A few weeks ago, I got a call from Nicola – one of the directors of Centro Mediterraneo Pintadera that world class language school in Alghero, Sardinia – she asked if she could give my phone number to a current student at the school. He too was searching for his family and they were from a village not far from me. Of course I said yes! I love the community of people who are as passionate as I am about finding their heritage. Kevin Monks and I played phone tags for a day and finally connected. We met for coffee in Benevento and swapped family stories. Kevin now lives in Cremorne, Tasmania – Australia! Talk about a long trek to find your roots.
This is Kevin’s Story:
Italian Mom and aunts in Connecticut (early 1950s)
My name is Kevin, son of an English father and US born Italian mother. My childhood memories of my Italy-born grandfather are as snapshots….just a few really, oh and one scent.
Walking up a dark hallway toward the kitchen light in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I must have escaped my bed to visit the happy sounds coming from the kitchen where adults were talking and laughing late into the night. “Pops” Gabriele stood with a smile on his face as the little boy entered into the light.
The scent that I remember is my grandfather’s pasta e fagoli soup wafting through the house. I’ve identified that precise scent only 1-2 times, both time while visiting Italy.
Antonio Tito Gabriele (nonno)
My mother didn’t really tell us much about Pops Gabriel (dropped the ‘e’ after immigrated to US). All she said was that he immigrated to US. (Ellis Island, then Bridgeport) when he was nine years old. His US Italian wife (Mary Ann Vertucci) died when my mother was 16 years old. Pops was born in a town called Castelfranco but she didn’t know where it was and never looked into it.
Both of my parents are gone now, but I wanted to look deeper into those few facts left to me. Starting at the usual places,/ I discovered my Nonno’s fathers name (bis nonno) and my great-great grandfathers name ( bis bis nonno). Along with the names came the point of origin – Castelfranco in Miscano.
I wanted to go see this place. Why did they leave? Adventure, poverty, famine, war? Who were they…what did they do? Well, I booked the tickets and set out from Tasmania to visit this place.
Setting out from Benevento, Campania I boarded the only once-a-day 12 seat autobus to go to my destination. The route left the flat rural farmland and snaked upwards through hilltop villages and finally stopped in the little town of Castelfranco in Miscano.
Midge had given me the best places to look, who to enquire of…so I set out for the Municipio…not a long walk (100m….double that and I would be out of town). It was an old style building with a serious looking clerk who looked at me as if I’d beamed down. “Sono Australiano…Italiano nonno”. She had that look of “great, another balmy touristico seeking truth and identity”. Well, another clerk helped with my very limited Italiano and calmly took action when the elder clerk’s expression became dark and aggravated. All good…I thanked them for a photocopy of the records they found. Bis bis nonno was a shepherd….and bis nonno was a labourer, one of seven brothers. They gave me their email address to formally request an in-depth search. I don’t know where they were going to look…maybe out the back door and raid the church records.
Donato (bis nonno – born 1877) Fedele and Maria Gabriele
I popped into the chiesa to see if I could corner a padre on the matter…nobody home. Midge said to check out the al bar/ cafe in town. While grabbing an espresso I went through my basic spiel again and Lo and Behold she said someone from her family was currently in Bridgeport CT visiting family. “What? That’s my birthplace. As it turns out, almost all from Castelfranco went to Bridgeport CT. Midge, at my post trip aperitivi debrief in Benevento said it happened a lot. One goes out, writes a letter back, and the others follow the bread crumbs.
Well, I walked around the small village, snapped a few photos and headed back to the town centre. Approaching the Al Bar, I over heard the distinct accent of an Australian (am I surprised? Aussies are everywhere you least expect them). They were hanging around to see if I showed up…word had gotten around the village. The two sisters in the bar had passed the word…relatives. Had a good chat and I learned more about Castelfranco as their nonna, a charming elderly woman, sat with us. She was born there and had lived in Melbourne for 26 years. Once her Italian husband had died she returned to Castelfranco. The Australian families had driven up to pick her up for a huge family reunion to be held in New Jersey. They were leaving to go at that moment down to Napoli to fly out to the U.S. That was a rich experience.
I wasn’t prepared for the physical emotional effect when I first approached the little town. There must be something connecting our brain with our heart as we get close to our roots, heritage and Land-Place. It was worth the effort. I encourage anyone to take the journey! Do it while you can relay your findings and stories to loved ones still with you!