A New Dual Citizenship Story
by David Crellin
On October 22, 2015, at the Italian Consulate in Boston, my wife will present her application and supporting documentation for dual Italian-American citizenship. It will culminate a sometimes frustrating but fascinating, and ultimately satisfying, year-long process that so far has consumed close to 200 hours of my time.
It all started when one of our three adult sons informed us that a colleague had just received his dual citizenship. He proposed that we undertake the same initiative on my wife’s behalf. After all, he said, we had copies of her grandfather’s Sicilian and her father’s American birth certificates as well as a copy of her grandfather’s naturalization papers. Together, he informed us, the three documents proved that my wife’s father, though born here, was born before his father became a U. S. citizen. That was, he proclaimed, all we needed for my wife to become a citizen. If it had been the other way around, for instance if my wife’s father had been born after his father had been naturalized, it would have been impossible. But it was possible, and it meant that once “Mom got her citizenship” he and his brothers could apply for theirs through her. It would be much, much easier and less expensive for them to do it that way. Although they could have applied simultaneously with her, it would have meant obtaining four copies of every document, saving time but adding significantly to the expense.
Getting their citizenship was the important part, he informed us. All three of them have been to Italy at least once; one, who’d spent a year in university there and spoke fluent Italian, had established personal contact with several branches of the family in Sicily. The day they got theirs, furthermore, their children, who’d all be under eighteen, would automatically get theirs. It would open to them a world of possibilities for travel, school, living and working not only in Italy but all the other countries in the European Union.
A call to my son’s colleague turned out to be sobering to say the least. He referred me to the consulate’s website for a list of required documents but then listed them briefly and explained that all had to be no more than a year old when presented to the consular officer. So much for all those old birth, marriage, and death certificates we had hanging around that had misled me to believe this process wouldn’t be so hard after all. Now I’d be writing and paying for all new copies.
The consulate’s website quickly confirmed the daunting challenges ahead. It said, for example, that documents could be no more than six months old—though a consular officer good enough to answer my phone call informed me that he’d accept them with dates up to a year before the appointment. But then there was the list of what we’d need: paternal grandparents’ birth certificates and marriage certificate from Sicily; their naturalization documents and death certificates; my in-laws’ birth, marriage, and death certificates; my wife’s and my birth and marriage certificates all from this country. All the American documents, once obtained had to receive certifications of authenticity, called “apostilles,” from the Office of the Attorney General in whatever state they had been issued—in our case New York State–and then be translated into Italian.
At this point there was no doubt I’d need help and I turned to the web in the tenuous hope of finding an agency or reliable individual who could guide me through the process and perhaps provide direct support in obtaining the documents from Sicily. After one false start with a company that promised Italian documents for a substantial fee with no guarantee and still, to this day, hasn’t produced anything, I fortunately found my way to “Sicilian Family Tree” and Jennifer Petrino, who is more than any other factor the reason we why find ourselves at the point of simply waiting for our appointment.
Once at her website, I was immediately impressed with Jennifer’s description of her approach, and used the Contact form to provide her with my contact information and a brief description of my situation. Imagine my surprise when I immediately received a two-page response from Jennifer addressing my wife’s situation specifically, and laying out, with lots of encouragement, the process ahead. Her deposit requirement of $50, given the time and care she had taken in her response, seemed to put my investment little at risk. It was the beginning of a weekly, if not more frequent exchange of e-mail messages and even phone calls, in more tenuous moments, that have not yet ceased. In the process I discovered Jennifer’s extraordinary breath of knowledge about Sicilian genealogy, about accessing and using on-line resources, and about the many intricacies of applying for citizenship. I also discovered her caring and compassion in the most discouraging moments and her resourcefulness and determination to help her clients complete the process successfully to the extent they are committed to doing so.
Even at that, anyone contemplating this process has to understand the amount of time and effort involved to say nothing of the cost for obtaining documents. In many cases, inconsistencies in dates, spellings of both first and last names, and name changes from document to document require them to be corrected officially. Then you still have to get apostilles, have them translated and the translations are notarized too. In our case, documents for my wife’s grandmother had somehow ended up with three spellings of her first name and three different birth dates. They all had to be officially reconciled and were, with the help of Jennifer and her agent in Sicily, but the process took extra time and money.
The worst problem, though, was the lack of a birth certificate for my mother-in-law, who had died many years earlier and whose birth certificate had likely been discarded when my father-in-law remarried. Under New York State law, a birth certificate can be issued only to the person herself or himself or to a parent. All other cases, ours included, require a court order, requiring the services of a New York attorney, a filing fee and a long wait for a court date.
It was one of the places where I most appreciated Jennifer’s commitment to helping her clients through the process at the lowest possible cost to them. It means her first impulse is always for people do whatever they can themselves, with her assistance of course: write their own letters, make their own phone calls, etc. before she does these things for them herself if asked. At the same time, she is ready at a moment’s notice to do whatever she is asked for those who lack the time or confidence about their ability to do things for themselves. In retrospect, I cannot imagine having done it without her.
October 22, the first appointment we could get at the consulate when all our preparations were completed in June, is still almost four months away. As a family, however, we are all very excited. Two of our sons live in Boston and have asked and gotten permission to join their mother in her interview. I think, among other things, they regard it as an opportunity to prepare for their own interviews, which cannot come too soon to suit them. First, though they must go through, in vastly simplified form, the same process my wife is now completing. I have already given them, however, the same advice, I would give anyone, based on my experience of the past year: “Do not even, for one second, think of doing this without Jennifer Petrino at your side.”