I am honored by Carm's invitation to write something on this extraordinary blog.
One advantage to having a Mormon wife is that, once or twice a year, we visit Utah. And the two things I always try to do when we visit Utah is to hear Richard Elliott play an organ recital at the Mormon Tabernacle, and to visit the nearby Family History Library — you know, the one with all those microfilms!
On April 20th, when I walked into the Library, I believed that all of my father's ancestors were from Montefalcione. There had been rumors of a line of French ancestry somewhere, and it was at least possible that there was something on the De Angelis line, one of the lines that I had least explored.
So I go down to the huge International floor, and I take out some Montefalcione microfilms, and I start searching. In particular, I was looking for the marriage certificate for Federigo Ciampa and Mariagrazia De Angelis, my paternal grandmother's parents. I knew they were married around 1884, because I knew that their eldest child, Domenico, was born in 1885. (I'll have you know that Domenico came to America, alone, as a teenager, changed his name to Champa, had two 30-year marriages, and died in 1991 at the age of 106!)
I looked in the Montefalcione marriage banns for 1884, and without much trouble I found those of Federigo and Mariagrazia, in November of 1884. The only thing was: it listed Mariagrazia's birthplace not as Montefalcione but as some other town that I couldn't read very well.
Was it some French town?
The town's name was listed three times in the document. I still couldn't quite make out what it was — Torre something-or-other? A nearby librarian suggested, "Go to Googlemaps. It's probably the next town over."
Lo and behold, seven miles to the north of Montefalcione was a town called ... Torre le Nocelle!
I also found that Mariagrazia's mother, Carolina Musto, was from Montemiletto. (That town I had heard of. My father remembered relatives talking about it.) So whereas I went into the library thinking that my paternal ancestors were from one town, I left knowing that they were from three.
I still haven't gotten to the most amazing part of the story. I returned to my in-laws' home, about 40 minutes south of Salt Lake City. I went to their computer. I Googled "GENEALOGY TORRE LE NOCELLE." I found this blog. And within hours — not days or weeks, hours —suddenly I had generations and generations of Torre ancestors, dating back to the 1600s!
It's impossible to know why Mariagrazia De Angelis journeyed from Torre le Nocelle to Montefalcione. Maybe it seems strange to use the verb "journey" for a seven-mile trip. But can you imagine what travel was like in the province of Avellino in those days? It's not like you could just hail a cab. As recently as the 1940s, outhouses were still common. And even later than that, in Sicily (where my mother's relatives were from), it was not unusual to meet folks whose animals lived with them in their home.
That is why is seems amazing to me that folks would travel from one town to another — which in itself must have been a journey. (Then imagine what it was like to come to AMERICA! How did they even get to the port in Naples? And once in New York, how did they find their way to Boston? On the other hand, they didn't have an awful lot of luggage ... I'm guessing they had next to nothing.)
But for whatever the reasons, and by however the means, Mariagrazia De Angelis (born in Torre 5 July 1862) found her way to Montefalcione, where she married Federigo Ciampa in November of 1884.
The aforementioned Domenico (1885-1991) was named not for Federigo's father (which was the norm) but for Mariagrazia's father, Domenico De Angelis (born 3 Mar. 1822 in Torre, died there 13 Aug. 1878). Domenico Ciampa was the oldest of nine children. I'm not sure where my grandmother was in the line-up, but her name was Maria, and she was born in Montefalcione on 27 Dec. 1893. She married a Montefalcionese whose name was also Ciampa. Carmine Ciampa and Maria Ciampa were married in Montefalcione on 11 June 1919. They had a child, Giovanni, who was born in Montefalcione on February 26, 1920. The three set sail on the Presidente Wilson, arriving at Ellis Island on 14 July 1920. They made their way to Boston, where they had eight more children. (The youngest, my father Gennaro, was born on 17 October 1937.) I remember my grandmother well. She died on 22 Jan. 1981, when I was ten years old.
Meanwhile, Mariagrazia De Angelis died in Montefalcione on 13 Sep. 1919, only three months after her daughter Maria's wedding.
I think often of my ancestors, wondering if they regretted coming to America. Sure, we had jobs. But what kind of jobs? Digging ditches? Maybe the south of Italy wasn't booming economically. But they had the sun, the water, nature. It's hard to imagine that the rigors of life in East Boston compared at all. I feel very agrodolce about the whole thing, especially when I work in my garden and I realize all that my ancestors gave up. But in the end, I'm certainly glad to have been born in Boston. Better to be born in America and discover Italy, rather than to be born in Italy and never have the opportunity to discover America.