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(A Guest Blog Post by Diana Johnson of Bribie, Queensland, Australia)

Hearing my black Labrador dog, Cindy, barking vigorously under my bedroom window reminded me of the dawn chorus at “Tre Cancelle”. No, not the birds but the doggies of “Tre Cancelle” whose voices may be a little muted if Paul has overslept and they are still in their night kennels. By day they have free rein across a large yard and are quick to detect the slightest movement from the occupants of the downstairs unit who might just be bearing doggie delights to their yard.

“The Woof-Gang”

A shared interest in Shapcott Genealogy gave me a virtual introduction to Paul and Louise many years ago but it is only in the last two years that I‘ve managed to visit their idyllic Italian hideaway. This September I lured my husband as well to South Lazio to meet Paul and Louise and the Woof Gang!

Well what a week! After combing the supermarket shelves in Rome for dog treats, I found it was much easier to buy them in Fondi or Itri. Of course by that time I also had to add in cat food as well for the latest additions to the “Tre Cancelle” home for waifs and strays. We wasted much time in trying to coax a very shy little kitten out into the open although her mother, named Micha, was much bolder and more forthright in her demands for sustenance. Milk and biscuits disappeared rapidly every day and cat food was gone in a flash!

Micha

Tinkerbell

Diana befriending Tinkerbell

Warning to anyone dispensing Dentastix to the “Woof-Gang” – be sure to keep you fingers out of range lest Lizzie mistake one for a Dentastick ….

Somewhere in between walking dogs and generally making a fuss of all the furry inhabitants of “Tre Cancelle”, we found time to do some sightseeing around the region. With Paul driving and Louise supplying the tour commentary we feasted our eyes on the beautiful fishing ports with their steep steps and narrow alleys and archways in the old parts of the towns.

Gaeta

We visited markets selling every kind of produce under the sun, watched a religious procession …

Feast of Saints Cosma e Damiano

drove up into the mountains to see elaborate churches, villages perched on mountain tops and of course the famous Abbey of Monte Cassino.

The Abbey of Montecassino

A special bonus was afforded to us in Atina, where Louise met some of her relatives and we were invited into one of their houses in the old quarter of the town.

Atina’s ancient Cathedral

An alley in Atina

Louise and Paul at Atina’s weekly market

Listening in ignorance to the rapid flow of Italian I knew that I had to improve my knowledge of the language of this beautiful and intriguing country. It is not enough to be able to buy a bus ticket or order some meat or cheese in the deli, you really want to know what is going on…………..

No visit to Itri is complete without a visit or two to the aptly named Bellavista restaurant run by Mamma Riccardi and her charming sons. The road to the restaurant is an interesting climb if you happen to be the driver but thankfully I was not.  Having made it to the top, we relaxed on the terrace in the warm evening soaking up the glorious views of Itri by night (no doubt improved by the jugs of wine that appeared regularly upon our table). The Italian wine goes well with the Bellavista pizza, which is just great, in fact I’ll find it difficult going back to Aussie pizzas after having the real thing in Italy.

Trevor and Paul at the Bellavista

And while I’m on the subject of food, how can I not mention the wonderful gelati ice creams that we downed on several occasions. Alas, it means several more hours in the gym to work those inches off the waistline but ….well…. it was worth it!

Sadly a week goes by too quickly and all too soon we were heading back to Rome for the next leg of our trip but I know we will be back one day in the not too distant future. That is providing our good friends can put up with their Aussie visitors again.

Diana

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Following our son’s accident back in February, I decided to stay on in the UK for a month or two to help out, as and when required, during his convalescence.  Our dear friend Kay very kindly offered me board and lodging at her house in Cardiff.

I have come to love the city of Cardiff,   I suppose it is because as well as being part Italian, I also have Welsh blood running through my veins – from my father’s side of the family.  Well, my maiden name Davies couldn’t really be more Welsh !!!

