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Life Advice From the Grave

My great grandfather, Abramo Donato Cantelli was born in San Donato, Italy on February 4, 1903. He was only six years old when he boarded a ship headed to America called the Canopic Line with his mother and two brothers. After two seasick weeks they finally landed in Boston where Abramo’s father was waiting for their arrival.

Abramo attended school until he was 12 years old, leaving to work at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, MA to help his family. There he made $80 a week working on destroyer ships during WWI. It was at this job, he began to hate his name. His co-workers regularly picked on him for it, “There’s a lot of ignorant people, they make you feel like two cents”. Due to the constant harassment, for his confirmation, he took on the name Biajo so he could call himself Joe. From then on, he was known as Joseph Cantelli.

Joesph-Abramo

Joe started an apprenticeship as a stonecutter in South Quincy around the age of 21. He worked on several different jobs but the one I was told most about was a statue of a woman. He worked on the folds of her dress as well as some writing. No one in the family seems to know where this statue ended up but we do know Tiffany’s of New York bought it. During the Great Depression he said that “It was impossible to live on stonecutting…Life is too hard. In the depression if you wanted to buy a nickel for six cents you couldn’t do it”.

My great grandfather was extremely proud to become an American and worked hard to fit in. Besides the name change, he refused to teach his kids to speak Italian. He would often tell them, “In America, you speak like an American!”. Joe would only speak Italian with his parents, brothers and sister. As much as I admire his pride and hard work, it also bums me out that this part of my family’s culture wasn’t passed down. Today, the best my grandmother can do is swear in Italian and I’m left trying to learn with CD’s and books!

My great grandfather gave a lot of advice through his own life experiences concerning work, family and remembering to enjoy the simple things. It’s his advice on relationships and marriage that have really stuck with me most.

Joe met my great grandmother Kathryn Mary Gaynor at a dance. They were married October 14, 1923 in Randolph, MA with a simple ceremony to keep costs down. The thing that I love about my great grandparents is how crazy they were about each other. I remember talking to my grandmother’s sister Kitty about it. She told me a story about how they were so affectionate with each other, even late in life; they could make others around them blush.

In a day and age where divorce is common, I really want what they had for myself. I have had several friends my age, who’ve been divorced, joke that I need a “practice marriage”. The idea of this being funny saddens me. Being a bit of a hopeless romantic in a “me generation” is difficult at times to hold on to. His advice on relationships and marriage holds true, especially in today’s society. Today we are so plugged into technology; we are forgetting how to communicate outside of it.

“When you get married, you become one. There’s no more two. It’s 50/50. Set up a stake and both of you reach for that goal. Sometimes his trouble will spill over onto you. If you think you might hurt each other with something you’re going to say, put on the breaks, and don’t say it; don’t hurt each other. Think first about what you’re going to say. It’s communication that’s the most important thing. You’ve got to be friends. Both work together, plan together and communicate. When you don’t communicate, no one knows what’s going on, the left doesn’t know what the right is doing. That’s why there are so many divorces these days. They don’t communicate, and they don’t know what the other wants. They have different goals.”

As a female today, I have also found that sometimes I feel a little lost. Women have come so far since his generation. The sad part however, is that today women who find themselves in a demanding career are almost forced to make a choice. Do I continue to climb the ladder or do I want to have a family? It’s a sad world when you are made to feel like having a family is a “set back”. Growing up, taking pride in being a strong female, I always said I didn’t want to just be a mom… where today, I have realized it will probably be the most important role I’ll ever play.

“That’s what I like to see, two young people in a garden of flowers. That makes me happy, to see… two people always together and happy. You need to get a nice little house, with a little fence and a little workshop downstairs. It’s natural to want a house and family”. To me, he is right. I am tired of feeling like I have to reject something that is natural to want, just to prove something to a society that’s slowly losing sight of what’s important.

My great grandparents were married 61 years when Kathryn passed away, “We miss each other. I am useless with out her”. I can only hope to someday celebrate 60 years of marriage with a man who feels just as strongly about me. Someone who makes me want to be a better person by simply being around him. Jobs come and go. Money can be gained, lost and gained back again. Fancy cars and big houses prove nothing. It’s family and the people we surround ourselves with that get us through and make life worth living.

