For her entire life, Julie Martini had considered herself German-American, even though she had been born with an Italian family name.
Looking to learn more about her family history, Julie joined Ancestry to find records that would uncover her Old World roots in Germany or, perhaps, Italy.
Documents and family links Julie found on Ancestry revealed that her great-grandfather had, in fact, been born in Wintrich, a tiny village of fewer than 1,000 people today, located in Germany’s west-central wine region.
And yet there was that name—Martini. Julie wondered how a German family from the Rhineland ended up with an Italian name. Were they—was she—Italian at all?
Can DNA Solve A Family Mystery?
AncestryDNA gave Julie a chance to find out. Using nothing more than a saliva sample, AncestryDNA can help pinpoint a person’s ethnic origins and map out regions of the world where his or her ancestors likely lived.
By comparing the DNA of Ancestry members, AncestryDNA can even suggest possible relatives that they may not even have known about.
AncestryDNA worked for Julie. It revealed that while her ethnic heritage was primarily German, she had a bit of Italian DNA in her cells!
That was enough for Julie to plan a trip to Italy and Germany, where her research and DNA test came together in a way she never imagined.
The trip did not go entirely as Julie had planned. When she tried to look for historical and family records in the town hall of the German county where Wintrich was located, she found the building closed for construction.
And nobody there spoke enough English to tell Julie where the records had been moved. When she then decided to visit Wintrich to search for parish records relating to her ancestors’ births, marriages, and deaths, she was told that the village no longer had a church.
But there was one glimmer of hope: Someone in Wintrich’s village information center recognized the Martini surname and with the help of a phone book, found where Martinis still lived in Wintrich.
Knocking on a Stranger’s Door
After walking a few blocks to that home, Julie nervously rang the doorbell and waited while a German woman looked her over before opening the door. Julie handed Anne, the homeowner, a note containing the names of Martini’s great-grandfather and great-great grandfather.
With Anne’s English-speaking son translating for them, Martini asked about her ancestors. “Ja, ja,” Anne’s husband said. Yes, he knew those names. Martini had found the descendants of her great-grandfather’s brother!
A Family Mystery Solved
Over hugs, tears, and photos, Martini finally found out how her German family had come to have an Italian name—and Italian DNA.
The Martini family left Italy in the 1600s and settled in Wintrich, where they planted a vineyard in the fertile soil.
For more than 400 years, Julie’s German family bottled wine. In fact, Martini returned to the United States with two bottles of her ancestral vintage, a gift from her newly discovered cousins.
It was DNA that led Julie to Wintrich. And it was also DNA that led Anne to open her door to an American stranger, as DNA, which shapes how we look, had given Julie a face that resembled Anne’s great-niece.
Thanks to one simple test, German-American Julie learned how she had been born with a Italian name. And you can learn the true origins of your family too.
– Sandie Angulo Chen