Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Lessons Learned from My 3 Trips to the Old Country

Each time I visit my ancestors' hometowns in Italy, I get a bit more adventurous.

Trip #1

Trip #1 to Grandpa's hometown.
Trip #1 to Grandpa's hometown.
In 2003 my husband and I went on our honeymoon. We planned a trip to quite a few of the most famous sites in Italy, from north (Lake Como) to south (Sorrento). I'd only just begun digging into my family history.

While staying at a cliffside hotel in Sorrento, home of limoncello, we took a day trip to the city of Benevento. Benevento is the province where every one of my ancestors (save one) came from.

We arrived in Benevento without a real plan. But we found out we could take a bus to my grandfather's hometown of Colle Sannita. So we hopped on.

During the ride, we learned the last bus back to the Benevento train station was leaving 45 minutes after our arrival. The bus was filled with college students who were all trying to be helpful. Some suggested we stay in the beautiful hotel in Colle Sannita called Ca' del Ré.

But all our stuff was in the hotel in Sorrento. So we resigned ourselves to a quick walk through town, and we headed back to the bus. We missed that bus because we got trapped in a bank that was in the midst of a power outage. I've written that improbable tale elsewhere.

The bottom line is, I got only a taste of my roots.

Trip #2

Two years later we planned a second trip to Italy. I'd made contact with a cousin in New York whose sisters still lived in Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita. We worked out the details so they were expecting my arrival.

Trip #2 to where Grandpa actually lived.
Trip #2 to where Grandpa actually lived.
My beautiful cousins made me feel like royalty. One cousin brought me from house to house, meeting dozens of cousins along the way. She translated for me when I couldn't understand or find the words. I kept hearing her say "due anni fa", meaning "two years ago". She told everyone how I'd tried to visit the town two years ago, but didn't know where my cousins lived.

The last person we visited that night was my grandfather's first cousin Libera. She wanted me to visit her daughter and two grandchildren the next day. Each one owned a restaurant in the city of Benevento. We met them and spent another entire day being treated with love and generosity.

That's the dream, right? To go to your ancestor's hometown, meet all the relatives, share stories and feel like you belong to the family. It was heaven.

Trip #3

Trip #3, soaking in Grandpa's hometown
Trip #3, soaking in Grandpa's hometown
Earlier this month my husband and I took another Italian vacation. This one centered on my ancestors' hometowns in the Benevento province. We spent three nights in the very same Ca' del Ré (House of the King) hotel the students on the bus recommended in 2003. I'd learned on trip #2 that the owner is the relative of my cousin's husband. Small world. Or perhaps small town.

We visited my cousins with the restaurants again and had a lovely time. We visited my cousin's home and talked about their grandparents—my great grandparents. We walked through the heart of town. The very same streets I'd looked at on Google Street View time and time again came to life beneath my feet.

Now, on the third try, I've seen it. I've gotten a glimpse of my life if my grandfathers and half of my great grandparents hadn't come to America.

You know what? I liked what I saw.

I wouldn't have the same career, maintaining corporate websites from home with my high-speed internet connection. But I would be there among ancient Roman relics, homes that dated back hundreds of years, and a breathtaking countryside.

If you can make the journey to any of your ancestors' hometowns in the "old country", be sure to slow down. Walk through the center of town and observe the people. Say hello to them. You may find they're more friendly and courteous to strangers than you're used to at home.

I'm already thinking about what trip #4 might be like. My goal? To stay longer. To live there for two or three months at a time. To become a familiar face in the piazza. To honor my ancestors.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Finding Relatives in Your Ancestral Hometown's Cemetery

The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's Italian hometown.
The entrance to the cemetery in my grandfather's
Italian hometown.
I've twice visited the cemeteries in my ancestral hometowns in Italy. In 2005 I visited three towns and photographed each grave that had a last name from my family tree.

Over time, I learned the identities of just about every person whose grave I photographed. Some were closely related, like my grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. Others were more distant relatives, but they have a place in my tree.

I learned exactly who most of them were from other relatives. For instance, my mom's cousin knew grandmother's first cousin Vincenzo. She had photos of him and his family.

Two weeks ago I visited the cemetery in Colle Sannita for the first time, and two other towns for a second time.

You can't go to an Italian cemetery and find graves from the 1700s the way you can in America. Be sure to research the burial customs in the country you'll be visiting. They may condense remains into a single family grave. They will remove those who died a long time ago.

