Super Sleuth

Super Sleuth
Digging Up The Past One Relative At A Time

Saturday, April 30, 2016



     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 and  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


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 and, 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 just wait!  Hey, about a little help?"  

Sunday, April 24, 2016


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 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 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!

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Concetta di Gennaro

Concetta was one of my great-grandmothers on my paternal side.  She was born in San Felice a Cancello, Caserta, Italia in 1890.  I heard from my uncle that Concetta would collect wood on Mount Vesuvius to sell.  From her early years she was a determined and diligent worker...I guess everyone had to be in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  She married in 1912 to my great-grandfather, Vincenzo Esposito and they had three sons; two were born in Italy and one was born in the United States.

Concetta immigrated to the United States about 1927 with two of her sons, Pasquale and Francesco.  She was traveling without my great-grandfather since he was already in the United States.  He left Italy earlier in order to obtain work and secure a place to live.  This is an amazing story for me.  I'm sure it was difficult enough to travel with children across the Atlantic Ocean for weeks, but to also accomplish this by yourself says a lot about her character.  

Concetta was widowed in 1950 after my great-grandfather died of lung troubles.  I'm suspecting mesothelioma since he was a Sand Hog.  Concetta didn't let this devastating event halt her own living.  She went on to be the best mother and grandmother that she could.  She was a tough lady from what I understand.  I was only four-years-old when she died, and I don't remember ever meeting her, but perhaps I did.  Some family stories paint her as being a very harsh woman, but a few family members stated that Concetta was tough but loyal to her family.  She provided food and other necessary items to her grandchildren when times were difficult.  

She remarried in the 1960s and I am impressed by her progressivism.  She passed away on 7 OCT 1980 in Staten Island, New York.  She is buried in the same cemetery with many other relatives, so I make the rounds every few months to pay my respects.  I think that I resemble her, but no one agrees with me.  I see it in the eyes.  My father definitely took after the di Gennaro side because I see a remarkable resemblance there also.  That's genetics for you, isn't it?

Thank you for reading and happy hunting!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


A Pilgrimage to the Mother Land:

In 2014, my husband and I traveled to Italy for a second honeymoon.  We originally wanted to go the previous year, but unfortunately, we were victims of Hurricane Sandy and needed to spend time cleaning and renovating.  Fortunately, the damage wasn't too extensive, but we were emotionally and physically drained.  A relaxing vacation was just the ticket.  Neither of us had ever been out of the country before and didn't really comprehend the beauty that was going to lie ahead.

Among the wonderfully picturesque sights and the gorgeous weather, we arranged to meet some of my relatives in Caserta.  An absolutely huge reunion was awaiting us and we were extremely grateful at the warmth and hospitality from my extended family.

This is my beautiful third cousin!  We met on Facebook several years ago and realized our great-grandfathers were brothers!  We share the same 2x-great-grandparents.  She has come to be my overseas sister and I love her to pieces.  

After our stay on the mainland, my husband and I traveled down to Sicily and visited the town where my maternal line was from--Vizzini, Catania.  We knew the address of the residence owned by my family and went to see it in person...

I have never been so overwhelmed in my life!  This was a dream come true.  This was the house where my grandmother was born.  This was the house that was filled with the aromas of delicious home cooking.  My ancestors climbed these stairs daily.  The current owners of the house allowed us to peruse inside.  I couldn't stop crying.

After we returned, I decided to do more research on the town.  Unfortunately, church documents are not uploaded for Vizzini, only the civil records, but I was able to do some extensive research due to a hint I found in a death record and found a new town in my lineage!  Kindly consider the following:

The record you see above represents a Church marriage record from the town of Sortino, Siracusa, Sicily.  The document is penned in Latin, which took a little time to decipher, but eventually I was able to crack the code.  The couple celebrating their marriage is my 8x-great-grandparents, Antonio Muzzicato and Blasia de Mauro and they joined in matrimony on 4 NOV 1731.  Luckily, the marriage records for the town of Sortino reach back to the early 16th century.  The Church in question, San Giovanni Apostolo ed Evangelista (St. John the Apostle and Evangelist) was the setting for many of my ancestors' Baptisms, Communions, Confirmations, Marriages, and Deaths.  Through hours of research, my magnifying glass, and a Latin to English dictionary my results are as follows:

