Super Sleuth

Super Sleuth
Digging Up The Past One Relative At A Time

Friday, July 29, 2016

GENEALOGY EXCURSION
14 JULY TO 27 JULY 2016

     Once upon a time, I dreamed of going to a town of my ancestors' births to research the church records.  I wanted to uncover the mysteries of my heritage while holding and perusing the thick volumes of baptismal, marriage, and death records.  I had my chance this month.

     With document-protective gloves in hand, I traveled to Vizzini, Catania, Sicily armed also with my magnifying glass, camera, pencils and paper to trace the ancestry of my maternal grandmother.  

     One of the first sites to see was the church of my grandmother's baptism.  To the left is the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista.  According to the church records, my grandmother was baptized in this church in 1913.  

     In the church record, it states that her godparents were her paternal uncle and her paternal aunt--information that I did not know up until now.  I also discovered that she was baptized on 10 AUG 1913 and that she was actually born on 2 AUG 1913, not 1 AUG 1913, as we previously thought. 

     Regardless of the minor miscalculations, this was a beautiful church to stumble upon.  I was not permitted to go inside.  I'm not even sure if the church is open for visitors or for Sunday service.  A lot of my questions were left unanswered since things are very relaxed in Sicily.  It seems that the hustle and bustle of American life has no use in Sicily.


     To the right is another view of the Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista.  When I was permitted to roam about the town by myself, I wanted to take a closer look at this beautiful, baroque-style structure.  Truly a marvel to ponder.






     I began documenting the marriage records on Sunday 17 JUL 2016.  I was brought to the office of the Chiesa Madre in the town of Vizzini and was given stacks of volumes to look through.  I donned my protective gloves, got my camera ready, and began photographing the marriage records of four churches:  the Chiesa Madre (the Mother Church), San Giovanni Battista, Sant'Agata, and San Giovanni Evangelista.  I had to work quickly to take the photos because I wanted to spend time also researching my own family history, but it seems that that wasn't in the agenda.  I had a job to do and I tried looking for family names while doing my work.  I did manage to find a couple of ancestors, but it wasn't as extensive as I hoped it would be.  Permission had to be asked of constantly to even gain access to the Church Office and I was only permitted to stay in a few hours at a time.  I was pretty disheartened to learn that I could not continue my personal research, but I was a guest there and had to try to be flexible.
     To the left is a small sampling of the marriage records.  The volumes represent the Chiesa Madre.  In these books, I found marriage records for my 2x, 3x, 4x, and 5x great-grandparents. 

     The church to the right is the Chiesa Madre.  It was on those steps that my newly married ancestors descended.  I sat on those stairs for long periods of time while I was missing home.  Unfortunately, my husband could not join me and I spent two weeks away from him.  It was a very stressful experience because I could not verbally communicate with him.  I was only able to text him.  Every day, he would read of my excursions.  Most of them were of homesickness and frustration.  I had originally intended to use every one of those days for research, but was only given four days to do what I needed to do.  It was a long trip.  

     There were two young gentlemen who assisted in unlocking the Church Office and gathering the books for me. They were very kind and helpful.  I was a little taken aback about having to give copies of my work to the Church.  These records have been locked in this office for hundreds of years. I spent four days and many hours taking picture after picture. Over 4,000 photos were taken to document the people who existed in this town and the links between neighbors.  In a matter of minutes, my work was copied so that the Church could preserve them also.  Apparently, it was a good idea and their intention is to photograph the rest of the books.  I cannot lie, it left a bad taste in my mouth to not have a choice in giving up my work, but what was I able to do?  The records do not belong to me; only the pictures.  When I asked if I could go back in to research my own family, the keys were given back to the priest and my research was abruptly stopped.  

     Trying to make the best of a difficult situation, I was able to look at some of the history of my ancestors' community.  The baptismal font to the left is located in the Chiesa Madre.  This is where dozens of my family members were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  The inside of the Chiesa Madre is very ornate and exceptionally beautiful.  I was awed to be in the presence of hundreds of years of history for my family.  This baptismal font brought tears to my eyes.  I was imagining my ancestors as infants being held over this font while Latin prayers were being bestowed on them.



     I was also able to return to the house of my great-grandparents on via Cafici.  Unfortunately, there was no time to hang out there and take it all in, but I found out that the salumeria that once belonged to my Inserra / Maugeri ancestors was located just down the street from this residence.  I love the fact that homes that are 100 and 200 years old are still in existence with just some minor changes to adhere to the current times.  The town is still very old and the history has not been compromised.  






     I was very happy to come home a few days ago.  Part of me was extremely appreciative of the opportunity to peruse through the volumes of records, but another part of me became bitter and defiant.  I'm hoping that the promise of getting copies of the death and baptismal records will come to fruition, but I won't know for a long time.  My work is already in their possession, so I am ultimately at their mercy. I do know that I photographed over four hundred years of marriages records from Sunday 17 JUL 2016 to 21 JUL 2016.  I am hoping to look through my photos soon, but the hard drive that the pictures were copied to is not compatible with my home computer--typical.  I'll have to figure something out I guess.

     Overall, I've decided that visiting other countries is a wonderful experience, but nothing compares to being home with the ones you love.  Reuniting with my husband was a dream come true and it seemed like an eternity when I wasn't with him.  I'm hoping that my feelings of frustration will subside so that I can continue working on what I need to work on--obtaining my genealogical certification, but my eyes were opened to several things on this journey and I have some decisions to make regarding what my actual goals are.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A PINCH OF THIS AND A DASH OF THAT
(The Secret Recipe Revealed)

I have mentioned in a previous post that I teased my father-in-law a few years back because we found out that my husband's lineage is not fully Irish like we assumed.  I quipped that I was "sold a mutt" instead of the "purebred".  Well, I spoke too soon apparently...