The first thing I noticed on my second trip to one cemetery was this reuse of graves. I remembered there was a Leone family grave on the left wall, so I went straight to it. The names and photos of the husband and wife who were in that grave in 2005 were now placed to the left of the marble slab. A baby who was in his own grave in 2005 was now placed to the right of the marble slab. And in the center of this single grave was a newly deceased Leone relative.

I visited the Colle Sannita cemetery on the day before I was to visit my cousins. I found their father in one grave, their brother somewhere else, and their mother in a third location. My cousins were waiting for the cemetery to say their parents could placed together with their brother. "But the cemetery never called," my cousin told me.

If you have the chance to visit a cemetery where your ancestors lived, you may also find that it has changed over time. Some people will have moved, and others will be gone.

Two headstones ready to be removed.
I don't know you now, Angela. But I will find you.
Was Innocenzo your husband?
My task now, having taken so many new photographs of graves, is to try to identify as many people as possible. Thanks to the Antenati website, I have thousands of birth records from my ancestral hometowns on my computer.

The plan is to find birth records for the deceased and learn who their parents were. Finding their parents may be enough to place the person in my family tree.

I took many photos while thinking, "This person is too young. I probably can't find out who their parents were." But, as time goes by, I may someday learn who they were.

I adore my family names. Each and every one is special and beautiful to me. Pausing to look at the photos on their graves, I did feel as if I were paying my respects to a beloved family member.

If you ever have the chance to visit a cemetery containing one or more of your relatives, look around. Especially if the cemetery is in a small town. Find other names you recognize and do a bit of research.

A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
A dedication to my relative, Michelina Leone.
One of my 2005 grave photos was for Michelina Leone. I didn't know who she was. A couple of years later, while corresponding with a distant cousin, I learned how important Michelina was to my family.

When my grandfather's sister Eva died from an accidental poisoning, her cousin Michelina stepped in and raised Eva's young sons. Two weeks ago, in a church my Leone family hometown, I found a plaque dedicating a church pew to Michelina Leone.

Now I knew she was someone important to me.

And that's how I feel about everyone in my ancestral hometown cemeteries. They're all important to me.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Do-It-Yourself Genealogy Vacation, Part 2

Mapping Out Your Genealogy Vacation

My map collection for my grandfather's hometown.
My map collection for my
grandfather's hometown.
For days before my recent trip to Italy, I saved locations to my collection of places on Google Maps. Now I can access them from my iPhone, too.

I created a folder for each of my ancestral hometowns I planned to visit. I pinpointed churches, cemeteries, our hotels and a handful of addresses I'd found on my ancestors' vital records. For remote locations, I used the longitude and latitude coordinates.

I planned to locate homes where my grandfathers and great grandparents were born or died. In case I didn't have Wi-Fi (I didn't) and was afraid of blowing through my data (I was), I also had a printout of a map.

On the map are addresses and facts with arrows pointing to the locations. I used one map to ask some locals where a particular street was. They were so kind, one man began asking anyone nearby if they remembered a family named Iammucci. We all had a laugh when they learned my great grandmother died in 1929. Of course they didn't remember her name!

The other map helped me walk around another town and find the places (mostly rubble) where members of my father's family were born.

How Our Rural Ancestors Gave Birth

Some of the facts I'd learned from my ancestors' Italian birth records confused me. Why was my grandfather born at one address in town, and his sister born at another address in town, when his real house was not in the town? They knocked down his house, damaged by an earthquake, in 1964 or so. It stood on the land where some of my cousins live today, well outside of town.

My cousin Maria explained it to me. Back in the day, my Iamarino family owned a little house in town—not much more than one room. They lived out in the countryside, but when my great grandmother was about to give birth, she'd go to the house in town.

It took a mule and a cart to get to town, and town is where the midwife (levatrice) lived. So, to be near the midwife, my great grandmother would have waited at the house in town until she was ready to give birth.

That explains a lot. That's how my countryside-living relatives could bring the newborn baby to the mayor's office without killing the baby!

Walking where my ancestors were born and died.
Walking where my ancestors were born and died.
I will no longer add the address of a baby's birth as the residence of the parents in my family tree. It may very well not be their residence.

