I was so fortunate to attend a recent talk by Janet O'Conor Camarata at the Fiske Library about researching your Italian roots. Since 2009, I've been intensely researching my ancestral roots in northern Italy. I was able to trace the families of all four sets of my grandparents to a small town near Venice. My ancestors have all lived, died, loved, worked, and fought amongst themselves or against foreign marauders in the same area for over 400 years. I know they've been there past the 1600s, but I haven't finished my research to determine how far back.
It is incredible to me that other than the men who left to serve in wars, my father was the first to leave the area in 1955 and emigrate to Canada. Just think about that. For almost four hundred years, no one left that town nor ventured far from the region of Friuli (now Friuli Venezia-Giulia; see flag below). An area named after Julius Caesar and before him and his Roman armies, ancient Celts roamed the land and built fortified cities on hills and plains as part of the Castellieri culture.
A branch on my mother's side was recognized by the patriarchate of Aquilea, a large port city and seat of the bishopric of the area, second only to Milan and Ravenna in importance to the Roman Empire. So while we weren't exactly nobles, part of the family had fairly high status in the mostly farming community. There's a crest, too, that I'm trying to get my paws on and when I do, I'll post it here. Finding out if I'm part of a noble family was not my intention when I set out to research my roots, but I sure wouldn't turn away from the facts if I happened upon such information.
One never knows what might come out of rummaging around in old parishes and faded record books though it has been a hoot to find some gems. For example, on my maternal grandfather's side, the men were very tall and broad shouldered so they earned the nickname, Monso, which means "monster" in the local Friulan language. I heard that name all my life, mostly in reference to my brother who is well over six feet. When I saw that name next to a family surname in the parochial marriage register, I burst out laughing. Even the priest thought to record the groom by his common name!
Another thing I learned while researching my heritage is that unbeknownst to me, my parents truly exemplified the character of the Friulani, the people who inhabit the region of Friuli, even though they raised their family thousands of miles away in Vancouver, British Columbia. Their strong work ethic was their motto. I always said productivity ran in my genes and every time I visit my family in Italy, I witness it firsthand over and over.
Within Italy, Friulans are regarded by their own countrymen as cold. They are not cold. They've had a hard-scrabble existence with armies of every color and stripe as well as harsh nobles rule over them for hundreds of years. Friulans can be a bit insular and distrusting of stranieri, or foreigners, but they don't take long to warm up. Friulans have always rolled up their sleeves and worked hard regardless of who governed them or how unfair the system was. They help each other when life knocks them way down. In 1976, an earthquake devastated the area, but the Friulani began rebuliding immediately. This is how it was among the Friulani, even those in Canada.
After awhile, stories like this as well as various interesting nicknames found their way into my writing, inspiring all sorts of plots and characters. As I dig further into my family history, I know my stories and novels will be the richer for it.