Imagine being separated from your mother for nearly five decades and then having the opportunity to reunite … in Italy.
It was a dream come true, Maria Palumbo said of her and her twin brother Danny Palumbo's experience.
The Palumbos, of Plains Township, knew since they were children they had been adopted.
Born in Milan, Italy on Aug. 10, 1963, babies Danny and Maria – through a misunderstanding – were adopted and came to America at 18 months old to live with their new parents, Josephine and Daniel Palumbo, Sr., on Carey Street, Plains Township.
What the 49-year-old twins didn't know is how their adoption came to be and if family still existed in Italy.
Their questions were answered, thanks to Maria Palumbo's boss, Anne Marie Kravitz, who successfully navigated an Internet search that found their roots.
That led to a 10-day trip in September to Italy that was a joyful reunification of a family that had been separated for decades. Maria said it was a long-awaited dream of hers and Danny's to meet their mother, sister, three half-brothers and several nieces and nephews.
Shortly after Danny and Maria were born – as Marco and Antonella Magistrelli – their mother, Lia Magistrelli, now 70, was going through a thorny time in her life.
She was a single mother with a daughter, Rossella, who was 2 and now had twins to add to the family. The children's father wasn't in the picture from the beginning and has since passed away.
Magistrelli made a difficult decision to send the twins to an orphanage to be taken care of until she could get a job and provide for them.
Magistrelli, the twins say, signed a paper that she believed gave temporary custody of her twins to the orphanage.
But, it was really a paper allowing us to be put up for adoption, Danny said.
Magistrelli tried time and again to return to the orphanage to get her children after obtaining a cleaning job and saving some money, but workers there wouldn't allow her to take her children.
At 18 months old, we were adopted and brought to New York in April, 1965, Maria said, noting she and her brother are likely two of possibly hundreds of children who were adopted in a similar way in the '60s.
Josephine and Daniel Palumbo raised Maria and Danny as their own.
Unable to have children, the couple paid a total of $900 to adopt the twins. Danny and Maria grew up like other children in the Wyoming Valley, and the Palumbos provided a loving home.
Around her teenage years, Maria began to wonder about her natural parents, but never pushed the issue with her adoptive parents.
When Josephine died in December 2000, the twins began cleaning out her home and came across adoption and naturalization papers. The discovery sparked an interest, and Maria said she began trying to find out about their family in Italy, but continued to come up short-handed.
It wasn't until this past May, while going through a divorce, that Maria's attorney asked her where she was from. She told him she was born in Milan, Italy.
Maria's boss, Anne Marie Kravitz, became aware of the information and began a search. During some research, Kravitz typed Maria's birth name into Facebook and hit the proverbial jackpot.
In just a week's time, Kravitz had located Maria's sister, Rossella, who now lives in Sicily.
Kravitz provided the key information that led to the reunion, Maria said, adding she herself had all but given up trying to locate any family when her supervisor at Boscov's Department Store stumbled upon a Facebook page.
The Facebook page said a woman was searching for her brother and sister who were born the same date Danny and Maria were and had the same birth names.
If we didn't have our (birth) names, we wouldn't have been able to find (our family), Maria said.
Their mother and sister had been searching for them for at least 15 years.
After making contact on Facebook, the twins had a telephone conversation with their sister but waited to break the news to their mother.
Rossella told them she had been told various stories that the twins were split up in the adoption – one supposedly was in the United States while the sibling was still in Italy. Others told Rossella one of the twins had died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City.
The family then arranged a Skype conversation over the Internet – and they were able to see each other for the first time in nearly 49 years.
Our mother wondered every day where her kids were and celebrates our birthday every year, Maria said.
When their mother saw the twins in the Skype conversation, she asked them to take off their glasses, and put their faces close to the computer screen so she could get a good look at them.
She wanted to see our face, our feet, our lips, comparing how we look to her, Maria said. She wanted to hold us, and kept saying she wished she could.
The twins could communicate with their mother through a translator only – their niece Irene – who also translated back to their mother so she could understand them.
