Our Ancestors Then
They came predominantly from the Mezzogiorno, the expanse of Italy stretching from Abruzzo in
the north to Calabria and Sicily in the south, determined to carve out a new existence on this continent. In doing so,
they transformed this country and themselves, becoming no longer Italians but Italian-Americans.
Past and Present
We have gratefully inherited
much of the culture they brought with them – the food, religion, celebrations and customs, but many of us desire a deeper
knowledge of these roots, to give us context and a sense of ourselves and of their sacrifices, thus, a greater understanding
Therefore, these pages are
as a dedication to our ancestors who dared to make a new life for themselves in America.
My Journey-My Ancestors
My own search has taken me
to the gentle mountainous regions of Abruzzo and Molise and the sunbathed countryside of Campania. I have stood on the
ramparts of the crumbling, honey-colored castle at Rocca Calascio in Abruzzo, surveying the surrounding strange and beautiful
high mountain plains, and the jagged crag of the Gran Sasso d’Italia, the highest point in the Appenine range.
I’ve driven along the sheer cliffs of the Amalfi coast in Campania with the brilliant waters of the Mediterranean stretching
uninterrupted to the horizon. More importantly, perhaps, I’ve walked the narrow streets in the small towns of
my ancestors, traced their footsteps in shadows of the campanile whose bells called them to worship, and where few tourists
have ever been. I have in reflection discovered the real Italy.
A Helping Hand
Through my journey, I’ve become associated with the good people at Abruzzo2000,
whose genealogical expertise has greatly enhanced my own research. One of these wonderful Abruzzese, Lamberto Badia,
guided me to the villages of my ancestors – not only in the Abruzzo region, but in the Molise and Campania regions –
and aided my introduction to relatives with whom my American family had had no contact.
Journey – My Discoveries
In Italy’s southern part, my search brought me into several regions; Abruzzo,
Molisa and Campania. The Abruzzo region, in Bugnara,, I sat in the church where my paternal grandmother worshiped.
The Molisa region, in Rocchetta al Volturno, we sought traces of the Pontarelli family on my maternal grandmother’s
side. We walked the town’s streets, climbed to the top of the castle, and descended the picturesque but difficult
road used by wagons venturing to Naples. When my ancestors left their town, the Pontarelli family had seven children
and an eighth on the way; imagine to travel down that road with all those children and a wife that was expecting an eighth
child must have been an ordeal. In Rocchetta al Volturno the town hall, I discovered records that included
the name of the street on which the Pontarelli family lived. I now have a photo of me standing in the doorway of what remained
of my great grandparents house. In San Pietro Avellana, I visited the coffee shop that had been owned by my great-great
paternal grandmother and her husband’s tailor shop right next door. In the region of Campania In San Gregorio
Magno near Salerno, we spent several
days with the Frunzi family on my father’s side deepening a relationship that began with a few letters only a year before.
While there, I was able to locate additional family members. Words cannot express the profound emotions brought on by these
It is my goal to
aid others; those of who wish to have similar experiences such as I had. These regions have unsurpassed natural beauty,
ancient traditions, and proud but down-to-earth people. Today it is an Italy, however, that is endangered
and which may not last much longer due to a low birth rate and a lack of economic opportunity for its youth; as we know it
today, Italy’s future is threatened. Through tourism, Abruzzo World Club and myself hope to help save this treasure
for future generations, both here in America and in Italy, to keep history and tradition vibrant and to honor those intrepid
people who so long ago sacrificed so much to make our lives possible.
Our Ancestors Now
When our ancestors came to America they changed for their new country, America, they did not expect
America to change for them.