Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Story of Bernadette: Part 1 - My First NPE Case

elderly hands
My first NPE inquiry came in 2016 from an elderly 92 year old woman. We'll call her Bernadette (not her real name). Over the course of six months we communicated through email and Bernadette's strange story slowly unfolded.

She enjoyed sending me long emails detailing vignettes from her past. Although her memory was often clouded due to age, Bernadette had lucid days when she painted vivid pictures with her words and opinions.

Often confusing, her story evolved over the following year with bits and pieces unfolding through Bernadette's communications, describing events that brought into question her parentage.

As is often the case with NPEs who find me, Bernadette appeared to be distantly related through several family lines. After researching her genealogy and building a projected family tree based on public records, I learned that we had common ancestors through both of my paternal grandparents. This is not unusual since our roots go deep within an endogamous society located in the alpine region of northern Italy.

Endogamy refers to a closed or semi-closed group of people who often intermarry, with cousins marrying cousins. Although we would find this unusual by today's standards, it was quite common in many of our ancestral pasts. Reasons for endogamy may be based on religious beliefs (such as Ashkenazi Jews marrying only within their faith), societal hierarchy or geographic isolation. 

In the case of Bernadette's and my ancestry, it was because our family lines resided for centuries within a fertile valley bordered by mountains and deep ravines, creating a geographic and cultural isolation of the regional population. This endogamous isolation lasted through the early part of the 20th century. Sometimes our ancestors chose partners from neighboring valleys. But more often than not, marriages were arranged between families living in close proximity and within easy travel distances of each other.

The Story of Bernadette - Part 1


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