The two and a half hours flew by, Maria Palumbo said.
Keeping in touch via Facebook and telephone regularly through the summer months, the twins' family in Italy soon began to plan a trip so they could be reunited.
The twins said they didn't think it would be possible – money is tight and plane tickets are expensive.
But, they arranged everything, Maria Palumbo said. They sent us a link on Facebook to print out the plane tickets.
On Sept. 21, the twins arrived in Sicily.
While waiting to pick up their luggage, an automatic door opened and the twins could see their family members on the other side, waving and shouting.
I nearly started to cry when our luggage was taking so long – I just wanted to see them! Maria Palumbo said.
The twins were given the warmest of welcomes.
After a 50-minute drive to Rossella's home, the twins did what Italians do – ate well.
The family made Danny a steak while Maria feasted on Sicilian staples – cheese and olives – and then it was time to rest after a long day of travel.
Their first day in Italy was spent packing 49 years of missed time into one day – and fun, of course.
The twins said they visited the beach, met with a reporter from an Italian newspaper who was writing an article about their story, met the town's mayor and had a surprise welcome party.
The party – called a champagne party – took up a city street, included family members and friends, food, free lemon Italian ice and of course, champagne.
My niece Irene said they had a surprise for us, but she couldn't say what, Maria Palumbo said.
When they arrived at the party, a sign hung above a tent that said Welcome Marco and Antonella!
The twins did some sightseeing, but mainly the trip was for spending time with their family.
Dinner was an important time, and the twins ate everything from eggplant to octopus, visited historic temples where their brother-in-law works, and enjoyed the culture Italy has to offer – including its beloved Limoncello liquor.
Life was different in some ways. There's school on Saturday, narrow streets with small cars that drive way too fast, Danny said, and no carpets in any homes – just tile.
The twins used their cell phones to help translate words when someone wasn't around who spoke both English and Italian. And the family waited on them hand and foot, Maria Palumbo said.
Danny Palumbo said when it was time to leave, the tears began and they were sent home with a touching note from their sister.
We'll go back within the next couple years, Maria said.
Their niece Irene has already said she hopes to make a visit to the United States to see her aunt and uncle.
Their mother, who told the twins she wished she could have found them sooner, would likely not make the trip here, the twins said, noting she is in good health at age 70, but the trip may be a culture shock to her.
They are sure their sister, Rossella, would visit.
We gained a big family, Maria Palumbo said, noting only a few cousins of their adoptive family remain in Luzerne County.
Palumbo wears a watch her mother bought her during their trip, and has a necklace given to her with four hearts on it to represent the four new siblings she has found.
Their half-brother, Stefano, had named one of his sons after Palumbo's birth name, Marco.
I have closure in my life, Maria said. A family tree never really had meaning for me, and now it does.
For Danny and Maria Palumbo, searching for their biological mother and family members was a lot of trial and error.
Doing endless Internet searching, calling adoption agencies and looking up adoption records based on what their adoptive mother saved nearly led the twins to a dead end.
It was thanks to modern technology in the form of social networking that finally led them to their large family it Italy.
Maria Palumbo said had it not been for Facebook, she would have ended her search.
Thankfully, she and her brother knew their birth names, which helped greatly in their search.
Their sister even had a copy of their birth certificates.
Palumbo says the more information you know, the better off your search for family is.
Knowing your birth name, where you were adopted, the hospital you were born at or the agency that handled your adoption are all helpful.
Other ways to find family can include:
• Questioning your adoptive parents
• Contacting the agency or state that handled your adoption
• Gathering any and all available documents to aid in searching
• Registering in national and state reunion registries, such as the International Soundex Reunion Registry, so your name and what you are trying to find can be accessed by other people looking.
• Joining an adoption support group or mail listing
• Hiring a private investigator
• Using websites like ancestry.com to search for information if you know your birth parents' names
• Using social networking sites like Facebook to create a page of who you are and what you're looking for.