Almost 37 years ago now I married into a truly wonderful family! I was blessed with my wife and all her family, especially her 100% Italian Heritage. However, I was doubly blessed by gaining a terrific Father-in-Law!
As we as genealogists and family historians, we know full well that our work would be impossible without all the Fathers-in-Law in our family trees! If your tree is like mine, some you know about, but as we get farther back, they often are a huge unknown. That is why in my personal genealogy work I try and gather as much information as possible on the Fathers-in-Law of the families!
Throughout the years I have been a part of my wonderful in-laws, I have come to hold dear four particular ‘rules’ that Carlo, my father-in-law, and his family instilled in me though his words, but more often and more importantly through his actions:
- Hold your family dear at all times! Blood is indeed thicker than water.
- Love, embrace, and be proud of your heritage,
- Honor your elders, and
- Do all within your power to flourish where you are planted.
My father-in-law taught me something every time we were together. He was an exquisite entrepreneur. He was an anonymous donor to a multitude of good causes and to people in need. He illustrated daily that your word is your bond. He taught me to try new things and embrace change in life. He also introduced me to true Italian camaraderie and food! Oh yeah — he also taught me how to duck and grouse hunt, but I keep reminding my wife even to this day, that I did not know about that until AFTER I proposed!
It wasn’t until early in my twenties that I had the most fortunate twist of fate in my life and it happened to be Italian. Working a summer job in a bank in Minneapolis, I met a young Italian girl, also working her way through college. Yes, even I, the Bohemian, knew she was Italian right away. Her surname was D’Aquila and her mother’s maiden name was Casagrande.
After an extended courtship, I found myself making a visit to Virginia, Minnesota to speak with Bis-Nonno and Bis-Nonna Casagrande and seeking their blessing for my proposed marriage to their granddaughter. Certainly in my case, I was also blessed with a very loving, accepting, and supportive Great-Mother-in-Law and Great-Father-in-Law with Helen and Mario. They even provided all the homemade wine for our wedding reception made with grapes from their good friend Robert Mondavi.
Then there I was on a doorstep in Hibbing, Minnesota on a freezing cold February evening ringing the doorbell and waiting to speak with her father and mother in order to ask them for her hand in marriage. I was to find that this was no small feat. To begin with, this would be the marriage of the first of six children and she was not the eldest. Second, I would be the first non-Italian in the family and a non-Catholic (at that time) Bohemian to boot. Third and finally, I had just spent four and half hours in the car with my future fiancée listening to stories that all revolved around her father never, ever liking a single one of her prior suitors and on occasion even scaring them off from his home so badly that they removed significant portions of their picket fence! Needless to say …. I was a bit of a wreck by the time we arrived!
The outcome of that evening was my being accepted into a unique family and larger community that I have come to love, respect, admire, and embrace. As I look back now, I realize that what I have learned about the Italian culture and the rich Italian community of Northern Minnesota are some of the most important lessons I ever learned. Why you might ask? I can answer easily that it is precisely because they have come to be central, important, and integral parts of my marriage, my life, and now the lives of my children and down now to my grandchildren.
While every culture and area have their own strengths and personalities, I believe that the Italian community of Northern Minnesota has a very special identity that is forged uniquely through its combination of ties to their home country, pride of heritage, the ever-present iron ore and the work it took to remove it from the earth, and values that are instilled through centuries of common lineage.
Now that I am a Genealogical Historian I have enjoyed the journey that I began back on that wonderful day in 1974 and have relished every step I have taken along the way.
I was blessed in my understanding of the pride-of-heritage that my in-laws had in their Italian roots. After all, I have been raised with a very proud Cornish grandfather and an equally proud Bohemian grandmother. What I wasn’t quite prepared for was how meaningful being accepted as an ‘adopted Italian’ would become.
The Italian community of Northern Minnesota was a very tight knit one. Most of the men came and settled into jobs at the bottom of the giant pits and spent their lives committed to the back-breaking work of removing the iron ore. Some family followed the vein to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and settled in cities with names like Iron Mountain, Iron River, and Bessemer. In the case of my in-laws, once they found the open-pit mines of the Mesabi Range, they chose to stay there, while pledging to St. Joseph that the next generation should ‘escape’ working in the mines.
While my father-in-law, Carlo, was born in the States shortly after his mother and brothers emigrated from Vinchiaturo, Italy, the rest of his family, father, Pasquale, mother, Concetta, and older brothers, Francesco and Michele, were all born in the village of Vinchiaturo, in the Molise region. A family of agricultural laborers, they longed for a better life for themselves and their children. While some in the family remained inItaly, Pasquale struck out to find the economic opportunity he felt was escaping him at home. Born in 1882, at the age of sixteen Pasquale left Italy for Minas Gerias, Brazil to work in the mines there. Returning to Vinchiaturo in about 1905, he married Concetta, Maria Addolorato, Venditti, and struck out again in 1912 bound for Canada with some of his new brothers-in-law in tow. There he worked in the mines of Western Canada as well, finally moving to Montana and the mines there. Before long, they all arrived on the iron-rich Mesabi Range of Northern Minnesota.
It wouldn’t be for many decades before I would enter the picture, but in my 37 years in the family, I have been blessed to hear what it was like in those earlier days on ‘the Range’ for the Italian immigrants.
I cannot tell you how many truly special times, meals, duck blinds, car rides, Bridgeman’s Ice creams, good times, bad times, and lots of times in between. Carl and my great-father-in-law, Mario, were terrific and prolific storytellers!
I have often said I was blessed not with one father and one father-in-law, but with two fathers! I couldn’t have asked for a better Father-in-Law than Carl!
So, don’t overlook those Fathers-in-Law in your genealogy work! They are a precious commodity.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss my father-in-law.
Onward To Our Past,