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

Sunday, November 23, 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 third episode covering our stay in Sassano.

Driving to Sassano

It is about a 2 hour drive from Avellino to Sassano, our next stop.  The drive is mostly on one of Italy's fine autostradas and even though it is raining, we are enjoying the ride.  When I'm not getting beeped at for driving too slow, I'm even able to enjoy some of the spectacular views.

Io sono confuso
 The roads become a little narrower when we leave the autostrada, but our GPS is barking Italian commands and we seem to be getting there.  This intersection only slowed us down for a second or two.

We are headed to Sassano to search for records of the surname, Barbella.  My great grandfather was born and married here.  We are hoping to meet up with the local priest who has access to the church archives.  

Eventually, we roll into the small town.  We have a reservation, and sure enough, there is our hotel, the Park Hotel Montpellier.  It is a little strange to drive into the parking lot and notice that there are no other cars parked here.  It is a little stranger to knock on the door and not get a response.  This hotel is locked up tight.  

The Park Hotel Montpellier in Sassano
OK!  Our next move is to drive around to see if anyone knows why the hotel is closed.  So we entered the driveway of a nearby home and a young man came out to greet us.  We told him our predicament, and he pulled out his cell phone to make a call.  Apparently he knew the hotel owner.  By the time we exited his driveway, the hotel was open.

OK!  Still, it is a little strange to be in such a nice and modern hotel, and be the only clients.  I guess for 50 Euros a night (breakfast included), I shouldn't have expected a doorman, eh?

We settled into our room and ventured out to find some lunch.  The hotelier recommended La Campagnola, a place down the road.  We drove there, and found the food to be excellent.  The company was good, as well.  The head waiter had been in the states and new some English.  We had their special, pasta fagioli, and it was very good.

 With some food for energy, it is now time for a little exploration.  We go on a mission to find the church of Saint Giovanni Evangelista.  This is the church where my great grandfather's parents were married.  

Thanks to google, we already knew that Sassano was built on a hill.  But we were not prepared for what we saw.  This "hill" rose sharply up the mountain.  It seemed like a 45 degree angle.  Although we saw some cars entering the incredibly narrow streets, we decided to park our car in an open area near the bottom of the town.  

We met some workmen who gave us the bad news that, although the church was not far away, it was at the top of the town.  They directed us up the narrow streets to the church.  So, in the constant drizzle, we set out up the mountain.  Somehow, the labyrinthine streets all seem to converge at the piazza where the church sits.

Mother Church of Sassano, San Giovanni Evangelista
To our disappointment, we found the church locked.  There is no one inside.  We will not be searching records on this day.  We took some pictures and began the descent back to the car when we came upon two women sitting near the church.  We exchanged greetings and began to converse.  They told us that the church will be open in the evening for a mass at 5:30.  

These women are simply hanging out at the church.  This is a very poor town, and these women are unemployed. However, they were friendly and seemed genuinely interested in our quest to find family members.

Word must have quickly spread that "two Americani" were roaming around town looking for family.  Everywhere we went, eyes seemed to follow us, and more often than not, someone would come out to greet us.

We next went to the home of Don Otello Russo.  There we encountered a group of young people playing soccer, but no priest.  He was out.

We went back to our hotel room and began pondering on how we were going to connect with the priest and look for records.  Our plan for the next day included a trip to Padula, and a return to the church for the daily 5:30 PM mass.

Next Post
Padula and another climb up the mountain

Sunday, November 16, 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 second episode covering our stay in Quadrelle, near the commune of Sperone.

Genealogy Research in Italy

There comes a time in your genealogy research when the computer cannot help you reach further back in time, or, when the records you want are simply not yet available on line.  When that happens, it is time to travel.  So it is that we found ourselves on an Alitalia jet, headed for two whirlwind weeks in southern Italy.  We're talking about places that Rick Steeves has not seen, folks.

We're on a mission to find the surnames Mascolo and Sorice in Sperone, Avellino.  Our plan is to search for Barbella in Sassano, Salerno.  We will search for Tricarico and Lattanzio in Palo del Colle, Bari.  Finally we will search for DeCristofaro in Vasto, Chieti.

We have done our homework.  
  • We will go to State Archives (Archivio di Stato) 
    • We have checked, on line, the hours of operation
  • We will go to town halls (Ufficio di Anagrafe)
    • We have scheduled our visits on days when the offices are open
  • We will visit cemeteries
  • We will try to find records in at least one church
    • We have talked to Don Otello Russo on the telephone.  He is the parish priest in Sassano. (Google phone is pretty good at 2 cents/minute for calls to Italy)
Now, we are on our way. 

