Russell Shorto

Digging Up Family Roots in Sicily

The New York Times

by Russell Shorto

August 16, 2013

As a writer Iโ€™ve always tended to seek out origins. My first book, about the search for the historical Jesus, was an attempt to get at the โ€‹โ€œrealโ€ story behind my Catholic upbringing. After living in Manhattan for several years, I wrote โ€‹โ€œThe Island at the Center of the World,โ€ a book about the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, the seed from which New York City grew.

Recently I began considering my family. Among its manifold curiosities is our last name. People always ask me about the derivation of โ€‹โ€œShorto.โ€ The story Iโ€™d heard as a child was that after my illiterate Sicilian great-grandparents settled in my hometown of Johnstown, Pa., they enrolled their children in school and said the name aloud: Sciotto. And the administrator wrote it as he or she heard it.