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Better Late Than Never; Finding Family in Italy

Updated On: February 29, 2024

Bob Sorrentino is the adoptive father of two, and the host of the podcast, Italian Genealogy With Bob Sorrentino. Bob always knew his four grandparents all came from Italy, but after a DNA test, he found family he didn’t know existed in the country. “Better late than never,” is an Italian phrase that sums up Bob’s journey. The stories he heard from his new family are too wild to be coincidences.

“The most amazing part of the meeting was a photo of my parents’ wedding with my grandmother’s handwriting in Italian on the back. Blows you away,” Bob said.

Guest bio: Robert Sorrentino is a retired bank executive that has now devoted his life to Italian roots and genealogy. Robert has a blog, podcast and YouTube channel.

Bob’s book, “Farmers and Nobles: The Genealogy History of Two Italian American Families”

Bob’s podcast, Italian Genealogy With Bob Sorrentino

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Thanks for joining us once again on Family Twist. Our guest this episode is Bob Sorrentino. He's the host of the podcast, Italian Roots and Genealogy. Welcome, Bob. Thanks, thanks, I appreciate being here. Sure, so Kendall and I just did a quick check on our ancestries because they change all the time. Yes. While we do hail from Europe, no Italian. Zero, zero from either of us. Well, my children are adopted and my son has zero Italian.


Your children, are they also mainly from Europe? Mostly, yeah. My daughter almost exclusively. My son, his birth father was Puerto Rican. So he's got some Spanish and Puerto Rican and even some African. And as it turned out, when we did the ancestry for him, he's my wife's fifth cousin. That's bizarre, isn't it? Well, I mean, they do say it's a small world, right? Yeah. It is. Yes. Wow.


Now, Bob, as you know, our podcast is all about DNA surprises and adoption stories. Kendall has shared his adoption story. We've had several on there. With your children, did you tell them early on that they were adopted? Was that something that was always just kind of known in the household? Yeah, we decided to do that from the very beginning because we just believed that, you know, they needed to know. So geez, ever since they were little kids, we told them that they had birth parents.


And interesting for many years, my son wasn't really interested in finding his both parents. My daughter started at about 15 asking, and we said, you have to wait till you're 18. That's the law in Florida. And she kept telling us, well, I have friends who did it. And we said, well, that's good for your friends, but we're going to wait.


And I don't know if you're aware, but in Florida, there's a registry for adoptions. And if the birth parents register and the child registers, when you're 18, you could go in there and link up. And as it turned out, Nicole's birth parents did not register. So we wound up hiring a private detective and it didn't cost that much. A couple of hundred dollars maybe. And he then traced down the mom and then we found the dad. Oh, well, interesting. Now had they not registered because they didn't want to be found or


I don't know exactly. I think her birth mom, I think, was nervous about it. And I think her birth dad's Dan. I don't think he was either way, if you know what I mean. Sure. Now, when you hired this private detective, was household DNA testing even a thing yet or no? It was already there, but he didn't ask for DNA. We found out later, because we had done the kid's DNA when we did ours, so I don't know, probably 15 years ago or more. So Nicole's was out there.


And she did have some matches here and there, but nobody close enough to be able to figure it out. After she met her birth mom, her birth mom did it. And then she eventually found the first cousin, I believe, that had done it. Okay. But that was after we had already done that. Wow. Okay. So she doesn't have any half siblings on her birth parent side? She does. Yes. She has a half sister and the full brother. Oh, wow. And in Matthew's case, he has the same. He has a half sister and the full brother. Wow. No, I'm sorry.


A full sister and a half brother. And how have the reunions been for your kids? Good. When we went with Nicole, it was tentative because she was young and we didn't know that much about, actually we didn't know that much about either of them, although we did meet them when the children were born because we did a scheduled type of adoption. So we did meet the birth parents, but it was, everybody involved was nervous. Sure. Right. Now with Matthew, he was much older.


It was only a couple of years ago and he met his birth dad first, I guess maybe three years ago. And we live in Bradley Beach, New Jersey. And just before we moved back here, his birth father left. He lived maybe four or five blocks from us. Oh my gosh. Wow. But then he was in contact with his birth mom and she came up last June and they met. Oh, it's wonderful. Very nice.


