Finding My Italian Family by Kathy McCabe

Kathy McCabe is the host and executive producer of the award winning travel series DREAM OF ITALY on PBS and Create TV. Season 2 is particularly dear to us, not just because we are one of the proud sponsors of the show, but because Kathy traveled with her parents to her Ancestral town to reconnect to her Italian roots. This is what she was able to find with our help… 

"I always knew I wanted to tell the story of Castelvetere sul Calore, my ancestral hometown in the Avellino province of Campania. When my mother and I first rediscovered the town 23 years ago, who could have imagined that our story would turn into an episode of my own PBS travel series Dream of Italy! If you haven’t seen the episode yet, you can watch it here. Piecing together any family story is complicated and as soon as I decided I wanted to bring it to TV, I knew that I would need experts to help fill out the research I had done on my own over the years.

One of the people I turned to was my friend Bianca Ottone of My Italian Family for help in finding all of the documents we needed to effectively tell the story or what we thought was the story. In genealogy, it is never what you think! These documents filled in the gaps with their own story…

This small hilltop town overlooking the Calore Valley is so rich in history, tradition and yes, faith; a close-knit community that holds on to its ancient roots and can always count on each other’s help and support. My great-grandfather migrated to Massachusetts in the late 1880s looking for more financial stability if not for him, for his children and grandchildren. But who was he really?

Our first stop was the municipal archives where we discovered that my maternal great grandfather, Generoso Nargi, was born on September 8, 1864 (a date that did not quite match the ages and years declared in the US documents, something Bianca said was common), to a family of farmers and small landowners who most likely worked the rich land still used today to produce great wine.

At the time the Nargi family resided in Via Orticella, a street where originally there were only a few farmhouses, all destroyed after the 1980 earthquake. Generoso had four siblings; only one remained in Castelvetere, Grazia Petronilla Nargi. With Bianca’s help researching births, marriages, deaths and census records, we were able to locate a living descendant who still resides in Via Orticella today.

Photo courtesy of Kathy McCabe

Four Nargi generations later we found ourselves in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a place of worship and miracles. Named after the town’s Patron Saint, the Church was built in the 1400s; it was here that in 1797, Generoso’s grandfather, Vincenzo Luigi DE NARGI was baptized. These ancient records allowed us to identify five more generations of Nargis with Savino DE NARGIO (literally “the son of Nargio”) being the oldest Ancestor, born about 1625. Baptismal records started to be recorded in Castelvetere in 1594.

If genealogy helps us delve deep in our family roots, it is also a necessary tool when it comes to identify records that can prove whether we qualify for Italian Dual Citizenship or not; from the birth record of our Italy-born Ancestor to the US Naturalization records, or lack of thereof, to prove that he or she did not become a US citizen before the birth of the “next in line” child. In my case, Generoso Nargi became a US citizen in 1905, well after the birth of his son Louis here in the US. Unfortunately, prior to 1912, when a native-born Italian naturalized in another country, he gave up not only his own Italian citizenship but also that of all his minor children, regardless of where they were born.

Photo: Courtesy of Kathy McCabe

So I had to look at the other half of my Italian family (my other maternal great-grandparents) and visit the town of Ariano Irpino in Campania to research Marie Cuzzone’s parents, Generoso Cuzzone, a carpenter born in 1862, and Caterina Scrima. Similar to the Nargi Family, the Cuzzones migrated to the US in the late 1800s; based on the 1910 US Census, Generoso was still an “alien”, i.e. an Italian citizen, after the birth of his daughter Mary (her legal name though she went by Marie) here in the US.

Unfortunately, the current law granting Italian citizenship jure sanguinis (by right of blood) states that women could hold but not pass citizenship to children born before January 1, 1948, the date Italy became a Republic. Because my mother was born before this date, I could not at first glance fulfill all the requirements that would have given me Italian dual citizenship.  That law I just mentioned is considered discriminatory and I may still be able to achieve my dream of citizenship by going to court in Italy to contest the law. Stay tuned…

In the meantime, if you’ve watched the episode, you know that I received quite a surprise that more than made up for the traditional challenges of seeking Italian dual citizenship."

To watch this amazing Dream of Italy Episode, CLICK HERE