Monday, March 7, 2016

Auguri Bisnonna

Teresa Cirilli (c. 1930)
Teresa Cirilli (c. 1930)
Regrettably, it’s been almost three years to the day since my last post. Instead of offering excuses and lamentations, I’d rather get back in the groove by honoring some milestones, and during Women’s History Month, there is all the more reason to commemorate several women in my ancestry with significant milestones this particular month. So, let’s get started with a birthday…a 150th birthday.

Teresa Cirilli (or Cirillo, depending on the record) is my great-grandmother via my maternal grandfather, Saverio La Forgia. Most people in our collective ancestry are like Teresa. At face value, her life would neither warrant an Ancestry.com commercial nor a profile by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Most standards would label her life as quite unnoteworthy. Many of her living descendants would shrug with unfamiliarity at the mention of her name. Moreover, little is known of Teresa’s personality or temperament (though the restored photo at right doesn't exactly cast warm and fuzzy vibes). Nevertheless, without a doubt, her actions and choices cast ripples through time that will be felt far into the future. It is a reminder of the impact we all have, no matter how “small” the scope of our lives may seem.

Teresa Cirilli's Birth Record (#232)
Teresa Cirilli's Birth Record (#232)
Born on March 7, 1866 in Molfetta, Italy, Teresa was the eighth of ten children born to Saverio Cirilli and Lucrezia Sgherza. At age 21, Teresa married Sergio La Forgia, a peasant farmer like her father, who was almost 9 years her senior. Together they had eight children. Since she lost three siblings in early childhood, Teresa was no stranger to the high mortality rates of the time. Regardless, this must have made it no easier to outlive three daughters (two of which died at 5 and 3 years of age, respectively).


Upon the relatively early death of her husband, her three sons, Giovanni, Cosmo, and Saverio, took on the mantle of breadwinners. Like many of their Southern Italian contemporaries, all three explored opportunities abroad. Saverio spent time in the United States, but returned to Molfetta to marry and start a family. Teresa’s surviving daughters, Liboria and Lucrezia, eventually moved permanently to the United States with portions of their respective families. In contrast, Giovanni and Cosmo chose to settle in Argentina, never to see their siblings or mother again. According to anecdotal information, Teresa struggled with dementia in old age, a burden sadly shared by many of her descendants. She lived to age 87, passing away on May 6, 1953.

Teresa Cirilli and Sergio La Forgia's marriage record (#32)
Teresa Cirilli and Sergio La Forgia's marriage record (#32)
Teresa may have never left the town of her birth, but she has descendants on at least three continents. She neither had formal schooling nor held any official posts. However, teachers, engineers, financiers, scholars, entrepreneurs, chefs, armed services professionals, etc. count among those who would not exist if not for her.

As we research our family histories, we are prone to be consumed by the juicier, exciting, or perhaps glamorous details. It is easy to overlook those who took on the challenges of life to push their families forward as best they could, and quite frankly, we should all be so lucky as to be remembered that way. With that, there’s only one thing left to say, Buon Compleanno, Bisnonna Teresa.