Cardiff became great during the grand age of Coal, when the Marquis of Bute built a large port and docks for the export of coal hewn from the Welsh Valleys.  Sadly a hundred years or so further down the line, the need for coal sharply diminished, causing the dockland areas of Cardiff to fall into a deep decline.

However a few decades ago an ambitious plan was drawn up to regenerate and transform the derelict areas which included the construction of a Barrage across the mouth of Cardiff Bay and the creation of a new waterfront area.  This area is now known as Mermaid Quay and has an array of inviting restaurants, cafés and bars.

This is the Pierhead Building ……

Nearby is the Wales Millennium Centre …..

The centre of the capital is bustling with several modern shopping centres. 

This is the new Library building.

More of Cardiff’s notable landmarks include  …… 

The City Hall and Museum

Cardiff Castle

Yet within the city there are many parks and green spaces such as Bute Park, Cathays Park and Roath Park with its Boating Lake.

All in all there is so much to explore in the vibrant, multicultural city of Cardiff.

During March was the 2012 6 Nations Rugby Tournament and I had the pleasure of being in Wales when the Welsh Team Won !!!

Bravo Wales !!!

My Rugby Mad Welsh “Daft Daffy” friends in their suitable attire !!!

This summer the Cardiff Millennium Stadium will yet again be in the forefront as it is hosting 11 Olympic football matches.

Cardiff, Wales – “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” – “The Land of My Fathers”

Hope you enjoyed my photos, you can see more of them on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nonnalou/sets/72157626843279889/

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Back in June we welcomed a couple from Massachusetts in the USA, who had rented for a week, our friend’s nearby holiday villa called “Casa di Campagna”, which is a stone’s throw from us here at Tre Cancelle.  You can see full details of this lovely comfortable villa by clicking here.

David and Karen’s trip to Italy was primarily to visit the seaside town of Gaeta, from where David’s ancestors, the Petricone family, had originated.  David was also researching the surnames:  Capobianco, Di Tucci, Miele, Spinosa and Uttaro.

Gaeta

David’s deceased father had visited Gaeta on a couple of occasions, however this was to be David’s very first visit.  He had come armed with a bundle of papers, mainly notes that his father had made about his family, and an assortment of photographs, some of the people in which, sadly they were unable to identify. We offered to help them trace their ancestry by escorting them to the Comune, or Town Hall, in Gaeta and by acting as personal translators.

We arrived at the Comune just as it was opening up after a lunch break, and there was already a mass of people waiting to be served at the Anagrafe, the local Register office.  We patiently waited our turn, having established our position in the queue by using the well trodden phrase: “Chi è l’ultimo?” We explained that David had travelled all the way from the USA to trace his family ancestors who originated from Gaeta. At first the frosty official seemed rather brusque and off-hand, saying that they were really busy that day, however he did thaw a little when he realised that one of the surnames being researched was in fact his very own.  He  summoned another young man from the back office, who beckoned for us to follow him.

We went through to an inner sanctum where hundreds of volumes of hand written registers dating back to the early 1800’s are kept, and where a young archivist started to try and help us with our search.  Some of David’s dates were very vague, so the young man was seemingly struggling, despite his best efforts, to make that all important initial find.  Then another more senior gentleman, the head archivist, who had been sitting quietly working away in the background, began to offer useful pointers to his younger colleague.  Thus, before the end of the afternoon session, not only had David found the ancestors he had been looking for, confirming his grand-parents and their siblings, but they had also managed to trace back a further 2 generations to a Carlo Petricone born circa 1814, who was David’s great-great grandfather. Of course, David and Karen were absolutely delighted by these findings.

Since the Comune was just about to close, we decided to show David and Karen Gaeta’s charming ancient street of Via Independenza.

This colourful and lively shopping area runs parallel with the sea front.  It is a quaint, narrow pedestrian street, approximately half a mile in length, and is paved in dark volcanic stone, with many little adjoining alleyways known as vicoli.

