Friday, December 30, 2011

Google Earth As a Genealogy Tool

For many years I have been using Google Earth and other map sites to see images of my ancestral home towns in Italy.  I have been to New England many times and saw first hand the places my mother's ancestors lived as well as their burial sights.  Many of the buildings and landmarks my New England ancestors saw are now gone, although in some areas, much has been preserved. Google Earth has proven very useful in my research into my Italian family.  Unlike New England, many of the buildings and structures like Churches and monasteries have been preserved.  New buildings and homes have been erected as well, but much of the town of Montalto Uffugo looks as my grandfather and his grandparents saw it. 
Google Earth allows you to travel down the streets and view the landscapes and buildings.  You can point and click in any direction and view the streets almost as if you were there.  I have traveled the streets virtually via Google Earth so many times, I feel as if ,when I do finally go there, I will know exactly where I am going.
A long time ago before I knew the name of the town my grandfather, Giuseppe Napolitano was born in, I found the name of a street in Montalto Uffugo that was quite interesting to me. The name of the street was Via Luigi Napolitano.  At that time Google Earth did not have street views of Calabria.
As I was virtually traveling the streets of Montalto Uffugo recently on Google Earth, I found that street again. Not only can I travel the street and see it, but now I can see the streets that intersect it.   I often have wondered who  that street was named after. The names of some of the intersecting streets may hold clues.  Names I know like Via Enrico Chimenti and Via Francesco LoFeudo.  There were 8 men named Luigi Napolitano in the town between the 1700's and 1910.  All of them were related to me and one of them I descend directly from.  I am sure I will find a way to discover which Luigi the street is named after.  For now I will have fun guessing by searching the records for names of neighbors of all the Luigi Napolitano men and my files and records on the Chimenti and LoFeudo families. 
If you know location names, or addresses you can view the ancestral homes of your family and see the views they saw from the comfort of your own home.  You can see for yourself where they lived, which churches were the closest to their homes, how far they had to travel to town, work or other locations they may have gone. The local foliage and fauna can even offer clues into what they grew and ate.  The vast fields of olive trees, chestnuts and fig trees explained to me how many of our family customs were rooted in the mountains of this Calabrese town. As a child, every big meal included olives, figs and roasted chestnuts!
For now I am enjoying the images of the town my grandfather and his ancestors lived in for at least  6 generations. 
All the pictures on this page are of Via Luigi Napolitano in Montalto Uffugo, Cosenza, Calabria, Italy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Memories of Christmas Past

As I prepare for the upcoming Christmas holiday, I cannot help but think of (and miss) memories of Christmas past.  The Calabrese heritage of my family was never so obvious as it was at Christmas.  I don't think I fully appreciated it until it was gone.
Every Christmas brings a flood of memories.  By December 22 the house will filled with dozens of presents for family.  Mom always hid presents for my brother and I and there was never enough space under the Christmas tree for all the presents but somehow mom managed to stack and arrange all the presents there for cousins, aunts and uncles. The full finished bar in our basement was lined with bottles of various alcoholic beverages to bring to each place visited during the holiday season. The day before Christmas Eve always involved a trip to Fannie Mae so Dad could purchase boxes of chocolates for his cousins.  We never went anywhere without a box of Fannie Maes and a bottle of the hosts favorite alcoholic beverage in hand. 
Christmas Eve dinner was fish and while I realize others of Italian ancestry celebrated with a feast of 7 fishes, we did not.  Dad hated cod so Bakala was never on the menu.  What always was on the menu was an assortment of scallops, shrimp, clams and our family favorite pasta acciughe.  As a family project we all participated in making pignolatta, a tasty treat make with boiling hot honey (pictured on the right).
Christmas day always came in 2 parts.  The first part of Christmas was the gathering of our immediate family with my dad's brothers, sisters and their spouses and children.  When I was very young, we would alternate who hosted the event.  When the last family arrived my cousins and I grew impatient to receive our presents and when we finally received approval to open them the wrapping paper would fly! So many presents!  After the opening of the presents we would sit down for Christmas dinner.  Our typical Christmas dinner included Turkey and stuffing, a baked pasta, sausages, meatballs, a beef roast, a ham, at least 5 different vegetables, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, ricotta pie (made with ricotta cheese, sausage, mozzarella and egg), various jello molds, and lots of different kinds of bread.  My dad would lecture everyone about the evils of eating bread before the meal. After the meal was finished the women would clear the table and the men would take a break by having after dinner cigars.  Then came time for coffee.  Coffee meant dessert.  The table would be filled with baskets of fruits and nuts and always included figs and roasted chestnuts.  Trays of Italian cookies and pastries would fill the table along with various cakes and pies.  Italian pastries and chocolate eclairs would fill the table to such excess that another table had to be set up.  Somewhere in the mix was coffee, anisette, brandy and other beverages.  After all this food, the men would sit down for a rousing game of pinochle and the woman would sit down for poker.  The pinochle game was more fun to watch.  The men were so passionate and animated playing the game and shouts and screams could be heard throughout with an occasional wife calling her husbands name in reprimand to remind them the children were present. Then everyone would leave (but not without a bag of leftovers) and we would all go to Zitzy's (Calabrese dialect for Aunt) house. Zitzy was the sister of my grandmother and the matriarch of the family.  Once at Zitzy's, more eating and sweets and card games would go on.  It still amazes me how many people fit in her house.  I would see people I did not remember and ask my dad who they were.  He would tell me their names and I would ask if they were family.  Many times my dad would say no, they are paesani. I have learned since then, most of them were, in fact family.  Zitzy's son in law, Uncle Frank would make dancing ladies out of white cloth napkins and make them dance to a song he would sing. At the end of the dance their "skirts" would fly up.  The children would all laugh.  I always saw such joy in his sweet face when he did this. The evening was filled with great food, heavy cigar smoke, thick Italian accents (with a few Greek and Scottish thrown in) great food, laughter, love, music, and did I mention, great food. .  It was always loud. Every time I smell cigars or think of Christmas, I remember the Christmases past filled with so much love and joy, it makes me cry. 
Merry Christmas, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad.