Professional Researchers Tracing YOUR Genealogy
My last on-site research trip was in February 2020 and included these adventures:
Friday, 21 February – drove to the church of San Bartolomeo in Campagna. The Museum of Memoriae della Pace in the adjoining building houses the artifacts, stories and photos of the Concentration Camp housed in the same building. The town was badly damaged with 177 dead as a result of Allied bombing on 23 September 1943. During the bombing, the prisoners escaped through a window onto the mountain behind the town. But the injuries to the people of the town who had been so friendly and helpful to the prisoners brought the two doctors down off the mountain to assist their friends. None of the prisoners died at the camp. A school group was there, a common event for this museum. Their guide, Carmine, was able to hold their attention with his presentation, while the museum director and the director of the Paladucci Institute were also there. My English-speaking guide, Mirko, was most helpful and made all the introductions and appears in our group photo at the end of my visit. The museum contains many letters from Paladucci to the Pope and letters he received from the Vatican and from the Italian Fascist government complaining that the camp was too lax. The prisoners, all men, were able to walk about town and developed friendships with the people who lived there and provided emotional assistance although they were extremely impoverished to the point that the prisoners had better living conditions than many villagers. There is also a room describing the camp at Auschwitz to show the public the worst, and most famous, of the camps.
That afternoon, I arrived in Tarsia and visited the town cemetery to photograph the remaining graves from Ferramonti Concentration Camp and the monument to the others who died there. Between the four graves and the monument listing 16 with headstones for another 4, one wonders where the last are buried and if the wikipedia notice that they are in Cosenza is correct. One also wonders if the number of 21 that appears on wikipedia includes any Catholic deaths now that I know there were Catholics in the camp as well, both Roman and Greek rite.
Saturday, 22 February. I met Simona shortly after 9 am as we'd arranged. Although there were Jewish people in that camps, there were also Roman Catholic dissenters from Roma and Greek Orthodox dissenters perhaps from Albania. So there were four religious congregations in the camp (two Jewish, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardic) before the arrival of the survivors of the Petcho sinking who comprised their own congregation after two years of travel as a group after capture. Each religious community was given space in the camp buildings (barracks) for their groups. The museum there is built around the photos and stories of the families who were there, including marriages and the births of children in addition to some deaths due to various causes, none of them due to the camp administration. My guide, Simona Ciliberti, is acknowledged as an expert on the camp and works for the town of Tarsia to oversee the exhibits, conduct tours for school groups and others. There is a display of books that provide many of the details of the life of the camp. There are detailed displays of camp prisoners who became famous later in their lives in their occupations. The different groups who lived at the camp are also explained in the exhibits. Simona offered to give assistance as my research continues. There is some confusion about the number of deaths and where they are now, also the number of marriages, although all seem to agree on 21 births. Like yesterday, our common goal of educating people about the events at this location and the stories of cooperation between the people of the town and the prisoners of the camps are stories of hope.
The exhibits included a certificate of circumcision issued by the Roman department for Jewish affairs and dated shortly after the event in Ferramonti in 1943. A drawing by Finkelstein is a self-portrait with the barracks in the background and a slumped man facing the fence with a guard tower. Simona said all the prisoners remembered one big tree that provided shade in the camp. The guards were some Italian Army but mostly local citizens paid to work at the camp to keep the prisoners in and others out.
Simona advised me that the documents from Ferramonti and other Italian camps had been placed in the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Milano. One wikipedia entry said there was a painting by a prisoner at San Bartolomeo in Tarsia. But there is not church by that name in that town. Simona told me that San Bartolomeo on Bisignano had a painting by Michl Finkelstein (a former camp prisoner who changed his name to Michel Fingesten) that is now in a museum there. The town of Tarsia now maintains the Ferramonti museum and gets credit for all photos.
When I mentioned that the stroller in a photo looked expensive, she said that the Israel Kalk fund in Milano provided food and clothing and other items for the children of the camp. His papers are now part of CDED in Milano. Simona provided website address plus email for Marco Rende, a professor who had done excellent research on the camp. While the Ferramonti Foundation organized the original exhibits and signage, it is no longer functioning, with the town taking over the responsibilities.
The camp originally had a store owned by the camp builder which was very expensive. But the prisoners were able to exchange goods and services with the local population, as well as tending their own gardens, to provide enough food and goods at affordable prices. After liberation, the smaller population moved to the administration buildings and the barracks were removed to enable the land to return to farming. Some of the camp population had gone to a displaced persons camp in New York while others waited in hopes of getting permission to move to Palestine.
I drove to Acri and located my B&B, located near the Chiesa Madre, in time to attend evening Mass. I was then able to talk to the priest and obtained an appointment to work in his archives on Monday morning at 7:30. He suggested that I speak to the monks at the Santuario di Beato Angelo in town since they were said to have an archives holding the parish records of the town before 1880 which is when the records at the local parish start.
Sunday, 23 February – began the day at the Santuario di Beato Angelo at Acri and went through four helpful men before learning that the archives were closed, but the old parish records had been moved to the Diocese archives in San Marco Argentano, or perhaps to Cosenza. So I drove to San Marco Argentano, arriving as folks gathered for a funeral. I then sent an email to that archives, since the website stated they were only open Tuesday through Friday in the mornings.
That afternoon, I located the cemetery for the city of Cosenza. There is a Jewish section, which appears to be populated with those who died at Ferramonti, total of 16, plus one man who was born in Vienna and died 30 years after Ferramonti. I wonder if he arranged for his friends to be moved to this cemetery.
