finding your roots

Missing family history

Thomas L. Naples August 19, 2013

My family story probably isn’t unique but it is one that has plagued my family for decades before I was even born. It involves my paternal grandfather. He was born around January 13, 1904 around the area of Airola Italy. Of course there is a “story” that the family always talked about, some on facts, some still to this day a mystery.
From what had been told to me, my grandfather was born an illegitimate child of two young people in that area. At least one side was a family of some level of wealth. We always joked that we may have been related to Italian royalty. The other side of that was, we always considered that we may have likewise been related to Mussolini. All I know from what I was told was that he was born in a hospital, no common thing from 1904 southern Italy, and that he was christened Alberto Amore in a church before being given away, still in a beautiful bejeweled christening gown, to the family that we would always know as our own, the family of Tomasso and Giuseppina Napoletano. When my grandfather was given to this family, his name was changed to Raphaele Napoletano. When the family came to America, the last name was later “Americanized” to Naples. I am aware that my grandfather did not come to the United States through Ellis Island, at least not legally.
Throughout the years, we had always asked about his family and ancestry. We were always told that my grandfather was ashamed and didn’t care to know who they were because “If they loved me, they wouldn’t have given me away”. My gut feeling however is that he knew who they were. There were people from the Benevento region that knew the story and all the facts, but they are long gone. My grandfather died in 1971. My grandmother, who swore to secrecy to her spouse never spoke much except bits and pieces. She is long gone, as is my father, who passed from kidney disease and the youngest of my aunts, who died from ALS. We had always been concerned that there is no way of knowing any family health history. There are two daughters left, my aunts, but they know only as much as I do.

I have thought of traveling to Italy to research his past, but my family went there many years ago and didn’t find out much. As a last resort, I’ve told my family that I would love to have a genetic test done, as I am the oldest of the only male child of my grandfather. Until then, this continues to remain in the recesses of my mind. I hope to some day find the truth, wherever it leads me.

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The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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