometimes be mistaken for an “f”. And I also recognized that my last name did not in 1902 when Antonio stepped off that ship in New York City. It was either by luck or by sheer perseverance of Antonio to ensure the name was spelled correctly.
My research has taken me to places I never expected or imagined. I expanded my research to assist my mother with her family history. Together we have linked her family to the Colonial days of America and well beyond to Wales and England from the 1400’s. I’ve also started researching my wife’s history in Germany. I’ve discovered images of her grandfathers who were victims of corrupt governments and forced to fight in two World Wars.
I could go on for hours describing the finds and treasures I have found conducting research of my family history in what I believe to be three different branches – Italy on my father’s side; America and England on my mother’s side; and Germany on my wife’s side.
But this story is about Italy. About how my family name has remained intact for nearly 300 years from a small hamlet in Abruzzo, to a village in Lazio and finally to America. This story is about how Atenati helped me connect to Don Cardarilli and how his kindness unlocked the names allowing me to find greater riches within our family history.
I have reconnected with aunts and uncles who remember family names and relatives and I continue to fill in holes in our family tree. I have connected with people who I believe to be relatives in Amaseno and long for the day I am able to visit there and walk the streets and paths my great grandfather walked.I don’t know if Domenico Tomassi was the first Tomassi. I don’t know why he born in Fagnano Alto in 1727. I don’t know who his parents are or where they came from. I don’t know why Antonio decided to move from Fagnano Alto to Amaseno some time around the turn of the century that later led him to settle in Chicago and raise a family there. His son (John Joseph Tomassi), the grandfather I never had the honor to meet, died before I was born. But he started a family and continued a name that lives through my sons, my brother’s children and so many other aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters and brothers that carry the Tomassi name.
My father has an appointment at the Italian Consulate in Miami, Florida, in February 2022 to have his paperwork checked to start his path to Italian citizenship. It’s a dream of his that I’m eager to help him achieve, because in 2027, exactly 300 years after the birth of Domenico Tomassi, I hope to do the same thing – become Italian, seven generations later.