Here you can find many small shops selling fresh, local food such as Mozzarella di Bufala, Olive di Gaeta, fresh pasta and tiella- a type of local pizza pie.  Also dotted about the place are colourful and beautifully displayed fruit and vegetable stands.  There are also many shops selling an array of items, such as souvenirs, handicrafts, leather goods, clothes, jewellery etc.

Eventually we headed back to the car.  Embarrassingly, during this period, our car had been intermittently refusing to start, as the battery seemed to be failing to hold its charge.  Paul, known for being conscious of saving a few pennies here and there wherever possible, insisted that with regular top ups from our battery charger, our battery wasn’t considered to be ready for replacement just yet !!!  Hmmmmmmm !!!

Consequently having got back to the car, we once again found that it wouldn’t start.  “Managia la Miseria” !!! So, we then all had to bail out, push the car out of its parking space into the middle of the car park, open up the bonnet, attach some jump leads and stand looking hopeful ……..

Thankfully soon a good Samaritan offered to help give us a jump start.

The following day David and Karen spent further exploring Gaeta, and also visited the Cemetery in search of family gravestones.  Unfortunately, they were so engrossed in their search that they were unaware of the warning bell which was to alert people that the cemetery was about to close for lunchtime. Consequently they found themselves locked in, and were only able to make their escape by climbing over one of the high cemetery walls, much to the amusement of the flower shop owner opposite, and I am sure an experience they too will recall and laugh about for many years to come !!!

To say thank you for our help, David and Karen insisted on taking us out for a couple of lovely meals and also, either out of kindness or perhaps pity for me, bought us a new car battery, so that I, Louise, wouldn’t have to push the car anymore !!!

Mille Grazie  David and Karen !!!

Read another article about the Gaeta Car Rally

Read another article about the October Gaeta Food Festival

 

Visit our Gaeta and South Lazio Website for more information

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This was to be Sam, Carol, Mary Lou and Rick’s

second visit to this area of South Lazio.

See our previous Blog post:

http://trecancelle.wordpress.com/2009/06/27/may-june-visitors/

This time they were also accompanied by Sam’s brother Frank.

The reason for their visit was two-fold :

1.   To investigate the possibility of moving to live in Italy and buying or renting a property.

2.   To trace their Italian family history in Ricigliano and in Sicily.

Back in December another American family had presented us with a gift of some superb maple syrup. We mentioned this to Rick and asked if he could show us how to make traditional American pancakes.  Rick is an enthusiastic cook so one morning he and Mary Lou set about cooking us “Brunch” in the form of a full American breakfast.

He showed us how to prepare the pancake batter and enjoyed demonstrating his culinary skills by tossing them in the frying pan and making them into a large stack.  Rick had purchased some huge slabs of Italian ham prociutto cottowhich he lightly fried on each side to give them some colour, and also prepared some fried potatoes and scrambled eggs. The pancakes were buttered and then liberally drizzled with the maple syrup.

Scrummy Yum !!!

Indeed Rick and Mary Lou spent much of their time food shopping and then whipping up some delicious suppers to which we were often kindly invited and able to share in their good company.   Compliments to the chef Rick !!!

During their stay they had organised some short trips to Abruzzo and to Pescara to view some properties for sale.

Then Mary Lou expressed a wish to see the Amalfi Coast and in particular the town of Positano.  They had the idea of travelling down by public transport, but we advised them against it, as it would not have been very easy.  So we volunteered to drive them there,  I was interested in calling into the town of Vietri Sul Mare, near to Salerno, which is renowned  for its beautiful ceramics.

The next morning we headed off south. Nearing Salerno, we  pulled in for a pit stop, and I realised that we were not so far from the town of Ricigliano, the place of origin of Sam and Frank’s grandfather. We studied a local map and I suggested that as we were so close, it might be a good opportunity to take a quick look at this little town. In actual fact this detour  took somewhat  longer than anticipated.  We finally found ourselves following  the small winding road signposted for Ricigliano.

