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Winter 2017

Spring 2017 Trip Planning Started !!



As always, the trip (see www.gentracer.com/lastrip.html) to Italy in November was wonderful! I'm looking forward to returning in April 2017 (see www.gentracer.com/nextrip.html).

Previous Adventures (November 2016)



Saturday, 19 November
Fly SLC-LHR

Sunday, 20 November
We arrived in London and took the metro to St. Pancras Station to catch the train to Paris. That metro ride across London took 3 hours instead of 45 minutes, VERY frustrating. So we took the train buying a last minute ticket during a high traffic period, so it cost more. And we'd planned to do this in the afternoon to view the countryside, but it was full dark by the time we left London. THEN, the 2 hour train ride ended up taking 5 ˝ hours! We were pretty hungry since we hadn't stopped for food along the way with all the travel delays. Checked into the hotel we'd reserved the previous afternoon to be ready for our flight to Pisa the next day.

Monday, 21 November
Had breakfast with our friends in Paris (much less time than we'd hoped, but good to see Elaine and Matt). Then caught the train to the Orly airport for our flight to Pisa. Everything on time, yeah!

Arrived in Pisa, picked up the rental car, and drove into Lucca in hopes of quickly obtaining the photos of the pages of the 1823 census of a little town that is part of that city. We got to the Archivio di Stato an hour before it closed, but they were down to skeleton staff and couldn't leave their posts to get the book I needed. I told them I'd return when they opened in the morning. Then checked into one of my favorite hotels. Was greeted warmly by the staff who remembered me from previous trips. That was Il Patino in Bientina, Wonderful!

Tuesday, 22 November
Started the day in the walled city of Lucca, getting photos of that 1823 census. The clerk had the book ready and open on a study table for me and was very nice. No problem with photos taken with my camera, the usual 3 Euro fee for the set and we were off again.

Drove over to Firenze/Florence to meet with Marcello Turrini and his wife Paola. He is the son of a former POW held in Utah, so we did a preliminary video interview. We were able to do the interview at the Paleological Museum where she volunteers and then went to lunch with them in the cafeteria on the roof. The building is a former hospital run by nuns and they told us about it. The view of the dome of the Duomo is terrific! Good conversation, these folks have become friends over the last few years as he tries to learn more about his father's war experiences with my research. We've learned a lot, but there are so many frustrating gaps!

Drove about 2 hours up into the mountains above Lucca. Fanano is the equivalent of our Park City, without the upscale additions. Lovely little town in the Spring and Fall when I work there in the old church records. Hard to get a hotel in the middle of November, but we found one on the edge of town while riding that train to Paris.

Wednesday, 23 November
All the records for all the churches in this town and outlying areas have been consolidated into the main church in Fanano and are well organized. I was able to catch the priest in his office and he remembered me from previous trips and gave me the phone number for the woman who has access to the records. Senora Giovanna, the keeper of the archives, is a retired professor who is not only knowledgeable, but helpful and friendly. We asked her about the town library on this trip and she paved the way for us to access it in the town hall. We located a local history magazine in their collection with stories on the early families in the area, including the ones we were researching. When we asked if we could purchase a copy of the most relevant volume, they made phone calls to locate two copies and gave them to us at no cost! We get very invested in the research and treat the family as our own, this generates much support for the Americans who made the trip to learn about the ancestors who came from their town.

Drove down to our hotel reservation in Roma (5 hour drive). New place, near a Metro station with parking for the rental car. Not an easy combination in Roma!

Thursday, 24 November
I started the morning at the Vatican Secret Archives while Chris went to St. Peter's in hopes of finally gaining access to the Crypt. They move the entrance now and then and have been doing some work down there in the last year, so we haven't been able to get in to look for a particular person who is related to a client. It was still closed on this trip.

