Stories

My Mother’s Search for Answers

This story hits close to home. Literally. It’s a story told by my mother about her travels to Italy to discover more about her heritage. My love of travel developed mainly through my parents. Both my mom and dad immigrated to the United States in pursuit of the American dream when they were in their 20’s. They have continued to travel multiple times a year for as long as I can remember.  The majority of my childhood memories take place in different countries and I could not imagine life a different way. When my mom first told me this story, I was in shock. I had literally zero idea about any of her family’s history, which is my history! How silly is that? So, I started asking questions.

My mom started out by explaining how her mother (my grandmother) was born in Italy and moved to Peru with her parents when she was five years old. So, my mom was raised among Italians. Meaning, she ate Italian food, listened to the Italian language, and developed the love of family that Italians are known for. She and her siblings knew a lot about their maternal grandfather’s side of the family because they would frequently come to visit. They did not know much about their maternal grandmother’s side of the family.

In 1963, there was a big disaster in Vayont, Italy. My great grandmother’s village was around that area and was completely destroyed. She hadn’t seen her family at that point in over thirty years, but they all died during that tragedy. My mom says she had never heard her talk about anything that had happened, or even her family at all. So, it remained a mystery.

My mom finally went to Italy for the first time about two years ago and had an incredible trip. She promised herself to return to Italy and visit the village that her grandmother was from. And that’s what she did last summer! The plan was to go with her sister, my Tia Vero.

Now, my Tia Vero studies something very interesting that I don’t think my mother quite understood. She rambled on about how she studies all the ways that mothers have parts of their mothers in them even before they are born. Like when your great grandmother was born, you were already inside her. I asked, “Wait, spiritually?” And the answer was no, DNA (duh)! Supposedly, the egg that forms you is already there and they study that what you are today has to do with what your grandma felt when she was pregnant and so forth. Don’t worry, I was just as confused and my mother.

Anyway! This leads my Tia Vero on a quest to discover my great grandmother’s name and how many sisters there were in the family. Whatever she studies has nothing to do with the males in our family (insert my mom’s laugh here). They did not know a thing about their grandmother’s life, only that she moved to Peru when she was five. The plan was that my mom and her sister were to travel to the village in Italy to learn more about their roots.

Well, it turns out my aunt was unable to make the trip, so it was my dad that went along with my mom on the trip. They drove up to the Dolomites in Italy to a small village called Erto. The only information my mom had on my great grandmother was that her last name was Filippine, her first name was Caterina, and the year she was born. My mom booked an Airbnb in this tiny, mountain town by a woman named Valentina Filippine. She was filled with excitement because according to the last name, she had already found a relative!

So, my mom and my dad drove up to this very old-fashioned ghost town in the mountains of the Dolomites. The town of Erto was not affected after the disaster in 1963, but all of the surrounding villages were.  The roads were completely destroyed around their village which caused them to evacuate the town of Erto for about two years, and not many people returned. Erto only has about 250 people currently living there today. There’s a café, a restaurant, a school, and that’s about it. My mom kept saying how beautiful the houses were. There were flowers on the outsides and the mountains in the distance, but no one inside. At night, there were no lights anywhere in the town. Creepy! Here are few photos that my mom took:

It turns out Valentina Filippine was not my mother’s relative. When they arrived at their Airbnb, Valentina asked her, “Which Filippine?” It turns out the majority of the people in the surrounding villages have the name Filippine. My mom did not know how to answer that, so they decided to ask Valentina’s father, who apparently knew everyone in the town! This man’s name was Italo. When he came to show my mom and dad around the village, my mom remembered she had a paper from when her grandma moved to Peru. On that paper, there was the name Filippine Lazeres (I could easily be spelling that wrong). She mentioned that to Italo and he said, “Ohhh! The Filippine from the Lazeres.” He knew exactly whom she was talking about!

Italo took my parents to the exact place where my great grandmother had lived. When my mom was telling me this story, she explained how emotional she was when she arrived at the house. She said, “What I felt when I went to that Erto town was very funny. I had never felt that feeling before.” Italo showed them the city hall and found my great grandmother’s birth certificate! How cool is that! They continued on to the dam and explained to them what happened back in 1963.

This was the biggest human disaster caused by money in the world. The dam was originally built to provide energy to the surrounding cities. At the time, all of the studies that were being conducted showed that the mountain (no clue what the name is) and the surrounding grounds were not strong enough to hold this dam. But, the company that was building the dam ended up paying the government and went ahead with the construction of the dam. The engineer kept telling the company that it was not safe to have this dam up until the last day. The grounds were shifting and he knew something was going to happen.

Eventually, they started warning the workers that were constructing this dam to start evacuating. At 10 o’clock on October 9, 1963, the whole top of the mountain fell into this little lake that was built within the dam. It splashed a wave that was about 300 meters! The dam itself did not break, but the wave spilt over the dam and flooded the surrounding towns. Close to 2,000 people died during that disaster, and whole villages were completely flooded and destroyed.

