The Roots

The Big Picture

Having written a few posts now that reference our little corner of Italy, I thought it best to give a brief family history and place it here, where it can be easily referenced. We’ll start with the blog’s namesakes, the Bartolini.

Born in 1898, my maternal grandfather, “Grandpa” or “Bart,” came to America from Corinaldo, in Le Marche, when he was 17 years old. As he often explained, he came to America so that he could ride a bicycle. (Apparently, Great-Grandma wasn’t a fan of bike riding.) Originally living in Cincinnati with relatives, Grandpa enlisted and served as a Morse code signalman shortly after the States joined the Great War. Later, after the War, he returned briefly to Corinaldo to get married, bringing

Departure Points

Grandma back to live with him in Detroit. Although Grandpa’s family remained in Corinaldo, Grandma’s family moved to France in the early 1920′s. Grandma and the girls,  Lea and Theresa, visited them for a couple of years in the latter half of the 1920′s. After the Great Depression began, they returned to the States (aboard the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic) and at some point lived with Grandpa’s Uncle Victor. The years passed and eventually the family lived next door to a boarding house …

The fort in the center of S. Marino

Home on Leave

My paternal grandparents immigrated to this country from San Marino after WWI. Their first child, my father, was born in 1920 in Cleveland. In 1922, the family returned to their farm in San Marino, where my father’s sister and two brothers were later born. In the 1930′s, the fascists were firmly in control of the governments of both Italy and San Marino. Believing that war was inevitable, and not wishing to see his first-born involved, my Grandfather sent Dad, who was 16 at the time, to live in America, Cleveland specifically. Eventually, Dad moved to Detroit and lived in a boarding house, where he met Theresa, one of the Bartolini girls that lived next door. When WWII broke out, Dad enlisted and served as a radioman in the Air Corps, flying missions over what became known as the “Burma Hump.” After the War, he returned home, married his girl next door, and they had 3 children together, my brother, sister, and me. In 1956, they and my Aunt (Zia) & Uncle, bought a 2-flat in Detroit, which both families owned for almost 30 years. When Dad retired in 1985, he & Mom moved to Michigan’s “thumb” area, along Lake Huron, in a home right next door to the one Zia and her husband had built. Dad passed away in 1987 and Mom in 2001. Although Dad’s Father passed away in 1960, his mother immigrated to NYC and lived the remainder of her life with his sister. Years earlier, Dad’s sister and her late husband had immigrated to NYC, where they raised 2 sons and a daughter. Both of Dad’s brothers married on the same day. One brother married his bride in Detroit but they began their life together in NYC. They eventually returned to the Motor City area to raise their 2 daughters. Dad’s youngest brother married a girl in the Motherland, where they currently reside, having raised 3 daughters.

Newly Engaged

No discussion of my family’s roots would be complete without mentioning Zia’s husband, “Uncle Al,” and his family. Not only are they my god-parents, but they raised their family above us, on the 2-flat’s 2nd floor. Also from Le Marche, Uncle’s family emigrated from Fabriano to France and then on to Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada. His Mother’s brother, whom we called “Zio,” was a boarder in the house next door to the Bartolinis. Al met Lea during a visit with Zio. Italy’s entrance into the War complicated the young lovers’ courtship; crossing the border was restricted. Love conquered all, however, and the couple married in 1944. Together they had 3 sons and lived, with Grandpa, “upstairs.” Occasionally, Uncle’s Mother, “Nonna” to all 6 of us kids, would come from Canada for a visit. In the late 1960′s, they bought some property north of Detroit, in Michigan’s “thumb” area. In the years following, he designed and built the house to which they would later retire, in 1975. Uncle Al passed away in 1982. Zia Lea still resides in the home that they built together. Uncle’s sister remained in Canada and currently resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she and her late husband raised 2 daughters and 2 sons.

Casa Bartolini, Today

The two Bartolini Sisters each had 3 children, and four of those children still live within 100 miles of the old 2-flat. My cousin and I left Michigan within a few months of each other in 1980. He moved to Virginia and I to Chicago. The next generation has spread even further, with addresses stretching from the Southeast to the Pacific Northwest, and a few points in-between. And to think, all of this was made possible for want of a bicycle ride.

