When American writer Ariel Sophia Bardi discovered she was eligible for Italian citizenship through her great-grandfather who had settled in Baltimore, it led her to a tiny, seemingly undiscovered village in Italy.

In 1913, Giulio Bardi—my bisnonno, my great-grandfather—disembarked from a transatlantic ship at the Port of Baltimore. After many gray days at sea, he arrived on a hazy, lusterless morning. At least, that’s how I imagine it; it may well have been a bright afternoon.

I picture the young Italian, stocky and lantern-jawed, lined up with other men on the docks. They look unshaven and slightly shell-shocked. Seagulls screech and oil-swirled saltwater laps the pier. Giulio opens a battered suitcase for inspection, dark eyes glinting with the light of a new world.

In reality, I don’t know much more than names and dates. I knew the Bardis were a prominent Renaissance banking family, but until I started tracking my great-grandfather’s immigration papers, I knew very little about my origin. And with family stories focused on a distant golden age, it never occurred to me to wonder what our last Italian relative had actually left behind.