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Ancestral Connections

Finding magic across generations

Senior Family History student Heidi Riboldi is proving that history is more than just dusty books and ancient people. Studying Family History has led Heidi to a new understanding of her own family, as well as the formation of lifelong connections.

In Fall 2017, Heidi’s youngest child of eight entered kindergarten leaving Heidi with some well-deserved free time. Instead of relaxing, Heidi quickly applied to BYU and entered school the same month as her son. Her major, Family History, was inspired by a revelation during an annual daughter/mom date to RootsTech in Salt Lake City. Joining Honors was also a natural choice for Heidi. She fondly remembers sitting in on her husband’s Honors classes while he was at BYU. The interdisciplinary approach and seemingly impossible connections were hypnotizing to Heidi. When she returned for her Bachelor’s degree, Heidi sought that kind of magic, as well as the writing and people skills.

Upon arriving at BYU, Heidi joined as a Research Assistant the Center for Family History in the Joseph Fielding Smith Building. While working there, she participated in three Family History Research projects. The first was the Nauvoo project, focused on researching every resident in the mid-1800s. The project triggered Heidi’s deep dive into Family History research, which took an international turn when she began working on the Malta project. Malta has changed its governmental system from a monarchy to a parliamentary system to a republic in a short time span, making record keeping even more essential. Heidi helped to extract information from immigration, passport, and baptism records in Latin and Italian to characterize the people of Malta over this period. Heidi’s latest project has been to manage and organize the Spanish Village project, creating a website where users can navigate a small town in Spain virtually and have quick access to notarial, baptism, and marriage records of people associated with each building.

After studying Italian, Latin, and Spanish for her research, Heidi was able to use the languages during a Family History study abroad. She joined Dr. George Ryskamp as he journeyed to Spain to do archival research. Over the course of the trip, they visited dozens of archives where Heidi searched for records (baptism, marriage, and death) for information on a list of people. It was like being a detective - except the case files were centuries-old, dilapidated books in ancient Latin script.

While in Spain, Heidi visited Cañizo, a municipality located in the province of Zamora, Castile and León where her husband’s great-grandfather lived. When they arrived, the archive was down so they ended up wandering the small town. They passed by a small group leaving Mass and a woman rushed up to her mistaking her for her French friend. Once the confusion was dispelled, Heidi learned that the woman’s sons were the historians and genealogists of Cañizo. The miraculous encounter led to a beautiful dinner and a lifelong friendship. In a later trip, she comments on seeing Cañizo on All Saints Day (similar to Memorial Day) and the beautiful rituals around the cemeteries to honor the dead.

After three weeks in small Spanish towns, Heidi shipped out for Italy with her husband, daughter, and mother-in-law for a personal family history journey. Heidi’s husband is from Argentina and his great-grandparents are from Spain and Italy. Completing his family history has been difficult due to lack of access to overseas records. Visiting Italy was key to finding records that started to patch the history together especially in the cities of Luca, Milan, and Udine.

These overseas experiences were not only important to Heidi and her family, they were essential to laying the basis of Heidi’s Honors thesis. She is researching the microhistory of Spanish migrants, Pablo and Exuperancia, entitled Angel Babies Ascending to Heaven, A Family Saga of Death Across Cultures. The thesis will feature commentary on the death rituals of the Catholic Church as well as the great migration of Spaniards for Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her thesis was certainly inspired by the death rituals she witnessed during All Saints Day, as well as the beautiful stories she uncovered about her husband’s great-grandfather.

Some may see going back to school as lots of notebooks and pens; Heidi shows us that it can actually mean an international adventure and connecting to family and cultures both ancestral and immediate.

Heidi is from Mesa, Arizona and now calls American Fork home. As a mother of eight, Heidi is actively involved in weekly card games, sailing in the summer, and keeping track of her ten-year-old. She is excited to defend her thesis in March and graduate this April.