Preparing for a visit to the town of origin

Seems simple, book a flight, take a bus or train, walk around the town, talk to people and find relatives. Sometimes it actually works! Mostly it doesn’t, at least not all of it. I hear from people who did it successfully and those who were so disappointed to find the town offices closed, the church not open and the street didn’t exist anymore. A successful visit takes planning. First decide the purpose of your visit. Is it research or just to experience the place your ancestors left? Then figure out where the town is, and its nearest international airport. Check out where you can search for the town. The site is in English and will detail the town map, its current population, parish church etc. If your visit is for the experience try to find out when the festa for the town’s patron Saint is. Being there for this will be an experience you will never forget. Consider being there for Corpus Domini as this is traditionally the day for ‘First Communions’ and a procession of the communion host over a carpet of flowers. Although this festa officially falls on a Thursday it is almost always celebrated the following Saturday/Sunday. You can find out when this festa takes place at If your purpose is research don’t chose the local Saint day, Corpus Domini, Easter, April 25, May 1st, June 2nd August 15, or November 1-2nd for your visit. No one will have time for you and the offices may not even be open. If your goal is research, about one month before your trip write letters to the town Mayor and local priest to let them know when you plan to be in town and ask permission to research your family in their archives. Be sure to bring a copy of this letter with you (in case they don’t remember receiving it). The parish address can be found at www.parrocchiemap.itDSC01675. Most emigrants were from small towns high in the mountains and while they weren’t very accessible when they left, don’t assume they will be more so today. Many small towns appear to have a train station, but the station is often several kilometres from the old town that you want to visit. Bus service is often two to four times a day and serves the local population for shopping trips, medical appointments etc. It may not suit your schedule and you may end up with a taxi for the final leg of the trip. If its going to be complicated consider renting a car but remember the best place for car rentals is often the airport and this might not fit in with your other plans. Another alternative is to hire a taxi, who can pick you up, take you where you need to go and hopefully speak enough English to get you some useful information. If you don’t have any other information than what you have found in the USA (or other country) then consider hiring a professional researcher/guide who can do some preliminary research, locate the street your family lived in and arrange for the appropriate church to be open for your visit. Remember too, that small (and some large) Italian towns still close down between 1pm and 4pm. This means the restaurants/bars will be open but nothing else. Some small towns have restaurants that only open on Friday/Sat/Sunday for the local population, and nothing else. If you do get caught in this situation head for the nearest grocery store (alimentari) and ask them to make you a sandwich. Bread and cold cuts with cheese is what you’ll get, no butter, mayo, ketchup or mustard I am afraid, but you won’t go hungry. You might even consider carrying some small packets of these condiments in your travel bag for such emergencies! Let’s assume you have done the research and know the street or area your family lived. Prepare a pedigree chart from yourself to your ancestor who left. Also a family group chart(s) showing the ancestor who left and his/her siblings. It is the descendants of these siblings you will want to locate. Knock on doors, but not during the 2-4pm time frame or you may be interrupting their afternoon rest. Ask about the siblings of your ancestor, not about YOUR ancestor. No one will remember him, but they may know of their siblings who stayed. Say you are looking for descendants of ……………………. Keep in mind that most people’s memories don’t go beyond 3 generations (including theirs) and with the constant name repetition it is often hard to get them to understand which generation you are referring to. Ask about the original family home and remember to ask permission to take photos of it. You might even get invited inside. The parish church should be your next stop. If it is closed ask at the closest bar for the person who might have the key. If they are gracious enough to come and open the church for you please leave a generous (10-20 Euro) donation in one of the boxes. This person will not have the authority to let you see the record books, that can only come from the priest. While in the church look for the baptismal font. Usually just inside the church doors and surrounded by a fence and gate although in many churches the font has been moved to the front of the church near the altar. In early times unbaptized persons were not permitted near the altar so the child was brought in and quickly baptized at the back of the church before being brought forward for a blessing. Look around the floor for a square block with a ring embedded in it. This is probably the entrance to the former burial chamber prior to 1815 when deceased persons were placed on stone shelves under the church floor. Napoleon ordered these chambers to be cleaned out and the ashes and bones moved to a cemetery outside the town limits for hygienic reasons. Check out the statues in the church and if they are not named ask who they are. Often they are the Saints after whom your ancestors were named! Touch the pillars. Are they covered in marble or just painted to look like marble? This difference will tell you how important the church was in the 1700’s and 1800’s. When you are finished for the day, take a minute to sit at the bar in the town centre. Relax, look around, chances are the view hasn’t changed much since your ancestor left. Take a photo of yourselves in front of the church or town hall in sepia tones it will seem like a piece of the past!


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