Talking Family Trees with Contest Winner, Jill Barone

Jill Barone is a Tampa-based banking professional whose own family tree provided the branches for her reality-based imaginary outcome for our mystery girl. Barone’s paternal grandparents came from Sicily and Calabria in Italy in the 1910s and then in the late 1920’s ,“when the window of opportunity was closing on certain immigrants,” Barone says.

“I heard the story of my grandmother’s trip across the ocean from Naples on the Columbo to Ellis Island when I was a child.  I would ask her to tell it to me over and over.  Even then, I was fascinated by the story.”

Like her imaginary character, Anna Stankiewicz, Barone’s grandmother crossed the ocean without her father, who had come to the States to work towards their citizenship papers five years earlier.

“It was a long time to be without a father,” Barone says.  “He had to establish residency and that was about a five year span.  I imagined my character Anna had to deal with a similar situation.”

Also like Anna, Barone’s family moved to Cleveland in the heart of the United States,  Her grandfather’s sisters worked as seamstresses like Anna to help the family.

”They worked hard.  They dealt with adversity.  Things got better for them,” Barone says.

“That’s why the image of the mystery girl is so intriguing and the Red Star Line Museum’s search for her so important.  She could be anyone’s grandmother or great grandmother.  A lot of immigrants had a similar story.”

Barone’s fascination with her own Italian family background is currently leading her on a trip back to the family source.  Prior to an upcoming journey to Italy, she sat down and wrote letters of introduction to people located in her family vicinity with the same name.  Like the Amanda Seyfried character in the film “Letters to Juliet,” her anonymous letter bore fruit and Barone found a long lost cousin whom she is planning to spend time with exploring ancestral connections.

When she travels again to Europe to visit Antwerp, Barone is particularly eager to walk the halls and experience the physical spaces of the Red Star Line Museum.

“I can’t wait to wander through those places that had been filled with hundreds of people waiting to start a new life.  I’m also really looking forward to seeing the personal possessions that they took with them, the archival documents and most of all, the photographs. Those faces…you can see so much in those faces.”

(Photographs below courtesy of Jill Barone: Barone’s paternal grandparents, Jill Barone, Barone’s grandparent’s tickets and arrival documents)

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