Chasing my Roots: My Genealogical Journey

Chasing my Roots

In one way or another — unless we are have pure native roots — we are all immigrants. Especially us North and South Americans.

I am Brazilian. I was born in São Paulo, São Paulo. On September 8th, 1998 — when I was just shy of 4 years old — my mother, father, and I, made the move to the USA. I am an immigrant. This is part of my identity. However, my history of immigration doesn’t start there.

My father was born in Brooklyn, New York, after my grandparents decided to move to the US from Brazil in the early 1960s. A few years later, they moved back to Brazil.

Most of my grandparents’ parents (my great-grandparents) moved to Brazil either from Italy or Spain, and those who were actually born in Brazil, were born to immigrant parents from Italy or Portugal.

Immigration is in my culture, my blood, my roots.

10556436_841760589167509_1549373452484362623_nMy beautiful São Paulo & I (2014)

Just like the USA, Brazil was stolen created by immigrants (mainly Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and German). São Paulo, my city, is considered the, “third largest Italian city after Rome and Milan,” by some, and Brazil as a whole has the second highest Japanese population in the world. Some areas of Brazil, mainly the south, still teach German and Portuguese simultaneously.

Although slowly dying off — a tragic problem that needs to be addressed more aggressively — the Native Brazilian culture is still alive in the form of art, food, and the native language, Tupi-Guarani. Names like, maracujá, Ibirapuera, Tatuapé, and Maracanã, are definitely not from the European Portuguese. And of course there is a huge Afro-Brazilian population that thrives today with traditions carried on by the descendants of slaves brought to Brazil during those darker years of slavery. They give us samba, carnaval, and feijoada, as well as other colorful religions and practices. Brazil — maybe even more so than the US — is a true cultural melting pot.

So, yes, I am Brazilian, but only because of my culture. I do not have Native South American DNA (I checked — thanks Ancestry). I know that my mother’s side is Portuguese-Spanish-Italian, and my Father’s side is Spanish-Italian. With my immigrant identity complex, curiosity, and with *drumroll please* the internet, I set off to find out more about my ancestors and my history.

Top Left: Paternal grandfather, great-grandmother Ana (Spanish immigrant: Málaga), great-uncle, great-aunt in Brazil
Bottom Left: Great-great-grandmother Angela (Italian immigrant: Padova), ancestors of my maternal grandfather
Right: Great-grandmother Ana (Málaga) in New York

Through lots of asking my parents and grandparents for names and dates, and looking at certificates (marriage, death, etc.), paired with Googling, using FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other obscure sites that were sometimes in Serbian, but hey, it has good information on it, I created a pretty darn solid tree with lots of info that is, y’know, about 99.999999999% correct.

Here’s the general breakdown of my genealogical migration history:

Mother’s side:

  • Grandmother: Portuguese on both sides
    • Great-great grandmother owned a farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil
      • Fazenda das Cachoeiras
      • Had slaves… not too happy to have found this bit out
    • Rumors of Turkish grandfather in there somewhere
    • Rumors of German or Austrian priest (?) grandfather in there somewhere
    • My Portuguese side is tougher to find but when I am in Brazil again, I plan on going to Minas Gerais and searching some records in person
  • Grandfather: Spanish-Italian
    • Great-Grandfather:
      • Gor, Andalucia, Spain
      • This is where my second name, Arena, comes from
    • Great-Grandmother:
      • Born in Brazil to Italian parents from San Giorgio delle Pertiche, Padova, Veneto, Italy

Father’s side

  • Grandmother: Italian
    • Great-Grandmother:
      • Born in Brazil
      • Rumor that she was born to Italian parents from Sicily
    • Great-Grandfather:
      • Born in Brazil to Italian parents from Mammola, Reggio Calabria, Calabria, Italy
  • Grandfather: Spanish-Italian
    • Great-Grandmother
      • Málaga & Granada, Andalucia, Spain
        • Arenas del Rey
    • Great-Grandfather
      • Born in Brazil to Italian parents from Valle Castellana, Teramo, Abruzzo, Italy
      • This is where my last name, Secanechia, comes from

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 14.01.21USA: Father & younger sister
Brazil: mother, grandparents, myself & older sister

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 14.01.47This is what my ancestors’ origins look like

This makes me a Brazilian-American with Italian-Spanish-Portuguese heritage, and just as DNA is passed down from my Euro ancestors, so was their culture. (My paternal grandma speaks an Italianized Portuguese, and a Brooklynized English: neat, huh?)

This has been kind of an obsessive journey of mine that started a few years ago, and has lead me to stay up until all types of hours of the night, looking at names and dates that all seem the same (there are SO many Garcia and Torres in Spain… and don’t get me started on the Italian Giuseppes and Angelas). In doing this research, I learned about the different last name traditions in different countries. For example, in Spain the last name is composed by the father’s last name and then the mother’s last name:

Manuel Retamero Guerreiro + Ana Garcia Garcia = Juan Retamero Garcia

This is also not to mention the changing of last names upon immigrating and throughout the years. Letters get added, dropped, or changed, and this makes record finding tough when records have names (and dates) that all vary. Why were people soooo disorganized in the past, ugggghhhhhh. This is an important one as it applies to my real last name. That will be an upcoming post which I promise, will be a fun one.

Of course, this journey has been INSANELY rewarding. I’ve met some lost family, and found out I legally qualify for Italian citizenship — via both sides! I know my ancestors weren’t perfect — my Calabrese great-grandfather was kicked out of Brazil and had to sneak back in by foot, via Argentina, all because he lost his temper and bit a deputy. (Oh, that Southern Italian grit…) With that aside, I still feel such a connection and patriotism to my native country as well as those of my ancestors through learning about their past. I think this is something common in Americans, as we know we’re immigrants and we heavily identify ourselves with our ancestors’ countries. That’s where the foundation of our cultures and languages come from; the DNA, the blood, the roots, all of which come together to shape our new homes into spectacular cultural free-for-alls, and how cool is that?

So, thank you for reading and I hope this post has inspired you to take a look back, and discover your roots whether it’s finding out if your ancestors have always lived in X city of X country, or whether they have moved around as so many of ours have.

Love & light,

Isabela Arena



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