In the Vatican Secret Archives, renewing my access (an annual event) was much quicker and easier than I'd expected for the level of security and professional achievement required. But with all my information in the computer and my assurance that my topic was unchanged (Prisoners of World War II), I was off to the study room in no time. I ordered the maximum three volumes for the day, focusing on Radio transmissions (Vatican Radio) regarding which prisoners were in which camps. Unfortunately, the records are all statistics on numbers of dead and captured and their locations, but no names and not the transcripts I was hoping to find.

I picked out the 3 volumes I wanted for the next day, printed lists of prisoners held at two locations in Utah. However, in the Metro on the way to the Army repatriation offices, there was a notice that there would be a Metro strike the next day.

I've been looking for this office for a couple of years. About 5 years ago, I found the green repatriation cards for a client's father there (he'd been in the Italian Army and captured in Greece, transported up to Germany before his release). The signs on the door have changed and the website said to talk to the public relations office. I'd done that the previous year and she told me the records didn't exist. I knew she was wrong and got some email addresses from her, none of which led to the records I need. So I was back to knock on this door to see if they knew where the records had gone. Turned out, they hadn't moved at all, just changed their name. They located the green cards for the man I was seeking for WWII and told us about the lack of records for WWI. Other than that major achievement, they had some informative maps on the walls in the hall outside the office. I requested permission to photo and was at first told NO. When I explained that I didn't want to take photos of him or his office, just the framed things on the wall, he agreed and waved me on to do it. They had the best map I've ever seen of the camps in Russia! Even the VSA only lists three, but there were 184 named and located camps with 5 suspected camps (locations but no names). Amazing!

We had a late afternoon meeting with Daniela. Her husband is now in the hospital and they'll be moving in with her sister near Salerno before we return in the Spring. We talked about how hard it is to watch these big, strong, accomplished men suffer in their failing bodies and minds. Her brother is now in Napoli, so he can add to the discussion of their Grandfather's imprisonment in Arkansas in the Spring. She also advised us to leave town instead of trying to work with a Metro strike. The already crowded buses can't deal with the additional traffic from crowded trains on strike.

This was Thanksgiving, but the day was so full that we didn't realize it until we had time to stop while waiting to meet Daniela at the Triton statue at Piazza Barberini. We'd originally planned to meet at the Spanish Steps, but the police and Army were there and had already put up barriers as the crowds increased during the afternoon. Probably in support of the Metro strike the next day. So we moved the meet to Barberini and a nice bar (bright, nearly empty at 5:30, coffee and pastries, not like a bar in the US) where we could hear our conversation.

Friday, 25 November
We left early in the morning to avoid the increased car traffic from the Metro strike. The hotel clerk knew enough English to say that it was “raining cats and dogs” as we checked out, he was right!

We drove down to the German Military Cemetery in Pomezia. Took photos and video. Then drove down to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno for more video and photos. It rained off and on, but off when we were at those locations, so it was a very good day. Those cemeteries were a result of the WWII landings at Anzio, along with a couple of Commonwealth cemeteries closer to Anzio.

It was nearly dark and raining hard by the time we got to the Archivio di Stato in Caserta, but it was still open for a few hours so we got the information we were seeking for one client by reading through the Lista di Leva for 1843 in Casapulla, but still can't find the foundling ancestor of another client from Coreno Ausonio. We discussed the problem with the clerk and he couldn't think of a resource we hadn't used. They have a great computerized database for men who completed military service, but this mystery man didn't. He left for American first. We found the 1843 man by reading the conscription lists page-by-page through his town. Tedious, but SO satisfying when the right man is found! He didn't even charge me for my photos!

On to a very nice hotel in Avellino. Only about four hours driving on this day, with stops for work to make it easier. Good thing, still raining cats and dogs. The TV news is starting to talk about flooding in Genova.

Saturday, 26 November
Started off in the Archivio di Stato in Avellino. Chris got good video of my consultation with the clerk in charge as I entered the building. We ended up reading tax and notarial records in the 1700s and finding family members. The records only exist for certain years and the gaps were too large to cross with church records destroyed in Allied bombing in WWII. Lots of damage between the combat on the ground and from the air in this area. It was over more quickly than Cassino, but the loss of civil and church records has been a real challenge for us.