14x-Great-Grandfather:  Antonino Corvo
13x-Great-Grandfather:  Nicola Corvo (married 1568 in Sortino)
12x-Great-Grandfather:  Antonino Corvo (married 1596 in Sortino)
11x-Great-Grandmother:  Ciula Corvo (married 1629 in Sortino)
10x-Great-Grandfather:  Tommaso Muzzicato (married 1665 in Sortino)
9x-Great-Grandfather:  Sebastiano Muzzicato (married 1699 in Sortino)
8x-Great-Grandfather:  Antonio Muzzicato (married 1731 in Sortino)
7x-Great-Grandmother:  Leonarda Muzzicato (married 1756 in Sortino)
6x-Great-Grandmother:  Liberanta de Mauro (married 1779 in Sortino)
5x-Great-Grandmother:  Antonia Bongiovanni (married 1798 in Sortino)
4x-Great-Grandfather:  Sebastiano Pitrozzello (married 1835 in Sortino)
3x-Great-Grandmother:  Lucia Pitrozzello (married 1879 in Sortino)
2x-Great-Grandmother:  Giuseppa Costanzo (married 1889 in Palagonia)
Great-Grandfather:  Gaetano d'Angelo (married 1912 in Vizzini)
Grandmother:  Giuseppa d'Angelo (married 1936 in Manhattan)
Mother:  Anna (married 1962 in Staten Island)
Me:  Elizabeth (married 2003 in Staten Island)

This branch represents the furtherest I can dig.  It shows how the family migrated from Sortino to Vizzini over the course of 300 years.  Those are some very impressive genes.  I am looking forward to hunting down more hidden gems.  

Thank you for reading and happy hunting!

Monday, April 18, 2016


As I had stated in an earlier post, people in the beginning years of the twentieth century didn't show their pearly whites very much.  The solemn group of students above are posing for their class picture.  It is a sixth grade class and the young man in the second row, second from right is my maternal grandfather, Gennaro Ferrara.  As the oldest of eight children, he had a responsibility to contribute to the family's economic situation.  This was his last year in school.  By June 1923, my grandfather went to work at the tender age of twelve.  

I am assuming that most of the children photographed above were the children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves.  My grandfather was born in Napoli, but arrived in America when he was only five-months-old.  He spoke fluent Italian in the household and among his neighbors and coworkers, but his family wanted to assimilate in the American culture.  This is probably why my siblings and I were not taught Italian.  My parents spoke the native tongue because their parents spoke it, but as the generations continued to plant roots in American soil, the grace and beauty of the Italian language has escaped our repertoire.  

In my own research, I had the privilege of discovering many naturalization records.  These documents provide a world of information and can really extend your research.  My maternal grandfather was not naturalized until he was already married to my grandmother for two years.  In 1938, he was twenty-seven-years-old and had already grown accustomed to hard work and diligence.  As a young teenager, he lost his right index finger due to an accident at his job in a butcher shop.  This accident would prevent him from enlisting in World War II.  He also was the first person in America to survive a Diphtheria operation and his story is portrayed in medical books.  The operation left his voice very raspy and he became known as, "Cookie Monster Grandpa".

What can a Naturalization document provide for you in your research?  Let's look at the following example belonging to my grandfather:

1.  This Petition for Naturalization tells me where my maternal grandparents lived in 1938.  
2.  It also tells me the location of my grandparents' birth--Napoli for Nonno, Vizzini for Nonna.  (This information becomes very useful if you want to research records in other countries. and gives access to viewing civil and church records of other nations.)
3.  This document tells me not only the date my grandfather arrived in America, but it also names the ship that he sailed on.  (My grandmother's immigration and naturalization information are stated in this document also.)
4.  I can see my grandfather's signature, as well as the signatures of the witnesses, my grandmother, and my grand-aunt.
5.  Because I already know that my oldest maternal aunt was born in April 1938, my grandmother was pregnant at the time of this petition.  Since my aunt was not born yet, she did not have the option of dual citizenship because both parents were naturalized prior to her birth.

**In some other petitions that I have seen, photographs are present, names of children and parents are present.  It all depends on how much information was included, but each one tells a story.

My grandparents kept their Italian traditions alive, but they were so proud to be Americans.  The wave of immigration with the extension of becoming naturalized citizens says a lot about the caliber of people entering the nation over one hundred years ago.  They were seeking opportunity and a chance for a better life for themselves and their descendants.  Obtaining employment was a proud moment because your economic status was eventually going to improve.  

If you are a self-proclaimed family historian like me, and have not already perused the naturalization records, I highly recommend that you begin viewing them.  You just may be amazed at what you discover!

Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Sunday, April 17, 2016


When I married my husband almost thirteen years ago, my father-in-law playfully informed me that the warrantee would be up in three months.  That meant I could not return my husband after three months for any reason.  This is what I get for marrying into an FDNY family and I wouldn't change it for anything.  Having already been very interested in genealogy and family history research for some time, I was very excited at the fact that my husband was 100% Irish descent because I was 100% Italian descent.  It was a good mix--shamrocks and meatballs.