Recently, I had my DNA analyzed by Ancestry.  A few years ago, I had it analyzed by 23andMe.

For years, I was led to believe the my heritage is entirely Italian, and while that is true for the past five hundred years that I have discovered, the ingredients in my ancient DNA suggest something different.  It seems that I am also a mutt, but don't tell my father-in-law!  I'll never hear the end of it.  As you can see from the pie chart, I am predominantly Italian, but I was surprised to see that Greek was paired with Italian.  Another interesting detail was the fact that I have quite a bit of Middle Eastern blood in me.  I'm assuming that centuries ago, ancestors traveled into other regions, perhaps selling their wares or on a mission to conquer foreign lands.  Who knows?  

The two biggest surprises in my personal recipe are as follows:

1.  My DNA revealed that I am actually 1% Irish.  WHAT??!!  For decades, I've been saying, "I don't have a stitch of Irish blood in me."  Turns out that I do!  That may prove why my favorite color is green, I enjoy watching Irish Step Dancing, my husband is mostly Irish, and I absolutely LOVE potatoes!

2.  My DNA also revealed that I am 4% European Jewish.  Hmmm...how did that happen??  For at least five hundred years, that I know of, my family has been Roman Catholic.  Interesting!

While I connect mostly with my Italian heritage and have grown up with the Sunday gravy, speaking very loudly with hand gestures, and indulging in the occasional cannoli, it is interesting to see that there are other cultures in me.  Talk about the secret family recipe!


Monday, May 16, 2016


ANCESTOR OF THE WEEK:  ANGELS DO WALK THE EARTH


MY MATERNAL GRANDMOTHER:  GIUSEPPA D'ANGELO

     My grandmother Giuseppa, also known as "Josie", was born in Vizzini, Catania, Sicilia on 1 AUG 1913.  She was the older of two daughters born to my great-grandparents.  Sadly, her younger sister, Domenica passed away as a baby leaving Grandma the only child.  She often recalled her short six years living in Vizzini and described the house and town in great detail.  She was very proud of her Sicilian heritage.
     In February 1920, Grandma and her parents arrived in Ellis Island and began new lives in Manhattan living in the heart of Little Italy.  Although moving to a foreign land was difficult, they acclimated over time and made many friends and acquaintances.  

     Grandma learned the English-language while attending school, and after graduating from the eighth grade, she began working in the garment district.  She received a medal while in school for her mastery in sewing and was very skilled in making clothing, blankets, scarves, and the like.  She not only knew how to sew, but could knit and crochet.  Her attention to detail was brilliant and some of her talents have passed down to her grandchildren.  Grandma came from a long line of seamstresses and weavers.

     When her parents purchased a summer bungalow in Staten Island, New York, Grandma met her future husband, Gennaro Ferrara.  They married on 21 JUN 1936 at the Church of the Transfiguration and had three children.  They spent several years in Manhattan before moving to Staten Island permanently in the 1950s.  

     Grandma was a very devout Roman Catholic and turned her home into a virtual shrine.  Due to the fact that I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandparents, I was taught many prayers and learned about different saints.  Some stories I found to be very disturbing, but Grandma tried to make them "child-friendly".  The recitation of the Rosary was very important to Grandma and would always pray for world peace and the conversion of Russia.  She taught me the Fatima prayers for the Rosary and loved the story of the three children's vision of the Blessed Mother in 1917.  

     A natural green thumb, her yard bloomed and blossomed with the miracles of nature.  While tending to her garden, she would snip off a green bean or a cucumber and present it to me with such pride.  I have never tasted anything more delicious.  

     Grandma was famous for having several items always at the ready in her home:  Jell-O, fresh-made popcorn, and Icebox Cake.  She wanted her four grandchildren to feel at home and always wanted to see us happy.  She was such a kind-hearted soul.

     When Grandma was about thirteen or fourteen-years-old, she began showing signs of what we now call, Tourette syndrome.  Certainly, at the time, doctors really didn't understand this condition, so Grandma spent the rest of her life with a tremor in her head and neck.  She would wear a collar around her neck to help her relax when the tremors were too much for her to bear.  Tourette syndrome is hereditary, and it is one thing that I inherited from Grandma.  We both experienced motor tics.  Sometimes, I experience vocal tics as well.

     Grandma loved being with family and looked forward to Sunday dinner.  During the week, her and Grandpa would come over just to see us.  Her favorite singer was Luciano Pavarotti and she often asked to hear his music while we sat in the backyard during the summer months.  She loved listening to opera too.  

     Grandma was widowed in 1998 and, naturally, she slipped into sadness for a few months afterwards.  After all, Grandma and Grandpa were married for sixty-two years and have experienced both triumphs and tragedies together.  

     In July 2001, Grandma had a bad stroke which left her speech-impaired and motor-impaired.  That month I was proposed to and I couldn't wait to show my grandmother my engagement ring.  I'll never forget rushing into her hospital room and standing next to her hospital bed.  She was only able to half-smile at me and utter the word, "happy".  Grandma was very fond of my husband because he would show her tremendous respect and always greeted her first before anyone else in the room.  Grandma passed away the week after I was engaged.  It was a tremendous loss for our family, because she was the rock.  She was the voice of reason and a pillar of strength.

