Uncovering the Story of Grandma’s Marriage

Family History
28 October 2019
by Ancestry® Team

In 1908 Joyce’s grandmother boarded a boat for America to marry a stranger.

Joyce was always fascinated by the story, wondered how it came to be.

But she never expected to walk in her grandmother’s footsteps—or that the trip to unravel the mystery would involve a marriage proposal of her own.

A Family Mystery and a DNA Test Clue

Joyce’s mother came from a big Italian family, nine siblings, all very close and always telling stories.

Joyce being held by her mother.
Joyce and her mother

Her mom’s oldest brother had the same father, Antonio Gabriele, as the other eight children but a different mother.

The story was that Joyce’s grandfather Antonio had come to the U.S. from Italy and married a woman who passed away when their baby was nine months old.

Antonio needed a new wife. So Joyce’s grandmother Teresa was sent to the New World, and married him the day after she arrived on Ellis Island.

“Grandma’s immigration story was fascinating. She ended up in Brooklyn married to a man she’d never met. How did that even happen? Nobody could explain it beyond, ‘that’s just what they did then.'”

Curious to learn more about her family story, Joyce put together a family tree for her mom’s side of the family. But she only got back as far as her grandparents, discovering the names of their hometowns.

Hoping to get clues to build out her tree, she took an AncestryDNA® test.

Joyce’s AncestryDNA® test results.
Joyce’s AncestryDNA results showed she was 100% Italian.

It turned out she was 100% Italian. And subsequent updates of her results linked her to Southern Italy, specifically to the region of Campania and Molise (which spoiler alert, confirmed what bits of her family story she did know).

A Surprise Proposal in a 700-Year-Old Church

Joyce’s partner Kevin saw that AncestryProGenealogists® offered heritage tours in Southern Italy in partnership with EF Go Ahead Tours. They love to travel, so they decided to go for it.

And they also added a day to their trip for an ancestral home visit—which came with a car, a driver, and a personal genealogist for the day.

“I knew my family came from southern Italy. We always heard Campobasso, but beyond Campobasso we didn’t know,” reflected Joyce.

It turned out Joyce’s family history matched up well with her 100% Italian DNA test results; three of her grandparents lived within a 1.5 hour radius of each other, in the towns of Campobasso, Campolieto, and Larino.

Since Joyce was most curious about her grandmother Teresa, they decided to start in Larino, where she was born. Their genealogist guide Joe had contacted the priest of the 700-year-old church where Teresa was baptized before their visit.

Joyce, the priest, and the geneologist looking at her grandmother’s christening record.
The priest showed Joyce her grandmother’s christening record.

And when they got there, the priest showed them the christening record for her. But that wasn’t the only surprise in store for Joyce. Her partner Kevin had one more BIG one.

Kevin and Joyce inside church.
Kevin proposed to Joyce in the 700-year-old church.

He pulled out a ring and asked Joyce to marry him!

A Mystery Solved, Plus an Unexpected Twist

From Larino they continued to Campolieto, the second ancestral town she visited. It was where Joyce’s paternal grandfather lived.

And then they went to a third town to which she had a family connection, Campobasso. It was where her maternal grandfather was from.

Looking out over the town of Campobasso.
Campobasso, where Joyce’s maternal grandfather Antonio was from

It turned out that Campobasso (where her grandfather Antonio was from) and Larino (where her grandmother Teresa was from) were very close to each other.

When her grandfather Antonio’s relatives found out his wife had passed, they put the word out that he needed a wife.

Joyce discovered,

“My grandmother was older (16 or 17) and unmarried. She had two older brothers. And they sent her off alone, to America, in hopes of a better life.”

As the Southern Italy Heritage Tour progressed, the ProGen researcher found another interesting family detail related to her grandmother Teresa: Teresa’s family was not originally from Larino. Her father actually came from the coastal city of Salerno, 100 miles south.

Facade of building in Salerno.
Salerno, where Joyce’s maternal great-grandfather was originally from

And Salerno happened to be one of the stops on the tour!

“One thing led to another, and it just all came together,” commented Joyce.

Joyce put together a book about her mom’s side of the family, and as she reflected, the next generation was very intrigued:

“I was surprised at how interested the younger generations in my family were about the history. I figured it was too far removed, but several of my cousins were curious about the book I put together. That made it even more interesting.”

What’s Next?

Joyce’s now-husband Kevin took an AncestryDNA test and confirmed heritage from Germany and Ireland. So a heritage trip to Ireland may be in their future.

Also, Joyce’s research focused on her mother’s side of the family, since that’s the side of the family that had told all of the stories. But next she might pursue learning about her dad’s side of the family.

Curious to walk in the footsteps of your ancestors? Learn more about trips like Joyce’s here.