I am able to trace my roots throughout Italy for at least 500-600 years.  I am American-born, but I certainly have cannoli in me, since my grandparents were born in Italy.  My mother-in-law was doing a little family digging around the time of our marriage, but really didn't come up with anything monumental.  My aunts-in-law had a book that showed my husband's great-grandparents and their farm in Ireland.  Their names were John Joseph Campbell and Margaret Quinn.  Here they are below...

The first thing I noticed was how similar my husband's features resembled his great-grandfather's.  My husband is 6'3" tall and has the same exact face shape.  It really is uncanny.  I decided to help my mother-in-law trace some roots and we got to work.  After a couple of months, we weren't able to locate an abundance of information, but what we did discover was the fact that my husband wasn't 100% Irish descent after all.  No sir, he also had Scottish, French, German, and Canadian in him.  Hmmmmmmm...that is not purebred at all, is it?  I had to bust my father-in-law's chops on this one, so at a family barbecue about two years after my husband and I were married, I mentioned to him that I had to return my husband to him because I was "sold" a purebred and ended up with a mutt.  My father-in-law, in his wise guy fashion, smiled slyly at me and responded, "The warrantee expired."  I must say though, I love my mutt!

Now, as I stated earlier, I can trace my Italian roots back 500-600 years, but one Christmas, I received a 23andme DNA kit.  In New York, we are not allowed to take the test or mail it out from our own state, so I traveled to New Jersey, sat in front of the Post Office spitting in a tube to the horror of the onlookers, and mailed it out to be processed.  I was really shocked at my results, because according to the test, I'm only 71% Italian!  That means that somewhere down the generational line, I had relatives from other parts of the world that traveled and settled in Italy.  

Roughly 89% European
Roughly 10% Middle Eastern and North African

Well, I'm pure for at least 600 years that I know of!  

Shamrocks and meatballs seem to work for us.  We had the pleasure of traveling to Italy two years ago to meet some of my relatives and my husband absolutely loved it.   Here he is basking in the glory of Positano...

Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

(She knew Frank Sinatra's mother!)

Concetta Scotti-Ferrara

Allow me to introduce you to another great-grandmother, Concetta.  She is the mother of my maternal grandfather, and let me tell you, she is a TOUGH ancestor to trace.  As a matter of fact, I really don't know much about her past.  

Frustration is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel when I look back over the years of research into hers and her husband's early years.  It's almost as if they don't want me to find things out because I keep hitting that brick wall every time I try to hunt down their information.  This is what I know for certain about Concetta...

About two years ago, my uncle, agreed that I should take possession of the family records.  More than willing to oblige, I drove over to his house to retrieve them, but unfortunately, they were not in the drawer they usually were.  I went on a searching frenzy trying to locate the documents, when I came across a shirt box at the bottom of my grandmother's dresser drawer.  When I opened the lid, the first thing I saw was a stack of photos taken during my grandparents' honeymoon in 1936.  I was mesmerized, and wanted to continue looking.  My aunt told me to take the box home and let's continue looking for the documents.  We eventually found the documents and I gingerly brought them and the shirt box home. 

As I was sitting in my dining room perusing the contents of the box, I came across many interesting and historical items.  At the very bottom of the box, I found the above passport.  Needless to say, I was beyond excited and I recall screaming rather loudly.  Up until this point, I had no idea of Concetta's birthday or parents' names.  Thanks to this lucky find, I discovered that her birthday was December 2nd--either 1891 or 1892 and that her parents' names were Vincenzo Scotti and Serafina Olino.  WOW!  This was a major find and I rushed to enter the information on

Then, my grand-uncle Johnny lent me the following great-grandmother's Alien Registration Card complete with her photo and finger print.  Another fab find!

Unfortunately, the trail goes very cold.  It says she was born in Naples, but there are so many towns within Naples, that I have not struck gold yet.  There are rumors that she was born in Melfi, but my grandfather's birth certificate says, Mercato.  It will be the death of me, I just know it.

I did find her Ellis Island information though and that was a wonderful discovery.  Here is a photo of the ship she traveled over on.  

The name of the ship was the Calabria.  You can find a lot of pertinent information on the Ellis Island website, but be prepared to spend some money.  It's a great researching tool and I recommend visiting Ellis Island if you are ever in the New York City area.  It truly is a wonderful and historical site.

I don't know if I will ever be able to trace my great-grandmother Concetta Scotti, or my great-grandfather Vincenzo Ferrara for that matter, but I will keep hunting.  I do know for certain that they were the parents of six children.  I also know that she used to be friend's with Frank Sinatra's mother in Hoboken.  

