As we welcome in a new year and a new decade, I hope everyone had a joyous and safe holiday shared with family and friends.
We return to our translation of Tillie’s 1902 Notebook with another strange passage. Both Loretta (our translator) and I are baffled by this short entry.
Again, we have a page penned by Tillie’s older sister Addolorata (Dora). Although brief, it offers a personal glimpse into Dora’s young life and perhaps hints at a hereditary learning disability. Here is the translation followed by my commentary.
Translation: Page 19, right side
My name is Addolorata Genetti, born on the 13th of August 1889, baptized on the 14th of August 1889. My godfather and godmother at the sacred font were Sisinio Genetti and Erminia Recla.
I am Damiano and Oliva Genetti’s daughter.
I don’t remember anything about my childhood, just that at six years of age I started attending school. I repeated the first class for three years and the second for three years.
At eight I received Confirmation in April 1900, my godmother was Caterina Zambotti.
In this short entry, there are a number of strange and confusing statements made by Dora.
As Loretta points out – Dora says that she receives the sacrament of Confirmation at the age of eight years old in 1900, but her actual age in that year was eleven!
She also says that she repeated the first grade three times as well as the second grade three times! To me this seems excessive. Since both Loretta Cologna and her mother were school teachers, I asked her if this was a normal occurrence. Although schools at that time were strict, requiring children to reach a certain level of accomplishment before advancing to the next grade, Loretta also agreed that repeating a grade three times seemed odd. And repeating two successive grades three times was certainly unusual!
We don’t know whether or not this entry is accurate in describing Dora’s schooling. But if it is, the thought occurred to me that Dora may have had a learning disability making it difficult to complete school assignments. Since I know several people with dyslexia, this was my first thought to explain Dora’s difficulty in school. My own husband is on the dyslexia spectrum. Michael graduated from college with an Engineering degree and has a sharp, analytical mind; however he has struggled with reading and the reversal of numbers throughout his entire life.
Dyslexia (originally known as “word blindness”) was virtually unheard of and certainly not recognized by teachers in 1902. It also has a genetic component, meaning it may be passed down through one or both parents. Here is a definition from the Family Education Network:
Dyslexia is regarded as a neurobiological condition that is genetic in origin. This means that individuals can inherit this condition from a parent and it affects the performance of the neurological system (specifically, the parts of the brain responsible for learning to read).
It’s not uncommon for a child with dyslexia to have an immediate family member who also has this condition. Also, it’s not unusual for two or more children in a family to have this type of learning disability.
Dora may have struggled her entire life with issues tied to dyslexia, now considered a well-recognized genetic disability that affects between 5 – 15% of the population. Although I’m sure she was an intelligent woman who adapted well to her new home in Pennsylvania, Dora probably had a difficult time with the skills of reading, writing and spelling.
What do you think? Does dyslexia run in your family line?
About others mentioned in this Notebook Entry:
Sisinio Alessandro Genetti (1854-1908). This was Dora’s uncle and her father’s oldest brother. Sisinio was the only sibling of Damiano Genetti who did not emigrate to America. Tragically he died in Castelfondo at a rather young age of 44 due to tuberculosis.
Erminia Enrica Genetti Recla (1876-1972). This is Dora’s aunt and her father’s youngest sibling. Erminia emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1890, a year after becoming Dora’s godmother. She eventually settled in Spokane, Washington with her husband, had eleven children (eight survived to adulthood), and died at the advanced age of 95. Erminia outlived her goddaughter by six months.
Caterina Dallachiesa Zambotti (1853-1939). Most likely this is the person Dora references as her Confirmation godmother. Caterina was her aunt by marriage, married to her mother’s brother, Simone Zambotti.
Learn more about Dyslexia: