By Noelle Ervin
I come from farmers and makers of deli meat.
I should have known my history was chock-full of food. That much hasn’t really changed. In fact, the more I investigate my family history the more I realize how much we still have in common with my ancestors.
In 2012, I went to a parade celebrating the 125th anniversary of Petersburg, Nebraska. I knew that my Grandmother Baker’s family had lived there for years. What I hadn’t realized was that they’d been in the same area just three years shy of the actual founding of the town.
Johannes Liefeld wanted the family name to live on in America. The story goes that one of his last wishes was that his eldest surviving son accomplish this task. In August 1880, John Liefeld did just that.
He left his home in Hakenburg, Germany, to settle in Iowa. It was here that he married Theresa Schafer. After being in the country for 12 years, in October 1892, John finally became an official citizen of the United States.
Over the course of this time, John and Theresa moved from Iowa to eastern Nebraska. While they’d been in America for several years, they didn’t find a true home until they came across Petersburg.
Petersburg, Nebraska, and Hakenburg, Germany, had much in common. Boasting a similar population and landscape, John quickly felt at home in this small Nebraska town. Here, he finally settled down and began farming, a business that has remained in my family for over a century.
While John was settling into a familiar life, Carlo Frances Mainelli was embarking on a new one. The American patriarch for the maternal side of my father’s family, Carlo was about to enter a world far different from the one he knew.
In 1877, his uncle, Donato, founded the Salumificio Mainelli, one of the first Italian sausage factories. It was, and remains, based out of Carlo and Donato’s home in Oleggio, Italy. The business boomed there, but Carlo knew he couldn’t do the same.
In Italy, he had been for the unification of the states. This was a great point of tension and political turmoil at the time. As such, he left the country, the seminary and the family business in hopes of finding a new, more peaceful life.
Carlo had two cousins who had moved to the U.S. several years earlier. They both settled in Omaha. Not wanting to abandon family ties, he soon followed suit. He had to wait two years before his future spouse, Anna Marie Forni, made it to the same destination. Within months of this arrival, however, the two wed. It was now time for the Mainellis to forge their way into a long-lasting family history
There are different ways of observing both sides of my families’ tales. In 1984, Debbie Olson Dailey collected the Liefeld family story from 1650 onward and put it into a book. This book, which details my family’s history, has been shared and passed through many hands. It chronicles the lives of those who made us who we are today.
The Mainellis, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have a hardcopy history. There is, however, a website. It doesn’t give us a comprehensive look over our entire story, but it does give you the opportunity to buy some authentic Italian salami.
My mother’s family has remained farming in Petersburg. Likewise, my father’s family is still rooted in Omaha. Generation after generation, the arc of my family stays the same. Nebraskan. Catholic. Providers. Yet we also amount to so much more.
I don’t know how Carlo would have felt about his descendants becoming artists and visual storytellers. I couldn’t tell you if John would be pleased with us keeping a family farm for over 100 years. What I do know is that they’d be proud to see how their lineages have moved on and flourished. Also, they’d have a great time eating all the insane amounts of food at our family dinner.