48 thoughts on “The Roots

    • You’re welcome, Rhonda, and thanks for the kind words. This is very much a work-in-progress and I hope to add much more family-related data as it becomes available.

    • The immigrant story, Tanya, is one that I find fascinating. No matter the reason, it’s a story of courage, determination, and sacrifice. Our forebears gave up so much, all for the promise of a better life. It really is amazing. When you’re ready to tell your family’s tale, I’ll be listening… John

    • Thank you for dropping by and leaving such kind comments. I grew up listening to these stories and enjoying these dishes. It’s important to me that neither is lost, that future Bartolini Clansmen know their family’s story — not to mention how to cook a few of the old recipes. Though definitely a work in progress, I hope this is a step in the right direction.

    • Thanks, Kristy. I want the youngest generation to have a sense of who all of these people are, not just a picture in a photo album. We are a nation of immigrants and, no matter where they came from, that first generation gave up so much for the chance at a better life for their descendants. Their stories should not be forgotten.

    • Thanks, Eva. Yes, Uncle was Canadian and fiercely proud of it, too. Some 15 years ago, Mom, Zia, her Middle Son, and I drove to Winnipeg and on the way back toured some of the area around Thunder Bay, where Uncle’s family lived. Such a beautiful part of the World!

  1. What a great story! Wow, we have lot’s in common! My great grandpa came to the States in the 1890′s too and went back to slowly bring family to the states where they settled in Detroit. My dad and his side of the family are from the region of Abbruzzo and my mom’s family is from just outside of Rome.
    I’m so glad I came across your blog. I love following Linda’s blog over at Savoring Every Bite because it reminds me of my zia’s cooking and baking. You’d think I’d be posting traditional Italian recipes on my food blog, but no I’m the one in the family that likes to cook but totally changes up the recipe to make it on the lighter side! I hear it all the time from my dad, not so much my mom but all the time from my dad! Anyhow, keep up the great posts!

    • So glad to hear from you. Abruzzo is just South of Le Marche and to the West of both is Rome, so, there’s bound to be a number of similarities in our families’ cooking. What a coincidence that your family also settled in Detroit! I, too, love Linda’s blog. Have you seen all of her biscotti recipes? Incredible! At some point, I, too, may go back and offer some lighter versions of some of these recipes. Right now, I’m just concentrating on getting them all written down and presented. I want to make sure that all of today’s generation of my family, as well as tomorrow’s, has access to them.

    • Thank you, Giovanna. My family’s story is not so very unique. The Americas are filled with people descended from those who left their homelands in search of a better life. I find their stories all so fascinating!

  2. I’ve been looking for a blog with good Italian recipes, and I think I’ve found it. Love the family photos and history. I grew up in a neighborhood of immigrants and they conjure up nice memories.

    • I hope you enjoy the recipes here. Many are the same that Mom, my Zia, and Nonna cooked.
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to leave such a nice comment.

  3. I love rich family history and especially ones that include food! How wonderful that you have taken the time to document some of your families roots and recipes here. I look forward to reading more of your blog.
    Laura Valetutto

    • Thanks, Laura, for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. Do take some time and explore my blog. If you’ve any questions on anything presented, just leave a comment or drop me a note via the Contact page. I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can.

    • That’s a very kind thing to say, Claire. Thank you. I’ve just returned from your little bit of the blogosphere and very much liked what I saw. I’ve a feeling yours will be a “go-to” site when I entertain.

  4. Buonasera John, I am always looking over your recipes and for some reason I missed the most important post ever—-your roots. I loved your story and sounds so similar. My mom’s family also said they came to America for a better life. Mom didn’t mention about being able to ride a bicycle but I am sure that was on the list too. My mother’s maiden name is Cardella and they resided in Michigan as well. You know it is a very small world…!!! BAM

    • Buongiorno, BAM! So many have come forward to tell me that their family’s story has elements similar to my own. It really is the story of immigrants, people who left everything behind for a chance at a better life for their children. What a selfless act! When I next speak with Zia, I’ll mention the Cardella family. There’s probably no connection but wouldn’t it be something if there was? :)

  5. what a great idea for a blog, to collect all the memories from your Italian roots. I am Italian so I will come back again to read your blog and your recipes, to see how Italian food has evolved by crossing the Atlantic

    • Welcome! Although there are sure to be differences, I’ve been surprised when in Italy to see just how similar some of my family’s dishes are to those served over there. I’ll be interested to hear your opinions. Thank you for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment.

