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.
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: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/journey-to-abruzzo-to-meet-my-italian-family/