By Aliza Giammatteo

“Last of the Capizzis” no Longer

In his own words, Giuseppe was the “last of the Capizzis” in his hometown, near Licata, Sicily. Some relatives left for the US long ago and lost touch over the generations. The ones that stayed behind had all passed away. He always hoped that a long-lost relative from the United States would make it back to Sicily someday and come knock on his door – and that’s exactly what happened.

The person who knocked on his door was a client of mine named Nikole Reed. My company, Roots in the Boot, has worked with Nikole for over a year on various family history projects. It’s a delight sharing discoveries with her because Nikole might actually get more excited than I do (and that’s hard to do!) I often get emails from her with lots of exclamation points (the happy kind.) Those emails make my day because, having done searches on my own family history, I know firsthand the excitement a discovery can bring and I’m thrilled when I bring that same joy to someone else.

Nikole with Cousin Alessandro: Giuseppe Capizzi’s son

Just thinking about the story of how Nikole ended up on Giuseppe’s doorstep makes me break out the Kleenex. Much like Giuseppe, Nikole doesn’t have a lot of family left.  For someone who treasures family and heritage as much as Nikole does, she knew what she had to do. She made her mind up that as soon as she was able to fit in a trip to Italy, she’d jump on it. That’s when I got the call.

Nikole was on a mission to find relatives in Italy. And she was recruiting me to help. Her trip was booked so suddenly that I only had a couple of weeks to get the job done. To make matters worse, I got the call in August, when much of Italy shuts down for vacation. There was no time to deploy any of my Italian-based researchers and I had limited options.I wanted so much for her dream to come true so I promised I’d do everything in my power to make it happen, but I also let her know that it may not be possible to connect all of the dots given the timing – during holiday season – and the task at hand. (For the record, I’m a dreamer too, so there wasn’t any way that I wouldn’t take this challenge.) But at the same time, I didn’t want to get Nikole’s hopes up too high so I told her up-front what the situation was.

Tracing backwards is relatively easy but going forward can get a little tricky. For example: some descendants may have moved to other cities, or even emigrated to the US themselves, complicating the search. Also, the children of female relatives would go by a different last name so you have to find out who they married before you can look for them.  Parts of the search might need to be done in steps, and each step takes time.

I wasn’t able to make contact with all of the possible relatives to confirm my findings before she left so I gave Nikole a ‘short list’ of people that I was 99 percent sure were related, confident that she could fill in any blanks, if needed, once she got there. One person on that list was Santa Capizzi in Licata.

As Nikole and her husband approached Santa’s door, neighbors came out to inform her that Santa just passed away the year before. Madon’! What kind of Shakespearean tragedy is that, for a family to be separated for almost 100 years and then miss a reunion by one year?

Capizzi family crest on Giuseppe’s front door

Thankfully, there was no time for Nikole to be saddened about missing Santa because, Italians being Italians, even more neighbors came out and immediately treated her like they were her family. Nikole later told me “complete strangers were giving me gifts!” Everyone wanted to know her story, and once she told them, she learned there was a nephew of Santa’s who lived right outside of Licata named Giuseppe. You won’t believe what happened next.

She arrived at Giuseppe’s house and there was no mistaking that she had the right place. Tacked to his front door, like an advertisement, was a framed poster of the Capizzi family crest with details of the family name and its origins. Like Nikole, Giuseppe is very proud of his family heritage and longed to meet other relatives. He was just waiting for someone to notice the family name and knock on the door saying they were related, and Nikole couldn’t be happier to be the one to do it.Nikole emailed me a full report of her visit when she returned, with even more exclamation points than usual. I could tell by the excitement in her writing that the trip was a success before I even read the whole email. She was overjoyed and so was I. In fact, she was so happy, she had trouble putting it into words. On the most recent email, she simply said:

The work you did for me changed my life…and that is the only way I can think to describe the experience!!!

Nikole and her husband ended up spending eight hours at the Capizzi house.  There was a lot of eating, hugging, crying, sharing stories and photos, laughing, and then eating some more. For both of them, it was a dream come true.

It never ceases to amaze me how no matter what happens there is a special place in our hearts where la famiglia resides and nothing can take that away. It can’t be eroded by the hands of time –even generations. Language barriers don’t block it. And no ocean can swallow it up.

Nothing proves that more than the story of Nikole and Giuseppe– two people from two different countries with the same dream of finding family. They had an ocean and almost 100 years of separation in the family but that didn’t even make a dent in their desire to reconnect. And once they finally met, they felt right at home.

Nikole was so moved by her experience that she’s already started taking Italian classes. As for Giuseppe and his family, they insisted that Nikole and her husband come back soon and that they stay with them next time. Now that Nikole found him, he and his family are no longer the ‘last of the Capizzis’ and they want to keep it that way. Nikole expressed the same feeling, saying “I’ll keep in touch with them forever.”

Nikole is going back to Sicily next year. Only this time the trip will be much easier to plan because she knows exactly where she’s going. She’s going home.

Grazie mille to the Capizzi family and Nikole for letting me share their story. Another big thanks to the municipio of Licata and Licata’s warm-hearted people who helped with that last piece of the puzzle.