We arrived in the main square about lunchtime.  Here we located the Municipio and we hesitantly entered the building, which at first seemed to be deserted.  We climbed a flight of stairs where we were greeted by a couple of officials. I enquired as to the opening hours of the Anagrafe’s office.  They were most welcoming and obliging, even though officially it was lunchtime.  They escorted us to the said office where the very helpful registrar asked how he could be of help.  Sam told him that they were keen to learn more about their grandfather Francesco Parilla who had been born in Ricigliano and had emigrated to the USA in the late 1800’s.  Many people from Ricigliano settled in the Bridgeport district of Chicago.

The registrar began searching through some indices and then began to pull out some ancient fragile hand-written registers, and he soon found the details of their family.  In fact the original surname had been Parrilli not Parilla, it seems to have been changed over the years, not an uncommon occurrence when Italian immigrants arrived in the USA.  Sam and Frank were delighted as the registrar was subsequently able to trace the family back two further generations.

Many thanks to the kind Registrar who really went out of his way to help us. Grazie.

We were introduced to a local policeman who’s surname was Parrilli and amazingly he shared the same Christian name of one of Sam’s uncles, Donato.

Donato asked what we had planned for lunch.  We replied: “Nothing much, perhaps a quick snack of some sort in a local cafe or bar”. Fearing we might perhaps die of starvation he said we really should stay for a proper meal in Ricigliano and set about organising things.  After a brief phone call he told us he had arranged for us all to eat pranzo at a very good local restaurant.

When we arrived at the restaurant, named “Pretacapanna”, it seemed that they were in the process of opening it up just for us.  The owner said they could organise some typical local dishes for us to sample. A splendid meal of numerous courses was delivered to us and we also sampled some excellent local wine for what turned out to be a very modest price.  We would highly recommend trying out this restaurant in Ricigliano.

Donato was obviously very proud of his home town and its cultural heritage.  Sadly this day the weather was set against us with heavy rain, so we were unable to see Ricigliano it in its true light.

We learned that  Ricigliano is situated in the province of Salerno, sited right on the border of Campania and Basilicata. Perched on a high ridge it has beautiful views of verdant valleys and behind it some spectacular mountain terrain with a deep rocky gorge.

The town was almost totally destroyed by a major earthquake in 1980, therefore so much of the town has since been rebuilt, although a few of the ancient buildings of the old town still lie in ruins as testament to this tragic event.

On the 15 June every year, on the Feast of SanVito (the protector of animals) according to some ancient tradition, farmers, goatherds and shepherds bring their herds and flocks down from the mountain pastures to take part in “La Turniata”, an ancient ritual of fertility. The beasts are adorned with coloured ribbons and bells and parade in a procession three times around the village to the Chapel of San Vito.

We would love to go back to Ricigliano in June to witness this unusual festival for ourselves.

Here are some videos and photos of “La Turniata”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8Kr755JWF4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIIayEj6F5U&feature=related

http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=ricigliano&w=81227945%40N00

Many thanks to Donato for taking the time to show us around Ricigliano and for sharing his passion and expert local knowledge of this wonderful little town.

So we didn’t actually make it to the Amalfi Coast after all, but we had enjoyed a truly memorable day in Ricigliano, where we were made to feel so very welcome, and Sam and Frank much enjoyed walking in the footsteps of their Parrilli ancestors.

They later spent a few days in Cefalù, Sicily, where they were also successful in tracing their Sicilian ancestors on the other side of their  family.  Bravo !!!

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Very recently we welcomed a trio from America, Patrick, Kathy and Rita, who came to this area searching for more information on a particular time in their family’s history. 

Patrick and Kathy were trying to retrace their father’s journey through Italy as a soldier in the US 88th “Blue Devil” Division

Patrick is currently writing a book about his father’s experiences during this period.  His father sent home many descriptive letters to his new bride, who he had only married the day before his departure from America.