So your initial taking of a DNA test 15 years ago, was it mainly to discover more about your Italian heritage or where did your interest in that and genealogy come from? Well, my interest in genealogy came when I was small, although I didn't know it was an interest in genealogy. I used to like looking at the old photographs, you know, the black pages with the little corners and all of that. So I always enjoyed that and I always liked history. So I would say that because of that, that kind of prompted me a little bit to do it. But it wasn't until maybe about


15, 16 years ago when I really got interested in it and I decided to do my DNA. I knew all my grandparents are from Italy, so there was no surprise there as far as that went. But I really did it more to see if I could find distant cousins and if they knew anything. And also, I didn't know if I had any relatives in Italy. I was always kind of led to believe that I didn't. And as it turned out, I have a lot. Oh, okay. Why do they think you didn't have relatives in Italy?


I think on my mom's side, most of my grandparents, both sides, their siblings came over. There were one or two, and I don't think they really stayed that close to them. That being said, when my mom's parents came over, they left my uncle, my mother's oldest brother in Italy with grandparents. He did not come until 1950. So his whole family was born there.


And what I found out later on was he didn't want to come when he was young, even though they sent for him, because his grandparents were the only family he knew. And he had his roots there and he didn't want it. My father's family, they didn't talk that much about it. Nobody ever really mentioned that much about Italy. And I was too young to really ask my grandparents. In fact, my grandfather passed away when I was like two months old. But I always felt that there must be somebody there. Right.


I went out on Facebook and my grandmother's last name is Piermallo. And that's not a usual name in Italy. In fact, it's only one family that has that name. Wow. And I found a fourth cousin and she started helping me out. And just recently, last year, around this time, I was contacted by my father's first cousin, half first cousin. My great grandfather had two families. My great grandmother passed away when she was 42 in 1902. Hm.


He married again in 1913. He was 60, she was 30. Wow. Okay. And he had a family. He had two daughters. And Nicola is the son of one of those daughters. He's my dad's half first cousin. And when we went over there last year, he brought me over to the apartment of my dad's first cousins through my grandmother's youngest brother. I never knew these people existed. Nobody ever talked about it. I asked my cousins, did you know that they were around?


Nothing. And I'll tell you the most amazing part of the whole meeting was they started taking out photographs and they took out my parents wedding photograph from 1944 when my grandmother's handwriting in Italian and handed it to me. Just blows you away. Yeah. Wonderful. Wow. Very, very cool. Cause you think about, especially back then, if something got left behind, what's the likelihood that you're going to get it? So I think that's wonderful. And it was still around.


Yeah, and apparently my grandmother was sending them cards and I think even during the war, probably money. And then the other thing when we got back, Nicola went through the stuff that his mom had saved. And he sent me some more photographs that my grandmother had sent in 1920 or so to her father. And on the back of one of the photographs, it's her photograph, and on the back she says, from your dear daughter to my dear father, may you never forget.


So she knew she was never going to see him again. Right. Yeah. Wow. That's wild. The journey you took last year and were able to meet family, was that your first trip to Italy? No, we had gone in, Matthew was a baby, so like 96, I think it was. Okay. But I didn't know anything back then. Right. And we went to Rome, of course, you always have to go to Rome. And then we went down to Sorrento and spent a week there. The only thing that always stuck in my mind, especially when we went back.


was my dad told me some 35 years ago or something like that, that he had family in Torre Del Greco, which is right outside of Naples. And as it turned out, when my cousin Nicola took us to the apartment, it was in Torre Del Greco. Wow. Ah. So they knew, they just didn't say anything. Yeah. Right. Wow. Mm-mm-mm. Wow. Generally, the focus of the show isn't on genealogy discoveries and tracing back and stuff, but I do find it very fascinating. I'm in a Facebook group.


with people from my paternal side that have traced back to like Viking leaders, which I think is pretty cool. So it's kind of interesting to hear other people's journeys as they make these discoveries. What were some of the things that surprised you? Well, where I started my journey was my mother in that photo album. My mother always had this card. I always refer to it as my great grandfather's calling card. And it said Nicola


And she always told me that my father's grandfather was a sort of a Duke or count or something like that in Italy. So that's where I really started. And when I first Googled his name, I thought maybe I'll find a little something here or there. Well, I came up with a record from this Italian nobility site and it said that in 1882, he married Maria Amelia Caracciolo. I never heard that name before. I was pretty sure that this was the family because the marriage was right. My grandmother was born in 1883. So all of that kind of fit in.


