Monday, December 12, 2005

Finding Ancestors in Chianchetella (30 Nov - 3 Dec '05)

I called Ermalinda when we arrived in Chianchetella to say hello and to tell her we needed to rest a bit before visiting. Around 7pm Agostino and his wife Rosalba came and met us and we walked over to their home for a nice supper with the family. Ermalinda, daughter of my Uncle Bill's brother Emilio, and her son Agostino, seemed not to have changed a bit since our last visit 8 years ago. The years in between were most evident in Agostino's son Emilio who was 10 at the time and is now a young man of 18! They welcomed us warmly and it was so terrific to be able to actually talk with them this time, with our new language skills. Everyone was impressed with Bob, that he was learning Italian also and I think this has encouraged him to keep trying. He really is doing quite well and we are both communicating fairly well at this point, as long as they speak slowly and simply. We find we can keep up pretty well if we know what the topic of the conversation is. But if the other person suddenly introduces a new topic, we can get completely lost.

Chianchetella is a small village in the mountains in Campania about a two-hour drive from Naples. It is the town where my great-grandfather lived. My great-grandmother, from the Parella family, came from the neighboring town of San Nicola. What I did not realize is that the Fabrizio family has always lived in this town and that records of their births, deaths and marriages were kept in the church of this town. The way the family story goes, my great-grandfather was married three times. He had many children with his first wife, among them Emilio (father of Ermalinda) and my Uncle Bill. After his first wife died, my great-grandfather married a second time but we know nothing of her. My great-grandmother was his third wife and they were the parents of my grandmother, Clothilde and her sisters Rose and Antoinetta and their brother Nicola. Uncle Bill was my uncle because he met my Aunt Rose and they were about the same age. He left home at the age of 9 to come to America and perhaps to see his grandfather. They fell in love - a love they sustained in a marriage of 75 years and five children. They were the most loving and affectionate couple I knew, still holding hands and acting sweetly towards each other, a great example to me of a good marriage.

Before our trip here, I could only guess at my great-grandfather's age and did not have his date of birth. But, now talking with Ermalinda I was able to ask HER birth date and by looking at her and her father, I was able to find Pellegrino, my great-grandfather's birth records! The women in the city office where these ancient books are kept - completely hand-written in the most wonderful longhand script - I found his name on the page for Emilio, his brother and there were the names of Uncle Bill's parents and their parents, in black and white with dates to follow and everything! I was ecstatic and ready to trace back further and further when we hit a roadblock. The records only went as far back as 1866. Due to the wars, records were lost and I could go no further. But! The ladies suggested we try the church and that perhaps, through baptismal records we might be able to find more information. The church is in Chianche, just up the road and we found the home of the parish priest. We rang the bell and waited and no one answered so I wrote a note explaining what I was looking for, in my best Italian, and we slipped it in his door, with our cell phone number and the fact that we were leaving the next day, not really expecting to hear from him but hoping nevertheless.

Later that night as we shared dinner in a restaurant we found by driving up twisting mountain roads to what seemed the highest point in the area, my cell phone range. It was the parish priest "il Prete" in Italian, Don (or "father") Costantino who came to this town only two years ago from the Congo. He had found my note and actually spoke a bit of English! We arranged to meet in the morning before heading to Naples and taking the ferry to Catania in Sicily.

When we arrived at his house, Don Costantino welcomed us warmly into his office where he had already searched and found records of my great-grandfather based on the information I had written in my note. Unfortunately, he would not permit us to make copies of the ancient documents, because, he said, they also contained information about other families and that this was not permitted by the bishop. However, he transcribed their names onto certificates with clear dates and names spelled out so you can actually read them and we traced as far back as my great-grandfather's grandparents! We made copies of all these documents to send back to my family. Don Costantino also has promised to keep searching in his spare time and genuinely seemed excited along with me to trace this family ancestry. He also wants to come to the United States for a visit so we hope to see him in Delaware after we get home!

I left there quite elated as you might imagine. We stopped to say "arrivederci" to Ermalinda and shared a coffee with her. We promised to let her know when we arrived in Sicily and she wished us well.

(to be continued...see "Napoli, Rain and Rough Seas")

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