The Search for my Italian Ancestors

 My great aunt Giuseppina Chiulli Odoardi, sister of my great grandfather Paolo Chiulli

Until recently I didn’t know too much about my Italian roots.     My grandfather, Crescenzo Chiulli was killed in a freak attack of yellow jackets when my mother was only 12.    His father, Paolo Chiulli died before that.  Paolo was the only one of his family to emigrate from Italy to America, and apparently never shared in-depth stories of his time in the old country.      My only experience with my Italian heritage has been my mother’s phenomenal Italian cooking and the annual Fourth of July cookouts that my uncle Patsy (Pasquale) used to host until he died when I was about 10.   There was bocce and grilled sausages and I remember him sitting in a chair in his garden, in a scene right out of “the Godfather.”

As a young man in the first decade of the 2oth century,  Paolo Chiulli came to the United States and went to the North End of Boston.    For some unknown reason, I can’t find any record of him entering the country, despite an exhaustive search of the records at Ellis Island and of Boston immigration records.   It is possible his name was misspelled on the manifest of the ship in which he crossed the Atlantic, or he was never processed.  Who knows?

What we do know is that he changed his name from Paolo Chiulli to Paul Chully as an attempt  to assimilate with American society, although by the time he volunteered to serve in World War II in 1942, he was using Chiulli again.   The military didn’t take him because he was 62 years old then, but you gotta love his patriotic spirit!

All we ever knew was that he was from Abruzzo, a region of Italy north of Rome on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.    No one in the family knew which town he came from or any details about his family back home.

When I first went to Italy in the 1990s, I looked in a phone book in the hopes of seeing a Chiulli listed.   There were dozens.    This was not going to be easy.

My research was infrequent and sporadic since then.  I got some pointers from Dr. Riccardo Ambrogio, the former consulate to Italy based in Hartford.    He advised me on what to do and who to contact.     I checked some websites and swapped e-mails with some people looking for Chiulli ancestors, but found no relations, no connections.

Two years ago,  in anticipation of the birth of my son,  I stepped up the search.    If we had a boy, Kara and I decided he would have Crescenzo as a middle name, and I wanted to learn more about the family tree.    Through a genealogical website, I found John Nelson of Utah, another guy like me with a waspy name who was also researching the name Chiulli in his family tree.    John was the genealogical jackpot.  He had all the information that had eluded our family for more than a century.

Alanno, Italy

From John,  I learned my great-grandfather was born in the town of Alanno, Italy, also referred to as the commune of Alanno.    In one e-mail I learned that my great-great grandfather, Paolo’s father,  was also named Crescenzo, and that his father was Antonio Chiulli.    I also learned the names of sisters, brothers, grandmothers,  even the addresses of birthplaces.     Maiden names in the tree included Ciarrocca and Angelini.     John’s work in Chiulli research was invaluable.  Oddly, as it turns out, the Chiullis in John’s family tree don’t seem connected to mine.

This past December, my great aunt Angie (Angelina) died just shy of her 98th birthday.  She was the last surviving sibling of my grandfather.    After her death, I decided to look up some people in Alanno with the last name Chiulli and that’s when I got some more tremendous luck in my quest for family history.

I couldn’t find an e-mail address for the one person named Chiulli in Alanno, so I thought I might try a local reporter in Abruzzo in the hopes a journalist with a lay of the land and its people  could help me contact this particular Chiulli.    This reporter turned out to be a publisher of a magazine called PrimaDaNoi.   Alessandro Biancardi then asked me if I wanted to be interviewed for PrimaDaNoi, and he felt  that would help find some relatives.     Reporter Marirosa Barbieri then contacted me and wrote up this great article.

Since then, I have been contacted by several people, including some Channel 3 viewers here, who heard about the article from their relatives in Abruzzo.   No surprise about the folks here…after all, the new 2010 census shows Connecticut is the most Italian state in the U.S.    I’ve swapped e-mails and Facebook messages with some newly discovered relatives, who shared with me information I never would have discovered without PrimaDaNoi.    In a lengthy e-mail written in Italian from one of the cousins,   I learned according to family legend, my great grandfather left Italy after some sort of brawl in which the police were involved.  I’m just hoping I didn’t translate that part properly!

I’ve even been contacted by someone in Italy interested in having me on their television program.

