I showed this picture of an uninhabited house in Mottafollone to my father. The records I examined at the Town Hall revealed that Nana’s family had been poor farmers and he wondered if she’d ever lived in a place like this.

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A sign from Cetraro to Mottafollone

I saw this sign when we were driving from Cetraro up the mountain road to Mottafollone.

In The Inheritance, Caterina is the main character who is a bold young woman with a passion for life and a rebellion against social norms. This is how I came to decide her name and create her character.

  1. Are you interested in family history?
  2. What are your family mysteries?
  3. Have you conducted genealogical research to solve them?
  4. Have family mysteries affected your family dynamics?
  5. Have family mysteries impacted your life?

We all have family history and though our responses to these questions will vary, family mysteries represent another connection we share.

My family mysteries have:
a). prompted me to study family history
b). fuelled genealogical research to solve them
c). influenced my travels
d). inspired my writing
e). shaped my values

Andreoli's store

Andreoli’s storeThis store was across from the Town Hall where I reviewed original documents related to Nana Caterina. Her maiden name was “Andreoli” but I was unable to discover any connection.

What is your family history?

I am a second generation Canadian-Italian with Calabrian and Sicilian roots. My Nana, Maria Caterina Spagnuolo Andreoli Perri, was born in Mottafollone, a mountain village in Calabria, southern Italy. In 1912, when she was twenty-three, Nana Caterina boarded a steamship named America in Naples, Italy and crossed the Atlantic Ocean as a steerage passenger. She landed at Ellis Island, New York on January 13, 1913, moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada and married my Nonno, Pietro Perri, in 1915. My father, Arnold Joseph Perri, was one of her nine children.

Nana Caterina could not speak or write English. Little was known about her early life and I started genealogical research to solve her family mystery plus explore my Calabrian roots. My research shed some light on her past and I went to Mottafollone, Calabria to learn more.

Have you been on a pilgrimage?

A pilgrimage is a sacred journey and my 2004 trip to Mottafollone became one for my father as I would be the first of Nana’s blood to step onto the land of her birth since she’d left in 1912. I learned more about Nana while there and gained a heightened sense of Calabria. Despite my efforts, however, much of her early life remains shrouded in mystery and my genealogical research continues to this day.

Did you inherit your family dynamics?

The Perri family was the center of Nana’s life and my father’s love for us reflected her values. Even though I have enjoyed a successful career, my family has always been my priority. My family dynamics mirror Nana Caterina’s and my father’s and I consider them a cherished inheritance.
Genealogical research to solve family mysteries helped me craft my first novel, The Inheritance. It is set in Calabria from 1897 to 1913 and tells the story of an atypical woman named Caterina who rejects social norms and a family disintegrating from conflicting loyalties.

How have family mysteries impacted your life? I’d welcome your comments.

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Nana Caterina's and Nonno Pietro Perri's wedding day

Nana Caterina’s and Nonno Pietro Perri’s wedding day This is Nana Caterina and Nonno Pietro Perri on their wedding day. Nana was 26 and Nonno, 23 when they married on September 21, 1915 in Holy Rosary Church, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.

The Grand Hotel San Michele

The Grand Hotel San Michele is 24 miles from Mottafollone on a precipice overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea near the coastal town of Cetraro. I stayed there when I was in Calabria.