203 – A New Arrival in Itri

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From time to time we pay a morning call to our favourite bar in Itri for an espresso or a cappuccino. It is known as Bix Café or Bix Bar and has become very popular since it opened a couple of years ago. Bix Café

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On this occasion Paul and Kay had organised to meet up there with our friends Pauline and Filippo.

Whilst they were all chatting away in English a man seated at a nearby table said “Hello” in an American accent and introduced himself as Frank Agresti from California, USA.

Frank said that he had only been in Italy for a few weeks and went on to explain the reason why he was in Itri. It seems that his grandparents had originated from this town, but had emigrated to New York, where Frank was also born in the Bronx.

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Frank had always been interested in finding his Italian roots and had found a Facebook group dedicated to the Agresti surname: Agresti Facebook Group.

Here he came across an Agresti couple who currently live in Florida. They were lamenting the fact that with heavy hearts they were considering putting the old family olive grove in Itri up for sale. It had been left more or less abandoned for several years.

Just off the cuff Frank sent a message asking if by chance they needed a caretaker to look after their land. “Yes !!!” was their reply.

Incredibly, Frank was an excellent candidate for this job as he had worked many years as an arborist in the States. Frank realised that this could be a unique opportunity for him to see the town of his grandfather’s birth and perhaps start a new adventure of living in Italy. No time was wasted as within six weeks all was organised and Frank found himself in Bella Itri. He spoke no Italian but had some knowledge of Spanish which helped a little. He had managed to find somewhere temporary to stay.

Through contacts Frank was able to make friends with a couple of members of the Agresti family (there are just one or two Agresti’s in Itri !!!). They took him for a drive up to look around the old olive farm. Frank loved the place from day one and dreamed of reviving the olive trees which he was told were between 100 and 200 years old.

On the Sunday before Kay’s departure back to Wales, Frank invited us to take a look at the orchard, as he called it. The plot of land, measuring about 5 acres is situated a few kilometres out of the centre of Itri in the Campetelle district.

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Set high on a hill, the grove consisted of 400 olive trees, together with numerous fruit trees.

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There was a rustic little house or “casetta” that looked as if it had seen better days.

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We had a peep inside, there was just one main room with an old fireplace. The walls were covered in mould and there was an abundance of dust and cobwebs. There was a simple kitchen and a basic bathroom. Frank thought that it had potential and with a little bit of elbow grease that it could be made habitable.

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We established that the property had a water supply, however the electricity appeared to have been disconnected.

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After a tour around the grove we offered to take Frank for a ride down to the coast to Sperlonga. We had a pleasant afternoon wandering through the old town.

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We then drove along the coast road to Sant’Agostino beach where we called in at one of our favourite beachside bars “Il Miramare” for refreshments.

Then we suggested that we should all round off the day with a pizza at the Bellavista restaurant.

Frank explained that as an American he only had been able to obtain a tourist visa with a 90 day duration. Frank had done his homework and had discovered that if he could prove that his family originated from Itri that he was entitled to apply for Italian citizenship. “Jure Sanguinis” translates as the right of blood – the right to reclaim citizenship by proving that your ancestors were of Italian blood.

Frank had a little information to make a start with. He had his grandfather’s passport which gave his date of birth, 1891 and it stated he was born in Itri, Gaeta. Frank also knew his grandmother’s name was Romilda Maggiacomo.

We agreed to accompany him to the Anagrafe office in the Comune to help with translating and to try to investigate his family heritage. Meanwhile I did a bit of research on the internet and I found the following Ellis Island point of entry information:

Arrived Ellis Island 1914

  • First Name : Alfredo
    • Last Name : Agresti
    • Nationality : Italy, Italian South
    • Last Place of Residence : Itri, Italy
    • Date of Arrival : May 7th, 1914
    • Age at Arrival : 28y
    • Gender : Male
    • Marital Status : Married
    • Ship of Travel : Patria
    • Port of Departure : Naples

Arrived Ellis Island 1914
• First Name : Emilda
• Last Name : Agresti
• Nationality : Italy, Italian South
• Last Place of Residence : Itri, Italy
• Date of Arrival : May 7th, 1914
• Age at Arrival : 28y
• Gender : Female
• Marital Status : Married
• Ship of Travel : Patria
• Port of Departure : Naples

It seems that the officials at Ellis Island had made a mistake with Romilda’s name.

However this was not Alfredo’s first time arriving at Ellis Island. I discovered another record:

Arrived Ellis Island 1908
• First Name : Alfredo
• Last Name : Agresti
• Nationality : Italy, Italian South
• Last Place of Residence : Caserta, Itri, Italy
• Date of Arrival : Oct 22th, 1914
• Age at Arrival : 17y
• Gender : Male
• Marital Status : Single

• Occupation : Shoemaker

• Nearest Relative or Friend in Country Whence Alien Came  : Uncle Pasquale Di Pinto, of Itri.

• Ship of Travel : Duca di Genova

• Port of Departure : Naples

A few days later we all arrived at the Anagrafe office. We spoke to Anna Lucia who is the Registrar there, and we found her to be very kind and helpful. She explained that she was happy to help Frank, but she did not have time to go through the registrars with us as they were short staffed and somewhat overworked. However she said we were welcome to go down to the archives and have a look ourselves. We accompanied her down to the basement to a set of two rooms with shelves that were stacked from floor to ceiling with bulging folders and folios.

Anna Lucia suggested that we looked through a set of indices which were in alphabetic order and were stored in some curious wooden bound folders.