The experience has been awesome.     Kara and I are definitely planning a family trip to Abruzzo one of these days to check out the ancestral homeland and meet some cousins!   One newly discovered cousin is a pastry chef, and the pictures of her creations are pretty amazing.

the view of Alanno from the site of the farm where my great-grandfather was born

My cousin Paola Odoardi, next to a pile of stones and debris:  all that is left of  the birthplace of my great grandfather and her grandmother Guiseppina Chiulli Odoardi


UPDATE: Read about my trip to Abruzzo right here:

14 replies »

  1. Great blog! It immediately grabbed my attention because I have just started re-tracing my own Italian heritage, too! Your memories of the 4th of July picnics, bocce and sausage on the grill brought on a great deal of reminiscent feelings and thus, a smile to my face. Thank you so much for sharing!


  2. Great blog Dennis! I have always wanted to trace my roots and try to discover who my people are and find new relatives. Keep up the hunt, I am sure there is so much more to discover. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Fantastic. I clearly remember the day I found the log with my Dad, his Mom and siblings name on It had the port they left, the date and the name of the boat. My Dad has been dead for years and never talked much about the early years as I think it was hard for them. I sobbed. Good luck to you!


  4. It is great to see that you wanted to know more about your Italian ancestry. The Italian community in the greater Hartford area is very large and loving! Organizations such as the Sons of Italy and other societies in the area help to keep all aspects of the culture alive.


  5. Dennis, the first names of the Chiullis you narrate are not familiar to me, but I have several of that clan in my own family. They begin with Giovanni Chiulli, birth/death date unknown, spouse unknown, but he was from Civitaquana, in Teramo at one time, but is now a part of Pescara. His son was Tommaso Chiulli, 1721-1802 in Civitaquana, who married Petronilla di Gregorio, dates unknown. The only child I know of theirs is Sabatino Chiulli, 1769-1837, in Civitaquana, who married Maria Domenica Trabucco, 1777-?. Their children were Vincenzo Giovanni Antonio Chiulli, 1807-?, Zupito Raffaele Chiulli, 1809-?, Luigi Chiulli, 1812-?, Carolina Chiulli, 1815-?, and Maria Carolina, 1816-?, all in Civitaquana. Vincenzo is the one who relates directly to my family and he married Carolina di Gregorio, 1818-?, Civitaquana. Their children were all born in Civitaquana: Camillo Andrea Chiulli, 1846-?, Rosa Chiulli, 1848-1924, died in Nocciano/Pescara, Nicola Chiulli, 1850-?, Domenica, 1852-?, Maria Grazia, 1853-?, and Franco, 1855-?. Rosa married Raffaele Savini, my great grandfather, who was born 1845 and died 1918 in Nocciano. Their children, all born in Nocciano, were Emilia, 1873-?, Franco, 1876-?, Maria Donata, 1879-?, Vincenzo, 1882-?, Donato, 1885-?, Cesidio, 1888-?, Elisa, 1891-1975, Domenico ?-?. Elisa was my grandmother, and she married Leandro Della Piana, of Nocciano.

    This may not be much help, but it gives you a couple of towns to look at. 🙂


  6. Have you located ALL of Paulo’s available census records?

    If not, which ones are you missing?

    It appears that he married a widow in 1913 (going on memory) ?


  7. Maria Odoardi married my great grandfather, Vincenzo Perna in Cugnoli in the 1840’s. My ancestry list is loaded with Chiulli’s dating back to the 1700’s. Seems to be a very common name in Abruzzo. I’ve been to Cugnoli twice, and would love to go again.


    • Are you related to an Antonio Chiulli in your history? He was my great great great grandfather


  8. I believe my husband Paul Chuilli and his family are decendants of Paulo Chiulli of Boston, Ma. Apparently, the name has seen a few changes back and forth so it is at times very difficult to track relatives. We are fascinated and grateful for all the effort you have put into this endeavor. I will, with your permission print this out for the family! We still have photos of the name on the family mailbox with the former “Chiulli” spelling not all that long ago. Most of the family still resides south of Boston. What a great site to run across! I started my search with my husband’s family since that seemed more challenging, but your postings have helps a lot! Next I plan to track my side of the family back to Italy as well, hopefully with as much success!


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