The Moment I Knew - Phyllis' Story | The Armchair Genealogist
Start Looking

The Moment I Knew - Phyllis' Story

My Italian Family 
I always had an interest in our family genealogy. I am part of large Italian family and my siblings and I are very close. My parents moved out of the Chicago suburbs in 1958 and had their dream home built. My grandfather, who was by then a widower, moved in with us and lived in our home for the rest of his life. In the mid 1960’s my family converted the upstairs bedrooms into an apartment and my father’s parents moved in upstairs. How lucky were we kids, to have two grandfathers and one grandmother live with us? 

In 2000 my husband, daughter, sister and I spent two weeks in Italy. It was my dream to visit the town where my ancestors came from. My mother thought our ancestors were from a town called L’Aquila so that is the town we toured on our vacation. We climbed the hills and reveled in the beauty. 

Visiting Italy
We purchased souvenirs from L’Aquila and took hundreds of pictures. At the end of the day my sister and I sat on a bench in the town square and talked of our ancestors walking across these same brick pathways to do their shopping. What a sense of familiarity we felt sharing the same space, but different time, with our ancestors!

This was the moment I knew. I just had to make time to research our family history.  

Grandfather Gilberto
My mother and sister lived in Illinois, so each time I went to visit I would pull out old boxes and sit with my mother and ask her for names and details of the people in the photos. My mother’s father Gilberto was born in 1903, ten years after his mother and three older brothers arrived at Ellis Island. Grandpa was no longer alive so mom and I could not ask him questions about the photos.  Lesson learned, interview your ancestors before you no longer have a chance to do it.

I have 7 siblings. My grandfather Gilberto had 14 siblings. Grandpas mother Elvira had 11 siblings and his father Pietro had 8 siblings. We had so many family members through out the world and I wanted a way to reach out to them. I knew my connection would be made via the internet.

In 2010 my husband and I took a trip to Utah stopping at Salt Lake City and we went into the Family History Library. I spent a few hours researching and my head was swimming with ideas about creating a website and building a family tree. When we returned home I signed up for an account at  I made my first entries with my family names. Soon I had little leaves shaking at me, enticing me to “click here”. When my family tree reached about 300 members I purchased the Family Treemaker software so I could print out reports and get a visual image of how all these people were connected to me.

Next I set up a WordPress account and started my blog at It was so much fun picking a template, designing the site, and writing my first story. It’s been almost two years since my first blog post.  Connecting with new family members has far exceeded my expectations. I love it when I get a new email declaring “I’m a Del Principe too!” I have discovered relatives all across the world that I never knew I had. 

In 2011 I returned to Illinois for a visit. New family members and I arranged to meet for the very first time.   We shared photos, documents, and stories. What an amazing day that was. Some of my new cousins and I decided to hire a researcher to trace our Italian ancestors through Italian documents, a task I was unable to accomplish since I couldn’t read or speak Italian. I posted the documents and translations on my website so all our relatives could share in the thrill of the new discoveries.

And the surprises just kept coming. I discovered family members who live in Pescasseroli, Italy. It turns out that my great grandparents were born in Pescasseroli, not in L’Aquila. Darn, this could only mean one thing.  A return trip to Italy would have to be scheduled.  

Meet the Storyteller - Phyllis Zeck 

Phyllis retired from her customer service job in 2006 after 28 years of service, and like other retirees she is busier than ever. She lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon. They have three children who live close by and they are expecting their second grandchild next March. Phyllis has always loved writing. When the world of blogging started to blossom her eyes lit up and she knew right where she was headed! In addition to her obsession with genealogy, Phyllis enjoys reading, scrapbooking, and traveling. You can follow Phyllis on her blog at and you can find her on Facebook by searching for Phyllis Winike Zeck.