Monday, January 14, 2008


Pietro and Domenica Ricco Amateis

These are the names of my great-grandparents inscribed on a wall at Ellis Island. When my dad recently took a trip to New York, he took a snapshot of their names. And when I look at them now, I'm in awe of not only my great-grandparents, but all the people who made the trek overseas to America in the early 1900's.

Can you imagine the courage it must have taken? In the days before the internet, before cell phones connected us all, before we could google a place and learn all there was to know about it, embarking on a journey across the ocean to begin a new life must have been terrifying.

My great-grandparents came from a small village in northern Italy called Volpiano. It's still there today and in fact, there are lots of people with the surname of Amateis still living there. I recently got in touch with one of my Italian relatives and through the miracle of email, I was able to send her pictures of her relatives in America (and thank goodness she speaks English because my Italian isn't so great!).

But when I think back to what Pietro and Domenica must have went through to make the decision to leave everything behind and journey to just blows me away. And they didn't even have the luxury of taking a plane to their new home, but traveled on a ship with hundreds of other immigrants. I can just hear the noise of different dialects and languages, the weeping of some who already were homesick, the excited conversation between others who couldn't wait for the new opportunities America provided.

I feel very blessed that my great-grandparents made the decision to come to America. But I wonder if my great-grandmother ever wondered if she'd made a mistake; if my great-grandfather ever worried if he could provide for his wife and family; if they knew that they might never see Italy again. My great-grandmother never did go back to the "old country" - my great-grandfather made the trip a few years before his death.

Today it's so hard to fathom what that must have felt like - to know that you might never see your family again because you lived half a world away. Letters would be your link to home. Photographs would help ease the pain of loneliness. And the promise of a better life might be the only justification you'd ever have for leaving it all behind.

But in the was worth it.

Thanks, Pietro and Domenica, for making the trip. We'll never forget it.


  1. I'd love to visit Ellis Island. I love all of that history stuff about people who uprooted and travelled into the unknown.

  2. Wow, what wonderful family history.

  3. wow, that post brought tears to my eyes. It is hard to imagine the decision they made to come here, isn't it? Knowing that, most likely, they'd never see their family again. Hoping for a better life. To a land where they didn't speak the language. That pic of their names on the wall is now neat!

    I love genealogy and figuring out where my ancestors were from and when they came here. Very cool stuff.

  4. That's an amazing story, and what makes it more amazing is that it was repeated by countless families in many parts of the world. It definitely gives you a better understanding of what America was (should be?).

  5. What a great story and tribute, Melissa!

  6. The courage of pioneers is staggering. I can't imagine it. I think I'd have keeled over the moment I stepped off the boat!

  7. Wonderful post, Melissa. Now I think you should take a Berlitz course and learn to speak Italian, so when you visit the Old Country, you'll be able to speak to your relatives and new-found friends!

  8. What a beautiful tribute, Melissa. I once spent several hours listening to my mother and her cousins tell stories of their parents, who came here from Sicily. How they bought houses and started businesses without being able to read or write English. The courage it took not only to come here, but to strive for every opportunity they could.

    I once asked my grandmother if she ever wanted to go back to Sicily. She looked at me like I was nuts. "There wasn't anything there," she said. "That's why we left."


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