Rest in peace bisnonna!  I will find you eventually!  

Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


(I would like to thank my sister for this very catchy title.  Thanks, Ellena!)

My father has been deceased for almost eleven years now and not a day goes by that I am not reminded of him in some manner, shape, or form.  My father was my rock and my hero; there wasn't anything he couldn't do.  

My parents married in 1962 and had three children by 1965.  I didn't make my first appearance in the family until 1976, so my parents were just a little older when I was born.  One thing I knew for certain was that my father could create and build just about anything he set his mind to.  If someone said that he couldn't achieve something, he would go out of his way to prove them wrong.  My father left school in 7th grade.  Whether it was his doing or circumstantial, I don't know, but I do know that he went to work at a rather young age and gave the majority of his paycheck to his mother, my grandmother, Rosa.  

Dad liked to take things apart and put them back together again.  This would enable him to figure out how things worked.  As a young man, he built a working helicopter, a hovercraft, and an assortment of other things that often ended up with him running into the caves near his house for a few days  until my grandfather calmed down.  At one point, my father rigged up a contraption of wires and radios in his attic.  This contraption worked very well and he actually heard a distress call from the Andrea Doria.  

If my father had the financial opportunity for higher education, there would have been no stopping him, but he never let it halt him in what he wanted to do.  The above photograph was featured in our local newspaper in 1964.  My father created a scale miniature model of the B & O Railroad Bridge that is located in Staten Island.  As far as I know, the model is on display in a museum in Maryland, but I don't know this for certain.  The following year, in 1965, he built another model.  This time it was the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Fast forward a couple decades to the early 1990s.  On 7 FEB 1991, my father experienced his first heart attack.  While in the hospital, he paced the floors in the middle of the night.  He was never able to sleep fully because of the constant pain he felt in his back due to a previous injury.  As he paced up and down the corridors, he came across a framed poster of a lighthouse.  My father's exact words were, "It drew me in."  That was the beginning of a love affair my father had with lighthouses.  He became engrossed in researching every lighthouse in the New York City area.  He built several scale models.  Some of them even lit up.

He took many day pilgrimages to local lighthouses and since I was his sidekick, I usually went with him.  He had such a passion for lighthouses and the subject of lighthouses that he contacted the U.S. Coast Guard to ask permission to volunteer in becoming the Keeper of the Staten Island Lighthouse.  After many correspondences back and forth, the Coast Guard agreed and my father received the key to the lighthouse.  He beamed with pride and spent many hours there.  He was Keeper for nine years before he had to reluctantly relinquish the position due to continuing back and heart issues.  It broke his heart.  In the interim though, he kept himself busy and was quintessential in obtaining a spot on Staten Island for the National Lighthouse Museum.  Sadly, he passed away before he was able to see all of his hard work come to fruition.

Dad made many contacts and developed many relationships with people who shared the same interests in lighthouses.  He helped to relight the Fort Wadsworth Lighthouse, saved the Romer Shoals Lighthouse from the doomsday list, and was able to convince the United States Post Office to offer a canceled stamp in honor of Kate Walker from the Robbins Reef Lighthouse.

In 2014, I petitioned our local congressman to have my mother's street renamed for my father.  He achieved so much for Staten Island that I cannot include it all here in a short blog, but I am so proud to be the daughter of such an incredible man.  I would like to think that I inherited my love of history and research from him.

My mother's street was renamed on my birthday, 12 APR 2014 in honor of my father.

Left:  my father's scale model of the Staten Island Lighthouse
Right:  my father standing at the top of the real Staten Island Lighthouse circa 2000

My father died on 5 MAY 2005 of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.  Gone too soon in my opinion; he was only 66-years-old, but his legacy lives on in his children and grandchildren.  We will never forget him or what he accomplished.  His policy was to never give up--find your dream and nurture it.  I will always follow my dream to become a certified genealogist.  I will make it work because I know I have my father cheering for me from the great lighthouse in the sky.  

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016



Today is my 40th birthday and I don't feel older than 18.  Age is just a number and it shouldn't identify you as a person.  This beautiful woman above is my paternal grandmother, Rosa Varrera.  She was born in Manhattan on 2 JAN 1917.  She was the third child of my great-grandparents and the first daughter.  

I had a closer relationship with my mother's family and saw my maternal grandparents almost every day, but I would only see my paternal grandparents once in a while.  I used to get so excited when they would come over.  My grandfather had a slight Italian accent and my grandmother would spend time in my bedroom telling me how much she liked it and how she would have loved to have had a bedroom like that when she was a little girl.  She always made me feel special.  Grandma never acted her age.  She always enjoyed life and tried new things.  I admired her for that.  She had an amazing sixth sense and would be able to predict things that would eventually happen.  She also found money EVERYWHERE she went.  She used to say that she could "smell" money and would be introduced to a stray wallet under a tree, or a trail of quarters--a talent that I wish I had inherited.  