Today, they know exactly which plots of land had houses and there are alters everywhere with flowers and photos of the families that lived there. My mom said it was super creepy! They walked through the villages and spoke with Italo about his time around the area. The best part of the story was when my mom was explaining how she had to speak Italian to Italo. Apparently he didn’t speak a word of English! At one point, everyone was looking at her confused. My dad looked at her and said, “Patricia, you are speaking Finnish, not Italian.” My mom was getting completely mixed up with her languages! That made me laugh.

And that was my mother’s trip to Italy to discover more about her roots. I definitely think she succeeded! I’m also very thankful for her telling me this story. It’s incredible how much family history there is that I am just not aware of. I hope this story inspires you to not only ask questions, but go out and find your answers!

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18 Comments

  1. Eden Fite

    April 13, 2019 at 12:38 am

    What a beautiful story. I’m happy your mother got to return to Italy to learn about her roots. This is a trip I’ve always wanted to take myself. I have very little family, but know the ones I do have immigrated to the United States from Sweden. I would love the chance to visit there one day, even if I don’t have any remaining family connections. Thanks for sharing this, it’s very inspiring.

  2. Anita

    April 13, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    I loved your story. I think it’ s important to know your family roots. It’s great that it’s transferred from mother to daughter. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Tina Krey Jacobsen

    April 15, 2019 at 9:29 am

    What a moving story. I’m so happy for your mom! Your family sounds super sweet and this story made me smile. Love the concept of your blog, such great stories!

  4. Wendy

    April 16, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    This is a great story about your mom finding where her grandmother was from. It actually gave me chills reading about the dam disaster in 1964, so sad. It looks like a beautiful village.

    1. Wendy

      April 16, 2019 at 8:42 pm

      Sorry in the comment above I meant to type 1963 my finger slipped and I did not realize until after I commented.

  5. Amy

    April 17, 2019 at 5:54 am

    What a lovely story to share. Italy looks so beautiful, glad your mother got to explore such a wonderful place.

  6. Suman Doogar

    April 17, 2019 at 7:27 am

    Its amazing to have such great role models at home. I also got my love for travel from seeing my dad. You have a beautiful story to tell and you have worded it very nicely. Findling ones lineage and tracing history is such a difficult yet beautiful thing to do.

  7. Kylee

    April 17, 2019 at 8:38 am

    WOW! What an amazing experience, to truly uncover the past of your heritage is so eye opening, and seeing your great grandmothers birth certificate must have been so profound. Love this story!

  8. Kelly

    April 17, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    I love this story and your family! So glad your mom took this trip and had this experience.

  9. Mirela | The Travel Bunny

    April 17, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    This is so great! I love learning about my family’s past and also hearing about other people’s discoveries. My great-grandfather wrote several pages in small writing about the history of my family on my mother’s side, with all the details he knew. My mother intends to continue it, and someday it will be my turn.

  10. Amanda

    April 17, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    What a beautiful story, it must have been amazing for your mum to discover her heritage and for you to share the experience with her.

  11. Natasha L

    April 18, 2019 at 1:38 am

    This is such a personal and beautiful story. I love that it was because of travel which helped you learn more about your family history. I’m hoping to get out to India one day and search for my ancestors. It’s an amazing feeling when you learn about your ancestors and start to put clues together – it makes you feel more complete.

  12. umiko

    April 18, 2019 at 2:55 am

    This is really a beautiful story to find your roots all the way to where they came from! It’s great that your mother met Italo, who knows and remembers everyone and everything around the area.

  13. Richa @ Light Travel Action

    April 18, 2019 at 5:09 am

    OMG, This post is such a feel-good memoir about “A Long Journey Home” 🙂 Absolutely loved it. It almost reminded me of the Movie “Lion” which is a 2016 biographical drama film directed by Garth Davis (in his feature debut) based on the non-fiction book “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley. Saroo Brierley was accidentally separated from his biological mother and was adopted by an Australian couple and, 25 years later, reunited with his biological mother after finding his hometown via Google Earth.
    I love stories where people try to trace back their roots – it’s emotional and thrilling at the same time as a reader to me.
    Thanks for sharing this inspirational story with us 🙂

  14. Eunice Tan

    April 18, 2019 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. It must have been exhilarating and rewarding for your mother.

  15. SuBhaSun

    April 21, 2019 at 10:48 am

    This is such a touchy story. Your mother is so inquisitive person and that made her wonderful. I am happy she discovered her lineage. I felt sorry for 1963 dam and flood tragedy. It was man made disaster.

  16. Mike

    April 23, 2019 at 9:40 am

    Great story! Thanks for sharing! And it is so great that your mother found her roots! I am also originally from Italy and knowing where you really are from is a great feeling!

  17. Yukti

    April 23, 2019 at 9:56 am

    Wow, what a beautiful story and loved to see how your mother is sharing her travel story. It is great to read about, how she migrated and learned so many things from a different culture.

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