When I visited my dad's first cousins on May 13, they pulled out a plot plan—the type you might see for new construction here in America. It showed the locations of many houses that are no longer standing. They surrounded the house where we were gathered.

My great grandparents raised their four children in one house. Straight across the street was the home of my great grandmother Libera's sister. It was also the home of my great grandfather Francesco's brother. You see, Libera's sister had married Francesco's brother.

This cluster of houses was a contrada—a group of homes, often rural, given a nickname instead of a modern-day street address. I had thought a contrada was named for a particular family, but in my family's case, it was simply a nickname.

Please keep this story in mind if your family documents show addresses that don't seem to make sense.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Taking a Do-It-Yourself Genealogy Vacation, Part 1

At the Archivio di Stato, Corso Garibaldi, Benevento.

At the Archivio di Stato,
Corso Garibaldi, Benevento.
Thursday night my husband and I landed in Newark Liberty Airport after a long flight from Rome. Our genealogy vacation was over.

Our flight landed at 9:30 p.m., but customs took forever. We were in our own car by 11:30 p.m. with a 90-minute drive home ahead of us.

A massive storm and tornadoes knocked out the electricity at home two days earlier. We arrived home at 1:00 a.m. and entered the house in pitch blackness. Our dog was barking and our son had woken up to let us in.

After finding our toothbrushes in our suitcases, we all went to bed. I didn't have time to process my incredible journey through my ancestors' towns. This had been our fourth trip to Italy. We'd seen most of the tourist sites already. After two nights in Rome, we headed to Benevento, the province in Southern Italy where all my roots are found.

On May 10, we rented a car and drove two and a half hours from Rome to the city of Benevento. If you're American, think of the city of Benevento as the county seat.

We checked into the Hotel Antiche Terme and took the short walk to Pizzeria Romano—my cousin Vincenzo's restaurant. We could see Vincenzo inside, but there were workers trying to install a new sign and doorway, and I felt it was unsafe to go any closer. I couldn't get his attention.

Carefully turning the pages of World War I military records in Benevento.
Carefully turning the pages of
World War I military records in
Benevento.
It was a bad feeling, thinking we might not get to visit Vincenzo. But we walked along Corso Giuseppe Garibaldi in Benevento so I could see the church of Santa Sofia. I thought the Archivio di Stato—the archives that digitized thousands of vital records from my ancestral hometowns—was near the church, but I couldn't find it. We tried the next block and the next block. Finally I asked two women where it was.

Dov'è l'archivio di stato?

They told me to go another block and look for an obelisk. I would find the archives there.

Once I found it, I had to go inside. I had prepared a couple of Italians sentences to say in the hopes of seeing my grandfather's World War I military record. So that's what I began to say.

Mio nonno era Adamo Leone di Baselice. Era un prigioniero di guerra con l'esercito italiano nella prima guerra mondiale.

Before I'd finished, I was directed to go upstairs where someone would help me. Not sure where to go, I found two workers and began my statement again.

Mio nonno era Adamo Leone di Baselice. Era un prigioniero di guerra con l'esercito italiano nella prima guerra mondiale.

The two workers conferred with one another and called in another woman. She gave me a form to fill out stating who I was and that I wanted this document for genealogical purposes. She gave me a second form giving me permission to photograph any documents. When I finished the forms, she had me turn around. A big volume was on the table, tied shut with white ribbons.

This was register #67. That's the one I'd asked for, having looked up the document number for my grandfather on their website.

My grandfather's Italian military record from World War I.
My grandfather's Italian military record from World War I.
If you have an Italian ancestor who served in the military, start at this page. Find your ancestor's last name (Cognome), enter his first name (Nome). If you know it, choose his birth place (Luogo di nascita), and choose the year he was born (Classe). Click search (Ricerca). If you get more than one result, hopefully you'll know the correct man by his birthdate.

I clicked my grandfather's name in the search results. I found the two numbers I needed: Registro (register) 67, Matricola (roll list) 21728. So I needed to ask for register 67 and look in it for document 21728.

I untied the white ribbons and opened register 67. I was surprised to be able to handle the pages. No white gloves, no one watching me all that closely.

I turned the pages, approaching document number 21728. Instead, I found a big gap. The numbers jumped significantly. Not wanting to panic, I turned to a later section in the book and found document numbers closer to 21728.

