Newcastle woman searches for answers in her past
January 6, 2012
By Christina Lords
Maternal, paternal Italian lineage sparks interest in genealogy
In 1981, Vickie Baima Olson took a trip with her father to the tiny village of Piano Audi, Italy, where her great-grandparents were born.
The trip would change how she would come view her family, and herself, for years to come.
“We went to a cemetery where a lot of the headstones had the same last name as mine,” Olson said. “They put pictures on their graves there. There was a picture there of a woman, and I thought, ‘My gosh, she looks like she could be my twin.’”
That moment sparked an interest in Olson, a third-generation Newcastle resident, and her family since.
As a longtime humanities and social studies middle school teacher for the Issaquah School District, Olson said she’s always been interested in research and learning more about the past.
In 2000, Olson said she got serious when it came to uncovering her roots. She started learning more about her family through records, such as birth certificates, death certificates, marriage documents and others through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Family History Center in Bellevue, online and through family testimonials.
She’s even started to learn the Italian language.
“It’s something that you just kind of get hooked on,” she said. “People will start looking for something and discover something, and it’s almost like things just start falling into place.”
Olson knows both sides of her lineage emigrated from Italy, but she said she still has questions about how — and why — they came to this country.
“As Italians, they were looked down upon,” she said. “They were discriminated against. The struggles of leaving everything familiar behind and then coming to a country where they’re completely unfamiliar … for them to be able to surmount all of the barriers and all of the things they had to go through, for me, was pretty inspirational.”
“My dad’s side of the family is fairly transparent,” she said. “Then, I started trying to find my mom’s ancestors and there still are so many mysteries. There are so many twists and turns. There were a lot more difficulties.”
Although Newcastle was only incorporated as a town in 1994, Olson’s family has been in the area for at least 110 years, showing up on the U.S. Census as early as 1900.
Olson’s father’s side of her family, the Baimas, worked as coal miners in the Newcastle area. The Baima House, an original coal company house that has been preserved and listed on the historical register, and one of the few historical structures still standing in Newcastle, bears her family name.
Olson’s mother’s side of the family, the DeLeos, farmed 180 acres of land that remains intact near the south side of the Cougar Mountain Wildland Park. The family received the acreage under the Federal Land Grant Act before Washington was established as a state.
Anyone interested in their family’s genealogy should start interviewing living relatives as soon as possible, she said.
“If people want to do this, they really are a gold mine of information,” she said. “I still think about things that I wish I could go back and ask my father since he passed away.”
A wealth of information can be found in guidebooks and online, as well as documents available through the Family History Center. The centers are a branch of facilities of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and can be used by anyone interested in looking for answers in the past.
“Who we are, really, and not just what we look like, but a lot of our values and our cultural characteristics, we owe to our ancestors,” Olson said.