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.