Have you ever thought about what traits you may have inherited from you dad and mum? The obvious answer is “of course”, we all have, whether we are interested in genealogy or not. But why not go further back and try to find out what our more distant forebears have passed down -or should have passed down- to us?
Take my father’s line, for instance: a long line of Italian forefathers who fought against poverty and bitter personal circumstances -not always unselfishly, I have to say. Going back in time up the “patrilineal line” (that is, the unbroken chain starting with my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and so on) from whom my brother and I are descended, I come to a rather sad, yet revealing conclusion. My starting point is, obviously, my last male-line ancestor, a man I can scarcely imagine called Giuseppe Ameglio, who would have been born roughly at the end of the 18th century in what is now Northern Italy. As I have very few references about him, all I can say is that he lived in a small market town and that he lived long enough to see two of his children marry in the early 1840’s. So far so good. Things start to change, however, with when we come to the next generation.
Giuseppe’s son Gerolamo was born in 1815 and had several children with his wife Francesca. Sadly, as life expectancy at the time was much shorter than today, I can’t imagine Gerolamo living much longer after the birth of his son Vincenzo (my great-great-grandfather), who was born when Gerolamo was already a mature man of 44. Vincenzo’s plausible and probable lack of a father-figure may have contributed to his uneasiness around his own family, and would certainly explain why Vincenzo abandoned his young wife and unborn son when he was in his 30’s.
The taint of being fatherless did not dilute itself with Vincenzo. When his only son, Giacomo, became a widower many years later, he too didn’t seem to be excessively knowledgeable about how to bring up a young son, and therefore sent the four year-old boy (my grandfather Peter) from America to Italy, to be reared by the child’s stern grandmother. The kid remained in Italy until his father found a second wife, but by the time young Peter came back about ten years later, his father was all but a complete stranger to him. The relationship between father and son seems to have been strained, and would ultimately lead to a complete break after Peter returned from the war. Peter grew to become an attractive, carefree young man, and in line with his roguish character abandoned my pregnant grandmother in War-torn England in the mid-40’s. I’m not sure it’s up to me to forgive him, particularly at this stage in life, but I probably would be able to forgive him now I have reached the sad conclusion that he came, as I have recently realised, from a long-line of fatherless ancestors.
But if fatherlessness is the main characteristic I have inherited through my father’s line, I’d like to think that mental and moral strength is what may have been passed down my mother’s side.
My distant ancestor, Antonia, lived a long life and brought up ten children of her own with her husband at her side; their youngest daughter, Joaquina, was either strong or foolish enough to marry a man old enough to be her father (or grandfather even). Of course, she soon became a young widow, and thus had to face the unenviable task of bringing up six young children on her own. One of her daughters, Dolores, married when she was already pregnant, but was soon left to fend for herself when her husband abandoned her and the baby, to start a new life and family in Argentina (I am currently researching whether the second family was the product of a marriage, in which case he would have been a bigamist). The girl he left behind, Josefa was luckier than her mother, in that she seems to have found a good and faithful husband, but she too was left a widow at a young stage in life. Incidentally, her mother-in-law also seems to have been a strong woman, having lost both her parents and her first husband within a few days of each other, during the 1854 cholera epidemic). Josefa’s daughter, my great-grandmother Lola, also became a widow somewhat prematurely, but by then she could find comfort in her large and expanding brood of children and grandchildren. This large family would have given her much happiness and peace of mind in the winter of her days, I suspect. My grandmother too learned to lead a peaceful life despite losing her husband in her early 60’s, not to speak of my own mum, who has managed to battle cancer and overcome many griefs over the past few years with great courage and strength of character.
Which traits have I inherited, I wonder? Alas, this remains to be seen.