So I called my cousin to live with my grandmother and I said, have you ever heard this name, Caracciolo? And she said, sure. That's grandma's mother's name. And the names all matched up the way Italians do it with the daughter's name, they have the mother's mother and the son is named after the father's father and all that kind of stuff. So all of that kind of matched up. What I didn't know when I took it a step further was this Caracciolo family is probably one of the top 10 families of nobility in Italy. And through this website, I was able to trace back.


my direct ancestors to Landovo Carracciolo in 950. Wow. And it's all documented. People say, how do you find this? I said, when I got that first connection, because they were nobles, everything just worked out. Right. Now on the converse side, my mom's family, they were farmers from.


Puglia and because the Antonati has filmed a lot of records in that town, I was able to get back to like 1750, but my grandmother's mother has me back to the kings of Aragon, Castile, King Edward of England, Rollo the Duke of Normandy, even Ragnar, who most people say he's probably not real. He's probably a combination of several people. And him and Rollo weren't brothers, but Rollo was the Duke of Normandy and he's my something like 28th or 29th great grandfather or something.


So it is possible if you find that one little clue. Yeah. These noblemen, were they good guys? Some. Okay. Some more. I'll tell you one funny story that we got when we were there. My third great grandfather was Giacomo Pieramallo. And again, I discovered this over there. He owns probably at least five houses that I know of.


throughout Italy, Calabria, Sicily, outside of Naples. Well, they took me to this place outside of Naples and it was a smaller place and they said, this was like a summer residence or whatever. And they brought me into this courtyard and they said, look up at the window there. And I said, okay. And they said, the count, I mean, it was his birthday. He would roast a pig. He would give all the servants and serfs wine. And then he would stand up in that window and throw money out and watch them fight over it. Wow.


All right. Oh my goodness. I think the most infamous person that I found was Ferrante, who was the king of Naples. His father was the king of Aragon. And when the Spanish took over Naples, he installed his son as the king. And I don't know if you saw the series, the Borgias, but he's portrayed in there. And he was the person that had his enemies stuffed and sat around the table in the dining room.


Wow. So he believed in keeping his enemies close. Absolutely. Super close, yeah. Now, your kids have had some interesting discoveries through their DNA as well, right? My daughter especially, yeah. Her family, both sides of her birth parents came over in probably the early 1700s, late 1600s from England and Scotland and Wales. And she's a direct descendant of Daniel Boone.


and Captain Morgan the pirate. And I didn't know that that Daniel Boone was a descendant of Captain Morgan. Oh, didn't either. Interesting. Yeah. Interesting stuff you find when you do this stuff. But she's also a distant, distant cousin of Princess Diana. Really? Wow. Like, I don't know, 18th cousin, 10 times removed or some crazy thing like that.


Right. Wow. Matthew, we haven't found out too much yet because his birth parents really haven't put anything out there. We found family. Like I said, we found out that he's connected to my wife, but that's it. But I'll tell you two interesting adoption stories that the friends of mine, one's a cousin actually, and one's a, one's a friend. My friend did his DNA and he came up with a close match and he couldn't figure out who it was. He then.


found out that it was a half brother from his father from before he was born, never knew, never talked about it, just stumbled upon it. I think he's maybe two or three years older than my friend. And they connected and they're brothers. They have the same father and all is good. At one point I was contacted by somebody, it wasn't through ancestry, it was another site. And we came up as...


second cousins, I think it was. And she asked me, who are you? And I explained, and she said, well, I'm adopted. I'm trying to find out who my birth parents are. And I said, well, I can't really tell from here. But as I'm sitting there, I'm thinking of all my cousins and saying, okay, which one was cheating, which one? Right, yeah. And I'm figuring it has to be this cousin on my mother's side, but it wasn't. And so I said, well, if you do ancestry, we're all out there on ancestry. There's several of us out there on the ancestry. So she did the ancestry test.