For a while, my paternal grandparents lived in Florida, but they moved back to Staten Island when I was about ten or eleven.  In 1987, my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer.  She was a heavy smoker, rarely seen without a cigarette between her fingers.  She enjoyed it and didn't intend on giving it up.  She and my grandfather moved into the basement apartment at my aunt's house.  Luckily, this was located up the street from my house, so I was able to visit her quite often during the last year of her life.  I would walk up the street and visit with her.  She would call me her "Lucky Charm" because she said that when I came to see her, she would always feel better.  The chemotherapy was putting her body through hell; she lost a significant amount of weight and lost her hair.  I'm sure she didn't fully divulge her aches and pains to me, and as a child, I really didn't understand the extent of her condition.  

A couple of weeks before she died, I was visiting her and she started introducing me to the flowers on her bedsheets.  Then, she pointed to a picture of her mother on the dresser and said, "Mom keeps asking me if I'm ready."  These instances frightened and confused me.  I loved her so much and I sensed she was slipping away, but I never dealt with death before and the thought of her dying terrified me.

On the morning of Wednesday 25 MAY 1988, the phone rang as my mother was brushing my hair before school.  My uncle was on the other end telling my mother that Grandma had passed away.  I remember it like it was yesterday--rainy day that wouldn't let up.  I didn't go to school that day and cried for about a week straight.  She was my first grandparent to pass away.  I was so affected by this that not only did I chose her name as my Confirmation name later that October, but fifteen years later, I was married on the anniversary of her passing.  

I haven't seen my Grandmother in twenty-eight years.  Her passing caused a domino effect and I feel that I had to deal with death more than any young person should.  My paternal grandfather died only five years after her in 1993, my maternal grandfather died in 1998, my maternal grandmother died in 2001, and my father died in 2005.  One after the other; the people I loved most in the world.  

So, as I mentioned previously, today is my 40th birthday--I never smoked a day in my life.  Time is but an instant and, before you know it, you are planning for your retirement.  I wish my grandparents were still here to see some of the discoveries I have made, but I feel that, in some way, they are helping me from beyond and are providing me with celestial interventions to assist me in my sleuthing.  I hope I'm making them proud, because I was proud to know them.

I dedicate this post to "Grandma Rose".  

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 10, 2016


I read obituaries.  There I said it, and I am not embarrassed at all.  Believe it or not, if you are a sleuther, like me, you can find a plethora of information in two to three paragraphs.  It's funny that a person's life can be summed up in a little 3 x 5 space, but it could be the beginning of a researching path that can open many doors.

About two years ago, as I was perusing the daily death notices in my local paper, I came across a woman who was over 100 years old.  These always fascinate me the most, and not to be too biased, but the majority of the people who reach 100+ in my region of the world have some roots in Italy.  This woman was no exception.  I do not remember her name, but my eyes bugged out when I saw that she was born in Vizzini, Catania, Sicilia, Italia.  Obviously, I was interested because one branch of my tree is rooted right in maternal grandmother.  As I continued to read, with pen in hand, I jotted down some information.  The information that was most useful to me was the fact that this woman belonged to an Italian club.  The members of this club all have roots in Vizzini.  I had heard about this club as a child, but I never knew too much and, as I grew up, I thought it was just an urban legend...the elusive Land of Oz.  Well, anyway, I was able to obtain the address of this club using the Internet.  The club was only a bridge away in Brooklyn, New York, so I was feeling lucky that I would be able to uncover some fantastic things.

About two weeks after I sent the letter, I was starting to feel a little dismayed and figured that since I did not know the secret password, I was not going to be contacted.  I couldn't have been farther from the truth.  I came home from work one day and checked my answering machine messages.  It is something my husband and I don't do often to our discredit.  There was a message from a gentleman named Salvatore and he happened to be the Vice President of this club.  He said that my letter almost got thrown out, but he happened to notice it on the desk and read it.  When I called him back, I spoke to his wife, Marianne.  The moment I heard her voice, I felt a connection.  After a lovely conversation, I invited Sal and Marianne to my house for dinner.  They live not 15 minutes from my house...another coincidence?  Besides the fact that there is about a 35-year age difference between us, we became fast friends.