Charles Logan was just 22 years old when he was drafted into the army and sent to fight in Italy along the infamous GUSTAV Line.  His Division disembarked at Naples and was then transported to the town of Piedimonte d’Alife (now known as Piedimonte Matesse)  for combat training.

The 88th was then sent to the GUSTAV Line, on the western flank of the main Fifth Army, to relieve the 5th British Division in the Minturno area in Operation Diadem. The 88th “Blue Devils”, encountering stiff German resistance, took part in a particularly bitter and bloody battle, which lasted almost 3 days, to seize the village of Santa Maria Infante. 

The capture of this position  on the 14th May 1944, proved to be a defining moment, finally breaking through the GUSTAV line and forcing a German retreat

The French Expeditionary Corps of Morrocan Goumiers*, who were skilled in mountain warfare, continued to make their way forward over the seemingly impassable terrain of the Aurunci Mountains, while the 88th surged ahead, taking the seaward facing villages of Spigno Saturnia, Castellonorato, Trivio, Maranola, then on through Formia, Itri, Fondi, Monte San Biagio to Roccagorga.

Continuing northward some of the 88th Divison made contact with  Allied units breaking out of the Anzio beach-head on 29th May and they were the first to enter Rome on the 4 June 1944.

We had the great pleasure of acting as Patrick’s guide and driver during their stay, and we visited Cassino and  Montecassino and many of the above mentioned towns and villages, travelling some 500 miles during the week.

We learned so much about the historical significance of these places through this traumatic  period of the Second World War.  From the picturesque little villages that we see today, it is hard to imagine what it would have been like for the local people and the opposing  Allied forces during this terrible time.

The Italians had suffered greatly under German occupation, having to endure persecution, reprisals and famine.  Prior to their liberation these villages also had endured heavy land and naval bombardments by the Allied forces which resulted in catastrophic damage, and hundreds of innocent civilian deaths and casualties.

 

* Yet there was more suffering to come – The French General Alphonse Juin, before the final battles to the breach the German GUSTAV  line, he was said to have promised the Morrocan Goumier troops the following:

“For 50 hours you will be the absolute masters of what you will find beyond the enemy. Nobody will punish you for what you will do, nobody will ask you about what you will get up to.” 

When the Goumiers swarmed over the mountain villages they subjected thousands of Italian women and even young girls to merciless violence and rape, and reportedly any men who fought to save  their wives and daughters from harm were ruthlessly murdered. 

A novel, “La Ciociara”, was penned, based on this subject of mass rape, by the author Alberto Moravia.  This was subsequently made into a film also called “La Ciociara” or  “Two Women”, directed by Vittorio de Sica, and starred Sophia Loren. In 1960, for this role, she was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actress.

We would just like to wish Patrick Logan good luck with the writing of his book about his father’s war time experiences, and we very much look forward to the book’s publication.

We would be interested to hear from anyone else who had family members who fought in Italy during World War II, along this area of the German GUSTAV Line.

For more information about some of  the towns and villages in SOUTH LAZIO that were positioned along the GUSTAV Line, please click on the following links:

Montecassino

Castelforte

Santi Cosma e Damiano 

Minturno 

Spigno Saturnia 

Castellonorato

Trivio

Maranola

Formia

Gaeta 

Itri

Campodimele

Fondi

Monte San Biagio

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During October we were pleased to welcome some American visitors – Mary was accompanied by her three children and by her elderly father Vincenzo De Luca.

Vincenzo’s family had originated from Bella Itri, his father had left Italy in the early 1900’s for a new life in New York.  This was to be Vincenzo’s first visit to this beautiful area of South Lazio.

During their stay we had great pleasure in showing  them around some of the interesting sites of Itri.

We first paid a visit to the Church and Convent of Santa Maria di Loreto.  At one time this had also been used as an orphanage, where Vincenzo’s father had been brought up as a child.