And when I saw it, I knew right away which cousin it was. And his three children are on ancestry. So I contacted my cousin Donna and I said, have you seen? And she said, yeah, I've seen it. And I said, do you know anything? And she was the oldest of the three. And she said the only thing that she could remember was she was maybe two or three and that her mother was in the bedroom crying for like two weeks.


Okay. So apparently he knew, he told her they knew what was going on, but you know, they've, they've met, they've talked and, I mean, it's not her fault. Right. Sure. Of course. Right. So that was a really interesting find. Yeah. Definitely. Yeah, absolutely. We're just finding this more and more every day as people are taking tests, the secrets, the surprises, they're all coming into the light for sure.


Now you've been doing your podcast for a few years now. What made you decide initially that this was the road you wanted to go down? Well, I started with just the blog and I was writing the blog for maybe a year, a year and a half, and that was good and fun, but it was one way. Yeah. Right. So after a while, how much can I write about myself? Well, I could probably write about myself forever, but, but I felt, well, maybe I should get other people's stories. So.


I asked a couple of friends and a couple of cousins, you know, would you try this with me and we said, let's see where it goes, how it goes. And it started going pretty good. So now I just reach out to people and ask them, what interesting story do you have? Whether it's a DNA story or it's a crazy find or something like that. So I did that. And then I segued into doing something like this and then also putting the same edit onto YouTube. Right. And I've got some amazing stories that are just too crazy to be coincidences.


Right. Right. I mean, that's the thing is like a lot of this stuff we're hearing, it's stranger than fiction. It's like the kind of thing like if we're on a TV show or movie, people are like, oh, I don't buy that. Exactly. It's legit. It is legit. Yeah. Well, I'm a firm believer in that the ancestors want to be found and whether it's through DNA testing or whether it's through searching on Facebook or just Googling, there are just some of us who have that calling to want to do that. Sure. Absolutely. Now, I imagine you'll have another trip to Italy, right?


Yeah. In fact, I'm in the planning session right now. We didn't get to go to where my mom is from. So we're hoping to go back there in September. And I found that through my dad's family, I have another set of cousins in Toronto in Puglia, which is only about an hour from where my mother's parents were born. So yeah, we want to go back there and see where they lived. My great grandparents actually owned a house, small house, but they actually owned a house in Italy, which is pretty good back then.


For sure, absolutely. Are there some pieces of the puzzle that are missing that traveling back to Italy will maybe help you find? I think in my mom's case, I'd like to find out if I do have maybe some distant cousins there. My cousin's cousin lives in that area. He speaks English, so he said he'll take us to the town and show us around. So hopefully go to the church and maybe we could find some distant records there.


And also get from my dad's side of the family, talking to the cousins there, maybe they know something else. My grandmother's brother was an Admiral in the Italian Navy. And that's why they wound up in Toronto, because that's where the large Italian Navy base is. It's all the way South and it's probably there because you could go in either direction very easily. Yeah. I know our percentages of where we're from change all the time as more people do tests and they make more discoveries. Are there percentages of yours outside of Italy that you're interested in?


Well, yeah, because I know that I have going back, you know, three, 400 years that I have people from Spain and Germany and England. And you know how the tests are with the algorithms. Sometimes I show up 78% Italian with very little of anything else. And then other times, this last one, I got this Spain and the French and Malta and some of those other places that I know I have, they just don't always show up.


And I'm sure you guys have compared ancestry to some of the other ones and they're different. Right. Right. It all just depends on, you know, who's taking that test and what they're using, what, you know, to get that information out there. Yeah. And one of the ones that I tried a while ago, or maybe five years, maybe more, was Living DNA and they're based in Switzerland. And I figured, well, let me do that because I may get more people, more cousins in Italy. But the Italians don't do DNA. No. Really? Well, they, I...


Chuck it up to they don't have to because they've been in the same village in some cases for 500 years. So what do I have to worry about that for? I was going to do it last time and they didn't, but I may bring a couple of test kits with me and see if I could get somebody to do it for me. Right. I mean, just because you think you know your history doesn't necessarily mean you really do. Right. Yeah. I interviewed one guy who's...


from Molise and I asked him, I said, you're into this whole going back to the Samnites back to 800 BC and all of that. Why is that? And he says, well, my family's been here 600 years that I know. So of course, I'm interested in what happened before that. Right. Of course. Absolutely. So that's what I hope to find out. Pretty wild. Yeah. I would say if you're able to convince a couple of folks to do those tests, that would be probably some interesting findings there. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. On the other hand, my wife is half Sicilian, half Puerto Rican.