Both Sal and Marianne were born in Vizzini and were able to tell me many things about the little town.  Not only that, but they go back to Sicily every summer and offered to tour us around Vizzini when my husband and I visited in 2014!  Due to their generosity, I not only stood in the town of my ancestors' births, but I was also able to walk in the house of my ancestors, see the church in which they were baptized and married, and visited the cemetery where their bodies remain.  It was truly a religious experience for me.

When we returned to the States, Sal and I were kicking around the idea of building a website that would link and connect all individuals with a root in Vizzini.  We launched the website last year and are in the process of sending out an application (census) to all those that we know who have ancestral roots in Vizzini.  We are very excited to start on this endeavor and hope that it will be a successful undertaking.  We have such a good relationship and it all started with an obituary.  

If you have roots in Vizzini, Catania, Sicilia, Italia, or know someone who does, please visit our website:

Left to Right:  Elizabeth (Me), my husband Kevin, Marianne, and Sal in Vizzini, Catania, Sicilia, Italia on 7 JUL 2014.

Friday, April 8, 2016


When I was in college, I worked in the campus library to make some extra money to fuel up my car and purchase textbooks and other supplies.  It was one of my favorite jobs of all time.  Why, you ask?  I was surrounded by books...and quiet!  In the summer months, the library was not a "happening" place except for myself and the other student workers who would make up our own entertainment on the lower level racing book carts up and down the stacks of shelves.  After the novelty wore off, we were sent off to our respective duties for the day.  We all needed to take turns behind the front desk.  When it was my turn, I would slip into the "Restricted to Lend" books and select one of the very old, very awesome volumes of "Staten Island and Its People".  I would perch myself on the stool by the circulation desk and read about the history of my hometown.  I was so entranced by the vintage-feel of the book, that I asked the head librarian if I could purchase the five volumes.  To my dismay, she said no.  As far as I was concerned, I was the only person who ever viewed these books over and over again.  I really do have a passion for old books.

Sometimes when I am at a yard sale or a flea market, I will seek out the old book section just to try to find another set of "Staten Island and Its People".  So far, I've had no luck.  However, a few months ago, my brother showed me a book that he purchased at a yard sale in the mid-1980s.  Well, it used to be a book; in fact, it was an old family Bible.  The reason I say that it used to be a book is because my brother tore out the first couple of family history / information pages and discarded the rest of the book.  He showed it to me because he thought I would find it very interesting.  I did find it very interesting, but I also felt a twinge of "cyber-sleuthing" coming upon me like a freight train.  I asked my brother if I could borrow his laptop and I logged into my account.  I began searching some of the names that were in the family history / information pages.  After about half an hour, I located one of the names in another person's family tree.  The information was exactly the same, including the spellings, the location, and the dates.  I contacted the owner of the tree and let him know that my brother was in possession of some documents that might be of interest to him.  

My brother gave permission to send the pages off to this gentleman who we are now Facebook friends with.  It truly was a great gesture on my brother's part.  It also put together some missing pieces regarding the other person's family tree.

The moral of the story...we are all linked.  There are reasons why certain things come into our possessions and, if we have the time and a little patience, we can locate the proper owners and give them their "happily ever afters" in genealogical discoveries.

Above are pages torn from the old Bible my brother purchased at a yard sale many years ago.

Thanks for reading and happy hunting!

Thursday, April 7, 2016


I've always loved coming across the box of old photographs at Grandma's house.  Each picture was a treasure and each story behind it was equally as rewarding.  However, everyone seemed so serious in the early 20th century.  Whether it had to do with bad dental hygiene or just nothing to be happy about, it was very seldom that you would see a relative from that era donning a big smile or a goofy grin.  That is why I think the following picture is so humorous. 

This photograph was dated 17 August 1939.  I find this comical because you can almost hear the conversation that is going on.  First of all, let me introduce you to the players.  From left to right:  my great-grandfather Gaetano d'Angelo, my screaming aunt as an infant, my maternal grandmother Giuseppa d'Angelo; on the bottom is my great-grandmother Sebastiana Inserra, and in the back is my paternal grandfather Gennaro Ferrara.  When I see this picture, I chuckle slightly because my grandmother looks like she's saying, "Managia!!"  The baby, my aunt, wants no part of this situation and my grandfather looks aggravated behind her inconsolable stature.  My great-grandfather looks as if he's thinking of running away at any moment and my great-grandmother is slowly losing her hearing from the shrieks behind her.  All in all, a fantastic family moment captured forever on photo paper.  


During one of my sleuthing days, I was running on empty and wasn't coming up with anything monumental, so I tried veering off the main genealogical path and started "branching" off in another direction.  I selected a relative through marriage at random and did an initial search.  I didn't realize that I was about to uncover some information that almost knocked me over.  My great-grandmother's sister was Giovannina Inserra and she was married to a man named Sebastiano Ciaffaglione.  That name stood out to me because it is so different, but I've seen it before way back in the annals of my own family tree in a town called Sortino in Siracusa, Sicily.

