My month long journey across Italy started with a simple goal to discover if I could finally ditch my passport by claiming Italian citizenship. To recap, Italians base citizenship on blood, so if you can trace back your line of ancestors with paperwork, then in theory, you’re eligible. And it’s possible to have both an Italian and US passport. And I wanted to finally see Sicily.
The issue that Americans run into is that if your immigrant forebears became naturalized in the US, they formally gave up their Italian citizenship, and it can’t be passed on. Hard stop. Now if your Italian great-grandfather came over, and gave birth to your grandparent before getting naturalized, then your grandparent would have both Italian citizenship (granted by blood right) and United States citizenship (granted by being birthed on US soil). The key is when your ancestors became naturalized (or if they became US citizens at all).
Notice, I used great-grandfather, in the example. That’s because Italy can be sexist, so of course, the rules are different if you’re a woman. There’s currently a case before the Italian Supreme Court to update the laws to this century.
It’s all properly confusing, and I may have some or all of the above details wrong, but the other main reason for the Italian adventure was to try to and uncover some of my familiy’s Italian heritage — most of it being lost once the immigrants landed on Ellis Island.
Part 1: Palermo, Sicily
No relatives here that I know of, but my mother’s entire family hails from the mountains outside the city, so I used Palermo for my base of operations. Lovely city filled with incredible buildings and drool-worthy food. The entire vibe here is so much more relaxed than the mainland.
Part 2: Campofelice di Roccella, Sicily
My great-grandfather came to America with $6 in his pocket along with some mad cobbler skills. I was able to trace records back to this seaside village and track down his official birth certificate.
Part 3: Collesano, Sicily
Just up the road from Campofelice is the birthplace of my grandmother, a beautiful mountain-side village with an incredible graveyard. I hitched up here from Campofelice and spent the afternoon exploring the town and tracking down her birth certificate.
Part 4: Polizzi Generosa, Sicily
My favorite part of the trip! I catch up with a bunch of cousins that I haven’t seen in two decades. I spend the weekend in a typical Sicilian village, while eating my weight in home-cooked meals.
Part 5: San Vito Chietino, Abruzzo
With time ticking down on my tourist visa, I race across the country to San Vito, the birthplace of my father’s half-Italian heritage. I end up uncovering a lot of interesting stuff, including the real name of my great-grandfather — Vitantonio Valentinetti.
The End of the Road
I spend most of the year seeing the world through music festivals, but trying out heritage travel for the first time was incredible. My travels took me off the beaten path into city clerk’s offices, mountain villages, undiscovered beaches, and lots of graveyards. And while I may not have found European Union citizenship for my future endeavors, I did find uncover quite a bit of family history.