     Two years later, on the night before my wedding day, I had a dream that my grandmother was calling out to me.  In the dream, Grandma was sitting on the living room couch smiling at me.  I remember sitting next to her on the couch and saying, "Grandma!  What are you doing here?"  In the dream, I knew that Grandma was deceased and was surprised to see her there.  She took my hands in hers (which were very warm and soft), and said, "I'm sorry I cannot be there with you tomorrow, but I'll be there in spirit."  I woke up with joyful tears because my husband and I were just saying not several days before how none of our grandparents were alive to celebrate our marriage with us.  This was a visit, not a dream.  Grandma was right in front of me.  I was able to smell her perfume and feel her hug me.  It was an experience I'll never forget.  She was one of the best people in my life and I know that she is offering her guiding hand from beyond to all of us who are still here.  


Friday, May 13, 2016

HANGING OUT WITH THE GHOSTS IN THE GRAVEYARD


     Cemeteries can give people the creeps, but not me.  I find them very tranquil and full of vital information.  When I visit all the relatives at Moravian Cemetery, I occasionally roam about looking at the different headstones.  The ones that fascinate me the most feature individuals who lived whole lives before I was born.  I suppose the reason why they fascinate me is because it really puts things into perspective for me.  It's hard to be egocentric when you realize that you are merely a grain of sand on the beach of life.  Millions of people existed on this earth before us and millions will exist after us.  Some people leave their mark for eternity, others do not.  
     Before my father passed away, he informed me that I do not need to visit his grave because he won't be there.  He never understood why my mother spent money on Palm Crosses and Christmas wreath blankets every year.  "Anna, the souls are not there, just their physical remains."  He would say this all the time.  When I do go to visit his grave, I realize that he is not there spiritually, but it gives me comfort to know that that is his physical resting place.  
     With the exception with four great-grandparents, the rest of my Italian-American ancestors are buried right up the street from my house.  The cemetery is beautifully landscaped and dates back several hundred years.  The headstones from decades ago were so ornate.  Some of them break my heart and only have engravings that say, "Daughter" or "Son".  There is no other identification at all.  Who were these people?  How did they influence others while they were on Earth?
     Cemeteries can provide heritage hunters with a wealth of information.  However, if you don't do your research, mistakes can be made.  If you kindly view the photograph on the right, you will see an image of my ancestors' headstone.  When I first saw this as a child, I took it at face value.  I understood that the people buried in this grave were my great-grandparents, and my 2x-great-grandmother.  As an adult who hunts dead people, I have come to realize that there are several mistakes on this headstone.
1.  In Sicily, where my ancestors came from, "D'Angelo" is actually spelled "d'Angelo".
2.  Domenica Inserra was not born in 1871.
3.  In Italian tradition, women retain their maiden names, therefore, Domenica Inserra should have been listed as "Domenica Maugeri" and Anna D'Angelo should have been listed as "Sebastiana Inserra".
     I'm sure most people would not find this to be too serious a dilemma, but to someone like me who desires accuracy, it actually bugs me.  Granted, I was not alive when my great-grandfather and 2x-great-grandmother passed away, and I was eighteen-years-old when my great-grandmother died and unfamiliar with heritage hunting, but if I knew then what I know now...
     Last year, my mother-in-law and I were trying to locate some relatives on her side of the family, a task that has proven to be extraordinarily difficult.  We found a death record on Ancestry.com for her ancestors and sent away for a copy of it.  When it arrived, we obtained the name of the cemetery.  She never knew the name.  Funny enough, one of my great-grandfathers is buried in the same cemetery!  Her ancestors and my great-grandfather were only two sections away from each other.  We made a road trip to the cemetery that day.  We left very early to miss the traffic and drove out to Queens, New York.  To see the happiness on my mother-in-law's face in finding a connection was very satisfying.  I am hoping to assist her in finding out the answers to more family mysteries.  One day at a time.
     When I first located my great-grandfather, Vincenzo Esposito's grave, I noticed that he was buried with several other individuals.  Some I am assuming are relatives, but the others I'm not so sure about.  I am hoping that my relatives can assist me in identifying the other people.
     I cannot help myself.  You already know that I read obituaries, and now you know that I roam cemeteries.  Am I weird?  Probably, but visiting cemeteries helps me to realize that my ancestors did live.  They had full lives and experiences.  Their stories are passed down from generation to generation and visiting their remains assists me in honoring their memories. 
     When it comes to tracking down the resting places of ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago in Italy, the task is a little more difficult.  In Vizzini, my ancestors are buried in the "common grave".  The common grave was used before headstones and is in a very old section of the cemetery.  
     The photograph on the left is a fan chart for my 3x-great-grandmother, Lucia Pitrozzello.  She was born Sortino, Siracusa, Sicilia.  I know that the parish church was called San Giovanni Apostolo ed Evangelista.  I believe it is still standing and it is more than likely that there is a cemetery in the town of Sortino with a common grave section.  That is probably where I would find all of these relatives and I hope to visit there one day.
     In closing today's excerpt, perusing your local cemetery may give you some insight about the people who existed in your town centuries before.  Some of those names engraved on the headstones may also be the names of local streets in your town.  Consider it a mini-history lesson...you may learn a lot!  Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

ANCESTOR OF THE WEEK

DOMENICA MAUGERI
(1870-1961)

     Domenica was my 2x-great-grandmother.  She died fifteen years before I was born and I just wish I had the opportunity to know her.  Her story is quite remarkable to me and there are so many questions that I would have loved to ask her. 

Early Life:
     Domenica was born in Vizzini, Catania, Sicilia on 22 SEP 1870.  She was one of six children born to Evangelista Maugeri and Giovanna Gullotta.  She also had two half-siblings from her father's previous marriage.  Domenica had three younger siblings, but they all died in infancy, so Domenica, in retrospect was the youngest child to grow to adulthood.  
     If she was sitting in front of me at this moment, one of the questions I would ask is if her marriage was arranged or was it a marriage of love?  The reason why this question gnaws at me is because her husband, Carmelo Inserra, was sixteen years her senior.  That may not seem like a very large gap, but it still raises the question.
     Domenica Maugeri and Carmelo Inserra were married on 3 NOV 1892 in Vizzini.  Domenica was twenty-two at the time of the marriage and Carmelo was thirty-eight.  They had their first child thirteen months later, my great-grandmother, Sebastiana Inserra.  They continued to have two more children, and then in 1903, Domenica gave birth to a set of female twins who both died within their first month of life.  