Drove a couple of hours over to Palo del Colle in time for evening Mass. Talked to the priest afterwards to arrange an appointment to research in the parish archives on Monday. Stayed at a hotel in the next town, easy access to Palo and other sites we wanted in the surrounding area.

Flooding still in the news, missing people around Genova and even on the southern coast of Sicily in Sciacca.

Sunday, 27 November
A day off!! We changed hotels to one on the coast and went to see the Sassi in Matera. These are cave dwellings that go back thousands of years but were occupied until forcibly emptied in the 1950's. They're gradually re-populating and are now a UNESCO heritage site. Saw some tourists and shot some tourist video as well as what we consider very funny “drive through the roundabouts” video on the way there. It was only about an hour from our hotel.

We returned to the Polish War Cemetery at Cassamassima. I think they only open it for special events. But the rain had stopped so we shot photos through the fence. They were nice enough to post a list of the men buried there with their towns of birth outside the gate, so we got a good photo of that as well. Off to the big French Auchon store in the mall nearby to stock up on food. We tend to picnic our way through Italy. Evening walk on the beach to collect sand for my growing collection. This was Adriatic Sea sand.

We found an Italian Military Cemetery for those who had died overseas, but it was closed so we took some photos through the fence.

Monday, 28 November
Arrived at the main church in Palo del Colle at 9 as planned to work in their archives. The priest isn't the same as 8 years ago, but his clerk is. The priest is younger, so he climbed the ladder to get the books from the cupboard instead of expecting me to do it this time. He even took the time to re-organize those books while we worked there. Nice folks!

Returned to that Italian Cemetery, the Sacrarium Militari in Bari that afternoon. It was open, except for the museum which we took some photos of through the glass doors. Deaths in Egypt, Albania, many other locations, walls of names...

Drove 4 hours to Nocera Terinese on the Western Coast. Too late for Mass. I'd been at this hotel before and they warmly welcomed me back, terrific!

Tuesday, 29 November
Went to the church in Nocera. It was open, but empty. Got some entertaining video of the entryway. Went to the bar on the main piazza and asked about the priest. We went to another church that was open, also empty. Back at the bar, someone found the priest, but he was running errands. When he finished, not ˝ hour later he told us that they'd moved the books because of the humidity in the main church. He took us to that other open church and left us with the books in the work room. I'd assisted him in recovering those books from the Seminary in nearby Lamezia Terme in the Spring and he rewarded me with the trust to research in these old records unsupervised, like last Spring. Not a privilege I take lightly! We found lots of great information and got images of many records for the client. This is a strange town where marriages aren't recorded and birth records don't name fathers. I suspect it is a Jewish town masquerading as Catholic to avoid problems since the Inquisition. It's up in the hills, but only ˝ hour from the coast or the main autostrada that runs up the spine of Italy. The records are a real challenge, but we're making progress.

Today's drive was 5 hours to Cefalu on the North coast of Sicily, by way of the ferry across the Strait of Messina.

Wednesday, 30 November
We started in the Stato Civile (civil records) office in Termini Imerese. The folks we're seeking weren't in those records, so we went next door to the Stato Civile offices in Trabia. Again, the folks were missing. But they suggested that we might find them in the church records. In some towns, families, and parishes, there was a movement against registering births and marriages with the state since those were holy rites in the Church. Apparently, these towns were part of that movement to the point that the civil records office regularly sends folks over to the church. The church was closed until 4:30 so we changed to an old favorite hotel and called it a day until then. Chris was sick and stayed back when I returned to Trabia that afternoon. Of course, at 4:30, the priest disappeared after opening the catechism class with prizes.

Thursday, 1 December
Arrived at the church in Trabia just after Mass and the priest was already gone. The ladies we talked to told us that he'd be there at 4. We then went to the main church in Termini Imerese and talked to the priest. I've been trying to get records out of this church since 1998. The old priest kept saying someone would do the research, but I couldn't get into the archives and no one answered my letters. About 7 years ago, I went with a monk out of Georgia whose parents were from this town and who still had relatives there. He got access to the archives room for about 10 minutes and we found a stack of my requests on the table. Frustrating!

