"The first Italian immigrant to the New World was Peter Caesar Alberti in 1635 who raised his family on Long Island. During the colonial period, Italian immigration was extremely meager. The few living in the US by the early ninettenth century were mostly artisans, stonecutters, sculptors and painters from Northern Italy. They tended to be political refugees or emigrants by choice. It was not until the 1870's and 1880's that Italians in significant numbers began to arrive.
After 1890, economic necessity forced millions of Italians to seek work in America. The vast majority were peasants from the overpopulated, destitute southern regions of Italy, the so-called "Mezzogiorno". Our Italian ancestors came from tiny farming communities in the interior mountains. At first these laborers were called "birds of passage" because they came and went seasonally, working in the US as long as weather permitted, then returning to their families in the Old Country for the winter months. Many remained birds of passage. But most who came once, twice, three times or more ended up bringing their wives and children and staying in America.
There is little interest in genealogy in Italy. Italians don't have to search to learn who their grandparents were, where they lived, or their great-grandparents either. They already know. Every day they live their cultural history. For Italians have tended, until the twentieth century, to remain for generations in the comune of their birth, the comune of their ancestors. this is due to the strong attachment to their famiglia and the profound love of their paese (town), for which Italians are justly famed.
It is precisely their attachment to their beloved paese that makes their voyage to America the most astounding and poignant chapter in Italian-American family history." - John Philip Colletta, Finding Italian Roots