Saturday, December 6, 2014

Last Day in Sassano
Last Chance to Dance with Don Otello Russo

This is a continuing saga of our research trip to Southern Italy in search of ancestral data.  This post covers our final full day in the small village of Sassano, south of Salerno.  This is the 5th post.

This morning we woke up early and excited.  We made an appointment, last night, to meet with the local priest and view old records from his parish archives.  This had the potential to be a very fruitful day.

Anna in the Mother Church of Sassano
We had our free hotel breakfast and then drove, one more time, to the base of the town to begin our climb, on foot, to the upper church.  Huffing and puffing, we rounded the last of the labyrinthine streets and found, to our delight, that for the first time in three tries, the church door was open.  (They say the third time is the charm, no?)  What a relief.  Our friend Anna was there and we entered the church together.  

Gay's new Sassani friends
There were a number of people already there and they were curious about the two "Americani" in their midst.  We engaged them in polite conversation.  They recognized many of the family female names that we were researching and seemed pleased that we were interested in their town.

Can you see me drooling at the sight of 
those registers up on the bookshelves?
After the mass, we met with pastor, Don Otello, and he took us to his office in the back of the church.  His office was a small room with a desk and a floor to ceiling bookshelf.  The bookshelf was full of church registers.  Most of these books appeared to be very old and very unused.

I was excited and I was hoping that Don Otello would simply leave me there with the books, but that was not to be.  One of my goals was to catalog exactly what records he has, but that was not to be.  I was not going to get too close to that bookshelf this day.  Don Otello simply asked me what I would like him to search for.

Although I was still reeling with the disappointment that I was not going to get my hands on those books, I was ready for the question.  I had an old death record alluding to the birth of my ancestor, Michele Barbella, in the early 1700s.  I suggested that perhaps we might find Michele's birth record.

After some time, the Don found the correct books
Don Otello got up on a stool and rummaged through the books.  Finally he came down with a birth index.  He flipped through the pages looking for a "Barbella".  He did not find one.  I could tell he was not surprised.  Don Otello was just a little skeptical because around the early 1900s, the last Barbella had left Sassano and immigrated to America.  Today, there is not a single Barbella in town.  Don Otello, knowing that, was not expecting to find the name, Barbella, in his registers.

I was disappointed, but I switched gears.  I asked Don Otello if he could look through the marriage records around 1730.  He got back on his stool and rummaged about the books.  Finally he came down with another index, and after some time, sure enough, he found the marriage I was looking for.  This register recorded the name of the father and mother of the bride which put me back another generation in my research.  Eureka!  We broke the 17th century barrier.

All of this took some time and I could tell that the Don had other duties to perform, so I took ample photos of the record, thanked him profusely (and monetarily) and we left the church, elated.  We had new friends, a new awe for the church of my ancestors, a wonderful record (in Latin, no less) and, by this time, we were achieving a certain level of "fame" in this small village.

A wet and slippery descent
We inched our way down the slippery cobblestones in a steady rain.  Back at the hotel we regrouped and dried out.  By now, it was near noon so we went to our favorite lunch spot for some fantastic lasagna.

Another new friend
After lunch we explored the town and came upon the "Town Hall".  It was May 1st, Italian Labor Day, so I was pretty sure that the offices would be closed, but, just to see, I decided to go in and see if there was someone at the Ufficio di Anagrafe.  There was not.  However I ran into a friendly poliziatto and we had a nice conversation.  He made sure I went away with some Sassano maps and literature.  When I insisted we take a picture together, he first ran back into the station to get his hat.

Later that day, we made contact with one of my facebook friends, Oreste Barbella, from the neighboring town of Montesano.  We found a coffee shop (bar in Italy) between the two towns and we arranged to meet there.  We had a good time and got to know each other a little better.

Oreste Barbella and (most of) his family
This was our last full day in Sassano, and it was a fruitful one.  Tomorrow we will drive across the country to Bari on the Adriatic Sea, but not before we clean up a few Sassano details.

Next post
The Ufficio di Anagrafe in Sassano and 
a long ride across the country to Palo del Colle

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