Finally, I found it. Leone Adamo. My grandfather. One year ago I wrote about my grandfather's World War I experience. He had told us only that he'd been a prisoner of war and had to eat rats to keep from starving. Research led me to the 1917 Battle of Caporetto in northern Italy. More than a quarter of a million Italian soldiers were captured.

With such a large number, there's certainly a chance my grandfather was taken prisoner in that battle. The men were kept in camps in Austria, including Mauthausen. There were so many prisoners, the conditions were awful and they were not well cared for.

Now I have an official record of my grandfather's military service. He served in the infantry from 1911 to 1914. At that time he was allowed to leave the military and follow his first cousins to New York City.

My grandfather received a call to arms in May 1915. He left his new home in America in August, sailing back to Italy. He rejoined the infantry on 9 September 1915. He was promoted to Corporal on 1 January 1917. On 6 November 1917, my grandfather was taken prisoner, held in Matausen, Austria.

It sure looks as if my theory, formed a year ago in my blog, was correct. He does seem to have been taken prisoner in the Battle of Caporetto which lasted from 24 October to 19 November 1917 on the Austro-Italian front. Matausen, or Mauthausen, was later turned into a World War II concentration camp.

Exactly one year after his capture, my grandfather was repatriated at Castelfranco Emiliano in northern-central Italy. The army gave him some small payment for this lost year of his life. They sent him on on unlimited leave to recuperate in light of his loyalty and faithful service.

After his recovery, on 15 February 1920, Corporal Leone left Italy once again for New York City. Shortly afterward, the army awarded him a commemorative medal of his service in the war.

Looking at my grandfather's 1891 birth record.
Looking at my grandfather's 1891 birth record.
This one page from the archives is packed with information about my grandfather. At age 20, he was already a shoemaker. His hair was curly (like mine), his coloring was rosy, his teeth were healthy. His hair and eyes were brown. He was 5'2", which seems impossible because of how tall and proud he always held himself. He could read and write.

I was in another world, standing there in the Archivio di Stato poring over that page. I didn't realize there was a new person in the room. A young man told me they had my grandfather's birth record and he would bring it to me.

I had downloaded his 1891 birth record from the Antenati website, but of course I wanted to see the real thing! When he brought me the book, I was so surprised to see how large it is. It was at least 18 inches high and his record took up two-thirds of the page. I really think the group of workers was as happy as I was.

It wasn't my plan to walk into the archives that day. I was saving it for the next morning. But I couldn't stop myself, and it couldn't have turned out better.

And this was only Step 1 in my genealogy journey. To be continued…


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Walking in Your Ancestors' Footsteps

Fifteen years ago my husband and I went on a dream-come-true honeymoon. There was only one place in the world I wanted to go. Italy.

Sforza Castle in Milano
Sforza Castle in Milano, 2015. We'd been here before, but there was more to see.
He wanted to go, too. So with help from Rick Steves' travel book, we planned a jam-packed site seeing tour. It flowed from Lake Como up north to Sorrento down south.

With the cliffside Hotel Minerva in Sorrento as our base for a few days, we took a day-trip to Pompeii. Did you know you can use Google Street View to "walk" through Pompeii now?

The next day we took a train to the city of Benevento. From there we would figure out how to get to the rural town of Colle Sannita. This was going to be my first time setting foot in the town where my grandfather was born.

I later documented our misadventure getting stranded in a Colle Sannita bank during a power failure.

Two years later we tried it again. We planned out a second tour of Italy that included Milano and the Tuscan town of Cortona. That was the setting of "Under the Tuscan Sun".

But this time I'd made contact with my dad's first cousins in Colle Sannita. My cousin Maria took me from house to house to meet cousins galore. It was everything I'd hoped for!

Pizzeria Romana in Benevento, Italy
Best pizza ever. By my cousins.
Our last stop of the night was the home of Libera, my grandfather's first cousin. He left for America the year she was born. But she, and everyone I met, knew who my grandfather and my American-born father were.

The next day we visited Libera's daughter and two grandchildren. Each owns a restaurant in Benevento. Her grandson and I had a long conversation about our shared ancestors, the Pilla family.

I can't imagine a more enjoyable, welcoming group of relatives—many of whom had no idea their American cousin was coming to visit that day.

My husband and I took trip in 2015 that included some time in northern Italy: Cinque Terre and Milano. After an unforgettable week in France, we experienced one of Italy's infamous train strikes. We left France and were stuck on an Italian train platform with tourists from around the world.

