My cousin has had success tracing one side of the family back to the early 1800s by writing to Italy for records. I am going to try to keep it to 5 or 6 generations for the time being just to have some level of sanity. I have had relative ease with finding records of family who left Italy at the turn of the century.
Actually, I attempted to do that very thing. I visited my ancestral village in Italy where my grandmother left about 100 yrs. ago. I met a lot of people with the same last name, but no one had a memory of that branch of the family. I took old pictures with me and one lady recognized a great great uncle of mine but said it was so long ago she did not remember anything.
I have tried something like that with my great grandmother's family. One cousin said she was still in contact, and then changed her story when I was supposed to go over to Sicily to meet some cousins. I then gave up but I do think there are still people there and will try as soon as someone will help me write a letter in Italian that I can send to them. You should try it, you never know who you might find!