Joplin man spends 5 decades searching for biological family

November 9, 2018

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — During the summer of 1961, 29-year-old Olimpia Rea, heavy with child, traveled 77 miles from her home in Arpino, Italy, to Rome. Deep within a rust-colored orphanage, not far from the Colosseum, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

For seven days, mother and child were inseparable. But when Rea left the orphanage to return home she did so empty-handed. Her child, christened Antonio Cinzani, would be leaving Italy for the United States, where he would fall into the loving arms of Louis and Mary Louise Sachetta, of Columbus, Kansas, who would adopt him.

Soon after arriving in the United States, Antonio received a new American name: Kerry Sachetta.

Now an assistant superintendent for operations for Joplin Schools, Sachetta has devoted much of his life — a 57-year hunt as he’s dubbed it — to putting a name and face to the woman who gave birth to him all those years ago, the Joplin Globe reported.

“It all began, in a way, since I was old enough to walk. My parents told me I was adopted . as I got older, in my late 20s, I kept thinking, ‘I wonder if there’s anyone out there who looks like me?’ That’s all it really was. That’s when (in the 1980s) . I decided it was time to search for my biological mother,” Sachetta said.

“I wanted to meet her just once, to say hello. I wasn’t really interested in replacing my (adoptive) mother or even having a two-mother type of relationship. That wasn’t my goal. I’ve had a great life. I’m very fortunate to have been adopted. I just wanted to meet my mother. And I wanted to tell her, ‘Thank you.’”

Earlier this year, through an unlikely coalition of DNA and social media connections, and faded stories passed down from people he would meet, Sachetta managed, against overwhelming odds, to solve his lifelong mystery.

Sachetta knew nothing about his biological mother when his search began. Because his adoption had been organized by a Catholic relief agency, some paperwork supplied to the adoptive family was all he had to go on. It did not contain his mother’s name, her birth date or where in Italy she was from — any one of which, Sachetta said, would have greatly helped him in his search. What he did have from that document was a sparse physical description of his biological mother: She was of medium height, in good health, with chestnut brown-colored hair and grey eyes. And that was it.

“I always thought that was a bit strange,” Sachetta said of the lack of detailed information. There also seemed to be very few similarities between the two of them, though he noted his hair was a similar chestnut brown.

Newly married in 1990, Sachetta and his wife, Amber, visited Italy during their honeymoon in March. They found themselves touring one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, he said, but he also was there to actively begin the search for his biological mother.

It was an English-speaking hotel concierge, of all people, who helped him connect with an 89-year-old woman, Jolanda Vesely Torraca, who had arranged for thousands of adoptions overseas after World War II.

“In a matter of a couple hours he’d called Jolanda ... for us to visit, and he plotted the rest of the destinations on a map for us — the address of the church of my baptism, the address of the orphanage, my original birth certificate in a ledger-type book at City Hall offices,” Sachetta said.

Torraca, he discovered during his talk with her, was a well-known and respected philanthropist who had helped women and refugee children during and after the war. She also had started the orphanage where his biological mother had left him after those seven days. Torraca had even studied the American adoption system and built a strong relationship with Catholic Social Services, which aided in the transportation of Italian orphans across the Atlantic. Despite not finding his mother, Sachetta said, “I felt good about it. I felt like I’d made a lot of headway.”

But then life intervened. Professional jobs and two growing sons occupied his time. The search slowed, though Sachetta said his Italian-born biological mother was never far from mind.

For as long as he lives, Sachetta will never forget the name — John Campitelli. He was another of those strangers who out of nowhere aided his search.

“This guy is awesome,” Sachetta said of his friend. “He is just an unbelievable guy.”

Campitelli, much like Sachetta, was born in Italy and adopted out to American parents. He also yearned to find his biological mother. Campitelli took the search one step further, however, by moving back to Italy. There, he succeeded in finding, and befriending his own biological mother. The results were so rewarding he decided to help other Americans connect with long-lost Italian family members. Sachetta, in 2013, was put in touch with Campitelli through a friend, and Sachetta’s search would be one of many Campitelli personally took under his wing.

Campitelli told Sachetta to start with a DNA test with a genetic genealogy website, and Sachetta chose Ancestry.com.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Sachetta said, chuckling at the memory. “I spat in a tube and sent it off.”

The results, when they were posted on the website, were discouraging.