We then moved on to the Chiesa Della Vergine Annuziata in the centre of the town.  Inside there is a chapel which houses the beautiful silver statue of the Madonna della Cività, the patron of Itri, whose annual feast day falls on the 21st July.

Then we headed for the old historic part of upper Itri, which can be reached both on foot and by small car, although some of the roads are especially narrow.  The fortified medieval quarter is a warren of narrow cobbled streets, archways, gates and stairways.  The dominating castle, dates back to the IX century and being strategically positioned high on a hill, it has a commanding view of the surrounding area.

We visited the XI century Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo and we showed Vincenzo and family the remains of the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore and its impressive bell-tower which was built in an Arabic / Norman style. From this square there are beautiful views of the lower town and surrounding mountains.

We then drove out of Itri, through the Valle d’Itri,  and climbed up towards the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Cività. This houses the sacred painting of the Madonna and Child.

Mary and Vincenzo were keen to find out more about their family ancestors from Itri, and we accompanied them to the office of the Anagrafe in Itri Town Hall / Comune, in search of further information.

During their stay the children, Gavin, Anna and Lena, enjoyed meeting some members of the “Woof Gang” and even managed to fit in a swim down at Sperlonga beach (the water was still warm in October).  We also celebrated Anna’s birthday with some delicious pastries from a local Pasticceria. Scrummy !!!

Although their stay in Itri was brief, Vincenzo and family all seemed to thoroughly enjoy their visit, and hope to return again sometime, hopefully in the not too distant future.

You can find more photos and information about Itri at our website:

http://itri.shapcott-family.com

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Recently on fine sunny days, we have been getting out and about discovering new towns in the vicinity, doing some local research and taking photos for my new website about South Lazio.  One day we visited the town of Castelforte for the very first time.

cf01s

When we arrived the town was sleepy as it was still after lunch siesta time.  Feeling thirsty we found a little bar to find some liquid refreshments.  We chose to sit outside in the fresh air, and suddenly an English voice said: “So we are not the only English people here in Castelforte?”

We introduced ourselves and began chatting to the couple at the next table, and a friendly Italian chap called Antonio who spoke some English having worked for several years in London.

P1020535ss

It seemed that Dominic and Jill were on a short holiday in Rome and during their stay they had decided on the spur of the moment to do a day trip down to Castelforte, by taking the train and then catching a local bus.   Dominic’s Italian side of the family had originated, many years ago, from this charming little hilltop town.

I explained that my maternal ancestors were also Italian, originating from Atina, near Montecassino, and that they had settled in the Clerkenwell district of London.  Dominic , who is a London cabbie, went on to say that his family had also settled in London and mainly lived in the St Pancras area.

P1020538ss

He had been brought up by his Italian aunts, and knew the area well.  He was curious to know where exactly my grandparents had lived.

herbalhill2001_003

My Nonno and Nonna lived in what once was known as Little Saffron Hill, now renamed Herbal Hill, which is just around the corner from St Peter’s Italian Church.  We talked about all the nearby streets, such as Farringdon Road, Ray Street, Back Hill, Grays Inn Road.

Dominic immediately rang his elderly Italian aunt “Mala” to tell them about our encounter.  Apparently she is  aged 92, but is still bright as button, and actually lives with Dominic and Jill.

I then went on to  explain that my mother, Tina, had passed away a couple of years ago, aged 85, and that she had lived much of her life in London’s Italian community.  She would have so enjoyed meeting people who had come from “Little Italy” and talking about the old times.  I mentioned that a very good old friend of my mother still lived nearby, near the Mount Pleasant sorting office, named Rita. Dominic went on to say that he knew a Rita, who was the best friend of  aunt “Mala”.  It turned out that we were talking about the very same Rita !!!

I still try to keep in regular contact with Rita, as she so enjoys reading our stories about our new life in Italy – she keeps telling me to write a book !!!

