The informant is my grandmother. She is Italian, but was born in America. Her parents, however, were born in Italy. Despite living in American, the entire family still had close ties to their Italian roots.
This story is relatively well-known within my family. Most of us know the general information, but my grandmother is the active bearer, the only one that actually tells the legend. I knew this would be a great element of folklore for this project so I brought my grandma to my house and asked her about it. What follows is her version of the legend:
Informant: Well this is a story my mom used to tell me. My whole family knew it, but we I don’t know if anyone actually knows if it’s true or not…Anyways the legend is that a distant relative of ours, I think it’s supposedly a second cousin maybe, it’s hard to remember now, but the story is that that family member was part of the Black Hand. And you know what the Black Hand was? It was a secret group around the beginning of World War I. It was responsible for the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand…and that started the war…So since my second cousin—relative—whatever you want to call him, was a member, we like to say that he could have started World War I. All the history books say it was a specific person, you know giving his name and everything, but you never know, they could be wrong…Maybe it really was some distant family member of ours that started the war.
Me: So what does this mean to our family? Why’s it important?
Informant: Uhm well I don’t know how important it is…but it makes me feel sort of famous a little bit. We can put our family on the larger scale of history. It’s not really a good thing though, to be related to an assassin, is it? (laughs)
Me: Is that why you keep telling it? Because it connects us to history?
Informant: Yes, I think so. It makes our family stand out a bit if I tell this story. People always get a kick out of it.
Me: So there’s an element of entertainment to it, too?
Informant: Oh, yes…of course. It’s a great story and it could be true. It always gets people laughing because it’s not something you usually hear in conversation. Probably no one wants to admit they could be related to the people who started World War I! What would people think of us? (chuckles)
This family legend is always a hit at family gatherings, like my grandmother said. However, while it is entertaining, I think she’s more accurate when she reveals that the story makes her feel more connected to the greater history of the world. It’s easy to get lost in the world, but when someone has close ties to some major historical event, it definitely gives them a place in the world. It’s a way for people to feel more involved in events that maybe they really didn’t play that big of a part in reality. It’s also a way for the family to feel more connected to each other, something my grandma didn’t bring up. If we all know this story, then it creates a more cohesive family unit. In a way, if you don’t know the legend, then you aren’t really a part of the family.