Barbara R. Carroll has long known how hard the Italian immigrants in her own family worked when they first came to Rhode Island: Her grandfather had worked in mills operating by the B & B Knight Co. in West Warwick starting at the age of 12.
But as she poured over dozens of oral histories taken from descendants of Italian immigrants across the state, Carroll was struck by how often those stories reflected the same themes of hard work, perseverance and making sacrifices to build a brighter future for the next generation.
It wasn’t all hardship and hard work, of course. The histories also reflect a love of family and pastimes – helping to make homemade wine, or spending long Sunday afternoons at the state’s beaches.
Carroll, a retired teacher who took up genealogy in the 1980s to explore her own family’s multi-cultural roots, helped compile the stories of 51 immigrant families from all parts of Rhode Island that make up “Voices of Rhode Island’s Italian-Americans,” which the Italian-American Historical Society recently sent for a second printing.
PBN: How did you become interested in genealogy?
CARROLL: One of my uncles and I were looking through a family bible from the mid-1880s and we saw a lot of unfamiliar names. So I started doing some research and before long had found my great-great grandparents and went back even farther than that. That was the beginning.
PBN: How did the “Voices of Rhode Island’s Italian-Americans” book project come about?
CARROLL: An oral history had been started about 10 years ago that focused on the experiences of our [Italian-American Historical Society] members. About three years ago, the society decided to revive that project and expand it beyond our membership so we could get a better representation from across the state. When they started sending transcripts to me, I thought, “This is incredible stuff.” We didn’t want it just sitting on a shelf, so we decided to compile some of the most compelling and interesting into a book.