Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sunday, a tour of Bitonto and Bari

This is a continuing saga of our research trip to Southern Italy in search of ancestral data.  This post covers our day in Bitonto and Bari and describes our first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea.  We also get a surprise visitor.  This is the 8th installment.

Despite a despirate longing to "sleep in", our Donkey alarm clock had us opening our eyes at 5:00 AM once again.  We lay there, listening to the animal symphony that was "kicked off" by the donkey.  Sleeping in?  Not today!  Perhaps, tomorrow!

We got ourselves up and ready for the day.  We went for another wonderful breakfast and decided to take a walk about the property.  The farm, Masseria Vero, is very large and there were a large variety of animals and  crops.  Strangely, we had the sense of being in total isolation in the country while still knowing that just a mile away, there was a small but densely packed and very busy village.

We toured this village yesterday and, in stark contrast to the open spaces about the farm, we noticed that there did not seem to be any yards attached to any of the homes.  A satelite image of the village confirms this observation.  It shows "sardine packed" homes along all the narrow streets.

 Here, on the farm, there are palm trees and fig trees and rows and rows of olive trees.

When we returned to the farm house, we found visitors.  Cousin Angela Lattanzio and her husband had come out to the farm to meet us.  What a pleasant surprise.  Vito said he was going to call them, and he did.

Two ladies with the DNA of Michele Lattanzi and Sabina Mastrandrea
 Cousin Angela was excited to meet us and she brought family pictures with her.  We sat and talked for some time, sharing stories as best we could, and often, with the help of English speaking Marie.  Gay and Angela have a common bisnonno, Michele Lattanzi.

While this was going on, in walks Domenico Tricarico, ready to take us to Bitonto and Bari.  This certainly answered the question, "what were we going to do today?".   
We got into Domenico's car and we drove, first to Bitonto, and then to Bari.  Like his father, Domenico is well versed in the history of these cities, and, as a bonus, speaks a little English.

We walked through the streets, saw amazing antiquities, and walked some more, and saw some more, etc.  Look at a few of the pictures.

This church was built around 1180

This 14th Century Palatial Piazza was
designed to collect rain water at this fountain
 We had a very nice lunch in Bitonto and then we drove on to Bari.  Here are more pictures.
Gay's great Grandfather, Michele Lattanzi,
was a Bari Goldsmith, and lived in this castle.

An Ancient Roman road, uncovered during a construction project
Our first glimpse of the Adriatic Sea
We walked and walked and walked some more.  My feet have still not recovered.  This was indeed a full day and I have posted other pictures on the Web "HERE".

We returned to the farm and Domenico stayed for dinner with us.

Another "Masseria Vero" feast
We talked into the late hours and discussed our plans for the next day.  We were going to stop at the Trani "division" of the Bari Archivio di Stato.  If you recall, we had not driven our FIAT for the last three days.  We have been taken everywhere by the kindness of the people about us; a kindness that we deeply appreciated and which made this journey more than special to us.

Tomorrow was going to be a challenge.  First, we would need to find our way off the farm; no easy task in itself.  Second, we would need to find a road north to the village of Trani.  I was going to rely on our Italian GPS, but Domenico drew us a map and explained what route we should take. 

We were more than ready for a good night's sleep.  Buonnonotte!

Next Post - One more angel, a trip to the Archivio di Stato in Trani for more research, and the ride to Rocco San Giovanni, near our final stop, Vasto, Chieti, Abruzzo.  There is more information in the book available from Amazon by clicking the link below.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Time for some tourism

This is a continuing saga of our research trip to Southern Italy in search of ancestral data.  The next two posts will cover our weekend in Palo Del Colle, a small commune in the Puglia region, near the city of Bari on the Adriatic side of Italy.  This is the 7th post.  

Our Alarm Clock (Doesn't every farm have one of these?)
After travelling across Italy, we were exhausted and we collapsed in our farm room and settled into a deep sleep;  that is, until about 5:00 AM the next morning.  That's the time when the donkey began braying.  It was so loud, we thought the donkey was in our room.  The donkey actually woke up the rooster and got him going.  Soon, the geese joined in on the cacophony.  I'm afraid there will be no sleeping in today.

Well, we decided that sleep was overrated anyway.  This was our day to do some sightseeing, so, after listening to the animal symphony for a few minutes, we dragged ourselves out of bed to begin the day.

We found a message on our computer from one of our Palo del Colle Facebook friends, Vito Tricarico.  He told us that today, there  was a festa in the town.  He wanted to know if we would like to attend.  Other than Facebook, we don't really know Vito, but we said yes anyway.  However, we weren't at all sure how this was going to happen.

We decided to freshen up with a shower and then go to breakfast and decide where we were going to go and what we were going to do.  Ladies before gentlemen, and, after showering, Gay was about to blow dry her hair when I went to get into the shower.  This didn't go so well.