“There were no matches,” Sachetta said. “Just nobody. Like no first cousins, no close relatives. The closest relative that I was matched to was something like a fourth cousin, and that’s way down the line.”

Campitelli suggested he use another genealogy website, GEDMatch.com.

When those results were posted, Sachetta’s top match was a woman by the name of Cassandra VanAmburg. The website pegged her as Sachetta’s third cousin.

“I had to look up to see what a third cousin was,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t know what that meant. I knew about first and second cousins, but what the heck was a third cousin?”

A very distant relative, it turns out. Sachetta and the woman shared a centimorgan count of between 80 and 90, which was less than 1 percent shared DNA between the two of them. In genetics, a centimorgan is a unit for measuring genetic linkage. To put that number in perspective, the centimorgan count shared by Sachetta and his own son, Gabe, is 3,439.

After some hesitation, Sachetta reached out to VanAmburg, emailing her about his search for his biological mother.

And then, Sachetta said, a “miracle” happened. VanAmburg quickly responded, telling him about how her father had told her a story, long ago, about “someone in the family” possibly going to Rome to give up an infant child. She said that woman had been from Arpino, Italy. Reading this, Sachetta said he got excited.

Could it be?

Sachetta next connected with VanAmburg’s father, and after comparing notes, they discovered they were one generation off. The woman they’d been discussing was not Sachetta’s mother.

Sachetta had done all he could up to this point. He would now need others — complete strangers — to take their own DNA tests in order to create more useful matches that he could follow. The waiting was the worst part, he admitted, “because somebody has to take DNA tests and you’re just hoping they do that.”

He and his wife checked Ancestry.com and other sites daily.

In the summer of 2017, he discovered a new name at the top of his DNA list — Tina Hudson (92 centimorgans), another third cousin.

Again, he fired off a greeting and information about his search. Her reply? “I think my mom may know something about this story.”

After speaking to Hudson’s mother, Susan Rea-Iafrate, he discovered both Hudson and VanAmburg were first cousins.

“You’re kidding me,” Sachetta remembers saying, his jaw dropping. The two women’s fathers were brothers.

“So I had contacted two third cousins that were related to one another and a year apart,” he said with a shake of his head. “At this point I felt like I was getting close. I was getting there. Somehow, I’m in the ballpark.”

During ongoing discussions with Rea-Iafrate, he was put in touch with another relative, Franco Paolozzi, who lived in Pennsylvania. Simultaneously, Paolozzi was calling his relatives in Italy, telling his aunts and uncles about this strange man from Missouri who was wondering if he was a long lost family member. The more they talked, the more some of the aunts and uncles recalled long-ago details about a sister — Antonia Rea — heading off to Rome in the early 1960s to have a child. Could all of this be true, they asked themselves. Could this American be Antonia’s lost son? Paolozzi decided to take a DNA test to find out.

“His willingness to take a DNA test ... was critical,” Sachetta said of Paolozzi. “Once his DNA verified the closeness of our relationship (cousins), we knew I was in the right family.”

It also happened that Antonia’s son, Nunzio Magliocco, was living in Ireland.

On Christmas Eve 2017, Sachetta picked up the phone and called Magliocco.

“Hey, I think you may be my brother,” he told the man.

“Yeah,” Magliocco immediately answered. “I heard this story from one of my aunts one time that maybe my mother had a child after me. But I thought they were messing around with me.”

A pause.

“Yes,” Magliocco said. “This could be true.”

He would have to take a DNA test to prove it.

“By this time everything is going great guns,” Sachetta said. “Nunzio and I had become Facebook friends ... treating each other like brothers. My kids became friends with his kids, everybody was talking.”

Two months later, Sachetta was watching television upstairs when Amber excitedly called his name. On his Ancestry.com page, Magliocco’s DNA results had been posted, listing him third — right beneath Sachetta’s two sons, Gabe and Luke — with a centimorgan count that had risen to the low thousands.

But Sachetta’s heart sank. Ancestry.com listed Magliocco as a first cousin, not a brother. Soon after, he discovered the woman he thought might be his biological mother, Antonia, was actually his aunt, and that the woman had died three years earlier.

“That is when I knew we just had to keep getting cousins to take DNA tests to narrow it down,” Sachetta said, adding, “I never thought about stopping. I couldn’t stop. I was so far in.”

In March, Sachetta received phone calls from two men, Roberto and Santino Rea, half brothers, both claiming to be Sachetta’s first cousins. Both lived in Ireland, like Magliocco, having immigrated there from Italy decades earlier.

