Grotte, Sicily (Sept. 2016) – More Dreams Came True!

After meeting a Sicilian cousin in Ireland, I decided I would book a trip to Italy. I knew this was a sign from Spirit to go for it! How could I not!? I thought I was crazy for taking two large international trips in such a short amount of time, but it worked out.

I booked my trip for the end of Sept./early October, and I planned to go to Grotte in Sicily where my great-grandfather (Amodeo) was from, as well as spend the rest of my time relaxing on the beach in Tropea.

Initially I didn’t think I was going to do anything in Grotte, other than look for the house Amodeo grew up in, go to the town hall and church to look for any records, and to check out the cemetary to find any other descendants.
As the trip got closer, I knew I was kidding myself to think that I would show up to Grotte and not stare at every person wondering if they were my family or not. This prompted me to try to find information online first to see if I could arrange for a time to meet people at the town hall, the church, etc.

YEAH RIGHT. This area had no websites of these places, whatsoever! About the only site I could find was the town’s website where it listed the names of the churches, the officials of the town, etc. I was lucky to find a “Contact Me” button, and figured I should try…so here I went, writing to someone who I was, that I was coming, and this is the information I needed. I sent him every document I had and any old photos of Amodeo in case he recognized anyone in town to look like him.

An angel of a man named Carmelo wrote me back within a day or two!!! He received my email and is in charge of the town’s website and posting the daily news. He told me after reviewing my information that he thinks I am related to a particular family, and he told me specifically about a man named Diego Aquilina, who works for the town. I was BLOWN AWAY to have gotten a response, let alone this specific of information.

I sent Diego an e-mail requesting an appointment to meet with him, and told him when I’d be there. I sent him also all the documentation I had. Unfortunately, I never heard anything from him. I was really nervous showing up, naturally, because I had no idea what to expect. He may have thought I was nuts, he may welcome me. I was nervous.

It was a LONG journey to get there, but I finally arrived in Grotte. I had to take a flight from the US to Rome, then to Palermo, where I stayed overnight. I could barely understand the owner of the hotel’s accent (in English or Italian) not to mention being completely jet lagged. This worried me also because I hadn’t really spoken or heard much in 5 years! I did practice for a few weeks with my high school Italian teacher online before I went (thank God!) but it was still difficult.

Upon arriving at the Comune (town hall) of Grotte, I was met by Diego and his brother Lillo as well as the mayor of the town. I about fell over – Diego (left) ABSOLUTELY resembles my grandfather (right)!Diego

They were very nice, and took me to the woman in charge of the town’s records. It was here that I saw the original birth certificate of Amodeo. I was shocked to see it in a HUGE book – look at the size of that thing!!!birth certificate
All these old records are just stored on the shelves of metal cabinets, not in fire safe protection of any sort! It made me laugh – just incredible!
After this, I could tell they felt ‘stuck’ on what to do with me for lunch time. Lillo dropped me off for lunch at his sister’s house. I felt weird showing up out of nowhere, but the moment I stepped in her house, I was told to “Mangia” which I gladly did – nothing like homemade cooking in Italy! I discovered she was married to a man with the last name Morreale, and that is one of the names I have found in my family tree history as well. It amazes me that after all these years how interconnected the families still are.
Later that afternoon, Diego drove me to the old part of Grotte where Amodeo grew up, and was able to see his house from the outside. We asked the neighbors if the people who live there were home, but they were at work. Otherwise I would have loved to have gone inside to see it. It was absolutely incredible to me though to have seen this!
House
We were driving to meet another cousin of Diego’s, and in the car he asked me if I ever considered applying for dual citizenship. Of course I had but found it near impossible to come by with the amount of documents I needed to scrape up to prove I’m of Italian descent. Low and behold, he OFFERED ME the papers I’d need to give to the US Consulate from Italy – BOOM, just like that! I couldn’t believe my ears – I truly thought I misunderstood something, hahaha. Talk about a miracle, literally put in my lap!flags

When we arrived at his cousin’s house, this is where I discovered the fact that Diego did not think I was a relative of his. He said all his family he’s aware of either still live in Italy, or have immigrated to France or Belgium, but nobody to the US. His cousin spoke up, and said, “Yes, I’ve heard of Rochester NY” and she knew it was somehow connected to the family, but was unclear how. Hmm! All I know is that Amodeo was one of the youngest siblings (his dad was older when he had him) and the other siblings were much older. What I think happened is once Amodeo left Italy at age 16 (and never came back) his older siblings never talked about him. I am almost positive this is why Diego has no knowledge of him – his dad (who I presume was one of Amodeo’s older brothers) probably never spoke of him.

After this, Diego took me back to the town hall, where he arranged a meeting of all the Aquilina family from the town to come together to meet me!!! He told me this was not his Aquilina family, because there are 2 families there with the same last name. Upon walking in, it was like I came home for a homecoming party – everyone was SO excited and happy to see me!

After I got introduced to everyone, the mayor officiated a ‘presentation’ giving me a certificate acknowledging that I officially have connections to Grotte, which was incredible! Where else in the world would a town’s mayor give you special attention!? Unbelievable…

Mayorcertificate

Once things wound down, Diego invited everyone to meet for coffee/light dessert, which at that point I was needing to wind down. In a matter of 7 hours, the things I always dreamt about and wondered about as a kid came true – in those moments! When I tell you I couldn’t sleep that night, it was no joke. I was high on adrenaline!

A huge thank you to Carmelo Arnone! I am forever grateful! If he hadn’t responded, I would never have had this beautiful experience!

Carmelo
The next day I had dinner at Diego’s sister Gina’s house and met more family.
Family3Family
It was amazing – after dinner, around 10:30pm, the doorbell rang – more family members came over. The door bell rang again, and more came! It was just incredible and I loved every minute of it! This is the group that ended up showing up. ❤
family2
What blew me away was that one of Diego’s nephews, Alfonso, looks a lot like Amodeo. Amodeo was 24, Alfonso was 17 in this photo.Alfonso
Later on, I did more research and found a cousin of Diego, and her nose is EXACTLY the same as my mom’s!
My mom is on the left, this cousin, Gisella, is on the right.
nose
Diego did see the resemblances, but I think is still not 100% convinced. I suggested taking a blood test the next time I am there, and I think they’re okay with this idea.

The next day I traveled to Agrigento with Lillo. There were some amazing Greek ruins there, and we stopped to see the Scala dei Turchi – just beautiful!20196806_10212541497505021_716544668_n20206343_10212541497665025_2071790174_n

20197045_10212541497545022_1051136531_n

Scala Dei Turchi

That night, I met Lillo’s daughter, Venera, who I’d communicated with. She is just lovely and we had dinner at their house that night.
I had a lovely visit during my time, and I look forward to returning. I could not believe the WARMTH and LOVE I felt on this journey with mere strangers!
For Christmas, our family made this video trying to speak in Italian for our Sicilian relatives! Anything to try to keep the lines of communication open.
I cannot express what a DREAM come true this experience was!
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