While researching my Uncle Sebastiano, I came across his death certificate which stated that his place of birth was "Sortino, Siracusa, Sicily".  Needless to say, my brain kicked into high gear and I wondered if it was possible for my uncle to be linked to my family tree twice.  Three hours later, over a glass of red wine, I had two pedigree charts in front of me.  Not only was my intuition correct, but it turned out that my uncle and my great-grandfather were 5th cousins.  Let me explain:

1.  My great-grandfather was Gaetano d'Angelo.  Going back through the generations on his mother's side, his family did in fact start out in Sortino before they moved to Palagonia and then Vizzini.  He married my great-grandmother, Sebastiana Inserra.
2.  My great-grandmother's sister married Sebastiano Ciaffaglione.  

Not only were Gaetano and Sebastiano 5th cousins, but they were also brothers-in-law!  I wonder if they ever knew while they were alive that they were actually related.  

 My great-grandfather Gaetano d'Angelo (above), and his brother-in-law / 5th cousin, Sebastiano Ciaffaglione (below).

A good day's work I'd say.  Happy hunting!

Monday, April 4, 2016


Having a Difficult Time Selecting a Gift for Your Loved Ones?

Over the years, I have tried to find the perfect gifts to give to my loved ones for Christmas or for their birthdays.  Recently, I have been finding difficulty in selecting the perfect items, so I took my search to the World Wide Web.  Here are a couple of ideas that may help you give a perfect and heartfelt gift that will guarantee tears of joy!

1.  Conversation-Starter Jewelry:
A)  Memorial Bracelets & Heritage Bracelets:  The bracelet on the left is a Memorial Bracelet I made to remember my father.  My father passed away in 2005.  I was definitely Daddy's Little Girl and spent a lot of time with him as a teenager.  He was my hero and my beacon of hope during a very dark time in my life.  He died two years after I was married.  I wear this bracelet when I'm feeling particularly melancholy for my Daddy.  The bracelet on the right is a Heritage Bracelet I made to honor my eight great-grandparents.  I have received many compliments about this bracelet.  I am asked a lot of questions about it too.  Many people are amazed that I have pictures of all eight great-grandparents.  I tell them that I was fortunate to have many relatives with cameras!  These two bracelets took me about one hour to make using a kit I purchased from  Please see the link below for some other items of interest.

2.  Charming Necklaces:
B)  Both the large necklace and the one in the center with the blue border were made with charms that were purchased from Michael's Craft Store.  I selected two that I liked, purchased them, brought them home, and printed out pictures from my home archives.  This is a quick and cute purchase for a young lady in the family.  

3.  Printed Charms:
C)  In our local shopping mall, there is a kiosk that can take photos from your phone and laser them onto necklace charms.  I had the small heart made with a picture of my father.  The goldish rectangle shows my eight great-grandparents.  

4.  Family Trading Cards:
D)  I must be honest, I LOVE THIS IDEA.  Last Christmas I was looking for a unique idea for my siblings.  I went to the Heritage Maker website and found this awesome template for making trading cards.  Each card represents an ancestor back to my 4x-great-grandparents.  I included some photos, dates, and pertinent information that tells a story.  My siblings loved the gift and my nieces and nephews kept looking through them and asking questions about their ancestors.  Great purchase!  The company is reliable and the cards are printing on high quality and high gloss cards.  

5.  "The Ties that 'Bind'er":
E)  I consider myself a very organized person, so this idea was one of my favorites.  I have made about nine of these binders for friends and family.  The binder is organized from the most recent generation and works backwards.  Using tab dividers and plastic sheet protectors, the information is chronological and neat.  It allows the reader to comprehend the order of their history.  This could be easily made over a weekend.

Thank you for reading and happy hunting!

Sunday, April 3, 2016


Sebastiana Inserra-d'Angelo

Sebastiana Inserra was born in the small country town of Vizzini in Sicily, Italy on 4 December 1893.  She was the first child born to Carmelo Inserra and Domenica Maugeri.  As the first-born, her responsibility was to work in the family's salumeria, so she never attended any formal school.  Her younger brother and younger sister had the opportunity for schooling, but Sebastiana learned what she needed to by working daily in her family's store.  She became an expert in mathematical figures and could bargain with the best of them.  

In 1912, at the age of 19, she married Gaetano d'Angelo and nine months later gave birth to her first child, Giuseppa.  A second daughter was born in 1916, but unfortunately passed away a year later due to the Spanish Influenza.  