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Also there was a huge stack of papers tied together with ribbons labelled as surnames beginning with A. There was little space in the archive room to go through this paperwork so Anna Lucia suggested that we took the folders back upstairs.

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Paul and Frank began patiently searching through the records and folios one by one to see if they could find any information relating to Frank’s grandparents. There were lots of Agresti’s but nothing relating directly to Frank’s grandfather.

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However soon it was time for the Register Office to close for lunch. Anna Lucia said we were welcome to return that afternoon.

In the afternoon I decided to try a different approach. I asked Anna Lucia if I could take a look at some Registers, as we knew Alfredo’s date of birth and approximate date of marriage. Anna Lucia accompanied me down to the basement where in the second room the registers were stored.

Before very long we had found Alfredo’s birth and marriage records.

Alfredo Agresti was born 23 February 1891.

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These also gave us some information of the next generation back, about his great-grandparents who were Francesco Agresti and Maria Giuseppa di Pinto.

He married Olimpia Romilda Maggiacomo on 15th April 1914 in Itri.

The pieces of the jigsaw were beginning to fit together. Alfredo, as a young man had travelled to America. However he had returned to Itri to marry his sweet-heart Romilda when they were aged 23, before whisking her off to New York to start a new life there.

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Grazie Anna Lucia x

Frank was ecstatic. We and Anna Lucia were so very pleased for him.

Frank could now start the process of obtaining his Italian Citizenship and fortunately kind hearted Anna Lucia was able to help him with this. He required this Citizenship because as an American he would not be entitled to access free health care in Italy and that generally it would make things easier for him.

Frank had found a temporary place to live, renting a little studio flat in an alleyway just off the old Via Appia, in Lo Stratcio district, which by curious coincidence was were his great-grandparents had lived many years ago.

Frank was keen to start work on cleaning up the rustic abandoned little house in the Agresti olive grove, but it was difficult as it was out of town and he had no transport.

In Italy nothing is easy !!! Frank was presented with a series of bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, which came with a generous helping of Culture Shock, especially as Frank speaks very little Italian.

Firstly he needed to get a Codice Fiscale, a tax code from the Agenzia dell’Entrate in Formia. Then he had to apply for Residency in Itri, which was not so simple as he had no permanent address. Once again thankfully Anna Lucia was available to assist and get the application underway.

Paul helped Frank through the tricky task of opening an Italian bank account. Then we directed him to our friends who own a garage in Itri, to help with the process of buying, insuring and registering a car. For this however he first needed to have his Residency.

Most recently he has managed to file his request for a Permesso di Soggiorno, with our help and the kind help of our American friends Pat and Mindy. His 90 day tourist visa was about to expire.

Everything in Italy takes time, nothing is straight forward, nothing can be rushed !!! To get anything done takes a great deal of patience as several visits to the relevant office are required before you can take a step forward in the direction of what you need to achieve.

At times it seemed so difficult and Frank has had his patience tested to the full, however slowly he has begun to battle his way through.

Frank is a very friendly and gregarious chappie with a “larger than life” character, and has already made many friends during his short time in Itri. With the help of some of these he has managed to clean and fix up the rustic little house and start to make it habitable and homely. He has managed to find a few sticks of furniture, the refrigerator doesn’t work and only 2 rings on the cooker are in working order. However he still has not managed to get the electricity reconnected !!! This is Italy !!! Therefore, we are currently lending him a petrol generator to tide him over. So he doesn’t have a TV but has managed to sort out some sort of connection to the internet. He says he spends much of his evenings by candlelight. Frank has also had some work carried out on the olive trees and is thoroughly enjoying taming the abandoned olive grove.

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We hope that Frank will have several happy years tending the Agresti olive grove and that the owners, Francesco and Helga, will feel content in the knowledge that he is taking care of their beloved family property.

 

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Bravo !!! Well done Frank !!! We wish you well !!!

photos by me Louise and Frank Agresti

You can read more about Franks adventures in Itri at his Blog –

The Italian Chronicles

#ItalianCitizenship #JureSanguinis #agresti #itri #italy

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You can read about some of the battles with Italian Bureaucracy that Paul and I had to work our way through when we first came to Italy at my

Avanti Sempre Avanti Blog:

14 – First Dose of Culture Shock

15 – Codice Fiscale Blunder

16 – La Cancelleria

19 – Getting To Grips With The Bank

25 – Acquiring a Permesso di Soggiorno

26 – Next Bureaucratic Challenge – The Italian Health System

TCTitle

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

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4 thoughts on “203 – A New Arrival in Itri

  1. Kudos to Frank for overcoming all the hurdles, and congratulations, Frank, on your new life in Italy. It was his lucky day when he met you and your many friends, Louise!

  2. Bravo Louise and Paul! I felt really emotional to read this amazing story of how you helped Frank find his Italian ancestors and get settled in Italy. You have some unique skills to offer people in Frank’s position with your knowledge of genealogy and your combined knowledge of the language, the bureaucratic challenges, the lifestyle not to mention olive groves and tumble down farmhouses! You guys really rock, I do so hope I can get back and meet Frank one of these days.

    • Thank you so much for your kind remarks. I am a bit of a Genealogy “Anorak”. It is such an addictive past-time – as you well know !!! I am thinking of offering by services to anyone seeking information in the Itri Comune Archives. We can’t wait until your next visit – hopefully it won’t be too long. Take care and Good Luck in Tasmania xxx

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