Making the Move:
     Now, I don't know what sparked Domenica to make a major life decision, but in 1914, she decided to make the journey to America with her son, Ignazio Inserra, who was seventeen-years-old.  Her husband, remained in Vizzini.  As far as I know, Carmelo never came to America and lived out the remaining twenty-two years of his life in Vizzini.  He is buried in the cemetery on the outskirts of Vizzini.  
     This story fascinates me.  Relatives also tell me that my 2x-great-grandmother had a boyfriend while she lived here.  Well, isn't that something!  Was my 2x-great-grandmother a cougar?  I do know that when she arrived in 1914, she purchased for herself a gorgeous cameo (she is wearing it in the picture).  Apparently, she enjoyed the finer things in life.  She stood no taller than 4'11", but I'm sure her personality was larger than life.  

Where Are You?:     
     Unfortunately, I cannot locate any census records for her after 1920.  I have tried several variations of her name and possible misspellings, but have come up dry.  What's interesting on this census record is that she is listed as being married, but she left her husband.  I wish I was the fly on the wall in 1914 understanding what had transpired.  I guess it's just one of those mysteries that needs to remain a mystery.  
     While in America, Domenica divided her time among her three children, who all immigrated at different times.  She would spend time with each child and visit her grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren.  My mother often talks about how much she used to love visiting her great-grandmother when she would be dismissed from school.  Mom said that she would always try to put a smile on her great-grandmother's face.  Domenica seemed to know all about smiling.  It's nice that the majority of photos I have of her depict her with a smile.  That's nice to see.  
     Domenica passed away in 1961 and is buried here in Staten Island.  She shares a grave with her daughter (my great-grandmother), and her son-in-law (my great-grandfather).  I often look at her picture while I'm researching.  I feel that she is part of the cheering section every time I locate a hint. 

Dedicated to you, Grandma "Meenica"

Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

MADE STRONG AND STEADY BY THE ANCHORS OF THE FAMILY


     Five generations of women; four of them were mothers.  As we prepare ourselves to celebrate these brave and determined women, we must dig deep within the roots of our own families to understand how their stalwart nature helped to mold the very people we view in the mirror every morning.  Kindly allow me to introduce to you the women presented above.  From left to right:  Domenica Maugeri (my 2x-great-grandmother), Sebastiana Inserra (my great-grandmother), Giuseppa d'Angelo (my maternal grandmother), Anna Ferrara (my mother), and me (Elizabeth Ann Esposito).  

     Domenica and Sebastiana (mother and daughter) braved the Atlantic Ocean to begin better lives of opportunity in America.  They made their voyages at different time periods; Domenica arrived in America with her son in 1914 during a time when the world was in conflict.  Her daughter, Sebastiana, aged twenty-seven, arrived at Ellis Island in 1920 with her husband and six-year-old daughter.  Regardless of the timeline, these women left behind their homeland and a slew of friends and relatives to find the promise of stability and safety.  Domenica was in her forties.  What interested me in Domenica's story was the fact that she left her husband behind in Vizzini.  He was sixteen years her senior.  Perhaps it was an arranged marriage that went sour.  Perhaps she didn't really love him.  I'll never know the truth, but what a progressive woman of the time to leave her husband and travel thousands of miles to live on her own, earn her own living, and be her own person.  According to my mother, my 2x-great-grandmother had a boyfriend!  You have to love those feisty Italian women!  In the photo on the right, we have Sebastiana Inserra to the left and her mother, Domenica Maugeri to the right.  Both of them stood no taller than 4'11".  
     This passport photo of my maternal grandmother, Giuseppa, and her mother Sebastiana was always a favorite of mine.  As a child, I looked at this photo with a bit of fear because they looked so sad and uncertain.  I didn't know at the time that you are not supposed to smile in passport photos, but these expressions went deeper than that.  My grandmother, a child, faced a journey of the unknown.  She would be unfamiliar with the language and unfamiliar with the customs.  Her mother being older has an expression of hardness.  She almost seems bitter about leaving her homeland for America.  Her whole life was centered in Vizzini.  Would she ever see her loved ones again in her homeland?  To answer that question, no, Sebastiana never returned to Sicily.  She arrived in 1920 and passed away in 1994 almost reaching the age of 101.  Unfortunately, Sebastiana spent the last fifteen years of her life in a nursing home suffering from either Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.  My grandmother lived down the block from the nursing home and walked there every day to spend time with her mother even though her mother didn't recognize her anymore.  Grandma and Nonna leaned on each other and were very good friends as well as mother and daughter.

     When Giuseppa grew up, she married my grandfather, Gennaro and had three children.  My mother (pictured as a child, right) was the middle child.  Her gentle nature and her eagerness to always keep peace in the family did not go unnoticed.  Mom often used comedy to remedy some of the uncomfortable situations of a strict, male-dominated Italian household.  Mom always tried to please her parents and make them happy.  She succeeded in this quest by providing four grandchildren for her parents.  Grandma and Grandpa visited us almost every day.  After all, they lived only a mile away from us.  Since we were their only grandchildren, they doted on us immensely.  My brother always quips that our grandmother should have been canonized.  Although I laugh at this statement, I do agree with him.  Grandma's only downfall was that she was a jealous woman of anyone who would take her grandchildren's attention away from her.  She loved us so much and taught us so many wonderful life lessons.  We were her only family and we couldn't hold anything against her in that respect.  Grandma always had something special for us at her house.  She had a miraculous garden in her backyard that boasted the most beautiful flowers and delectable vegetables. In the Spring and Summer months, we would spend hours back there.  Grandma was meticulous in telling us the names and varieties of the treats present in her garden.  She was a very devout Catholic, attended daily Mass, and taught us the proper way to say the Rosary.  She had a connection with the Blessed Mother and prayed to her daily for peace of mind and heart.