And not a drop of water on the floor
You see, Italian showers are notoriously small.  This was not news to me, and I have adapted to the limited arm room, but this shower posed a special problem.  It seems the door did not open all the way, and the width of the shower entrance was unusually tiny.  On my first attempt, I simply got stuck in the doorway.  I was not getting in this shower without destroying the door.

Where there's a will, there's a way.  I'm an ex engineer and I put my skills to use.  First, I soaped up the edges of the door.  Next I enlisted Gay to push.  Together, pushing and squeezing, we managed to get my substantial frame into the shower.  Getting out was also a challenge, but I was ready for breakfast, and nothing stops me when I'm hungry.

Off to breakfast.  There was Marie Vero, our hostess, waiting for us.  She asked what we would like.  After nearly a week of continental breakfasts, we decided that scrambled eggs would be really nice for a change.  Marie went out to the chicken coop and brought back some eggs.  She served them with croissants and some specially made coffee (Italian coffee with copious hot water added).  The breakfast was wonderful.

We sat there and started to prepare an agenda for the day.  The next thing we know we have a visitor.  There, in the dining room, stood Vito Tricarico.
Signor Vito Tricarico - Author, Poet, and amazing human being

Vito saw our computer message and had come all the way to the farm to take us to the local festa.  Little did we know that we had just put ourselves into the hands of a very fine person.  Vito speaks no English, but we managed to introduce each other.  He seemed excited to meet us and had a full day planned for our pleasure.  The first item of business was to get into his car as he whisked us out of the country and into the central part of the town.  

Piazza in Palo Del Colle

Vito drove through some very narrow and crowded streets.  I could sense Gay, in the back seat, holding her breath as we drove "Italian Style".  We were so happy that he was driving.  Eventually, he parked the car in what seemed like the only open parking space in town.  It happened to be in front of his house.  We went inside and there, we met his lovely wife, Maria and daughter, Anna.

We only stayed long enough to use the bagno, and then Vito whisked us, on foot, up the street to a large Piazza.  There was a religious festa today, and it included a parade out to the country.  The featured float in this parade was a large cross.  The parade was forming in the Piazza and we got to see some of the action. 

While we were there in the old part of the town, Vito took the trouble to provide some of the history of Palo Del Colle.  It seems Vito has done a lot research and has even written a book about the history of the area.  He took us through several narrow streets and we visited several churches.  Before long, we met up with Vito's son, Domenico.  Domenico also is very knowledgeable about the history of Palo Del Colle and he could also speak a little English.  Vito went back to his house and left us in the hands of Domenico.

After seeing a little more of the town, we returned to the house for a moment before we got into Vito's car with Maria and Anna and drove to the festa.  There, we attended the religious service which took place in the middle of a carnival complete with booths for games and food.  We sampled a little of the food and mixed with all the people.

At the "Festa Della Croce"

We then went back to Vito's house for an afternoon meal.  Maria and her daughters served cheeses and salami, pasta, salad, sausages and fruit.  There was also that omni present grape juice and we even had a little lemoncello.  We concocted a plan to drive to Bari.  Vito wanted us to see the city.  We would do some sightseeing and visit a church for our weekend mass obligation. 

Before we were to leave for Bari, Vito took us to the Palo Del Colle cemetery and then took us to some of Gay's ancestral streets, and then, to a number of other sights.  We walked and walked and got history lessons galore.  It was very clear that we were immersed in history.  There is nothing in our own country that is as old as the things Vito was showing us.

We came to an ancestral church and noticed that people were arriving for the Saturday evening mass.  We decided to attend.  Vito went home to get his wife and the four of us celebrated the mass together.

Another Magnificent Italian Church

We walked back to the house and prepared to return to the farm, but we managed to convince Vito and Maria to come there with us for dinner.  With a little arm twisting, they accepted.  A little later, Domenico showed up.  We sat and chatted for a long time.  Vito told us that he was going to contact a friend who was a real cousin to Gay.  Domenico asked if, tomorrow, we would like him to show us the commune of Bitonto and the city of Bari.  We talked late into the night with the help of the translation efforts of Domenico and Marie Vero.

Ceniamo a Masseria Vero

This was a very busy day for us.  We had seen many things in Palo del Colle.  We had encountered enormous hospitality.  We have made life long friends and we are very tired.  Buonanotte.

Next Post
Bitonto, Bari,  our first
 look at the Adriatic Sea, and
a surprise visit from a relative
Five Tricaricos and one Barbella

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On to Palo Del Colle
But First, A Few Last Minute Things in Sassano

This is a continuing saga of our research trip to Southern Italy in search of ancestral data.  This post covers our journey to Palo Del Colle, a small commune in the Puglia region, near the city of Bari on the Adriatic side of Italy.  This is the 6th post.

