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Emigration from the Abruzzo

Every year we have 2 or 3 guests, mainly from the US or Canada, who come over to visit the land of their ancestors. These guests are the direct descendants of the mass migration out of Italy that occurred for the 100 years beginning shortly after the unification of Italy in 1860.

We all have a sense of this mass migration, as well as the influence that Italian immigration and culture has had upon the US, but until I did some research I had no idea of its sheer scale. Italians account for the largest voluntary emigration in recorded history, with about 24 million leaving the country between 1880 and 1965.

In Abruzzo, 1 million migrated over this period; there are now 4 million Abruzzese living overseas, more than remain in the region. Most (almost 90%) went to America up until the second world war, landing at Ellis Island and then onwards to settle in areas rich in mines to work in the iron and steel industries. When the borders of the US were closed to immigration post war, many went to Canada and Australia.

They left because of the sheer poverty of living on a small holding still subject to near feudal forms of tenure – the mezzadria – aided by industrialisation that had opened the door to transport links away from the rugged mountains and near isolation of the region.

When the mezzadria was finally broken in the 70’s, some did return to buy out the family small holdings with money earned in the Americas, but many more stayed on and it is their descendants who now return to see something of the culture and countryside of their fore-fathers.

Our neighbours, the Cacciatore’s, are a family that did return. Domenico left Italy to seek his fortune in Argentina as a young man, returning in the 70s with the money saved from his life overseas, which he used to buy the land that now forms part of Casa del Colle. He sold part of his land to us in 2006 when he retired and his family still live in the old house at the bottom of the hill.

If you’re reading this as a result of looking into your family ancestry within the Abruzzo region, we are happy to assist and help you meet the local community during your stay at Casa del Colle.

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