     When my own mother grew up, she married a wonderful man and had four children.  Although mom lacks self-confidence, she excels in generosity and empathy.  Mom always tries to offer help to those in need even if it means that she would have to go without something herself. She never likes to see anyone suffer.  When my great-grandmother was living out the remaining years of her life in a nursing home, my mother volunteered as a Nurse's Aide there working the graveyard shift just to make sure Nonna was comfortable and without want in the evening hours.  She would occasionally slip some money in envelopes for family members who were having a rough time financially and although we certainly were not rolling in cash, there was always a little bit extra for someone who needed it.  She is the only woman I know who was able to stretch a meal beyond capacity.  Although mom and I had a rocky relationship when I was a teenager, our relationship had improved by the time I was an adult.  I owe a lot to my mother.  She is widowed now and it has taken a toll on her both emotionally and mentally, but every once in a while, I get a smile out of her.  My wish for her on this Mother's Day is that she have peace of mind and happiness in her heart.


To my beautiful mother and to all the moms out there, I wish you a very happy Mother's Day!  Thank you for all you do!  Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

555  HEAVEN'S GAIN  555


     I was definitely a Daddy's girl and from a very tender age, I knew my father was a superhero.  Better than that, he was MY hero.  I am the youngest of four children with an eleven year age difference between my closest sibling and me.  Sometimes being the youngest was difficult because my sisters and brother were able to go out and do things that I was old enough to participate in yet.  By the time my siblings married and moved out of the house, I was only fifteen years old...and outnumbered by parents!  Oh my!

     Thankfully, I had a very good relationship with my parents, especially my father.  My father, Joseph N. Esposito, was born on July 18, 1938 in Manhattan.  He was the third of seven children born to my grandparents.  As far as I know, my father loved to tinker with things and would often be found trying to take things apart and put them back together again.  He loved to find out how and why things worked.  One of my favorite stories was about how my father fiddled with some wires and ended up picking up the distress signal from the Andrea Doria.  Another favorite was when he decided to build a helicopter, strapped his younger sister in it with him and flew several feet up into the air before it crashed down.  Once my grandfather was spotted running out of the house with his belt in hand, my father detached himself from the contraption, left his poor sister strapped in and headed for the "caves" only returning to the house secretly so his mother could pass food to him through the window.  

     My father entered the United States Army in 1958.  Within a year's time, he became a Private First Class.  It was also noticed that he was pretty handy with a pistol.  He gained a spot on the United States Army Pacific Pistol Team and earned over twenty-one medals for his skills in shooting rifles and pistols.  He was informed that he was selected to compete for a position on the United States Olympic Team but declined because it would have meant reenlistment and he had a fiancĂ© to get home to, my mother, Anna.  

     I love looking at my father's photographs from his time in the Army.  It's hard to imagine how someone so young was accomplished in so many things.  I used to enjoy listening to his stories about his time in Korea and Hawaii.  Although my father was in Korea for quite some time, he wasn't there during the conflict and, therefore, is not considered a wartime veteran.  It's unfortunate, because he did serve his time on the Asian continent and mentioned that there was still conflict around him.

     My father was a very contemplative man and had a very warm and loving heart.  He was the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off of his own back if someone was in need.  He had a way of dealing with people...and animals.  Due to his gentle nature, it was not uncommon to catch a glimpse of him through the bedroom window while he was in the backyard with sparrows sitting on his shoulder or feeding squirrels from his own hands.  
   
     He was loved by all and never had an unkind word to say about anyone.  He always tried his best and if someone told him that he couldn't do something or figure something out, he would prove them wrong.  Case in point...my father never went to college.  He left school in the seventh grade and then eventually got his GED in the early 1980s.  Even without a degree, he was extraordinarily capable in Mathematics and the Sciences.  He taught himself how to make things using stained glass, he built scale replicas of the B & O Bridge and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and in his later years, created models of lighthouses that were so architecturally accurate that they are on display in museums.  I'm so proud of all the things that he has accomplished in his life.  Unfortunately, he never knew his own worth.

     On the eve of the eleventh anniversary of his passing, I'm feeling rather melancholy.  I can relive the moment when the phone call came in from the hospital.  It really is amazing how eleven years can fly by, but it still feels like an eternity since I've seen him face to face.  Sadly, my father was a heavy smoker.  He began at the age of thirteen and I think I can honestly say that my father enjoyed smoking.  He tried quitting a few times, but always returned to it.  The years of cigarette smoking contributed to some of the health problems he experienced later in life.  On April 21, 2005, my father was experiencing his fourth heart attack and was rushed to the hospital.  While he was there, the doctors saw that his arteries were blocked severely and he presented with an abdominal aortic aneurysm.  Time was of the essence and, this time, my family and I had a different feeling.  In the years prior, we knew that Daddy would recover from his heart trouble, but this time did not feel like the other times.  When I went to visit him in the hospital, the first thing he said to me was, "Take care of your mother.  She is not going to handle this well."  His advice frightened me because it felt as if Daddy was giving up.  I spent a lot of time with him while he was in the hospital the last time.  He gave me his gold cross the night before his surgery.  

