Interview with Tom Civitello from Huston, Texas searcing his Italian origins since 1993

After meeting him and exchanging some information about our common Civitella ancestors from Guardiagrele, Italy, I wanted to interview Thomas C. Civitello because I found very interesting and worthy of being shared the way how, by chance, he started to be interested in his family history and started a methodic research that led to good results and that is still ongoing from 1993.

Camillo, Vincenzo, Nicolantonio

  1. Tom, when did you start to be interested in family history?
    • After both my parents died I wanted to know more about my cousins so in 1993 I contacted one of my first cousins, Lucille Amicone. We had not seen or spoken with each other in over 50 years, only because she lives in Pennsylvania and my family lived in Texas. That same year my wife and I went to Pennsylvania and met with Lucille, that was a very satisfying moment, we joined her grandsons christening celebration and had the opportunity to meet many cousins that I did not know existed. After we returned to Texas one of them sent me a letter, in that letter she told me about the Civitella family, where they were from and what happened to them during the German occupation there in Caprafico and how the Germans shot a family member. That got my attention.
  2. How did you start to collect information?
    • My first cousin, Lucille has a memory like an elephant. In 2003 I began asking her questions about our cousins, she gave me leads to family members and I tracked them down, some were in Pennsylvania, California, Australia. In that same year I joined the website, thru them I collected a lot of information. In 2005 I read an article from the National Geographic Society, offering a discount for D.N.A. testing to track your family roots, I joined, then moved over to Family Tree DNA, which has lead to some startling information. Along about June 2005 I was hitting a brick wall, I could not go any farther with the research here in the U.S. so I hired a professional genealogist; she was the one that got the documentation on the Civitella family, I also recall her telling me that if I ever come across a Civitella from Guardiagrele, there is a very good chance we are related. Then I sent out letters of introduction to Civitellas in Guardiagrele and Palombaro explaining what I was doing. My cousin Tiziana Civitella replied and made contributations. I got a lead on Civitellas that went to Australia so I sent a letter of introduction and my cousin Lorena Civitella replied, she contributed information to the tree. Then I contacted another cousin in Australia, Alfonso Civitella, he contributed to the tree. The last cousin that contributed to the tree is you Emidio Spinogatti because your grand-grandmother Maria Domenica was a Civitella.
  3. Your 3rd great grandfather’s name was Tommaso, the Italian for Thomas, what do you feel if you think that his name was renewed in yours after over 150 years?
    • First let me say how proud I am to know my true roots are the Civitella family. I am truly honored to have the same name as my great, great, great father. If I had known about my family roots when my son was born I may have named him Tommaso.
  4. Who was the last of your ancestors that was born in Italy?
    • My grandfather, Nicolantonio (Tony) Civitello was born in Palombaro (CH) in 1879, also my grandmother Annunziata (Lucy) Mignogna was born in Riccia (CB) in 1866. In 1907 they met in Philadelphia and the following year they got married and build a family in USA.
  5. What was the most exciting discover of your research?
    • To have known the correct spelling of my last name that should be spelled Civitella, to have gone to Guardiagrele and Palombaro, to have met my Civitella cousins and to have entered the same house that my grandfather and great grandparents lived in. It’s very difficult to explain but I felt I belonged there.
  6. In fact your surname had been modified at some point.
    • Yes, as with some immigrants, surnames changed sometimes, mine was changed by my grandfather, Nicolantonio, from Civitella to Civitello. I have been told that my grandfather and his cousin Michele Civitella would argue over the spelling of the name but all of the documentation from Italy has it spelled “Civitella’. This also occurred in my mother’s family, they have used the surnames, Gramingo, Gramigno and Gramigna and again all of the documents from Italy have it spelled as Gramigna.
  7. How many people are in your family tree at present? How many surnames? How many nationalities?
    • I can answer this.
  8. Did you ever end up going down the wrong path with your research without realizing it?
    • For 18 years I was a criminal investigator for the Houston Police, I learned to always have the documentation to prove something, so if I saw a Civitella who was listed as from Guardiagrele or Palombaro I did not assume that person was a family member, unless I had the documentation.
  9. Is there any part of your research that still needs a lot of work to be completed?
    • There is still much to be done, I have documentation for many other Civitellas from Guardiagrele and Palombaro that I would like to connect to my family tree, since I do not read, write or speak the Italian language it may be impossible without help from Italy.
  10. When will you consider your research completed?
    • Impossible to know but I can leave this world knowing that I have connected Civitella’s that did know each other from, Italy, the U.S. and Australia, they now know each other. I would be elated if I could connect more Civitellas to the family tree.
  11. Who is the person of the family that has got the most interesting life history?
    • My great uncle Carmine had a very interesting life. I am in the firm belief that he was torn between his siblings in the U.S. and his own family in Italy. His brothers and sisters moved to the U.S, his mother passed away and his father remarried. He, Carmine, was married to someone that was living in Palombaro. He traveled back and forth from the U.S. to Italy, each time his Italian family grew by one child. While in the U.S. he applied for and was granted U.S. citizenship along with his wife and children ( I don’t know if his family is aware of this). His family stayed in Italy with one exception, his daughter, that came to the U.S. Great uncle Carmine “Charlie” died in the U.S.
  12. Are your children and grandchildren interested in knowing about the past of their family?
    • My children are interested in the family history and the research that I have done, it is for them and their children, and I must admit my own selfness, that I am doing this research.
  13. When did you start to plan your trip to Italy to visit your Italian relatives?
    • We began planning our trip to Italy in 2006, we received our passports in February 2007 and made the trip in April 2008.
  14. Whatdid you think ofGuardiagrele and Palombaro?
    • When I was at my great grandparents house, I was looking at the mountains, hills and valleys and thought to myself, things must have been really bad for someone to have left this beautiful paradise, I loved being there, I felt at home.
  15. Do you have something Italian in you or in your everyday life?
    • I have joined an Italian American club and was elected to the board of directors.
  16. Did you find something in common between you and your Italian relatives?
    • Here in the U.S. I only know a few Civitellas and only a few in Italy, but they all are very warm, friendly people who always will to share what they have with you.
  17. How can other people help your research?
    • I just can not stop trying to find more family members that are of my family tree. I get so frustrated that I can not read and write Italian, for me it would be very useful to find English speaking Civitellas or other family members that live in Italy and that want to contribute to this research.

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One Comment

  1. I saw a post of yours referring to My Great Uncle Leonard Decurtis and his beautiful wife that he lost to an early death. My father always talked about is Aunt with great love and admiration. That being said I am a DeCurtis and would love to hear from you.

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