The craziest part about all of this, my great grandfather passed away in 1986, when I was only five years old. The only memory I have of him is hiding under his lawn chair at a family reunion in Quincy, MA. However, here I am 26 years later hearing and finding comfort in his words. I owe a huge thank you to my Mom’s cousin Suzy for taking the time to interview him. Had it not been for her interest in genealogy and our family in general, I never would have had the opportunity to hear them.

Joesph and Catherine

“Don’t go by what you see on T.V., it’s a big balloon that’s blowing up and destroying the country. Show business is no good. My wife had better legs than those women any day!”

– Joseph Abramo Donato Biajo Cantelli

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Genealogy: What’s the Point?

Usually when I mention my genealogy addiction what I get in return from others is sincere interest. They wish they knew how to get started, they ask me for advice on how to get started or the genealogy bug has also bitten them and we trade stories.

Every now and then though, I’ll meet someone with zero interest. I mean… zero. Not only do they not have any interest, they don’t see the point or why it’s important.

“Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

This is usually when I try to keep my head from exploding. What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with you? One word…

Everything.

If you are one of these people-I ask you to bear with me and hear me out. If you are someone who’s interested in researching your family-let me give you another reason to be interested. And for those of you who already get it… let me give you a reason to smile today (because you’ll get where I am going).

So, let’s get started….

I’m going to have you use your imagination for a second… don’t fight it! Just roll with me here… Let’s say your 10th great grandfather’s name is Noah Washburn and just for fun… let’s pretend this is him…

dennis hughes

Again… obviously the photo isn’t that old-nor is the guy in the picture named Noah Washburn (pretending).

Back to your handsome, 10th great grandfather, Noah Washburn…

Let’s think about Noah’s life for a second. Like our lives, there would have been everyday things that happened in his life that would have been out of his control. Things he would have needed to overcome or survive. Such as…

  • Natural Disasters: tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, wild fires, mudslides, hurricanes, bitterly cold winters, floods, avalanches, droughts, and the list goes on.
  • Epidemics: Influenza, Tuberculosis, Smallpox, the Black Death, etc.
  • Famines: The Great Famine, Bengal Famine, Chalisa Famine, etc. (wrong time periods but you get the point)
  • War: Millions to choose from…
  • Work Related Accidents: shipwrecks, mining accidents, hunting accidents, shepherd trampled by a heard of stampeding sheep…

…Just making sure you’re still awake.

The point is-there would have been a TON of things Noah would have had to survive long enough to have his children. If he did not survive the above, your behind wouldn’t be sitting comfortably in your computer chair, sofa, etc. reading this blog.

You would never have existed.

Now let’s take it a step further. Think about all the decisions we make on a daily basis that change the course of our lives. Sometimes they are big choices-Will I pick up and move to another state? Will I quit my job and start my own business? Other times the choices you make seem small and not worth remembering. However, in the grand scheme of things, those little choices can lead to major changes in our life. Will I stay in tonight or will I go to my friend’s party where I will meet my future husband?

So let’s look back at Noah for a second.

  • Maybe he decided to take on a job other than the one he chose?
  • Maybe instead of working on the family farm he decided to join the military?
  • Maybe he decided to move to another town, village or country instead of staying put?
  • Maybe he decided to marry another woman before getting the chance to meet your 10th great grandmother?
  • Maybe he did marry your 10th great grandmother but instead of them having 5 kids they decided to have 3…and your 9th great grandfather would have been their 4th child?

The point being-if Noah made any choices differently (major ones or little ones that added up to major change) it could have put his life on a completely different path which may have ended with you never existing.

 

Now lets take this even further…

You have two parents…

2 Parents

Four grand parents…

4 Grandparents

Eight great grandparents…

8 Great Grandparents

Sixteen 2nd great grand parents…

16 2nd Great Grandparents

And 32 3rd great grand parents…

32 3rd Great Grandparents

Stopping there for now, that’s a total of 62 people you directly descend from.

62 People

Had any one of those 62 people not survived the uncontrollable or made decisions other than the ones they made-any ONE of them… You would not exist. And let’s not forget-the same is true about the hundreds of thousands of others I didn’t have the space to represent in restroom symbol people.

So, for those who insist on asking, “Genealogy? Really? What’s the point? What does some guy who died decades ago have to do with me?”

One word…

Everything.

 

Are you one of the guilty people who found genealogy to be pointless and have a change of heart? Are you a newbie and hadn’t thought of the above? Been at it awhile and have something to add?! Don’t be shy-comment below! I love to hear from you guys.