Rita had been my mother’s life-long friend, and  during WWII  they had both shared the misfortune of contracting tuberculosis.  After the war they took a couple of holidays  in Switzerland to aid their convalescence.

My Mum Tina and Rita

My Mum Tina and Rita

Swiss030a

Indeed Rita and her sister Delia had been my mother’s bridesmaids at her wedding in 1955, which was held at St Peter’s Italian Church.

TH_wed003ss
Bridesmaids: Rita, Delia and Nita
Bridesmaids: Rita, Delia and Nita

Dominic felt he just had to phone his aunt again to tell her about  this remarkable coincidence.  By this time “Mala” had already phoned Rita to let her know about our amazing encounter in Castelforte.

He asked his aunt if she remembered my mother,  a Concetta (Tina) Leonardi, and she said that indeed she had known her well, mainly through the Italian church .  It was quite amazing !!!

We chatted for a long time, and I asked the Italian gentleman Tony, who was still seated beside us, what his job had been during his 11 year period working in London.  He said he had been a Porter in some hotels near Russell Square.  This immediately sounded familiar to me, as my late father had worked for 42 years as a plumber for a small independent  hotel chain located in this  area.

Not really believing that this day of coincidences could continue in the same vane, I asked: “It wasn’t Imperial London Hotels, was it?” “Yes it was !!!” he replied, “Why?”.  I explained, and from just the name he couldn’t recall my father Hugh (Hughie), but I promised we would go back to Castelforte before too long with some photos of my Dad, which might help jog Tony’s memory.

Tony very kindly offered to act as a tour guide and show us around the historic quarter of Castelforte, so whilst Tony went off, arm in arm with two camera laden ladies, Dominic and Paul remained steadfast at the bar, drinking beer and trying to get their heads around this unusual day of coincidental encounters.

Tony and Jill

Tony and Jill

When the girls returned we happily gave Dominic and Jill a lift back to the station, so we could enjoy their company for a little longer, saving them the bus ride back to Formia to catch their train back to Rome for the last night of their stay in Italy.  We very much hope we can keep in contact with then and of course Tony.

Jill has sent me a recent photo of Rita and “Mala”, which would have been lovely, but the flash seems to have been too bright so their faces look rather ghost-like.  I hope to get a better photo soon.

"Mala" and Rita

"Mala" and Rita

Sending both Rita and “Mala” all our love !!!

Click here to find out more about Castelforte on our South Lazio Website

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Over the past couple of years we have had the pleasure of meeting a number of visitors who have come to this area of Italy to try and trace their Italian ancestry, some with relatives who came from the Val di Comino area.

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My own maternal grandparents originated from the beautiful mountain community of Atina, Frosinone, overlooking the River Melfa and the Meta and Mainarde mountains.

In Italy, in the latter half of the 1800’s and during the early 1900’s, times were very hard, many people toiled in miserable conditions and experienced severe hardship and poverty due to poor wages and food shortages.  Thus my grandfather Benedetto felt restless, as many Italian families departed for distant lands: to America, France, Belgium, Scotland, and England. His elder brother and sister had already moved to live in London, and Benedetto, longing for adventure was also enticed by the prospect of emigration to a new land of opportunity.

Family Group

Thus in the Summer of 1911 my Italian grandparents first set foot on English soil, and made their way to the city of London, to the district of Clerkenwell, the Italian quarter know as “Little Italy”.  They rented a dilapidated house close to St Peter’s Italian Church, which was to be their home for many years to come.  Here my mother was born and she was brought up in the Italian community.  My grandmother Maria Grazia always pined for her home town of Atina and never managed to learn to speak English.

I was born nearby in the heart of London, “within the sound of Bow Bells”, so I suppose I could be considered to be an “Italian Cockney”. I have always had a true passion for Italy and all things Italian, and felt a real need to see for myself “the land of my forefathers”, visit Atina and walk in the footsteps of my grandparents.

