By PHIL JULIAN
Special to the OBSERVER
Imagine that you are a 17 year old living in the small village of Onano, Italy, in the year 1910 and you decide to leave your family and friends to start a new life in America. You make your way to Rome, get on a ship headed for Ellis Island and never again make contact with your family in Onano.
From left: Phil Julian, Jennie Clemens, Padre Giuliani, Frank Julian, Mayor Giovanni Giuliani. In front: Ines Giuliani. Below: The Giuliani estate.
This is the story of Francesco Giuliani, also known as Frank Julian, a former resident of Dunkirk, World War 1 vet and Purple Heart recipient who passed away Jan. 29, 1969. It is also the story of three Julian siblings, Frank Julian Jr. of Hamburg, Jennie Clemens of Geneva and Phil Julian of Dunkirk.
It was not until Francesco's death that the family learned of his Italian origins. It is suspected that he changed his name and kept his Italian origin a secret because of the anti-Italian prejudice that prevailed in the early 20th century. It was only upon his death that the family found a certificate whereby Francesco denounced any allegiance to the King of Italy and indicating that he was sailing on the ship "Verona" for America. That document was found in 1969. In 2008, following intense genealogical research, the family was finally able to make contact with living relatives in Onano, Italy. The search involved census records, ship's lists, cemetery searches, Mormon records and much Internet activity.
The name change made it extremely difficult to locate the father's roots. However, there was reference on the ship's list to a "Giuliani" and the village Onano was listed. Onano is located about 100 miles north of Rome, Italy. Frank Jr., assisted by a genealogist friend, contacted officials in Onano and a response was received from the Onano Mayor Giovanni Giuliani, stating, "I think we are related!"
Giuliani turned out to be a second cousin of the Dunkirk family but he indicated that there is still a first cousin living near Onano. The name of that first cousin is the Rev. Luigi Giuliani. The padre is a 99-year-old retired Catholic priest of the Augustinian order living in the residential quarters of the St. Rita Basilica in Cascia, Italy. Father Luigi is the only living first cousin to the Dunkirk Julian family on the Giuliani side.
Needless to say, this was exciting news to the Julian siblings, and it started a wave of communications that eventually led to a trip to Italy for a family reunion. On July 20, 102 years after Francesco left Italy, the trio from Dunkirk boarded a jumbo jet at the Buffalo airport headed for Rome, Italy.
A WARM WELCOME
We were greeted at the Rome airport by Alesandro Giuliani and his wife Anna. Alesandro is a second cousin and one of three brothers including Giovanni and Luigi. We quickly learned that you don't greet Italian relatives with a handshake. The greeting requires a hug and a kiss on both cheeks and we used that process throughout our 10-day visit. It was about a two-hour drive from Rome to Onano but we stopped at a villa along the Mediterranean west coast that serves as a summer home for Alesandro and Anna. The home and the surrounding countryside were extremely beautiful, as is all of Italy.
As we arrived at the Giuliani home on the outskirts of Onano, we observed a 10-foot high stone and concrete wall with iron gates that provide entrance to the Giuliani estate. As we viewed the four-story Italian villa, it became obvious that we were going to have very comfortable accommodations. We pulled into the parking area and the entire Giuliani family was there to greet us, again with hugs, kisses and tears.
As we settled into our private rooms Rosella Giuliani, wife of Giovanni, was busy preparing a delicious Italian-style meal for all present. The menu for our stay included of course a variety of pasta dishes, prosciutto (carved as needed from a slab of pork), several types of cheeses, crostini with liver paste and tomato paste, tripe, casseroles with rice and vegetables, olives, squash, salads, fried zucchini flowers with cheese, and a couple things that were new to me - wild boar and rabbit meat. Perhaps my favorite dish was soup made from lentils grown in Onano. Of course there was always several bottles of Italian wine on the table with beer, bottled water and a variety of baked goods, fruit and deserts. Every meal was an enjoyable feast and often included a cup of espresso. Gifts were exchanged and all had a wonderful time getting acquainted.
The Giulianis could not have been finer hosts and they dedicated 10 days of their lives to driving us to all of the attractions. Neither Giovanni or Rosella could speak any English but their daughter Ines spent the entire 10 days, traveling from attraction to attraction with a dictionary in her hand skillfully filling the need for an interpreter. Without Ines, communications would have been extremely difficult. We found Giovanni's brother, Alesandro, to be very helpful as he had good English skills. A third brother, Luigi Giuliani, lives in Onano and, along with his wife Gianna, did everything possible to make our stay a pleasant one. Luigi is a very skilled artist and wood carver, a coincidence since I do the same type of art while Jennie is also a talented artist.
SIGHTSEEING AND FINDING FAMILY
On our second day in Onano, we were taken to the village cemetery in search of more family history. We succeeded in finding the grave sites of many of our ancestors including photos, birth and death dates. The cemetery was interesting in that most of the graves were marble crypts, mausoleum in structure and most of the crypts were beautifully decorated with flowers. The cemetery was much larger than I expected for a small community. The second day included a tour of the Onano Castle, a 700-year-old structure that serves as a municipal building and a busy mayor's office.
For 10 days, Giovanni and Ines escorted the Dunkirk trio to all the major attractions in Central Italy including Assisi, Rome, Florence, Pienza, Sienna, Perugia, Viterbo, Balsena Lake and Montalcino. I think it's safe to say we saw every basilica, cathedral, museum, winery and castle in central Italy. Of course, the Vatican was especially beautiful. In Onano we attended Mass at Parrocchia di Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross). It is the quaint little church where our dad was baptized and where he also attended Mass. Following Mass we stopped at the Piazza, a courtyard in the center of the village. A deli was open there selling newspapers and various snacks. I don't know who made the purchase but we ended up with a bottle of champagne on our table. It was a good time for all.
On our third day we traveled about 100 miles to Cascia and the Shrine of St. Rita to meet our 99-year-old first cousin, Padre Luigi Giuliani. The beautiful shrine and residential facilities were perched on top of a hill overlooking the village of Cascia. As we opened the elevator door there stood Padre Luigi, as anxious to meet us just as we were to meet him. We exchanged gifts and for the next two days Padre was with us morning, noon and night, showing us the sights and enjoying many fine Italian meals. The retired priest still partakes in a Mass schedule every week. To say he is a perky and healthy 99-year-old would be a gross understatement. Padre Luigi is highly respected by everyone in the community and as we walked down the streets he is often greeted with hugs and kisses. Our stay with Padre Luigi was a highlight of our trip and we will always be grateful that we were able to meet and enjoy the warmth and love that comes from a wonderful individual.
Our final day was spent with a large dinner attended by the whole family. As you might expect Padre Luigi was the focal point and life of the party. Perhaps the most difficult thing we experienced on the trip was saying goodbye. The family was up at 3 a.m. for a final hug and kiss, breakfast and the two-hour drive to the Rome airport.
Our 11-day journey was an incredible experience to say the least and we came away knowing that we have some fantastic relatives living in Onano. Will we ever meet again? No one can say for sure but we plan to communicate on a regular basis and we certainly hope it doesn't take 102 years for the next reunion.
Phil Julian is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments on this story to email@example.com