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Sendik's family tracks lineage back 400 years, to be featured on 'Today'

Posted: 4:33 PM, Feb 20, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-20 19:21:06-05
Sendik family visits Italy in quest to learn about lineage

A Milwaukee father and son set out on a journey to learn as much as they can about their ancestors, with the help of NBC's " Today" show.

Steve Balistreri's father and uncle started Sendik's. If you were part of the family, you likely paid your dues at at least one of those stores.

"All of us, all of my brothers and sisters, we all worked there, my cousins. It sort of was a right of passage," Steve Balistreri said.

With a strong family history in Milwaukee, Steve always was interested in his family roots. It wasn't until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 that he started to investigate.

"You start thinking about your kids and, you know, what can you do for them if the worst would happen," Balistreri said.

Steve logged on to ancestry.com and got to work.

"It's like putting a puzzle together. You can look at obituaries and grave sites and newspapers and other people's family trees," Balistreri said.

Steve searched the data base for almost a year.

"I got to a point where I couldn't take it any further myself," Balistreri said.

He found a strong Italian lineage that got a little complicated.

"I also realized, which is kind of funny, how unimaginative Italians are in naming their children. They all have the same names: either Ted or Steve or Salvator," Balistreri said.

This is probably a good time to mention Steve is named after his father.

"It makes the genealogy exercise a little bit more complex because you have to make sure you've got the right Francesco," Balistreri said.

He got some help from overseas.

"I ended up hiring their people in Sicily to go through the churches and the town halls to find more records about our ancestors," he said.

Steve tracked his family going back to the mid-1600s.

"I guess the more you know about where you come from and some of the people that you come from, I i think it makes your life fuller, and you sort of get a feeling for and learn more about yourself," he said.

The "Today" show took Steve and his 82-year-old father to Sicily, where they met family, saw where their ancestors lived and even held documents, such as Steve's great-great grandfather's marriage certificate.

"I guess the more you know about where you come from and some of the people that you come from, I i think it makes your life fuller, and you sort of get a feeling for and learn more about yourself." — Steve Balistreri

"Saw their penmanship, touched it, It was like, 'Wow, all this stuff really becomes real then,'" he said.

They found commonalities, such as their love to fish.

"All of our ancestors were fishermen in Sicily, and that's what they did for a living and you say, 'Wow, is that just coincidence or is that part of our genetic makeup of some sort?'" Balistreri said.

For Steve, the time and the search was worth it.

"It sort of like completes you. It's like you end up knowing more about yourself knowing where you came from," he said.

Steve is working to get dual citizenship because of the lineage he discovered. The family's journey is scheduled to air Friday on the "Today" show.