Monday, October 5, 2009

The Packet.

For the past 20 years or so, a packet of paperwork has been circulating around in our family; paperwork from when my great uncle, Paul Ghione, took a trip to Italy in search of our family’s roots.

In 1982, Paul Ghione was given a special gift for his 63rd birthday: a trip to Italy paid for in full by his 4 children. With that rare opportunity, Paul got on a plane, and in no time at all was on his way back to the land where his parents had departed from 70 years prior. Their destination was: the United Sates.

Paul was advised by another older relative at the time that the Ghione family originated from the town of Canelli, near Asti. The relative also had some brief contact details for remaining family in Canelli, so Paul got started right away in reaching out to them upon arrival. In no time at all he found our family’s descendants of the Reggio family (his mother’s family). Once he met them in person, they told him to check out of his hotel; they told him he was staying with them for the remainder of the trip!

While with his newfound cousins, Paul was quickly brought up to speed on many stories regarding the family history. He was also taken around to many locations to see not only where the family had lived during their time in Canelli, but also to where some of the family had emigrated (ie Nice, France).

Paul returned home to the States with a certain feeling of accomplishment from this trip, and shortly after, received yet another surprise: a wedding invitation from the family with whom he’d stayed. Their son was to be married in 1984. So, in 1984, Paul had a special opportunity to return back to Italy a second time, and continue to strengthen the international bond between Canelli and America.

Sadly, much of the link between the families in the US and Canelli came to an abrupt halt when Paul died in 1991. 2 of his children attempted to continue contact with the family back in Canelli, but with obstacles like language barriers and slow international mail, the line of communication eventually closed down.

In July of this year, I was enlightened to the existence of this packet of documentation that had been left behind by my Great Uncle Paul. It was revealed to me by my cousin, Vince Ghione. We’d been meeting up regularly to discuss family genealogy through the Summer, and on this particular meeting he brought these documents with him. The packet contained pages of names and addresses, photocopies of the letters that Paul had received from Canelli relatives, even maps showing the layouts of where all of the relatives where as of 1984. Vince was happy to share the information, but unfortunately only had one copy of the packet at the time. So, for the time being I would have to wait to obtain my own personal copy of this packet.

I mentioned to my father not long after, that I had seen this packet of information that Vince possessed from Great Uncle Paul. Upon mentioning it, my father dug out a large bag that he keeps all of his genealogy paperwork in. He began removing the contents from the bag and started sorting them. He eventually took out 2 packets of paperwork, matching exactly to the packet that Vince had shown to me. He handed me one of the 2 packets that he had and said “There you go. Now you have your own copy”. I could not wait to start dissecting the contents of this packet.

In the midst of working with this old cluster of documents, I was also able to reconnect with another cousin of mine here in the States, Rich Ghione (son of Paul Ghione). Rich was invaluable in helping to fill in a lot of the holes that I had concerning the packet of data. Following in Paul’s footsteps, Rich was one of the 2 children who had tried to continue keeping the line of communication open between the families. However, as mentioned earlier, time, language barriers, and slow mail contributed to the slowing of contact.

Determined to find a way to reconnect with these people in Canelli, I started assessing different ways as to how I could make it happen. I speak some Italian, but not quite enough to start cold-calling houses in Italy and telling strangers I was the great-nephew of a man who came to visit 20 years earlier! Therefore, I needed to use a more strategic approach: I knew that one of the relatives did speak some English, and I had proof right in this packet of papers. There was a copy of a letter to my Great Uncle Paul from her, and it was in English. Her name was Rita. Her family was also the family that Paul had stayed with during at least one of his two visits. Using the internet, I did a search of the address we had for this woman’s family, and looked to see if there were any neighboring businesses in the community that might have internet and email access. Sure enough, I came across information for a bed and breakfast called the Hotel Asti.

The B and B is approximately 2 blocks away from the last address we had for Rita and her family, so I took a gamble and emailed the address listed for the Hotel Asti. It is well-known that the Italian community is very eager to help one another out with various tasks, so I was hoping that this tradition would continue to be upheld by the staff at Hotel Asti.. Sure enough, within 2 days, I received an email back from the staff at the Hotel Asti. Not only had they received my email, but they also knew our Reggio family very well, and were already responding back to me with a phone number that would put me in direct contact with Rita! The beauty of this connection was, Rita now knew that I would be calling, so a rough introduction had already been made. It was wonderful to know that the staff at the Hotel Asti had gone out of their way to perform a small miracle for me. I was honored to know that I would soon be able to re-launch communication between family members that had gone dormant for almost 20 years.

On September 20th at 11:30AM EST, I dialed the phone number that had been provided to me by Andrea at the Hotel Asti. After a few rings, my cousin Rita, who I’d never met before in my life, answered the phone. It was a truly exciting moment for me. I learned very quickly during the initial part of the conversation that Rita had excellent English-speaking skills, but she warned me very early on to “speak slowly please”. After speaking some in English, I began to use the Italian that I knew, and that seemed to ease the speed of the communication a bit. While speaking to her in Italian, I also mentioned “io parlo italiano e io parlo francese anche”, as I am fluent in French. As soon as I spoke these words, Rita switched immediately to French, and from there, the language barrier disappeared completely.

We spoke for about 15 minutes, at which time we exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes. I made sure that she knew that this was only the beginning of her hearing from me and the rest of the family here in the States. She was very happy to know that, once again, her family was in contact with relatives of Paul Ghione: the man who served as Ambassador of the Ghione family in Italy from 1982 to 1991.

This article has been posted in honor of Paul Ghione, Vince Ghione, Rich Ghione, Jim Brady Jr., and Andrea Scarsi of the Hotel Asti in Canelli. Without the invaluable input from all of these individuals, this event could not have taken place.

More exciting chapters in regard to this story will be coming in future updates.

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