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Discovering your Italian roots, the role of the genealogist

The search for one’s roots and family history can be a fascinating and emotional journey. In Grottole, a key person for those embarking on this path is Giovanni Quaranta, a genealogist who is dedicated to helping Italian-descendants find their roots. In view of the Year of Italian Roots in the World, we decided to ask Giovanni a few questions about his passion and the importance of the figure of the genealogist.

Hello Giovanni, what is the origin of your passion for genealogy?

My passion for genealogy was born almost simultaneously with my passion for archives and archival historical research. Ever since I was a teenager, I have been fortunate and privileged to have access to the Grottole Parish Archives, which has been and is for me a valuable source of reference and a training ground. Genealogy and archives, an inseparable pair, are my greatest passion, which over time has given me great satisfaction, leading me to learn news and aspects of my community, the place where I live and even my own family history that I did not know.

What are the tools you use in your research?

A genealogist needs data, much of which, unfortunately, is still and exclusively stored in archives belonging to public and private entities in a non-digital manner, resulting in little use. Only for the past few years have there been sites, mostly for a fee, that collect genealogical news and data useful both for the merely curious and for researchers.

What are the difficulties to be faced?

Reiterating the notion that a genealogist needs genealogical data and that these are mostly kept on physical media, such as paper records, one can well imagine how much these can be subject to deterioration, loss or destruction, situations that are deleterious for those doing research. There is also no shortage of cases where the genealogist/researcher is actually denied access to the records. The underlying reason lies in the fact that that of the genealogist remains an unofficially recognized activity.

How does helping others rediscover their ancestry make you feel?

Doing genealogical research is like opening a treasure chest of a historical journey related to families and people, which each time has something surprising about it. A genealogist does not remain cold and impassive to a request for help and its evolution. When one succeeds in creating a family family tree, more or less large, and submits it to the applicant, one notices the emotions, feelings, thoughts and sometimes even tears of joy of those who receive in their hands the knowledge that they are a link in a family chain that has centuries-old roots firmly planted in time and space.

Can you tell us the most incredible thing that has happened to you in the role of genealogist?

The genealogist comes across data and stories about people that can be unique and surprising. For example, I happened to find, among the ancestors of the people who came to me, some who were in curious professions (the boatman on the Basento River, the mountain cutter) or who are now disappeared and forgotten (the gunner). Among the people I was able to meet and help are: the descendants of the first Grottolese who was mayor in a city in Argentina; the American relatives of some of Grottole’s historical figolos, whose memory appears only on documents; the current family of masons who contributed to the construction of many buildings still standing in the village; the relatives of people who brought prestige to our community, such as film director and author Gerardo Guerrieri, musician and composer Pasquale Pistone, the Andreucci, the Spinazzola and the Cecere families, to name a few.

Thank you for your answers Giovanni!

Helping others discover their origins is a rewarding and increasingly in-demand activity. In his experience Giovanni found some unique stories, such as curious professions or families who contributed to the history of the Grottole community. Difficulties remain in accessing records, and the help of a genealogist can be invaluable in creating a family family tree that connects Italian-descendants around the World to their own centuries-old roots.