Saturday, October 20, 2012

Finding my Italian cousins in America

Sometimes I wonder about the strange interest I have in my family history and in discovering previously unknown relatives. Why does it make a difference what my ancestors’ names were or where they came from? Why do I feel an unusual affinity—a kinship, one might say—for a man who is my fifth cousin but otherwise a complete stranger?
A group photo taken August 4, 2012, at the Spadoni-Seghieri family reunion at the home of Roger and Rosemary Spadoni.

One need only to read a few of the heartwarming stories about siblings separated in their youth who have later reunited to see how the bonds of family remain strong through time. Another example is adoptees who feel compelled to seek out their birth parents, or vice versa. Granted, this drive varies in strength from person to person. I am reminded of the potential cousin I met in San Salvatore who cut off our conversation about our possible common ancestor by saying, “I’m not interested in these things at all.” However, I have found this man to be the exception in my search for family ties.

Andrew Holmes, while studying kin recognition in animals for his PhD in the United Kingdom, wrote in 2010 for, “There is evidence that many different animals can recognise their relatives, despite never having encountered them before. Indeed, there is evidence of kin recognition in all the major groups, from mammals to fish, birds to amphibians, as well as insects, plants and single-celled organisms.” He further explains the benefits of this in the animal kingdom: “In non-humans, kin can group together for protection or foraging, can cooperatively care for young, or can simply choose not to fight one another . . . (and) being able to recognise your relatives helps prevent matings between close kin. Certain animals are able to recognise unfamiliar kin and change their behaviour towards them accordingly, choosing not to fight, not to breed, to nest or group together or simply to avoid each other.”

This trait obviously carries over to humans as well. Most of us instinctively feel closer to people with whom we share a common genetic make-up, even if the relationship is rather ancient. Holmes cites an Arabic saying: “I against my brother, I and my brother against our cousin, I, my brother and our cousin against the neighbors, all of us against the foreigner.”

On one level, logic questions why this should be. Why should I go out of my way to meet an unknown distant cousin when I have plenty of friends nearby, and I already have trouble enough finding time to spend with my friends? Yet this is the way God made us—at least many of us—and I find that most of my relatives feel the same way. My conclusion is to leave the mystery of why this is so to the scientists and just enjoy my extended family. I accept that kinship is an important part of our primal nature.

With that stated, I am going to devote some time to writing about relatives that I have discovered and met in the United States within the last six months. Some I have met face to face and others, so far, only by correspondence, though I hope to someday meet them in person. I have found relatives in Wisconsin, Chicago, Texas, Minnesota and all over California. Some have been living as close as Seattle and Tacoma, but we never realized before that we were related. Admittedly, I haven’t found the final pieces that show how all of us are related, but that’s just a matter of time and research. We are all descendants of the Spadoni and Seghieri families of the small geographical region in Italy that contains Ponte Buggianese, Stignano, Montecarlo and other small villages within a 15-mile radius. These families have occupied this region since at least the 13th century and recognize that they are genetically connected. Any Spadoni from this region who immigrated to the United States is related in some way, even if only extremely distantly, and the same is true for any Seghieri. More to come soon on these relative discoveries . . .

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