13 January 2021

The Loss of a Cousin Stirs Up Memories

Mom's 1st cousin died last night, making her the oldest member of the family she grew up with and grew old with.

As genealogists, many of us make a mental note to add the date to our family tree, and I will. But right now I'm flooded with sweet memories of my childhood. And the last thing my cousin said to me.

I love to spend my time digging through the vital records of my ancestors from the last 2 centuries. I've felt sadness again and again over the death of babies born to my relatives in the 1800s. But when a close relative dies, and your own past experiences come to mind, you know what family means.

The very atmosphere of your close family defines you. My atmosphere was filled with fun, laughs, and lots of great Italian cooking. It made my childhood a happy one.

I was watching "Finding Your Roots" on TV when our cousin died. It struck me that the show's guests knew a bit about some of the stories that came to light. But they didn't know the whole picture.

It seems to me we need to think back on our memories and tug on the threads of each story we can recall. Then we can try to learn more through research.

My cousin was the only child of the most enterprising woman in my family—my grandmother's sister Stella. Stella was an extraordinary maker of bridal gowns. She was quite famous in the Bronx. Stella had her wits fully about her up until she died, just short of her 97th birthday.

Stella's husband Attilio, my late cousin's father, died at age 32 in 1940. I was always curious about his having the same last name as Stella and my grandmother: Sarracino. Shortly before she died, Stella told me she and Attilio were not cousins, despite the name. She knew this because they were given permission to marry.

But Attilio's roots stretched deep into the same small Italian town as Stella. A lack of records for that little town is keeping me from climbing further up Attilio's family tree. But I have found his 4 grandparent and each of their fathers. So I know any relationship between Stella and Attilio was distant enough for them to marry.

Research helps bring an ancestor's memory to life.
Research helps bring an ancestor's memory to life.

I'll never forget the day in 2012 when a large group of my close relatives went to bury Mom's sister. We were in the cemetery where nearly my entire family is buried.

The cousin with the most knowledge of the cemetery, led the group of us around to see our ancestors' graves. Then we decided we needed to find Attilio Sarracino's grave. His daughter, who died last night, said she had never seen his grave. Never seen it!

So we all fanned out, canvasing the rows nearest to my 2nd great grandparents' grave. At last, someone found him and called out to the group. When my late cousin reached her father's grave, I know her heart became full. She was 11 years old when he died, so her memory of him was probably thin. Perhaps she felt regret over the lack of memories—over losing him so early in her life.

My deep-dive research into my Italian ancestors won't bring these types of stories to light. But through my research I've found a real connection to their names and their towns. I feel sadness when a couple from the 1840s loses their young child. I feel anguish when I find another relative who died in the 1805 earthquake in their area. I feel pride when I trace an ancestor back to the 1600s in the very same town.

On we go, learning more and more about our ancestors. Today I'm inspired to look closer at the limited vital records from my Sarracino ancestral hometown. Can I learn more about Attilio's roots? Will I ever be able to say, while thinking of my late cousin, "Here's why your parents were distant cousins"?

On we go.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry for your loss, DiAnn. May your heart continue to be full with lovely memories of your mom's cousin.