New book explores local author’s Italian roots

Claremont author Constance Cassinelli. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo |

At age 17, Constance Cassinelli came across letters dated as far back as 1899 addressed to her great-grandfather, Nicola Cassinelli, from his siblings. When she held them, she said it was as if the letter’s authors were giving her instructions: “Remember us. Remember us.”

Right then, she decided to turn that request into a promise. Later, her father Emanuel told her he had thrown away the letters. Decades passed, and her promise remained on hold. Then, some 30 years later they found their way back to her. They’d not been lost after all. She fell to her knees, weeping with joy.

Cassinelli then spent years deciphering the ancient correspondence to try and piece together the mystery of who her great-grandfather was. The Claremont resident describes her decades of discovery in her book, “Caro Nicola: Promise Kept.”

After she translated the letters from Italian to English, she traveled to Italy three times to research her family.

Aside from being Cassinelli’s great-grandfather, Nicola was the eldest son of Giacomo Cassinelli and Pellegrina Garibaldi. In the 17th century the family lived in a secluded rustic house and monastery that was also home to a great many snakes. The home in the northwestern Italian town of Liguria, and the secret paths used by Benedictine monks and the family to traverse the land are still visible.

Constance Cassinelli’s book “Caro Nicola: Promise Kept,” details the life of her great-grandfather Nicola Cassinelli. Photo/courtesy of Constance Cassinelli

She was told multiple times that the monastery no longer existed. But she persisted and eventually found the ruins using the same paths the monks once took.

“I wanted to walk the land of my great-grandfather,” she said. “I wanted to feel what they felt. The whole purpose of writing this book was to capture the lifestyle of the people who lived 175 years ago. We all have people and ancestors. We want to know how did they cook? What did they cook? What was politically taking place? How did they feel about the church? And all that stuff is in here,” she said, tapping her book, “because it affected them.”

Caro Nicola: Promise Kept” blends real history with the author’s imagination filling in the gaps.

She explores how her family survived the European Revolutions of 1848, countrywide revolts against monarchies that began in Sicily in January 1848. The Italian Resorgimento, the unification of various states of the Italian peninsula in 1861, and a young Nicola’s hiding to escape the kingdom of Sardegna’s (now Sardinia) mandatory conscription for boys at age 15, are also part of the story.

In writing the book she’s “keeping a promise that a 17-year-old kid made holding those letters,” Cassinelli said. She added her late father “would weep for joy to know that I did this.”

Referencing the old letters and the family’s home/monastery in the prologue, Cassinelli writes, “It is amazing that two times when something that was lost to me forever was found.”

“I feel that my mission is to teach,” Cassinelli said. “I’m not a teacher, never was. But I feel that we can do things that train others or give inspiration to others. And it’s satisfying beyond belief for me to give that advice because I just think people quit too soon a lot.

“The word ‘no’ is so restrictive that it inhibits creativity. ‘No’ stops people, unless you don’t listen to it. Three times I went back there, and they said [the monastery] didn’t exist anymore.”

She’s hoping readers will be inspired to never take no for an answer, to honor their ancestors, and to get in touch with their roots. She also wants future Cassinellis to know where they come from.

“Remembering the old ones I think is important,” she said. “We all want to be remembered; we want our work to be important.”

From first holding the letters to publication, the book took Cassinelli decades to complete. And with much additional content still unpublished, a second book, “Caro Nicola: Journey to Principio,” which follows Nicola’s life in Cincinnati and his success as a dairy farmer, will be released in the summer.

“Caro Nicola: Promise Kept” is available on Amazon.


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