World War I changed the face of Italy, and when jobs and opportunities became scarce, Sebastiana, Gaetano, and Giuseppa set sail for America in 1920 entering Ellis Island on 9 February.  The little family moved into an apartment on Chrystie Street in Manhattan, New York.  Eventually, Sebastiana obtained a job in the garment district, Gaetano worked for a toy company, and Giuseppa went to school.

Sebastiana learned to navigate through the streets of Manhattan even though she never learned English.  She also developed many friendships through her job and through the neighborhood.  She had a reputation of being extremely kind and helpful.  She was also known for her amazing culinary skills and would often treat her family to homemade pizzas, pastas, and desserts.  A head for business, she and her husband purchased a small bungalow out on Staten Island to be used as a summer dwelling away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Eventually, the house would be given to her granddaughter as a wedding present.

Sebastiana was widowed in 1959, but she kept living her life and enjoyed time spent with her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  In the early 1980's, Sebastiana began showing signs of dementia and, after some time, needed to reside in a nursing home.  Over the years, her memory disappeared completely and she was unable to recall her family members, until finally, she no longer made eye contact.  Her daughter visited her every day even though her own mother didn't acknowledge her.

In 1992, Sebastiana became a great-great-grandmother.  A photo of the five living generations was taken for posterity.  In 1994, Sebastiana reached a milestone of 100 birthdays!  She lived ten more months before she was called home.

I would like to think that the legacy my great-grandmother created will continue to shine on in future generations.  She was an amazing and accomplished woman and is missed greatly.

Saturday, April 2, 2016


Back in Genealogical Action!

I took a short blogging sabbatical due to work obligations, but continued to research whenever I had the chance.  Many exciting mysteries were brought to light recently.  I would like to share some with you:

1.  Helping a Friend with a Road Block:

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely couple.  They were born in the same town my ancestors hailed from in Vizzini, Catania, Sicilia, Italia.  This couple has been a constant source of inspiration to me as I continue on my journey of digging up the past.  Yesterday, I went to visit them for a little while and brought my laptop.  My friend, Marianne, was asking me how I was able to find so much information so quickly.  My reply to her was, "I'll show you."  Within three hours, we traced her roots back five generations and found out that she and her husband are FIFTH COUSINS!  They share the same 4x-great-grandparents.  Needless to say, she was overwhelmed and very excited at the amount of names and dates that were presenting themselves. and continue to provide me with excellent resources that enable me to make someone who is having trouble searching on their own very happy!


2.  "I Didn't Even Know Who My Great-Grandparents Were!":

Sometimes, when I hit my own brick walls and cannot go further back in my own direct ancestry, I branch off to search for some of my aunts and uncles through marriage.  I decided to call my aunt in Nevada and asked her if she would permit me to do a little research into her family tree.  I told her that all I was interested in were names and dates.  She gave me the information that she knew of, which only really went as far back as her grandparents.  After receiving her permission, I got to work.  Seven hours later, I traced her roots back to the year 1130 A.D.!  Her 23rd-great-grandfather, Bertoldus Hubere was hanging out in France just waiting to be discovered!  I did not get much sleep that night because I was so very excited, so I printed out all the information I had gathered, packed it, stamped it, and sent it off to Nevada.  She was so overjoyed!

3.  A Gift from the Heart:

My mother-in-law is continuing to have difficulty researching her branches.  I am trying to aid her in this quest, but her ancestors are elusive.  We decided to take a break in searching her ancestors.  After all, if an ancestor wants to be found, they'll present themselves in their own time, correct?  Anyway, she mentioned her disappointment in only having two or three photos of my father-in-law when he served in the U.S. Navy.  There were small pictures that needed a new life, so her wish being my command, I tried coming up with something just for her.  I purchased some military picture frames and came up with this (see below).  I made one in honor of my father and two in honor of my father-in-law.  I gave one to my mother-in-law on Valentine's Day.

**Note:  If you are looking for gifts and/or replicas that are military-based, the following website has some amazing items.  I purchased a frame from them to display my father's U.S. Army medals.  Check it out!  

Medals of America

4.  A Shoutout to a New Friend:

About a week ago, I reached out to a gentleman named, Thomas MacEntee.  He is the founder of GeneaBloggers.  I wanted to ask him a few questions about how to turn a passionate hobby into a part-time career.  He not only answered my email the next day, but sent me some wonderful and helpful resources.  He was kind enough to list my blog on the site.  Look below for the GeneaBloggers Badge!  Thank you, Mr. MacEntee for your friendship!

Geneabloggers--Thomas MacEntee, Founder

Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope that you find it informative and enjoyable.  This truly is my passion.  Happy hunting!