You’ve probably seen ads about how DNA testing tells people stories about their family that were never uncovered in the past, stories that were the opposite of what they always believed.
They have nothing on a local woman who took a DNA test and was shocked by what she found – a relative, whose life came to a violent end, at the hands of the mob.
Dr. Joyce Furfaro isn’t your average genetic genealogist. As a neuroscientist, she understands genes at the molecular level and how they get passed down through generations. That extra knowledge didn’t prepare her for what she eventually discovered.
“We had been told that my father’s father, the person I called grandpa, was not actually my grandpa, that some scoundrel had gotten my grandmother pregnant when she was just a teenager, and that was my father’s father,” she said.
All Joyce knew was the last name, Antonucci, and that it had happened in 1930, in Philadelphia, where her father was born.
She learned more when she had her DNA tested a few years ago.
“The closest DNA match to me was a person named Ben whose grandmother was an Antonucci, “Joyce said, her eyes, wide. “Very exciting! I wrote to Ben and got information about his relatives on the Antonucci side,” she adds.
Some of them agreed to do testing, and through it, she found her father’s half-brother and then her father’s biological father, Zabadeo Antonucci.
Joyce said, “Then, I found a picture of Zabadeo Antonucci and gave it to my father to look at, and I printed a pretty large picture. My father said, ‘Who is that?'” And I said, ‘Who do you think it is?’ and he looked at it again and he studied it and he said, ‘Is that me?'”
Turns out her father, Joe, looked more like Zabadeo than any of his several other sons.
When the families finally got together…
“His one brother said, ‘It’s like the old man is sitting right across the table from me!'” Joyce remembered, smiling.
Joyce said when she first contacted the Antonuccis they were a little reluctant to talk to her and she later discovered why. There was a dark secret in the family.
“Zabadeo’s brother Louis Antonucci was married to Jenny Gambino and all I really know for sure, based on the newspaper reports, is that Louis was murdered in January 1930,” Joyce explained.
You might recognize that name Gambino, as in the Gambino Crime Family or one of the five families that dominated organized crime.
According to Chicago newspaper reports, Louis, who owned an automotive garage, was gunned down by the Black Hand, gangsters linked to the mafia, because he refused to pay extortion money.
Police never solved the killing.
“Best guess is, it was the Gambinos perhaps his brother-in-laws, perhaps, unrelated, but I’m guessing it was somebody in the family,” Joyce said.
However, Louis, a father of six was actually one of the good guys, an opponent to the Black Hand gangsters, as was her grandfather, Zabadeo.
“Zabadeo was very close to Louis, raised a fuss. Let’s, I would say, maybe took a rifle, and threatened people. Who knows exactly? I wasn’t there and the newspapers don’t go into that,” Joyce said, adding, “But he took out of Chicago, the next day after his brother’s murder, and went to Philadelphia met my grandmother.”
Joyce said without Louis’ murder, Zabadeo would not have been in Philadelphia, and she wouldn’t be here, because her father wouldn’t have been conceived.
“I never expected that when I went on this journey to find my father’s father,” Joyce said.
And, although she loves doing genetic genealogy, she said you’d better make sure you’re ready for surprises before you start following your family’s path.
“I was really surprised,” she admitted.