We arrived at Rome's Fiumicino airport, also known as the Leonardo DaVinci Airport.  It was crowded due to the big festivities tomorrow.  Two Popes were to be canonized, and I think half the catholic world was coming to Rome today.  It took about two hours to get our rental car, but we finally got out of Rome and made our way towards Napoli.  Our first stop was at the home of Joe DeSimone, an internationally known genealogist who had graciously rented us his apartment for a few days.  On our way there we saw our first Italian Rainbow.

We had left Boston late Friday night (25 April) and arrived in Rome on Saturday at noon.  By the time we reached Joe's place, we were pretty beat.   We spent some time chatting and then retired.

15th Century Altar at Saint Elia's Church
Our first full day was a Sunday.  Joe took me on a tour of  Avella and Sperone.  These are two small adjoining towns from which my ancestors came.  We came to the main church in Sperone, and luckily, the caretaker was there.  He lets us in to see this 15th century altar.  This is the church of Saint Elia.  Little did I know that one of my relatives was baptized here.

With Pellegrino Mascolo and Diego Sorice

On Sunday evening, our Facebook friend, Pellegrino Mascolo came to visit us with his friend, Diego Sorice.   Pellegrino invited us back to his house for dinner.  There we had a four course meal and met his parents.  

With the help of a smart phone for translating a few words, we had a wonderful evening.  We got home about midnight.  "Buono Notte"

Archivio Di Stato in Avellino

On Monday we drove to the Archivio di Stato in Avellino. There was a little confusion with our Italian speaking GPS, but we arrived safely.

 There we were allowed to look at records from several different years.  We specified the years, and the librarian simply retrieved the books and let us peruse them.  The charge was three Euros for 20 digital photos, no matter how many books you requested.  We stayed there most of the morning and went back to our research after lunch.

1844 Birth Record

Here, among others, I found this record of birth showing that my great grandfather, Francesco Mascolo was baptized at the church of Saint Elia.  What a good feeling to know that I was standing in that church.

With Avellino under our belts, we are ready to continue on our journey.

Next Stop  - Sassano, in the Campania region of the Salerno province

Monday, November 10, 2014

This blog will focus on genealogy in Italy.  It is based on our last trip through southern Italy in search of our roots.  we traveled from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic.  We planned our trip carefully and accomplished many things.  We met wonderful people, saw marvelous sights, and retrieved nuggets of data from local offices, State Archives, and parish archives.  Here, in several installments is our story.  We hope you enjoy it and learn.

Andiamo A Italy

Most of our ancestors were Italians.  Most of these descended from families in Southern Italy.  After careful consideration, we've decided to make that our next adventure.

Andiamo a Italy; to visit ancestral homelands and discover some of our genealogy; a thirteen day journey.  So what is the genealogical plan?

Deep or Wide

Go deep or go wide?  That is the choice I must make.  I must choose quickly because we are leaving in just a few short days.  This is going to take us a long way from home.

We will fly directly into Rome, and then encounter our first major challenge; driving a rental car in Italy.  I plan to close my eyes and step on the gas until I get out of Rome (not).  Then we will head south towards Naples.  We will stop in the small towns of Avella and Sperone.  This is the home land of my mother's parents.  

Do we go deep and look to extend our knowledge backwards in time?  Or do we go wide and search for cousins who may still be in the area?  Let me give an example.

Here is a copy of my Great Great Grandfather's marriage record.  It is one of the oldest records I have for the Mascolo family.


This is an 1831 record which announces the marriage of Domenic Mascolo to Paola Del Latte.  Look closely and you will see that Domenic's father is Giuseppe.  I do not have Giuseppe's birth certificate.  I could "go deep" and search for this, circa 1788.  For such a record, I would need to scour church archives.

Or I could "go deep" and look for cousins.  

I would do this by searching for more of the children resulting from the marriage of Domenic and Paola, and their respective children who might still be living in the area.  This I would accomplish in State Archives and local community offices.

What should I do?  I've already convinced myself that I will be flexible and go where I find the best opportunities. I will be limited by time, and we will have to face the same dilemma at each of the four stops on our journey.

We will spend three days in Avella, and then head even further south to the small village of Sassano.  This is the homeland of my father's grandfather.  From here we will head across the country to the Adriatic in the province of Bari.  Here in the small village of Palo del Colle, we will search for Tricarico's, the family of  cara mia.  Finally, a drive to Vasto in the province of Chieti will put us in the home town of the DeCristofaros, my paternal grandmother.

Then it's back to Rome, hopefully with a rental car that is still in one piece.  On the way we'll make a quick stop at the home of a friend.

I suppose that in each place we will do a little of both; going long and going deep.  But lest you think this is all business, a few days have been reserved for seeing the sights.  We hope to have plenty of internet. so look for pictures.

Ariverderci a tutti