     On the morning of May 5, 2005 (Ascension Thursday), I got a phone call at work from my brother telling me that our father's aneurysm ruptured and I needed to get to the hospital right away.  I never knew I could drive so quickly.  I pulled into the hospital's parking lot within fifteen minutes of the phone call.  I found my mother in the waiting room looking very lost.  The doctor came out and said that they did what they could, but the next twenty-four hours would be critical.  He told us to go home and come back later on.  I took my mother to Church and after 12:00 Mass, we returned to her house.  

     At 2:55 PM, my mother answered the ringing phone and a second later, threw it against the wall and ran into the bathroom.  Confused and alarmed, I held the phone to my ear and heard the doctor say, "There was nothing else we could do.  I am very sorry."  Silence...numbness...confusion...

     The doctor informed me that we needed to come to the hospital to view him.  After my brother and I notified our sisters, I drove my mother to the hospital.  When we entered the hospital room, Daddy was lying there motionless.  The heart monitor next to the bed registered a flatline.  I had to look away.  His hands were cold.  His cheek was cold.  His spirit was gone.

     I had to leave the room and give my mother some privacy with her love.  As I sobbed in the hallway, the nurse came over to console me.  I asked her if my father was in any pain.  She told me that he was aware of what was happening and they made him as comfortable as they could.  I asked the her if he had any last words.  She said, "Yes.  He said 'Tell my wife I love her and happy anniversary'."  My father expired on their 43rd wedding anniversary, May 5th, 2005 (555).  

     I wish I could say the pain of losing Daddy is gone, but it isn't.  I am able to function in daily life, but not a day goes by when I don't think about how much I love and miss him.  I know that he was in so much pain physically that his quality of life would not have been decent for him if he survived, but I'm selfish.  When I was sixteen, my father was my best friend.  He was disabled from work at that time and we spent many summer days together traveling to different local lighthouses.  We talked and laughed for hours and shared so many stories.  I feel so fortunate that I had my Daddy in my life...even if it was only for twenty-nine years.  It doesn't seem like a long time at all...29 years.  

     May 5th comes around too quickly every year.  Each year that passes takes me further from the wonderful memories I had with my father.  I am so thankful that I have photos and videos of him.  I am relieved that if I want to hear his voice, all I have to do is watch a home movie.  Daddy was the glue that held the family together.


     I will now end this extremely long memorial excerpt with some words of advice my father gave to me over the years:

1.  "Don't sweat the small stuff."
2.  "There is a time and a place for everything."
3.  "You can do anything you set your mind to."

     Daddy instilled in me a love for research.  Patriotic through and through, he taught me about our flag and how to display and fold it.  He taught me to take copious notes and keep accurate records.  He taught me how to give people second chances even when it was difficult to do.

     "Thank you, Daddy, for being the absolute best man in my life.  You were the standard that I held boyfriends up to.  Kevin reminds me so much of you.  I know you are always with me and answer me when I call out to you.  I miss you terribly and I love you more than words can express.  I hope that I make you proud because you always made me proud.  Until we meet again, I remain your loving daughter, Elizabeth."


Monday, May 2, 2016

IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEONE LOSES AN EYE...OR A FINGER!


Today, while I was talking to my sixth graders about vaccinations, I brought up a story my maternal grandfather told me about something that happened to him when he was a young man.  Actually, I believe that my grandfather must have had some sort of superpower or may have been part feline, because he definitely had nine lives.  

When my maternal grandfather was a teenager, he contracted Diphtheria.  Back in the early 1920s, there wasn't a vaccination for that, or other dangerous diseases for that matter.  Apparently, my grandfather died on the table and as they were wheeling him to the morgue, he began gasping for air in the elevator.  Realizing that he was in fact alive, the orderlies rushed him back to the emergency room.  Since there was no time to put him under, the doctors had to operate on his throat without ether.  They had to cut out a part of his voice box to save him.  From that day on, my grandfather's voice was very gruff.  When Sesame Street premiered, the character 'Cookie Monster' sounded very similar to Grandpa.  He was always known as 'Cookie Monster Grandpa'.  As far as I know, my grandfather was the first person in America to be cured of Diphtheria and his case is written in medical books.

Grandpa had a nickname on the docks when he was a longshoreman.  He was known as, "Jerry 9 1/2".  Hmmmm...why, you ask?  When Grandpa was a young man working in a butcher shop, he was cleaning the blades on the slicer.  By accident, the machine was turned on while my grandfather's hand was still in the machine.  He ended up losing his right pointer finger.  Later on in life, this injury prevented him from being accepted into the United States Army during World War II.  Interesting turn of events for him.
  
Another story from family lore is that while Grandpa was returning home from work on a payday, he was mugged for his cash.  As far as the story goes, on the next payday, Grandpa took a lead pipe with him and was never mugged again.  That's all I know...

Still, another story from family lore is that while my grandfather was climbing over a wrought-iron fence, he slipped and impaled himself on a metal spike.  Holy terror, Batman!

Was this man made from human parts or super-human parts??

Despite a rough and rocky start in his early years, Grandpa managed to thwart all other villain forces and lived a very long and happy life, passing away at the age of 87 on July 11, 1998.  

I use quite a few of my grandfather's stories while I am teaching my sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.  After all, my grandfather remembered Armistice Day after World War I ended.  He recalled seeing hundreds of people leaning out of their windows in Brooklyn banging pots and pans and celebrating the end of the War.  Grandpa lived through two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  He remembered trying to survive during the Great Depression and where he was when Franklin D. Roosevelt died.  He lived through countless other 20th century events that we now read in history books.  My advice to young people today is to cherish your grandparents and the stories they tell.  Their years of experience in this world cannot be surpassed.  

