Many first, second and third-generation Sicilian
Americans, whose ancestors emigrated a hundred or more
years ago, find themselves able to travel to Sicily, and
when that opportunity arises, their refrain is something
like this: "My parents/grandparents were from Sicily.
I'm traveling there soon, and I would like to get in
touch with any living relatives I may have there.
I don't speak or understand Sicilian or Italian." Many
believe they can simply go to their ancestral town,
query officials there, and "voila!" dozens of
their cousins will be identified.
Their sentiments are admirable, but their
expectations may be dashed.
HOW TO START:
To find living relatives, you must start with your
ancestors. Your ancestors' descendants, after all,
are your relatives.
But it's not enough to know simply your father's surname
and your mother's maiden name. Presumably, you
already know your parents' descendants! You
must 'build' a family tree at least three generations
back, identifying your ancestors (those in a direct
line, i.e. parents, grandparents, great-grandparents.
etc.) and collateral relatives (siblings and other blood
relatives of your ancestors: great aunts, great uncles,
Doing so will reveal many persons with surnames which
are not those of your parents, but which nevertheless
may be the surnames of your living relatives. Your
maternal grandmother's brother, for example, had neither
your mother's nor your father's surname, but his
grandchildren would be your second cousins.
In building your tree, be sure to identify the spelling
of your ancestors' names as they were spelled in
Sicily, and the correct names of their 'comune'
(town) and 'provincia' (province, like a county:
there are nine in Sicily). Once you have an
extensive tree, if you know your ancestral village,
you're ready to go to Sicily to start your search.
If you don't speak the language, unless your origins
were in a large metropolitan city or a tourist area,
don't expect the residents, or even the officials, to
speak English. You may have to hire an interpreter
when you visit the town's Municipio (City Hall),
and the local Parocco (Parish Offices).
You should not plan on spending only a day or a few
hours in your quest, nor to walk into a town or parish
office and immediately find help. When you arrive,
it may be a holiday; the office may be open only certain
hours; the staff may be busy, out ill, or on 'siesta'.
Further, it's not in the 'job description' of town and
church employees to do genealogical research for
foreigners. Don't go without your own family tree,
and expect them to develop it for you.
You should plan on spending at least a couple of days in
your town, or stay close enough that you can make
several trips there. The first thing to do is to
go to the town and parish offices and make appointments
for specific days and times when you can return to ask
about possible relatives.
CIVIL VERSUS CHURCH:
The reason for visiting both town and church offices is
that there are two types of documents recording the
lives of Sicilians: civil records, and ecclesiastical or church
records. Many novices are of the opinion that the
only records are church records, which may go back to
the 14th century and continue to be kept to this day.
However civil records of birth, marriage and death have
been kept in Sicily from 1820 through the present; they
are much more detailed and standardized than church
records, and generally more accessible.
While you may not be asking civil and church staff to
actually look up any records, they would most likely
have knowledge of the local residents with surnames that
appear in your tree.
When you meet with civil or church staff, be very
careful to make it clear that you reasons for searching
for locals is solely to find and connect with family,
and to share life stories with them, and that your
search has nothing to do with any
legal or property-related matter. Failing to do so
could lead to a 'cone of silence' by any staff, and
suspicion of your motives by the locals.
If you're fortunate, the civil and church staff will be
able to give you the names and contact information of
locals who share some of your family surnames.
If you're from a small town, the staff themselves may
have surnames that match! Another source would
be local business or telephone directories, and of
course, social media.
With those contacts in hand, try to meet or speak with
the identified locals. Show them your tree, and a
list of ancestors and collateral relatives. If
they recognize one of their ancestors in your tree,
you'll have found a living Sicilian relative!
If you do, be prepared for them to embrace you, invite
you to their home, prepare meals for you, and generally
treat you like royalty.