I have been working on my family history for over 6 years now. Not growing up with my grandparents and a lot of my aunts, uncles and cousins (as they are all over there), as a child and even now as an adult, I always have asked my parents questions about their parents and about how they grew up. Because I don’t know them as well as what my parents do, I thought it would be a good idea to first of all, record all their names. It wasn’t till I was fortunate enough to work in cancer genetics in 2009 that it sprung into my head, I should probably form some kind of family tree. I didn’t think of it up until then, that I could go further than my parent’s nanniet. Drawing up family trees for patients, I realised I could go beyond.
I feel this strong connection with Malta. Every time I go there, there is something about the islands, I guess, it just feels like home (cliche, I know). After drawing up what names I had, that is my grandparents and my great grandparents, I started to see what was out there on the net. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite a lot. Ancestry.com is mainly based on the more “well-known” countries, and unless my family members were linked to them some how, I knew I would not find anything useful on sites like this. I did however, come across something call the Adami Collection, and at the time was not aware it simply meant I could order birth, death and marriage certificates online. So I put off looking any more (after googling every possible word I could google to find what I am looking for) and thought I would wait till I made a trip to Malta to see what I could find there.
In 2012, I went to Malta with my mum in October for a cousin’s wedding. My mum, being from Gozo, took me to the church of her village (Xagħra) where I would be able to find what I was looking for. We were taken inside a room by a little lady, shorter than me. We started by giving her an approximate date of when mum thought her nanniet would have been born and worked backwards from there, because we didn’t have solid dates to work with, and each time we found what we were looking for, we would find the parents names and start all over again; estimate date of birth, marriage date and from there we would find the next lot of parents names. It was the most overwhelming experience. I didn’t think digging up a few hundred year old names would have me on the verge of tears. As we went back further and further, this little lady pulling out these old books with hand written entries (what looked like Latin)… We got to at least 6 generations! This was my greatest achievement in 3 years! It never came across my mind I would ever find anything dating that far in my family. We spent nearly 2 hours going through old withered books (written in Latin)… This was only on my nannu’s father’s side however. Mum said nannu used to tell her that his mother was born in Tunis, so with that there was obviously no record of her birth in Gozo.
This inspired me. I wanted to go even further back. When I got back home I decided to try the internet again. I thought to myself that surely there is something out there that I can use from home to find what I am looking for. I ended up coming across Archives of the Archdiocese, an project initiative by the church in Malta to scan their records and have them available in an online database. It is free to register and to view. If you find what you want you can download at 50c (euro) per page. The only thing is, all the scanned records are of course, in Latin. I found scanned the churches in the villages my dad’s parents were from, but there are a few chunks of years I am missing that I need to make the connection with the records they do have online. The handwriting is hard enough to read as it is, and not knowing Latin made it harder. So I decided to make up a list of all the commonly used words through out, the “son of”, “born of” etc. so that I could make sense of it all. From there, I decided the next trip I made to Malta, I would see if I can get to the churches in the villages on my dad’s side, get the foundation of what I need and then go back to this online database to go further.
In 2013 I went to Malta once again in the months of July and August on my own. I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t make more of an effort to take a few days and focus on my family history, but nevertheless, here is what I got out of it.
My uncle (my mum’s brother) took me to L’Għarb in Gozo, where my nanna was born. There I met a young priest who helped me go back a few generations. He wasn’t as helpful as the little lady from Xagħra, but I was grateful to have gotten as much as I did. It wasn’t as productive because my uncle didn’t know as much as my mum in relation to approximate dates as he is the youngest out of 10 children, but we managed. I tried to get to the churches of the villages on dad’s side, but I needed appointments to go visit to get what I needed, and I left it to the last minute to inquire.
Last month, I decided to pick up again on my family history. An old family friend had inspired me to do so, as he has knowledge and advice in relation to looking up Maltese records. I thought he may be able to help me find out something about mum’s nanna that was apparently born in Tunis. I had googled and searched on the internet on how to obtain a birth record from Tunis, but never with any luck or anything with an easy process. Fortunately, this family friend has access to a database for passports, in particular Maltese who travelled or migrated to and from Malta back in those days. Long story short, we did not find anything on mum’s nanna. As persistent as I am, and adamant that there has to be something out there on the internet, I started to google her name with an approximate year of birth (I knew her date of death, so I estimated from this). I came across a website, similar to that of ancestry.com, but it is Algerian/French-based.
Low and behold, her name came up, with birth in Algeria Bona (now known as Annaba) on the other side of the border of Tunis. I came to realise however, this was not her – but I kept persisting! I came to find it was in fact her cousin! I came across a whole heap of Cremona’s!… I hit the jackpot! Read more about my win here.
I was happy and very proud that I had gotten as much as I had gotten on mum’s side. However, I felt bad that I hadn’t found anything more on dad’s side other than what we already know.
I decided to make a start with dad’s side. With what I could do from here, I thought I would start with his dad’s nannu, buz nannu Pawl. Dad spoke about him a lot. Dad is a butcher by trade, his father was and so was buz nannu Pawl. Apparently buz nannu Pawl imported livestock from Tunis, so I thought I could possibly find something in relation to this. Never did I think I would find what I found! With the help of my family friend, I got my hands on his passport application! Read more about my findings on buz nannu Pawl here.
I was always inspired to create a family tree, and that’s about it really. It never crossed my mind to collate all bits and pieces, stories, photographs, documents and make a book out of them. I have seen a couple of these family history books and think they are absolutely amazing. But because I don’t have anything on my family, the idea never came to mind that I could do it too. So with the thought that I may find something on dad’s nannu and mum’s nanna – who is to say I can’t make a book like those I have seen? Even if I just collate oral histories from my family members and create something in memory of my grandparents and their parents.
For some people, things like this don’t matter to them or don’t interest them. For me, living in Australia and growing up without my grandparents, I always felt a missing link. This might be something that will help me close that link.