Thank you for reading and happy hunting!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

THE MISSING LINK...WITH LESS HAIR
ANCESTOR OF THE WEEK:


GIUSEPPE VARRERA
(1884-1970)

     I never had the privilege of knowing this gentleman, my great-grandfather.  I was born six years after he passed away, but I occasionally visit his resting place which, thankfully, is only up the road from my home.  He is in the same cemetery with most of my other relatives, so it turns into a family reunion every time I visit.  

     Giuseppe Varrera was the third of seven children born to my 2x-great-grandparents, Luigi Varrera and Rosolina Sorvillo in a town called Orta di Atella in Caserta, Italia.  I don't know much about his early years in Italy.  I have been able to locate a marriage record for him and my great-grandmother, Giuseppa Perrella.  I also have found a birth record and a death record for their oldest child, Luigi who was born and died in Orta di Atella.  My great-grandparents immigrated to America in 1914.  I do not know of the circumstances as to why they came to America, but I've come to discover that they left quite a large extended family behind.

     The year following their immigration, they welcomed their second child, another son whom they also named Luigi.  In total, they had seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood:
1.  Luigi Varrera (born and died in Italy)
2.  Luigi Varrera (born in America)
3.  Rosa Varrera (born in America)
4.  Rachela Varrera (born in America)
5.  Nicholas Varrera (born in America)
6.  Salvatore Varrera (died as a child)
7.  Carmela Varrera (born in America) 

     Until the terms "genealogy" and "family research" entered my repertoire, I naively believed that my great-grandparents didn't have any brothers or sisters.  I was young and ignorant.  It wasn't until about the year 2011 that my first cousin once removed showed me this:
     Apparently, my grand-aunt Rachela Varrera-Tramantano was a lover of family history.  In the early 1980s, she and my first cousin once removed wrote many letters to the State Archives in Orta di Atella.  Month after month they waited for responses to their letters.  This descendant chart arrived in the mail for them somewhere in the mid-1980s.  My first cousin once removed showed this to me and my mouth dropped.  
     This was the first time that I saw that my great-grandfather had other siblings.  Not only that, but I also discovered his parents and grandparents!  The name of the town was new also and it was a blessing to find because the state records are listed on both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.  From this starting point, I was able to locate birth, marriage, and death records for a plethora of ancestors.  It is very important to talk to family members to see what they know and to share family information with.  My first cousin once removed, Lorraine, opened up a new door of discovery for me and I am indebted to her.  This descendant chart would present itself to me again a few years later.
     Thanks to Facebook, family was discovered in Orta di Atella.  I know I mentioned this story before, so I'll just condense the facts...
     After my third cousin Rosalba and I met in person, she gave me a copy of the same descendant chart.  I knew we were related.  She descended from my great-grandfather's brother's branch.  She told me that they always wondered what happened to the brother that went to America.  Rosalba said that her paternal grandfather was able to confirm the photos that I emailed to her.  Her grandfather cried and remembered his "zio" who left.  They lost touch over the years and never heard from each other again.
     It's amazing that we would discover each other about 100 years after my great-grandparents immigrated.  What a family reunion that was!  Now, we are in contact every week and although there is a slight language barrier, we are still able to communicate.  I never realized how many Varrera relatives I had until I traveled to Orta di Atella and came face to face with this group of extraordinary people.
     These people represent a SMALL group of cousins that I have in the town of Orta di Atella.  I never thought that I would ever find relatives anywhere but in the United States.  I love each and every one of these individuals.  It's as if the 100-year mystery was solved.
     As for Giuseppe Varrera and Giuseppa Perrella, my great-grandparents, I already mentioned that five of their children lived to adulthood.  Well, their five children produced twelve grandchildren, and tons and tons of great-grandchildren and 2x-great-grandchildren!  The legacy lives on.  
     Giuseppe was widowed in 1937.  My great-grandmother died at the age of 47 from intestinal obstruction and a blood infection.  Giuseppe moved to Staten Island and spent time with his children and grandchildren.  He was not able to speak English, but I heard that he had very kind eyes.  As far as I was told by some relatives, he owned a produce store, but I cannot confirm it.  Sadly, he passed away in the summer of 1970.  I wish I knew him personally.  My father was named for him.  
     I would just like to take this opportunity to thank my great-grandfather, Giuseppe Varrera, for helping to lead the way to the rest of the family from the great beyond.  I know that is looking over my shoulder as I research and giving me advice and encouragement posthumously.  I am forever grateful to have met so many lovely and caring relatives.  
     What a handsome man he was!  I would like to encourage my family to leave comments below if they are interested in sharing any stories about Giuseppe Varrera.  Thank you for reading and happy hunting!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN...DISCOVERED...WELL, MAYBE!


Every once in a while, you have to give yourself two thumbs up for a job well done.  It's okay to pat yourself on the back every now and then, but don't get too confident.  That's usually when that brick wall presents itself again.

For many years, my maternal grandfather told me he was from "the heart of Naples".  Not really knowing where the "heart" was, I just took his word for it and let it go at that.  Being a young girl at the time, I was not concerned about my questions not being answered because I just assumed that Grandma and Grandpa would be around forever.  How I wish I knew then what I know now, but hindsight is 20/20, right?  Had I known that my maternal grandfather would pass when I was twenty-two years old, I would have planned accordingly.  I remember the stories he would tell, but I never thought to ask too much about his family.  

As I conducted my research, I realized that this was the only branch of my tree that couldn't be traced back further than three generations.  THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE TO THE HERITAGE HUNTER!  While searching for some clues at my maternal grandparents' house, I came across an updated copy of my grandfather's birth certificate.  Consider the photo below...

