Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Finding Simoniello

Tuesday, 19 June 2012
San Gregorio Magno, Italy

 “We found another one!” said Valerio, the young man who drove us into the village of San Gregorio Magno.  San Gregorio is the mountain town that my grandfather Angelo Simoniello left in 1878, at the age of 16.   We are staying just outside of town at La Sfruschia, a farm and B and B.  Arriving yesterday, the owners told me that there were many Simoniello’s in the town, and that they all descend from the same line.  To verify this, we headed into the municipal offices to see what we could find.

San Gregorio's manos
Jeanne, Valerio, Gregorio Robertazzi, Tommaso, and archivist

A view of San Gregorio

Simoniello Agroindustrie

Jeanne, Valerio and Gregorio
In the office, we quickly found out that there were many records to be searched, and the first search yielded the death certificate of Grandpa’s brother Guisieppe, who died in the town in 1942.  Knowing this, the gradually expanding group of Neopolitan-speaking folks who happened to be paying property taxes in the town hall that morning began calculating my genealogy.  Included in these was a young man who, learning that my grandmother’s name was Robertazzi, identified himself as Gregorio Robertazzi and joined our entourage.  We continued communicating in broken Italian-English-Spanish (no problem discussing New Jersey and Bruce Sprngsteen, as he started singing “Born in the USA”.)
San Gregorio “Mano”
Our first stop was a visit to te oldest living Simoniello in town, Giovanni.  Giovanni is the son of my grandfather’s brother Pietro. He is 92.  We met him at the Simoniello AgroIndustrial plant, where I pulled out the family pictures, we talked about relatives  and I searched his face for some semblance of grandpa. Needn’t have bothered.
Giovanni Simoniello, Age 92
“Jeanne,” Jane said. “Look at his hands.”
Many of you know that I have a genetic arthritic conditions that causes my fingers to turn in weird directions, as calcium deposits in the joints.  My Dad had it to some extent.  But Giovanni and I had identical fingers.  We learned that many of the Simoniello’s in this line have the manos (hands).  We are second cousins! 
The cell phone rang and Gregorio  said that he’d located Tomasso, of the Robertazzi family, who spoke English and was going to meet us back at the City Hall so we could search the archives for more family records.  In front of City hall, we were hailed by another Robertazzi, an older man, who was happy to claim me as a cousin.  Up in the archives, we searched birth records for 1862 and 1863; found grandpa, and from this found our entire Simoniello family lineage, going back to 1826.  This confirmed that Giovanni and I were really related.  It also linked us to my biological Grandma and her sister Rosa Robertazzi, and Rosa’s husband Vito (who raised my dad)).
Gregorio bid us ciao, and we finished the search, which Jane and Gail captured on video and in stills. Everybody waved their arms and spoke loudly, sounding much like Christmas dinner in Brooklyn.  We concluded in the archives, and I went into a bar across the square to get us some something to drink.  Our Robertazzi cousin was there and he insisted on buying our water.

The cell rang again.
“Another Simoniello!” said our driver, Valerio.  It was Gregorio, saying he’d identified yet anpther living branch of the family, one who spoke English and owned the hardware store.  Her mother, Delia, was the granddaughter of another of Angelo’s brothers.  This brother was married to another Rosa Robertazzi, who was likely a cousin of my Rosa. (touch of intermarriage; explains the hands).   We met at the hardware store, and all went up to meet Delia.  She opened the door, and her daughter told her, “This is your cousin from America.”
Delia Simoniello and Jeanne compare fotos of Rosa Robertazzi
“What a surprise,” says Mom, deadpan.
“They left a long time ago,” I answered.
Delia  frowned.  “So what took you so long to get here?” she asked.
Laughter all around, and we accepted an invitation to coffee and biscotti.  Her husband made coffe, while we compared family trees and also family pictures.  It was the Simoniello face, and hair.  Delia was a real “skootch,” as my mom used to say, kidding all the time; switching from English to Italian.  I pulled out the Neopolitan words of my childhood, fazooles and pomeroles (tomatoes).  We exchanged phone and address, and we invited her to visit in the US and Australia, as this is also August’s, ( Jane’s son)heritage.
The day was really what one would wish would happen when “going home.”  I found cousins; I saw the agricultural land that is in my genes.  It is a slightly more verdant New Mexico, where the land produces but the children still leave in search of something better. 
We returned to La Sfuschia for a midafternoon meal: ricotta, provalone, and other cheeses made there, and a huge bowl of cavatelli, a pasta which I haven’t eaten since Rosa Robertazzi, covered our beds with them in the 1950s!
Grazzie to Tomas, Gregorio, Valerio, Cousin Giovanni, Cousin Delia and all the Simoniellos and Robertazzis we met today!

1 comment:

  1. Wow Jeanne, this is great! Is everyone reading this already?