Members of our family go to Italy about every 5-7 years. While we may visit Rome, or go to other northern areas, we always make sure to include a stop in Palermo to visit with cousins on my paternal great-grandmother’s side of the family – the LoVerso’s.
When we last went in 2013 to visit family members in Palermo, we were taking my parents for the first time and our uncle was going to meet up with us in Palermo. My father and uncle are the two oldest brothers in their family. My uncle really wanted to go to Cerda for a day trip. This is a small town south of Palermo and is the where my paternal grandfather’s side of the family – the DeFelice’s – were from. My grandfather, Marion DeFelice, was born here to Angelo DeFelice and Rosina Cirri.
We had been told by an aunt and a cousin living in the US that we didn’t have any more relatives in Cerda and even the church where my Grandfather was baptized had been turned into a post office. My uncle still wanted to go to Cerda to see what we could find.
My uncle fell ill just before the trip, but we decided to go to Cerda anyway and document it through photos to share with him. We thought it would be great to go do the town and even if we could find the old church building and take a photo of it, we would all be in our glory.
As we came close to the town we had to start travelling upwards and fell in love with the beautiful farmland. My father enjoyed this and knew his brother would have also. We finally made it into town and it didn’t take long to drive from one side-to-the-other and back again. We did see a church with banners on it indicating it was celebrating its 300th birthday, so we thought we would park near it and walk through it – just in case.
We happened to park behind a postal worker who was just getting out of his car. Since the story we were told was our ancestor’s church was now a post office, we decided to approach him to ask. With my Grandfather’s baptismal certificate in hand and the best Italian we could muster, we asked if he knew of the church.
You could see something came to mind as his eyes lit up. He tugged on my brother’s shirt sleeve and he asked us to follow him around the corner and up the hill a bit – closer to a church we had seen. He stopped at an apartment, rang the bell, and then proceeded to have a conversation with a woman who answered the door. The conversation was way too fast for any of us to follow with our limited Italian, but we did understand when she asked us to come back in 1 hour because she needed to wait until her husband came home.
As we left, we all shared what we thought we heard and came to the conclusion that this woman worked in the church nearby and she may be able to assist us match the copy of the baptismal certificate we had to the church records. We were all so excited about this opportunity! We even went into the church they had pointed to and walked around a bit – surprisingly finding a “DiFelice” version of our family name on one of the church pews. We also found the baptismal font and since it was older than our grandfather, took pictures of it in hopes this was the he was baptized in.
When we returned to the woman’s home, a gentleman was with her and he invited us into their home. So up and in we all went, my father and mother, brother, husband, son, and myself. They seated us at their formal dining room table, offering us espresso and cookies. The cookies were an exact match to what we always call “Aunt Angie cookies” – a round, white cookie with a little bit of glaze and we were happy with that food tradition. We introduced ourselves and showed them again the copy of our grandfather’s baptismal certificate.
The gentleman began telling us a story that his own grandfather, Filice DiFelici, had a brother Angelo who moved to America when he was young. He remembered stories of “Zio Angelo” that his father would tell him. He also remembered that one of Zio Angelo’s sons, Peter, came back to Cerda to marry a friend of the family because his first wife had died. He began showing us pictures that Peter and his new wife, Angelina, had sent to them with photos of Zio Angelo’s family.
While looking through the photos, my brother exclaimed, “Dad, this is you in the photo!”. What a find! It turns out that this gentleman, Filice DiFelice, living in Cerda is a cousin of my father, Angelo DeFelice – both named after their grandfathers, who were brothers.
We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with our newly-found family members, trying our best to converse with the little Italian we knew the little English they knew. They also directed us to the town cemetery, so we were able to find the resting place of many ancestors, allowing us to fill in more of our family tree research.
While we don’t expect an adventure like this to happen more than once in a lifetime, it won’t stop us from trying! The next time we visit Palermo, we hope to go to Misilimeri – the town of my paternal great-grandfather’s family – the Rizzo’s.
– Debi B