15 years ago my husband and I spent a memorable fortnight staying with some of my Italian cousins, in Atina. It was our first meeting but we were so warmly welcomed and received into the family fold and Atina transpired to be even more charming than I could ever have imagined.

Thus began our irresistible love affair with “La Bella Italia”, and of course the very special town of Atina, which finally inspired us to risk everything, sell up lock, stock and barrel and entirely transform our lifestyle by moving to Italy.

Since then we have got to know several people who have family who originated from the Atina area, and since the creation of my Atina / Val di Comino website we have received many enquiries from people with ancestors from  this beautiful area and share my passion for it.

Aldo De Angelis and his wife June from Scotland are tracing his family roots in Atina and Belmonte Castello – family surnames: De Angelis, Delicata, Ianetta, Notarangelo.

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Whilst in Atina recently we asked at the Comune and at the local library whether there was a list of the graves in Atina Cemetery, but nobody there seemed to know.   The main cemetery is located near the ruined church of San Marco and  the church of San Pietro.

So, Paul and I have spent many hours browsing around and looking for the graves of my relatives.  Some of the graves have some wonderful statues.

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If anyone wants us to go and look for graves of  family members who have passed away, and who may have been laid to rest in Atina Cemetery, we are happy to go and look for them whilst we are visiting our family in the area.

Common surnames of Atina include:

Amata / Amato, Bastianelli,  Bove, Caira, Coppola, Di Angelis, De Luca   Delicata, Di Duca, Di Paolo, Fortunata, Mancini, Marini, Nardelli, Rossi, Sabatini, Tamburrini, Tortolani, Visocchi , Volante.

Yes we are sad family history “anoraks” !!!

Sadly we got addicted years ago, and there’s little hope for us now.

We already belong to the Guild of One Name Studies and are carrying out a “one name study” of the surname Shapcott and its variant spellings.

Also I have  been considering making an application for my Italian citizenship through what is known as  “jure sanguine”.

As both of my grandparents were both born and married in Atina,  and they did not became naturalised British citizens during their life-time I should be entitled to Italian citizenship.  Amongst the documentation required to obtain this is my grandparents’ marriage certificate and their birth certificates.

I know that they were both born in Atina and even have details of their parents and grandparents, as I have seen their families listed on the “Stato di Famiglia” held by the Comune of  Atina.  So recently we visited the townhall to ask for copies of the above certificates.  Sadly, the staff there were not exactly welcoming and accommodating.  They said they would take the information and that we would have to come back another day.  I recently heard from my cousin in Atina that the Comune had failed to find the requested documents, so I am somewhat down-hearted.

But … I will persevere !!!

This is Italy !!! Nothing is simple, especially regarding bureaucracy.  I have tried to organise an opportunity to look through some of Atina’s church registers, but to no avail, it seems that they are guarded with a rod of iron by the Parish Priest.

As yet Italians just don’t seem to “get” family history, indeed it is far from the popular pass-time in the UK where within County Halls and libraries there are departments dedicated to giving the public access to the Saint Catherine’s Index of Births, Deaths and Marriages, numerous Censuses, Church Registers, old newspapers etc. etc.

Italians still fail to realise how important it is for people to be able trace one’s family roots and learn so much about local social and cultural history.  If you ask Italians about their ancestors, they sometimes get quite nervous and seem guarded, perhaps suspicious that some stranger may be after some money or trying to claim back some old derelict house of piece of family land !!!  There are so many family disputes regarding ownership of land in Italy.

Anyway, I will keep you posted on our progress with my goal of obtaining my Italian Citizenship.

Anyone with ancestors from the Atina / Val di Comino area –

We’d love to hear from you !!!

Do feel free to Contact Us

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One day we drove with Ben and Keith up to Atina, to visit “la famiglia” where we were, as always warmly received. It was over 3 years since Ben’s last time in Atina.  

He enjoyed wandering through the cobbled streets, taking some photos here and there of the home town of his Italian great-grandparents, Benedetto and Maria Grazia.

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photos by ben woods

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