And every American and Puerto Rican descent must do a DNA test because she's got thousands and thousands and thousands of cousins. Oh, interesting. Wow. That's more than any of the three of us. She's got the most by far. And does she have an interest in this as well? Not really. I mean, if I come up with something interesting on her family, she'll ask me about it a little bit. But basically, she always asks me, are you looking for dead relatives again?


Yeah, I mean, I guess either you get it or you don't, right? Yeah, yeah. It has to be an interest, you know, it just does. Yeah, and that's why I said it. I think some of us just have that calling like anything else. We become the family historians. I'll give you one other interesting story of a DNA connection and it's my cousin Linda, we're fourth cousins, and she hadn't done the DNA yet, but she contacted me through ancestry and said, I think we're researching the same person.


Maria Piamallo, I think we might be related. And I said, yes, we're definitely related. That's my great grandfather's sister. I know exactly who she is. We're definitely related, no question. So she said, well, I'm gonna do the DNA test and let's see what happens. Well, she did the test and she contacted me back and she said, I got my test back, but we're not a match. So I said, that's impossible, can't be. I said, I know we're a match. I said, let me look on my end. So on my end, it showed as a match.


So I said, well, you're showing up on mine. I don't know why I'm not showing up on yours. Maybe you should call them. And she called them and miraculously somehow we became a match. Strange. But the interesting thing about that story is I did not know that my grandmother had any family here at all. This was her aunt. She came in 1905. My grandparents came in 1915. And what Linda and I found out through all of this was.


through the 20s and 30s and 40s and 50s and 60s, our families were pretty much joined at the hip because they were the only two Puyo Malos in America at the time. So they were very close. They would go to weddings together, parties together, and all this kind of stuff. And her grandmother was Beatrice, and she lived in Flushing, Queens, not too far from where I lived. And I remember when I married my first wife, I was taking the apartment from my cousin Louise, who lived five blocks away from Linda's grandmother and her aunt.


And I said to her, I vaguely remember driving past the house and my father saying that's where Aunt Beatrice lives. But, you know, I was 21 years old. I was getting married right over my head. She said, really? I said, yeah. And I lived five blocks from there for like four years. We probably passed each other in the street. If you spent the summers with your grandmother. Then I met her cousin, Gene, who lived there in that house. And I explained to him where I lived. And he says, oh, you mean the apartment with the long staircase and the way you cause a movie? I said, yeah.


So we never knew any of this. And when we finally got to meet, her grandmother saved everything. Her mother worked for my grandfather in his embroidery shop in New York City. And she came over with beads from my grandfather's shop. Wow. Crazy. And if it wasn't for ancestry, we never would have known any of this. Right, right. It's wild, the connections that are there that we just, you know.


As you said, you probably passed on the street at some point. I'm sure we had to. Yeah, I'm sure we did. That's really close. Yeah. Awesome. Wow. Well, Bob, thank you so much for sharing your story and we'll include all the information about your podcast and the show notes of this episode and let people know about it. Thank you for sharing your insight and your interest. Yeah, thanks. And if I can just plug my book here for a second. Absolutely. Oh yeah. Farmers and Nobles.


genealogy history of two Italian American families and it's on Barnes and Nobles and it's on Amazon. And it pretty much goes through why I started, how I started. And then I highlight about 30 or 35 of these families in Italy and some of the famous and infamous relatives that I have. Right. Very cool. Is there, do you have a preferred link that we would put in there if we were to do one for the book? Yeah. It would be that


And then it would be farmers underscore and underscore Nobles. Okay. All right. Got it. Awesome. And we hope that you'd be interested in possibly rejoining us after your next trip to Italy and we can find out what you learn. That would be awesome. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Sure. I'd love to do it. I'd love to do it and let's arrange, you know, we do reciprocal. If you guys want to be on my show, we could set that up too. Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Happy to, happy to. Very cool. Excellent.

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