It was another adventure. Some extra time and extra money, but hey. We experienced an Italian train strike.

So here we are in 2018. Planning our fourth trip to my beloved ancestral Italy. This visit will begin and end in Rome, and include a second stay in one of our favorite places—Siena.

But the main focus of this trip is my cousins and all four of my ancestral hometowns. I want to visit all the cemeteries again. I want to go into the churches where priests baptized and married my ancestors. I want to walk past their former homes and spend time in the piazzas.

If my grandfathers and my grandmothers' parents hadn't emigrated to America, I would be an Italian.

On this trip, I want to get a taste of what the Italian version of me might have been like. I'll let you know what I find out.


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Search That Building for More Relatives

562 Morris Avenue, Bronx, New York
This Bronx building has tons of family tree
evidence for me.
My mom and dad grew up a block apart in the Bronx, New York. They went to the same grade school that was part of the church in their neighborhood.

When I first started exploring my family tree, I was using a website with no search function to view the census. I went page by page through the 1930 census for my parents' neighborhood. Virtually every last name I saw on those pages was familiar to me. They were names I'd heard all my life. Some of them were my relatives, others were my family's friends.

It felt like I was walking through the past.

It turns out there was a lot more family history in those few blocks of New York City than I'd imagined. My mother's grandfather owned her apartment building, so everyone living there was my relative. I'd always known that. But my father's building is turning out to be a genealogy treasure trove.

A Bad Job Changed My Father's Life

My dad was born in Ohio. You'd never know it by this thick New York accent, but he was a product of a small town near Youngstown. When he was three years old, his family moved from Ohio to the Bronx. From what I've heard, my grandfather was not happy working for the railroad or the steel mill in Ohio. He found it to be dirty work, and he hated it.

Grandpa's uncle Giuseppe in the Bronx offered the family a place to live. So my dad's family of four moved in with this uncle at 275 East 151st Street. My mom lived on the next block at 260 East 151st Street.

I have to marvel at the fact that if Grandpa hadn't been unhappy with his job in Ohio, my parents would never have met.

Is Everyone Related?

This past week I've been collaborating on my family tree with a new-found cousin-in-law. While her husband is a DNA match to me and my dad, he's also related to Grandpa's sister by marriage. So…that's a puzzle we're working on.

I quickly found that her husband's uncle Damiano, born in Italy, lived in the same Bronx building as my dad! This was dad's second home in the Bronx: 562 Morris Avenue at the corner of 150th Street—still very close to where my mom lived.

To complicate matters, Damiano had the same last name as another man in my dad's building—the man my Grandpa worked for. All these people:
  • my grandfather
  • his uncle Giuseppe
  • Damiano (my DNA match's uncle)
  • the man Grandpa worked for
were from the same small town in Italy. That's no coincidence!

Why Not Look Further?

As I collaborated with my new cousin-in-law, I remembered my dad's lifelong best friend has the same last name as her husband. So I asked my parents a few questions about him and began to dig.

Francesco Paolucci
Dad's best friend's father.
Dad's best friend Johnny grew up in that same building at 275 East 151st Street. His father Francesco died in 1939, but he became a U.S. citizen a few months before he died. His naturalization papers said he was born in Benevento. (The province or the city? It didn't say.) The papers included the exact date he arrived in America.

When I found his ship manifest, well, do you want to guess where in Benevento he was born? Colle Sannita! The same town as my grandpa and everyone else I've mentioned above. I was able to go back three more generations in my dad's friend Johnny's family tree. They lived in Colle Sannita at least as early as the 1700s. Same as my ancestors.

My dad's two addresses from age three to age 20 are jam-packed with family tree treasures for me.

The best coincidence about my dad's childhood building? In another apartment was a boy several years older than him named Ralph. That boy would grow up to marry my mom's sister. So my dad grew up in the same building as my uncle—his future brother-in-law.

Did your ancestors live in an apartment house in a city? Or a multi-family house in any town? Take a closer look at all the names in that apartment building or home.

Birds of a Feather *Live* Together

Our immigrant ancestors often arrived intending to join a relative or friend. Were they all in the same apartment building? How much does that apartment building have to offer your family tree?


Stay connected! Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and know the moment a new article comes out.