Taking an Italian genealogy discovery trip to Tuscany

The Devil's Bridge is on the road from Lucca to Bagni di Lucca.

A few years ago we fell in love with Italy, and as in most new love affairs, we wanted to know everything about our new love. We started traveling there every year. Sometimes we went twice in a year and at least one year we went three times. We had always known that we had Italian roots, but somehow we just hadn't been that interested until we actually visited the motherland. Now that inexpensive genetic testing is available through Ancestry and 23andme, lots of people are exploring their roots and deciding to take trips to find relatives in foreign countries. TV shows like "Who Do You Think You Are" are adding to the surge in interest in truly wanting to know where you came from. We've all seen our favorite celebrities discover that they aren't necessarily who they think they were. With help from a relative who had visited the Italian third cousins years before and an Italian phone book, we were able to track down and visit some lovely new family members. They were great, but we wanted to delve deeper and go back as far as possible. Mark had become quite a proficient "arm chair" genealogist, using free resources including FamilySearch.org and an Italian government ancestry website, antenati.san.beniculturali.it. Over the past several years he has researched dozens of family histories for friends. But for some reason, tracing Gloria's heritage back to Tuscany was a problem. So we took the opportunity of a family reunion in the ancestral village of Bagni di Lucca to try to do some on the ground research.

Bagni di Lucca is a quaint Italian hill town about 30 minutes by car from Lucca.

Granaiola is the tiny town from which the relatives emigrated.

Bagni di Lucca has been famous over time for its thermal baths (it was the summer capital of Napoleon's sister Elisa, Queen of Lucca), its casino and the place where Puccini tried to finish his final opera, Turandot. We started, logically enough, at Town Hall, but were told that they had no records prior to Italy's reunification in the 1860s. The clerk instead directed us to the small church of Saint Peter at Corsena "just up the hill." We poked our heads into the 16th century church but not a soul was to be found. About to give up, we gave one last try by shouting up (as solemnly as we could) to the balcony to the adjacent priests' quarters. As we turned to leave, we heard the shuffling of slippers and an 80-something year old priest, still in bathrobe, called down to ask what we wanted. We told him about our quest (all in Italian since he spoke no English) and were warmly invited up to his study, surrounded by bookcases of centuries-old volumes. After a cursory search he caught himself. What was the family surname again? Ah, Nannetti! I think they may have been from the even smaller (less than 100 people) village of Granaiola, 15 minutes up the mountain. Unfortunately, because of age, he only visited the tiny church of Saint Michele Arcangel every few weeks. Since we were leaving the next day, he took our address in the U.S. We thanked him, but were doubtful we would ever hear again. Surprisingly, several weeks later we received a very polite, but apologetic letter from Don Lorenzo. Over the years there had been a fire in that church, and things had been moved around and lost - so there was nothing to be found. Fast forward one year, Mark sent a Christmas card to Don Lorenzo. A few weeks later we were shocked to i receive a package with more than 20 xeroxed pages. Our friendly priest had made an additional search and found hidden away a number of other records - births, baptism, marriage and death records going back to 1693! So, if you try to find your Italian roots, just remember that some of the greatest discoveries will happen magically when you least expect it.

In Bagni di Lucca in Tuscany we dined with our new family.

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