‘In the grand scheme of this terrible and wonderful universe, things have been messy for my family for hundreds of years.’
Tommi Grace Melito, Great Neck
“I’ve always loved research. Honestly, with the right attitude, anything can be a puzzle or a thrilling mystery. All through my career and graduate education, I’ve prioritized finding evidence to understand and unlock trends across history and present day.
“When my daughter was first born, I found myself on maternity leave, nursing, recovering from a C-section and crippling sciatica. For the first time in a lifetime, I was primarily stationed on my couch without a calendar full of meetings, just my sweet baby and my laptop.
“One day, my sister texted me asking if I could help her find information on a family member named Rocky, who had died mysteriously in the 1940s. That’s really how it all started.
“I found that first death certificate in the New York City municipal archives. In Rocky’s case, we thought his death was potentially newsworthy, so I also researched local newspaper databases.
“I learned Rocky suffocated in a coal yard accident in one of the coldest months of the year.
“After finding out the truth, I was drawn to find more death certificates, marriage licenses, baptismal transcripts, census records and military files of family members.
“With burgeoning empathy, horror, sorrow and wonder, I felt as though I was sitting in a bleacher watching the tragedies of triumphs of my ancestors play out before my eyes. I felt their presence reading about their suicides, the deaths of their infants, their poverty, and their attempts to begin again and create better lives for their children. Sometimes they succeeded; often they did not.
“In the grand scheme of this terrible and wonderful universe, things have been messy for my family for hundreds of years. All I can do is the best I can do, you know? Love my daughter unconditionally and make sure she knows where she came from. The only way to break the cycle is to acknowledge it. I found myself saying, ‘All is forgiven, all is forgiven.’”
Interviewed by Maggie Melito