The story of James

From Pennsylvania to San Lorenzo in Banale

01 February 2024

2 minutes

The journey

I was born and raised in Verona, Pennsylvania, a small town located outside the city of Pittsburgh. My grandmother Anna, the daughter of emigrants from Trentino, used to talk to me about the Old Country. Visiting her on Sundays, she would cook only typical dishes of Trentino, such as polenta and peverada. During summer vacations, I spent time with my grandmother and she often told me about her childhood in Smithton, Pennsylvania (a coal mining town) and the stories that had been passed down about San Lorenzo in Banale (a town located in the Giudicarie Valleys) to her from Luigia, my great-grandmother. One of these stories was about a relative who was killed in an accident in the woods while cutting a tree. One day I asked my grandmother: where is San Lorenzo? She answered: Tyrol, Trentino, Upper Italy! Soon after I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, my grandmother died on New Year’s Eve at the age of 93. Now I was more determined than ever to see this Old Country. In fact she had never been to Italy since she was born in the United States.

James' grandmother

Three weeks after his death, I was on a flight to Milan to rediscover my roots in San Lorenzo. Upon my arrival in the village, I started talking to the villagers about my purpose and origins. They immediately welcomed me and began to help me with my genealogical research. The villagers introduced me to Sandro, a retired teacher who knew the history of every family in the village. He helped me view my family’s genealogical records in the rectory. The next day he told me that my grandmother’s cousin wanted to meet me. Accompanied by Sandro, I met Modesta, the daughter of my great-grandfather’s brother, at her house. After chatting for a few minutes, she showed some photographs from her trip to Pennsylvania. In one of the photographs there was her with my grandmother Anna a year before I was born. Later, Modesta talked about her father, Modesto, who was killed in an accident while cutting a tree. The relative was Modesta’s father! Before leaving for Milan, Sandro gave me a copy of the parish bulletin, in which there was an article about great-grandmother’s 95th birthday in Pittsburgh.

The roots

It was an unforgettable moment to be able to reconnect with my roots, my Italian family. Above all, this experience helped me close a chapter in my life and open a new one with an extended family and new friends.

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