  6. This is truly heart-felt ! You efforts of putting together all those memories, bites and pieces of history is really really inspiring.
    I love hanging out at your blog :)

  7. Oh wow, can’t believe I hadn’t read this before. That was such a wonderful story…well, it’s real life! I am sitting here looking at a ring I inherited from my Grandmother that my Grandfather bought her for their 25th Wedding anniversary (my mum was 5 years married and I was 4 years old) on a family holiday where we visited San Marino – and that’s where he bought the ring!

    • Thank you, Tanya, and you’re right. It’s Life. Your family’s association with San Marino is the missing link. Somehow our families met and, in ways unbeknownst to us, family traditions and customs were exchanged and adopted. No need to test for DNA. Your Nonna’s ring is all the proof we need. :)

  8. I just found you and am thrilled to read all you have written. My family came from Sicily and I am the last one left besides my children. I have written a book about what I can remember being told when I was young, in the hopes that my children will not forget their roots. I am 83 years old and realize that I am the only one who can identify all the people in the pictures. It’s amazing what memories I have recalled. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Hello! I am so happy to meet you. I do understand what you are trying to do and admire you for writing a book about your family. I, too, am trying to record as much about my family as I can. Amazingly, food is the conduit. Each recipe comes with its own memories and those memories bring to mind more in the minds of my family members. I doubt I’ll ever write a book, as you have done, but I hope the young ones will one day come to this blog and learn a bit about Great-Grandpa — and how to make a good dish of pasta. :)

  9. Ciao-Hi-Bonsoir from Toulouse, France, “old Europe”! :-) Glad to have come across your awesome blog, via Amy… I do belive that roots and origins are extremely important for anyone. I was born in Romania but I’ve lived longer in France, even 5 years in Houston, Texas(NASA-area)… small world! :-) A couple of dear friends, Americans for 3 generations and with Italian, Irish, German & French roots came to Europe a few years ago for the first time to follow the footsteps of their ancestors… They loved Europe, really delighted, happy and quite emotional, they decided to return to Europe every 2 years…
    - – -
    Long story, short: I love Italy, its cuisine and wines, and guess what: they love France, its refined food and excellent wines… :-) My very best, good luck in all your endeavours & respectful regards, Mélanie NB

    cheers & forza Italia! :-)

    • Ciao, Melanie! So happy to “meet” you. I agree that our roots are important. I started this blog to save our recipes but it has also become a place for my family’s history. I want to make sure the youngest in my family know as much as they want to know about their family’s history. I’ve been to Italy several times and Paris, too. I’m going back to Italy next May and hope to spend a few days in San Marino, visiting my Uncle and his family.
      I still have family in France, from what I’m told, but have no way of tracing them now. I wish I could. Maybe one day …
      I’ve just visited your blog and have hit “Follow”. I do hope we can keep in touch. Take care until next time… John.

      • Ciao amico John-Gianni, come stai! :-) if you ever come back to France, you’ll love our region Midi-Pyrénées: excellent gastronomy & wines… Grazie for tuto! We’ll keep in touch, viva & via internet! :-) My very best & c u asap! Cheers, Mélanie

  10. Well the story of your family is amazing and make me think about how tough must have been on those years back in Italy. Have ever considered moving to Italy?
    I’ve been living for a couple of year in Cape Town, but I still feel like a visitor and on the other hand I feel I belong to Italy.
    Thanks to share your family’s story with us, I love it.

    • Hello! America is a land of immigrants and I’m amazed at how many have stopped by to tell me of their family’s immigration to the States and how similar our stories all are. At one time I did toy with the idea of moving to Italy but was never really serious about it. Who knows? There’s still time … ;)

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