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Genealogy Is Detective Work

by Denise ((bonaimo)) Sarram


I love working with a subject that I can lean in to- the exploration and discovery of my ancestral Sicilian roots. Take a look at the family portrait of my paternal Turn of the century photographs produced stoic family portraits with serious looking faces. My mind wanders- what did they look like a moment before or after the shot was taken? Are they stifling giggles? And how did they get all those children to be still all at the same time? These people seem quite unreal in black and white. But, these people in this portrait are inn fact, some of my paternal ancestors. They were real people, with real stories and experiences. And each generation has its major life changing events. I am on a quest to dive deeper and uncover all I can about not only my paternal side, but my maternal side as well. My family tree began in Sicily. The paths my ancestors took, choices they made, their misfortunes and victories have all lead to this point in time. They've lead to me.

Governments, churches, hospitals and schools kept paper records of the great milestones in life (a birth record written in Italian, the manifest of a cross Atlantic journey by steamship, a marriage license, the 1920 United States census, citizenship documents, to name a few.) Many records did not survive. Floods, fires, insects and careless storage have ravaged them. However, with a rise in the pursuit of genealogy many of the records have been digitized. The digitized preservation and cataloging of these precious documents definitely makes it a little easier to do research. But, it is a time consuming pursuit that can often lead you down the wrong path or into a brick wall.

Genealogy is like investigative reporting. Discovering official documents or a vintage photo can provide a piece of the puzzle that illuminates a person’s very existence. These things are just tiny glimpses, however. Much is left to the imagination.

And so, my hunt continues. And as I gather more information, it inspires me to create more art. So that I may share their stories and- in a way, keep their legacy alive.

Family Portrait

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