Sachetta couldn’t quite believe his luck. He’d launched his search with little to go on, but now he’d befriended two third cousins and three first cousins, and a slew of aunts and uncles.

“It was just wonderful,” he said.

The two half brothers got right to the point: They wanted to help Sachetta track down his mother. To help him do that, they and another cousin, Fabio, would each take DNA tests with Ancestry.com. By doing this, they could whittle down the 11 aunts to determine if one might be Sachetta’s biological mother. They also emailed him birth dates of these aunts and uncles.

Meanwhile, Campitelli was hard at work trying to track down any additional documentation that might list Sachetta’s biological mother’s birth date. At one point, Sachetta had appealed to the Juvenile Court in Rome as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for records. He’d also filed a Freedom of Information Act with the U.S. government to obtain his Alien File, which he received, though it contained nothing he didn’t already have in hand.

“When I sent my records to an advocate in Rome to appeal to the Juvenile Court on my behalf, my case took almost two years to get any traction, because the judge, Vanessa Carocci, looked in Italy for my records and could not find anything,” Sachetta said. “Upon prompting from John Campitelli, the juvenile judge decided to write to the Italian ambassador in Washington, D.C. At that point the Italian embassy intervened in my case with the USCCB. The USCCB then indicated the local Catholic Social Services Agency should release the entire file. John’s persistence paid off.”

Because of that USCCB decision, Sachetta also received a phone call from the Rev. Mike Simone, a Catholic priest from Wichita, Kansas, and family friend — the two had grown up near each other. He told Sachetta that his records in Wichita would be released to him.

“What do you mean, my records?” Sachetta asked him. “I thought I had all of my records.”

“Oh no,” Simone told him. “There’s a lot more.”

Two days later, 150 PDF pages found their way into Sachetta’s email. Filing through the pages, he came across a date: April 7, 1931.

“It just shined like a diamond at me,” he said of the date. “It was the day my mother was born.”

Rifling through the birth dates of the various aunts Santino Rea had emailed him, he found a Rea woman with the identical birth date — Olimpia Rea, the oldest of the 11 Rea siblings.

Sachetta turned to his wife, and said: “Amber, my mother’s Olimpia Rea.”

He immediately got on Facebook and asked Santino if that date meant anything to him.

“Sure,” Santino responded. “That’s my mother’s birthday.”

A pause.

“You’re my brother,” Santino replied.

He would later find out that he was a half brother. Olimpia Rea had had four children — Santino, Kerry Sachetta, Luciano and Roberto — from three different men. Santino and Sachetta had different fathers. Luciano and Roberto shared a third man as their father.

Luciano, he learned, had been killed in an automobile accident in 1986.

Olimpia died two years later, most likely of complications from diabetes. Sachetta wonders if she was distraught over the death of her son, Luciano.

“So when Amber and I went to Italy in 1990 (on their honeymoon), my mother had already been deceased for two years,” Sachetta said.

“I have no ill feelings about why Olimpia gave me up for adoption,” Sachetta said. “Of course I wondered why, but I have not, nor do I dwell on it. She made a decision that was best for both of us at the time. She already had another child (Santino). Obviously my biological father was not present and life was very hard for her — she could not read or write because schooling for her was nonexistent during the war years.

“And the great thing is, I was so fortunate to (have been) adopted and cared for by the great parents I have.”

Sachetta likened his search to finding a needle in a sprawling haystack.

“It really was like that, because when you start out with a third cousin, you really don’t have much to run on. In a way, it’s like solving a mystery. It just takes a lot of patience. And without DNA, of course, none of this would have happened. That, and stories passed down through generations. Those stories were so important.”

Not only had Sachetta found his mother’s identity, but along the way he’d also discovered two half brothers and a first cousin — Nunzio Magliocco — that he said he now treats like a third brother.

Over the summer, the Sachetta family booked a trip that took them to Ireland, France and Italy. He met more than 120 relatives during four celebrations that he said felt like family homecomings — one joyous occasion after another.

“They just treated us way better than we deserved to be,” he said of his extended family. “I was just happy to meet them when I did and to have the time we have left to spend together.”

Sachetta is working now to get his original birth certificate in Italy changed from Antonio Cinzani to Kerry Sachetta, so he can apply for Italian citizenship.

“Now the pressure is on me to learn Italian,” he added with a grin.


Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com

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