Thursday, August 29, 2013


You may be wondering about the title of my blog: What Do You Mean, We're Irish?

My great-grandfather, shown in the picture above, was half Italian. His father was born in Italy and his mother was born in Southwest Virginia. My great-grandfather was born in Southwest Virginia, as was my great-grandmother, who is also shown in the picture. We had been told all of our lives that, as far as my mom's side was concerned, we were Italian, no if's, and's or but's. My grandmother, my mother and my brother certainly had the tan skin and the dark hair that my great-grandfather had, so I didn't question it. In fact, I proclaimed it with pride whenever someone asked about my cultural background. "I'm Italian! Proud of it, too! I make a MEAN lasagna!"

I have been teased about my extraordinarily fair skin, complete with freckles and a light shade of red in my hair, for my entire life. I just figured that my paleness came from my dad's line, which was English/Scottish. Even so, I staunchly maintained that I was Italian, even though nothing in my complexion suggested that there was anything Italian about me. People often looked at me, with what I describe as the "Elvis lip confusion face" when I loudly proclaimed, "I'm Italian! Definitely not Irish in any way, shape or form!"

My husband is indeed half-Italian and our last name is proof of that pudding. Once we got married, I held onto that last name for dear life, because that solidified my Italian-ness! No mistake about being Italian now!

After my great-grandmother passed away in 2004, I quickly came to the realization that I knew next to nothing about her parents, where she grew up, etc. I panicked and jumped onto to determine if I could locate Grandma's parents. I was successful in finding her, her siblings and parents on the 1920 census. In doing this research, I was bitten by the genealogy bug we all know so well. This bite led me to research all branches of our family.

One thing led to another in my research and over a period of a year, I traced my southwest Virginia lines back to the early 1800's. Names such as Dougherty, Kilgore and Armstrong started showing up everywhere. What I eventually found out was that 99.9999999% of my family on both my mom and dad's side are Scotch-Irish.


I walked out of my office one day (sulking, more like it) after the realization hit that, yes, I am Irish. Hardcore Irish.

I looked at my husband and said, "You know, I think I'm only one thirty second Italian. I'm pretty much all Irish."

He looked at me with the "Elvis lip confusion face" and said, "You think?!"

So, while I do have a full blooded Italian great-great grandfather, he is only one of eleven other great-great grandfathers who are mostly Irish, Scottish or English.

Genealogy has a way of rocking us to the very core regarding our identities. All my life, I had identified myself as a true Italian, when in reality, I am, for the most part, all Irish. 

Having done tons of research on these ancestors of mine, I am now proud to say that I am Irish, as my progenitors were some pretty amazing people. My hope on this blog is to share what I have learned about my amazing family and help others who may be researching the same areas/surnames as me.

*Picture in the author's private collection: Bonnie Alverna Reed and Bruce Daniel Penn 1932

©2013 copyright, Piper Oneto


  1. Your first post made me laugh because of something similar in my family but it involves my niece who is 26. She is a college graduate with the last name of Dowd, from her father, who is my brother. Her mom is definitely Italian.

    One day Niece said "I did not know I was Irish" How she came about that is secret that my sister and I have not found out. She has fair skin and blue eyes. We wanted to know what our sister in law told her about her ethnicity. LOL

  2. Fantastic story! I look forward to following your blog.

    My ancestors are largely Catholic Irish, but there are also a couple Scotch-Irish lines that I'm trying to research. I'll be curious to see what you were able to find about your family.