Here’s a trick question you might hear in a trivia game on a cruise ship or in a pub: where was Leonardo da Vinci from?
From Vinci, of course! Da = from or of. And Vinci is the name of the town.
Long ago, before last names, people were identified by their towns or their occupation. “Oh, that’s Leonardo from Vinci.” “That’s Josef the Tailor.”
That’s my big epiphany. My grandfather’s last name was De Rose. De = from or of. Could it be that my grandfather, whose birthplace I could not discover, could have been born in a town called Rose?? Could I have been this blind that the mystery’s solution was in front of my eyes the whole time?
I had heard the town Cosenza in Calabria mentioned. But then I realized that when strangers from outside of California asked me where I was from, I never said Cameron Park, population 16,000, knowing they would not have heard of this town. So, I’d frequently say something like ‘a town outside of Sacramento’, which was the capital of the state.
Could my family have done the same thing–mentioned Cosenza because it was a bigger town and the capital of the province?
I grabbed my Italy map and magnifying glasses to see if there was possibly a village called Rose in the vicinity of Cosenza. Bingo. I hit the jackpot. There was! Now, the question was Rose really his birthplace or was I grasping at straws, especially since I’d been playing with this mystery for two years?
I found a website that provided a template to request a birth certificate from that province. I printed out the form, filled it out, and took it to the Post Office. Paid my few dollars for international mail and sent it off.
I didn’t have high expectations for any kind of response. In addition to this template on that website, it also had templates for follow up requests when the Comune (Town Hall) didn’t answer you. Not really reassuring, huh?
Anyhow, I sent off the request and forgot about it, went on with my life.
About eight months later, I picked up my mail and sorted through the usual assortment of bills and junk mail. But an odd envelope caught my eye. It was addressed to me, in a strange handwriting. What made it strange was that I could decipher it, but the letters didn’t really look like English letters. Kind of but not exactly. Close enough so that I could read it, but strange enough that I wondered who it was from.
And there on the return address, I saw Comune di Rose. OHMIGOSH. A letter from the town of Rose!
With trembling hands, I carefully opened the envelope. I was fully prepared for a letter that said ‘nobody born here with that name–go pound sand’. Or a letter that said ‘ we have five men that could be what you’re looking for and please remit X hundreds of dollars and we’ll investigate”.
But no, there it was. An official, stamped birth certificate for my grandfather! I could not believe it. Finally.
Armed with his birth certificate, I could at last begin the process of collecting the documentation needed for recognition of my dual Italian citizenship.
My home address was in the jurisdiction of the Italian Consulate in San Francisco, so I printed out the two pages of documentation that they required. Two pages, single spaced. And while there were something like 40 steps, each step had subrequirements!
I was dizzy and couldn’t even figure out what some of the words meant…Apostille? What’s that?
The volume of required documentation was simply overwhelming. I decided to tackle one step at a time and not look too far ahead. One step at a time. Keep plugging along. I decided that I would figure out what something meant when I reached that step.
I did construct a spreadsheet to keep track of what documentation I’d requested and when and to whom, whether I’d received the certified record or not, how much money was due, whether it had been sent out for the Apostille, had it been received, whether it had been sent out for Italian translation and whether it had been received…on and on. Frankly, it was a organizational nightmare, juggling and tracking hundreds of documents in the process.
Two years of collecting all the documents with the proper authorities signing off on them, and I thought I was finally ready for my official appointment at the Consulate.
And then I encountered another critical, unforeseen issue that aborted the entire process, crushing my hopes.