Sunday, November 30, 2014

This is a continuing blog about our genealogical journey through southern Italy.  It is supplementary stories from our book, "1800 Kilometers in a FIAT 500", available at Amazon.  This is the fourth episode.

The hillside commune of Padula, The Museum of Surnames, and another visit to The Church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Sassano


We continue our quest to discover information of our Italian ancestors in Italy.  The game plan for our second day in Sassano was to visit genealogist Michele Cartusciello in the nearby community of Padula, and return to Sassano for the 5:00 PM mass to meet Don Otello Russo and ask him if we could look at his archive of old records.

The Road to the Museo Del Cognome
After breakfast, we got into our Fiat and started the short trip to Padula.  Our GPS led us down a very narrow country road which was bad enough, but then it told us to go up the street you see in the illustration.  We did not like the looks of this narrow thoroughfare, so we drove a little further on the main road.  Before long, we came to a breathtaking overlook.  We still had about half the mountain to get to the town, but we stopped here to take a look around.  We could see for miles.  On the left of this picture you can see the Monastery of Saint Lorenzo.  Padula is behind us, but in the distance you can see one of the many hill towns that dot this area.

Looking down the mountain from Padula
We got back into the Fiat and found our way to a piazza in Padula where parking was available.  We stopped to ask some locals if they knew where the Museum was, and we found out it was within walking distance.  We were about to undertake the hike when we were approached by a gentleman who was a friend of Michele and he offered to drive us there.   So, we got in his car and away we went, 

Hard to believe, but it's not the three musketeers
When we arrived, he introduced us to Michele and we exchanged some pleasantries.  Then we got down to the business of genealogy.  Michele proved himself to be a competent genealogist and he displayed much of the work he had done.  His walls are covered with interesting pictures and documents.  He also runs a school for youngsters to teach them genealogy; what a unique calling.  He had some interesting data on Frank Sinatra, Sylvester Stallone and many other celebrities.  We discussed our own search at some length and Michele seemed to believe that we could find genealogical gold in available Notary Records and Catasti (a sort of Italian Census).  When we finished, Michele drove us back to the piazza.  We wanted to be sure to return to Sassano for that 5:00 pm mass.  

Cimetero di Sassano
On the way back, we stumbled upon the Sassano cemetery; what an incredible feeling.  You have to understand that, for years now, we have been privately indexing the births and deaths in Sassano.  Now, suddenly, in front of us, were all the names that we have been indexing, written in marble.  This left us with a feeling of "oneness" that we cannot describe.  We spent some time walking through the crypts, but then it was time to return to the mother church. 

We drove to our favorite open space at the bottom Sassano, and once again began the trek up the mountain to the church.  We had plenty of time, so we took in some of the sights and met some more people on the way.  

Anna and her father
When we reached the top of the mountain, the church was still closed.  We were almost forty minutes early.   It was raining, and our new friend Anna was there.  She invited us to come to her home just a few blocks down.  We accepted.  She wanted us to get out of the rain and meet her father who was able to speak a little English.  We had a nice visit and Anna served some homemade cake.  The cake was good, but the companionship was better.

We made our way back up the mountain near 5:00 pm and to our dismay, DISASTER, the church was still locked.  Oh no!  How are we going to see the old records if the church is locked up?  Anna made a quick call and found out that the mass this day was in the morning.  No mass tonight.  Now what?

The local gelateria
Dejected, we slowly crept down the wet cobblestones of  the mountain village, meeting more people on the way.  Eventually we made our way back to the hotel and dined on some left over pizza and a bottle of wine.  We desperately needed to pick up our sagging spirits so we went out for a little gelato.  At the gelateria illustrated, we found a chocolate flavor that tasted like cold creamy fudge.

Driving back, we stopped by the rectory once again.  I walked towards the door.  I could see the local youth playing soccer and I could also see that the priest's garage was empty, but then, a stroke of luck.  Don Otello Russo drove into the driveway and I finally got to talk with him.  I had already talked with Don Otello on the phone a few weeks ago, so he knew who I was and what I wanted to do.  We made a date to meet after the 8:30 AM mass at the church.  I ran back to the car, excited, and we slept well that night. 

Next Post
The most important find of the trip

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