105 – Researching Surnames

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.


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

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott


Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy



2 thoughts on “105 – Researching Surnames

  1. Ahhhh! Louise! You always seem to remind me of our antics when we visit Itri! Our last trip we had a sweet little Fiat that was a great rental except for the cigarette lighter. We don’t smoke but I need to charge cellphones and laptop as we traveled from Modena down to Itri and back! THe lighter was not working – it appeared to have blown a fuse so we took it to a repair place in Itri – the proprietor is an old family acquaintance who went above and beyond to attempt a repair but to no avail! However we had more fun in the attempts!

  2. Hi, I just subscribed to this Atina website. I can’t understand how to post a question. My daughter and I want to visit our Samnite ancestors museum in Atina and request travel info. Can you help? Thanks! Cecilia Vettraino Brown

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