I left the information on the family I was seeking with the priest with his promise to look at the records the next day and email me the results. No email yet (7 February).

Chris stayed at the hotel again that afternoon, but I did talk to the priest in Trabia who was great about searching 10 years for this birth, with negative results. He recommended that we contact the other church in town, San Nicola d'Arena. We'll send those letters from home.

Friday, 2 December
Drove to Patti and the Diocese Archives in hopes of learning more about a priest who founded a convent in San Fratello in 1692. They haven't been answering my inquiries. I think I need to shift from asking about him to asking about the history of the convent.

That drive to Catania was a total of 5 hours, but we got there as the desk opened to check bags for the flight we'd already checked into online. Nice system! No problems and we arrived in Paris as planned. But the Metro line we'd planned to take to our hotel was closed. We found an alternate route with much walking, but all good. I have a greater appreciation for the Paris Metro than every before.

The next day it turned out that there was sabotage on that line just before it opened that morning so no injuries, just a reminder to remember of fatalities on that line 30 years ago on that day.

Saturday, 3 December
A weekend in Paris wasn't our plan, but flight schedules made it necessary. We started with a trip to Pere Lechaise, the large cemetery where many famous folks are buried. We visited Chopin and Edith Piaf, among many others. They have a nice old Jewish section we spent some time in as well.

Then on to the Army Museum. We spend ˝ the day there until closing and only saw the exhibits outside the main museum and not even the WWI and WWII sections. We'd started with the Liberation of Paris and the Deportations of Jews into Concentration Camps in Germany. Then on to Ancient Armor. Then Napoleon's Tomb and on to Secret Wars (spy stuff, too crowded and no new information for those of us who enjoy the History Channel).

Sunday, 4 December
Chris was down sick after our long day walking around the cemetery and museum the day before, so I took the Metro to the train out to Suresnes American Cemetery. You can see the Eiffel tower (through the smog). It's primarily WWI with 24 unidentified WWII burials. I was surprised by the large number of Red Cross and YMCA burials there. There is a group of them near the chapel, but they're also scattered throughout the cemetery. Had a nice visit with the director after my self-guided tour of the chapel and grounds. He had lots of information, not only about this cemetery, but ABMC policies and history. He also had a book of photos of what he called private monuments and headstones. These were put up by other organizations, not the US, and start with a monument to John Paul Jones in Paris. He said there are 1300 of them, from monuments to burials in town cemeteries and just fields, in Western Europe. Apparently, he tries to document them and goes looking for them. He told a great story about being out with a colleague and running across 3 Irishmen. Apparently they were looking for a relative who was with the American Army in WWI. They were able to find the man they were seeking, but it points out the large number of foreign born members of the US military whose families are not only in the US, but around the world.

Sunday, 5 December
Flew CDG-SLC and was glad to be home.

I spoke on "Proving the Jewish Heritage of a Catholic Sicilian Family" at the IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in August 2016 in Seattle.

"Red Gold" starts filming in August, directed by Carlo Nero and with Vanessa Redgrave. Very exciting to see this finally getting filmed, only 15 years in the making. It's the story of Italian POWs in Indiana during WWII.

In April, I'm planning to research in Santa Venerina and Messina in Sicilia, Serrastretta in Catanzaro province, Salerno, Roma, the Vatican Secret Archives, Pescosolido, Lucca, Firenze (Florence), Bologna, Varese Ligure in La Spezia province, Chiusa di Pesio in Cuneo province, Verona, Gargnano in Brescia province, Borgnone in Switzerland, and Milano. I'm looking forward to meeting with both American and European friends (old and new), as well as returning to favorite places and visiting towns I haven't seen before!


My book on CD titled
Sicily, Part 1 and Part 2 is now available on 2 CDs or .rar files. 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
Prisoner of War Camps Across America and is available in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon and in Nook format on Barnes and Noble.



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