07 May 2013

Bringing Your Ancestors to Life

Having my finger in several "genealogical pies," I have the opportunity to see how my ancestors are described on a factual basis. Most of the time, people are listed as part of a group, and if I'm lucky, there might be additional information such as births, marriages, children, etc. There should be a section in every family history book that does this, but when possible, there should also be a section that brings them to life. This does require some research on your part, as it is necessary to know and to understand their living conditions, economic pressures, and occupations wherever possible.

With our Torre le Nocelle and surrounding villages ancestors, we do know that they lived in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, an area prone to severe earthquakes. By doing a little research, I found the following Website to be of interest: http://www.echomolise.org/Earthquakes.html. It does list a catastrophic earthquake to have hit the Naples area in 1626 which shows that there were 70,000 killed. The survivors that did not move away, but chose, instead, to remain, had to have been greatly affected by the tragedy. Many records were destroyed, but thankfully, not all.

Unfortunately, very few of the early Italians were journal writers, most likely due to illiteracy, so there are few accounts, if any,  from people who lived through these events. We are left to surmise the "what might haves" as best we can. However, by researching the conditions of the time, as well as checking what documentation may have survived of your family members, it is possible to create a plausible scenario based on what is known.

Many of us are present-day survivors of catastrophic events, and we do know first-hand the devastating effects that nature can inflict on our lives--towns wiped off the map, livelihoods destroyed, total disruption/destruction in food production/supply, psychological stress, as well as the loss of family members. By understanding our reactions to these events, it is not a huge stretch to have compassion for what our ancestors may have endured.

My point in all this? Having a list of names is only a part of their story. Do your research and find out what conditions were like at the time. The more you know historically, the more you'll know about your ancestors, which will allow you to appreciate their courage and stamina. Never forget that there is something of our ancestors in all of us that goes beyond DNA.

Jan Domenico (Jan's Editing Service for Writers)


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