"Comune di Napoli"...well, Grandpa was correct.  He was from Naples, but Naples is a big place.  There are smaller sections within Naples with different names.  When I consulted Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, I discovered that there were over thirty different areas to search through.  Oh, good.  Normally, I would spend the entire weekend with toothpicks holding my eyelids open, but I was becoming frustrated.  Where in the heck was this branch of my family?

Ah-ha!!  A clue!  It seems that on this document, my grandfather was born in the "Mercato" section of Napoli.  Alright!  Now I'm getting somewhere.  When I returned to my websites of choice, they did, in fact have a section labeled "Mercato".  There was just one small problem...the records were only available prior to 1865.  Well, isn't that special?  My grandfather was born in 1911; his parents were born in 1884 and 1891 respectively.  Dead end!  Not only that, but when I decided to peruse the set of documents anyway, FamilySearch stated that I couldn't view them on my home computer, but rather, I would have to view them from an approved FamilySearch site.  We do have one in Staten Island, but I won't be able to get there until the summer when I have some time.

What can I do in the interim?  If you have information regarding an ancestor's place of birth, like the town's name, you can always send an inquiry letter to the State Archives there.  You can request information regarding birth, marriage, death, and even a family status report.  It usually takes a couple of weeks to receive a response if you receive any at all.  Sometimes, if you are contacting certain areas in Italy, they ask you for a small free.  I once had to pay five euro for a document they sent me.  Not too bad for receiving a vital piece of family information.  My next step is to write to the State Archives in Naples and see if they can assist me further.

I have to laugh though because my maternal grandfather had a very interesting sense of humor.  He liked practical jokes and occasionally played tricks on us.  I can see him now...laughing devilishly from beyond just waiting for me to crack the case.  

"Very funny, Grandpa!  You stick that tongue out at me!  I'll crack the code...you just wait!  Hey, Grandma...how about a little help?"  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

GRAVY OR SAUCE...NO MATTER WHAT YOU CALL IT, IT'S STILL DELICIOUS!


Sunday dinner.  No matter how hectic or busy the work week was, Italian families gathered together on Sundays to share in the breaking of bread and catching up on the week's activities.  The table was packed with traditional dishes and the food flowed from usually 2:00 in the afternoon until well after 6:00 in the evening.  Course after course with the occasional unbuttoning of pants, a hearty belch, and several loud conversations that, to the non-Italian, would sound like arguing...but it wasn't.  My grandparents prepared the Sunday dinner for us.  We call it GRAVY.  This has been a long argument among Italians.  While some believe that "gravy" is brown in color, our family believed that as long as it was cooked with meat (which on Sunday, it was) it was called gravy.  
    Grandpa and Grandma had a special spice cabinet in their kitchen that, when opened, would engulf the house with the aromas of Napoli and Sicilia.  The gravy would have been simmering for hours by the time the family came over after Church.  Not a drop was left on the plate.  What wasn't consumed with the ziti, would be scraped up with fresh Italian bread.  Olives, cheese, marinated artichokes...my mouth is watering this early Sunday morning remembering the tradition.  Unfortunately, the tradition died when my grandparents did.  Grandpa, passed on in 1998 and Grandma followed in 2001.  Siblings married and moved away.  Some traditions, unfortunately, pass away and need to be mourned as if it was the passing of a loved one.   


What did we learn at our Sunday dinners?


   We learned that there wasn't anything Nonna couldn't turn into a masterpiece.  From homemade pasta to fresh pizza, she was the queen!
   We learned that a recipe wasn't necessary and recipes were rarely written down.  Just leave it to the masters.  Basil, oregano, garlic, oil.  Recipes?  No way!  You taste it every few minutes and adjust as necessary.
   We learned that no one would go hungry and if someone happened to drop over, they would be included into the fold and fed to their heart's content.
  We learned that Italian cooks had a lot in common with a famous Bible passage.  How else can loaves and gravy be multiplied a hundred times without some divine intervention?  Come on...how many of your grandparents had holy pictures hanging in every room of the house?  The kitchen was no exception.  It was an extension of the Vatican!  The Pope hung out over the counter while Jesus' portrait was displayed on the refrigerator.  Every Sunday we ate as if it was the "Last Supper."  
     

     We learned about family joys and problems and the men would fall asleep somewhere between the antipasti and the dessert.  
     We heard the family stories over and over and, although we may have been tired of hearing the same things, as adults, we wish that we can hear them one more time from the mouths of our ancestors.
     These were the days where we heard about the journeys across the Atlantic Ocean, the moments when our ancestors became naturalized Americans, and the family members left behind in the homeland...
     These were the days when we became richer in our heritage.  These are the days that have slowly faded away.







     One of the first journeys my great-grandfather, Gaetano d'Angelo made to find employment in another country to better the lives of him, my great-grandmother, and grandmother was on the ship, "Roma".  He traveled alone.  In the photograph above, my great-grandfather is the gentleman with his arms crossed in the first standing row.  (Fourth from the left)  During our Sunday dinners, we heard about this story.  We learned that Nonno was unsuccessful in his first journey, but in 1920, tried again, bringing his wife and daughter with him.  This time, he was successful and obtained employment at the Ideal Doll Company.


     Above, please take into consideration the ship manifest from the Duca d'Aosta.  My relatives are located on lines 9, 10, and 11.  I first saw this manifest when I was about 21 on the Ellis Island website.  I was amazed at the information present in this document.  If you had relatives that came through Ellis Island, I recommend that you peruse this site.  The information is priceless, and I was able to learn the names of a 2x-great-grandparent under the nearest relative column.  I also learned the name of the street they lived on in Vizzini.  
     The Ellis Island website is a wonderful resource...I said it before and I'll say it again.  Well, I believe I have exhausted all of my thoughts for today.  I hope you enjoyed reading today's excerpt.  Thank you for your support and happy hunting!