Arriving at my office at the State Library on Monday morning I found the latest edition of the journal, Comunes of Italy on my desk. A coincidence I thought, having watched Who Do You Think You Are? the night before featuring singer, Tina Arena’s family history journey traced back through her maternal Catalfamo family line to Sicily, Italy.

For Tina, this was a journey of discovery, not only through the twists and turns that research presents but also on an emotional level. At the end of this journey, Tina had resolved some personal issues of a sense of “abandonment” by her parents.

Tina’s parents Joe and Franca have dedicated 30 years of their lives running a nursing home within the family home in Moonee Ponds. Their dedication to this, Tina believed, came at the expense of attention to the children breeding a sense of resentment.

Tina’s mother revealed that little was known about her family history as it was rarely spoken about and what she did know was thought to be of little interest to the younger family members. Tina’s mother’s maiden name was Catalfamo. A  Catalfamo family crest presented by Franca later proved to be fabricated, however, the true stories of Tina’s origins were far more rewarding. One member of the Catalfamo line featured in the programme was Tina’s great great grandmother, Carmella (Rizzo) Catalfamo.

Carmella had her first child in 1842. Birth registers show the names of a further 10 children, however, 6 of those were foundlings, abandoned babies. What is remarkable is that it was usual practice to give foundlings a made up name, however, Carmella gave the foundlings the Catalfamo surname.  Doing so was unheard of in Italy at the time. She took the foundlings in to her home and gave them her own name to ensure that they would be treated the same as her own offspring.

Tina’s parent’s dedication to looking after others and bringing ‘abandoned’ elderly strangers into their home and family demonstrated a recurring family trait of a generous and caring spirit. The revelation of Carmella’s story and how it mirrored her parent’s story of taking those less fortunate into their homes and lives helped to resolve Tina’s felling of ‘abandonment’ by her parents. Tina stated, “History repeats itself. ”

For me, Tina’s story reinforced the importance of family history research that reveals the life stories of individuals. Getting to know the people through their stories is one of the main rewards of researching family history.

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