Today, our plan includes a long drive across the country to the Adriatic Side.  There lies the small commune of Palo Del Colle, home of the Tricaricos.  It is near the larger city of Bari. It's a Friday, and our hope is to get there in time to visit the Anagrafe office.  Our next two days, Saturday and Sunday, are going to be sightseeing days.

Before we go, however, we wanted to clean up a few details here in Sassano.  Today is May 2nd and the government offices are once again open after Italy's Labor Day holiday.  Yesterday we could not visit the Sassano Anagrafe office so we decided to go back to the town hall and inquire about civil records.  We also wanted to re-visit the town cemetery one more time to look around and make an inquiry to the caretaker.

We had our breakfast and checked out of our hotel.  Check out is unusually easy when you are the only hotel patrons.  

We drove to the cemetery and found the caretaker at the far end.  He did not know anything about the name Barbella.  Sadly, the last Barbella was likely removed from this cemetery over 100 years ago.  The caretaker suggested a visit to the town hall to see if a map of families existed. 

Clerks at the Ufficio di Anagrafe in Sassano
So, off to the town hall we drove.  There in the Anagrafe Office, we did not find a cemetery map, but we persuaded the very busy clerk to look for some old records for us.  He brought out some books and allowed us to look through them.  This was exciting, and we found some old Barbella records and snapped photos.  We thanked the men and they gave us an email address in case we had future inquiries.  I believe it was their first encounter with anyone interested in these old records.

It was now almost noon, so we stopped at our favorite lunch spot and had some wonderful pasta with clams.  Then it was off to Palo del Colle.  Farewell Sassano!

This turned out to be a very long auto ride.  Somehow, our Italian GPS got stuck in a mode to avoid toll roads, and the result was a ride through some small towns, with some very narrow streets.  We fixed the GPS problem, but that put us on a long detour to a toll road.  Finally, we were on our way to the Adriatic Sea.

We drove through some spectacular countryside.  The many hills were continually dotted with wind turbines along the way.

Rows and Rows of wind turbines dotted the hillsides

After what seemed like a whole day of driving, we approached the village of Palo Del Colle.  Now I was confronted with the day's second GPS challenge.  It seems our GPS did not recognize the address of the farm (agriturismo) we were staying at.  OK, I thought; no problem.  I'll just stop in the village and asked for directions.
Beautiful towns along the way

So that is what I did.  At the first gas station I was at, I stepped out of the FIAT and asked a man if he knew where "Masseria Vero" was.  He told me that he did, but that it would be very difficult to explain.  After some discussion, I succeeded in getting him to point me in the right direction.  I went down the road and made the left turn that he had advised, and I was confronted with another intersection.

Here, I spotted a woman walking her small dog.  I asked the same question, and to my surprise, I got the same answer.  The woman began giving me one direction after another.  I think she sensed I was having some difficulty understanding her.  As she rattled off more directions in Italian, my eyes grew larger, dimmer, and emptier.  Finally, she realized the futility of the task and simply said, "aspetti".  She picked up her dog, got into a car and motioned me to follow her.

After a number of turns, she pointed down a long dirt road and indicated I would find it there.  We began to drive down the road but soon came to another intersection; this time, three way.  I asked a man if he knew the way to Masseria Vero, and this time, he said no.  I was contemplating which of the three directions I should try when, all of a sudden, the woman with the dog drove past and motioned us to follow her.  She, somehow, had sensed that we needed more help.  She proceeded to drive us to the gate of our stop.  I don't think that in a thousand years I would have been able to find this place without her help.  There must be a law against putting up directional signs.  But, as you shall see, Masseria Vero was a very good find.

A very comfortable room
It was evening by the time we got to the farm so there was no chance of getting to the Anagrafe office.  This was not a major setback because many of the Palo records are available on line at Home:Antenati.   So we unpacked the Fiat and moved into our clean and comfortable room.

After settling in, we went down to the dining room for some dinner.  Our host, Maria Vero, brought out course after course of very nice food.
I'm a little confused about what I'm holding
There was antipasto, insalata, nice olives, bread, cheeses, and, of course, some very nice grape juice.  Our biggest problem was figuring out what to try next.  Then Maria brought out some pasta and meat.  We spent a good long time at the table and had some wonderful conversation.  Maria speaks very good English.

We were quite full by the time we retired.  We sat there going over options for the next two days, Saturday and Sunday.  This is sightseeing time and we were considering Altamuro and Matera as prime possibilities.  We went to bed not realizing that some very nice people were going to come and provide us with good company, good history, and private guided tours of many local sites.

Next Post
Our Italian Alarm Clock, 
The shower dilemna,  and
The Festa Della Croce

Next time I come when there's water in the pool

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