Was there one person in your family whom everyone else followed around like these Magellanic Penguins in Otway Sound, Patagonia, South America?

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Billy Goats in Puerto Peulla, Chile

Billy Goats in Puerto Peulla, ChileWhat’s it like to be twins, I wondered when I saw these lookalike Billy Goats in Puerto Peulla, Chile?

  1. Who was the center of your family?
  2. What pivotal role did this person play in your family?
  3. How did their death change your family?

Answering these questions will give you an insight into your family dynamics.

Was Your Family Like This?

My Nana Caterina was the matriarch of the large Perri family in my hometown, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. My father was one of her nine children and, up until her death; she was our family’s center.

Nana Caterina was born in Mottafollone, Calabria, southern Italy in 1889. She came to Sault Ste. Marie when she was twenty-three and spoke a Calabrian dialect that most people, including me, never understood.  The language barrier, however, did not impede communication as all of us knew that Nana loved her family above everything else.

When I was growing up, life revolved around Nana; she was the glue, so to speak, that kept us connected. Nana’s house was our meeting place. We gathered there on Sunday and I saw my aunts and uncles and cousins on a regular basis. Visiting Nana kept us connected. We found out what was going on in each of our own families when we went to see her. If someone had outgrown a bicycle, for example, arrangements were made to give it to the cousin who needed it next. We had a communal life and Nana represented the central point where we came together and maintained our connections.

Magellanic Penguin

Was there anyone in your family who refused to be part of the crowd and instead preferred to do their own thing?

Nana died when I was sixteen and my Nonno Pietro moved in with my father’s sister for a few months. Our Sunday visits stopped during this time but when Nonno returned to his house, everything had changed. I remember going there with my father and wandering from room to room trying to find Nana. I had been to her funeral and visited her grave yet I still could not believe that someone so strong was no longer with us. I didn’t understand the emptiness I felt and somehow knew life would never be the same for our family without Nana.

The cycle of Sunday visits never really resumed. Our communal thread gradually weakened after Nana’s death and each family began to focus more and more on its own unit. My Nonno passed away a few years later and, over time, other aunts, uncles and relatives also died. Many of Nana’s grandchildren left Sault Ste. Marie to attend university elsewhere while others became absorbed with their own families. The Perri’s today are scattered all over the place and even those that reside in Sault Ste. Marie spend scant time together.  The family dynamics that defined the Perri’s changed with Nana’s death. Her passing, I realized in retrospect, marked the beginning of our disconnection.

Lion cubs in Samburu Reserve, Kenya, East Africa

These cubs in Samburu Reserve, Kenya, East Africa are watching out for each other until their mother returns. Did you have a protective older brother or sister or was yours a competitive relationship?

Did You Inherit Your Family Dynamics?

My father’s love for our family reflected my Nana’s devotion and I, too, have always valued family above all else.

I have inherited Nana Caterina’s family dynamics but what did I really know about the woman who’d played such a fundamental role in shaping my life?

Family history matters to me and examining family dynamics helped me select Nana Caterina as the starting point for my genealogical research.

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Who was the center of your family? How has family dynamics impacted your genealogical research?  I’d welcome your comments. This series will now explore genealogical resources and the next blog will discuss The Ellis Island History Immigration Center in New York, New York, USA.

My love of nature is reflected in these photographs and I hope you enjoy these family dynamics!