Monday, 24 February – met the priest in Acri at 7:30 and he let me work in his archives during Mass. Unfortunately, this family has been able to locate marriages in the stato civile offices that did not appear in the records of this parish. Clearly, the families attended other parishes and we need to find where those records were archived. Sent email to archives at the Diocese of Cosenza in case they were there. The Diocese archives in Cosenza responded in a short time, stating that they have no Acri records and they must be in the parish in town. I advised him that they are not as of that morning, but might be at the Diocese archives in San Marco Argentano. When I told him the whole story, he agreed that they were probably at San Marco.
Later that morning, I worked in the Stato Civile offices in Tarsia to document deaths, births, and marriages in Ferramonti. The numbers don't match the information we've found, but the clerk advised me that because it was a camp, not all events were reported in hopes of hiding some information from the Fascist government. In fact, one of the marriages we found was recorded in 1946 with the note that it actually occurred in 1943.
The clerk said that there are records at the cemetery, but they were moved out of the office. Hopefully we can locate them later to confirm the burials at the Tarsia cemetery and their later removal to Cosenza.
Tuesday, 25 February – No one was at the Diocese archives at San Marco Tuesday morning, but the clerk in the Diocese offices said it would be open on Thursday. I couldn't wait another two days, so went on my way. On 27 February, I found a lovely note from the Diocese Archives in San Marco stating they they really do have those old Acri parish registers. I can't tell you how relieved I was to see her email! I was going to look for census/tax records, but we don't have them in the catalog for this location. www.antenati.beniculturali.it also has no Cosenza province records online yet.
That afternoon I drove down to the ferry at the Strait of Messina. Then drove on to Terme Vigliatore to stay at a lovely out-of-season spa with great views! What a lovely welcome back to Sicilia!
Wednesday, 26 February – drove on down to Mazara del Vallo and located my hotel on the beach. The wind was cold, but the beach was empty and the sunset there was beautiful!
Thursday, 27 February – arrived at the Diocese archives in Mazara del Vallo early for their anticipated 9:30 opening according to the website. It's a lovely area in the old center of town, so I was able to get lots of great photos of the old Norman Castle ruins and the Diocese buildings as well as the Cathedral. The clerk at the Diocese Archives said that the records I needed, marriages from 1720 and earlier, were held at the Cathedral. So I went across the street and met the priest after Mass. He was very grumpy and told me it was impossible. I pushed a little, but he just shrugged, threw up his hands, and walked away. So I returned to the Diocese Archives hoping for some biographical data on a priest born in this family in 1723. They didn't have anything that would help, but we determined that we might find a marriage contract for the parents of the priest at the provincial archives in Trapani.
So I drove off to Trapani, arriving when it was closing for lunch. That gave me an opportunity to wander through that portion of down and down the pier. When the Archivio di Stato opened for the afternoon I was able to read notarial records which might include that marriage contract before 1723. The clerk was discouraging, but I narrowed her large list arranged alphabetically by the name of the notary, to a list of notaries in Mazara del Vallo for the right years and got it down to a handful and started working through them. I'd read through them all by the time I left that evening, finding one record for the groom, but no marriage contract showing parents of the bride and groom as hoped. However, the records for only three men with the surname of the bride helped me to narrow down the options for her father. Certainly hope the priest at the Cathedral in Mazara decides it's too much trouble to hold on to those old registers and sends them across the street to the Diocese Archives so they can be researched at a later date.
Friday, 28 February - Drove over to Catania to spend the night near the airport for my morning flight. I'd stayed at this B&B before and love the little store down the street where I could get great deli stuff for dinner. Then wandered further away and discovered a very nice bar with excellent coffee and cannoli. Nice finish for my Sicilian adventure.
Saturday, 29 February – flew to Venice to connect to a flight to London. Flight was only ¼ full leaving Catania so they made all the food onboard half-price. The flight out of Venice was a little more than ½ full, so still strange traveling during this Pandemic of Corona Virus. Received a raised eyebrow from the customs officer in London when he learned I'd been in Italy, but he didn't stop me from entering, so it was all good. My reservation through Booking.com turned out to be a property closed for renovation, even though they sent a confirmation and took a pre-payment. Fortunately, there were three other properties in the same couple of blocks, so I was able to find a nice room.
Sunday, 1 March – arrived at St. Bride's well before services so I could enjoy the choir practice and organ warm-up. Also got to go downstairs to see the little museum with a part of Roman Wall as well as other artifacts from the history of this location. I love the music here! The singers are mostly opera singers and all professional, and the acoustics in this building designed by Christopher Wren (like St. Paul's) are fabulous! While the building was flattened during the Blitz of WW II, that crater revealed the old medieval chapel and part of the Roman Wall as well as an old cemetery below the church. The old building plans were recovered, so it was rebuilt as Christopher Wren planned and the music is amazing!
Then I wandered about town finding the naval, marine, and artillery monuments and a lot of other great buildings before returning to St. Bride's in time for choir practice for Evensong.
Monday, 2 March – took a shuttle to the airport and had no problems exiting the country with so few travelers at this time. Really a good time to travel!
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My next research trip to Italy is scheduled for October 2020.
My book on CD titled Sicily, Part 1 and Part 2 and is now available on 2 CDs. With a file for each town (plus many other files), it relates the history of Sicily as reflected in the photos, records and festivals of its towns. It contains over 2500 text and photo files and can be ordered at CD order.
My latest book is titled American Prisoner of War Camps in Montana and Wyoming and is available at Amazon in paperback format.
© Kathy Kirkpatrick 1997-2020