I first started tracing my family history in 1992. And naturally, just like everyone else, I started with whom and what I already knew about my DiBernardo history. What I didn’t know were the rewards that I would find waiting for me eleven years later.
My Family Story starts back in Camigliano, Caserta, Italy with Alfonso DiBernardo and Finizia Forese. Alfonso was born September 03, 1867, to Giovanni DiBernardo and Filomenia Carusone. They were property owners and wine makers, as they are today several generations later.
My great-grandfather Alfonso DiBernardo made his first trip to America July 12, 1899, and had made several trips through Ellis Island after going to the Pittsburgh area with family that he had there. My grandfather Annibale Giovanni DiBernardo was born back in Camigliano, Caserta, Italy March 31, 1890.
He started accompanying his father to America on his trips to Pittsburgh. My Nonno finally made his last trip to America as a young man at the age of nineteen years old. My Nonno took his last ride on the Ancona March 09, 1909. He stayed in the Pittsburgh area for a while working in the steel mills there.
A family friend of his got in touch and told him that they were hiring on the railroad in Hillsville, Pennsylvania, where he would settle with his family. He met my Nonna Antonette Messina and married October 03, 1912. My Nonno was a very hard worker and a loving family man.
Over the years I had done research at The Family History Center in Butler, Pennsylvania, where I had found all The Italian Documents that I needed to find my Nonno’s family again.
I had found Birth and sometimes Baptismal Certificates as well as Marriage and Death Documents. On these you will find a wealth of information such as names of the town mayor, witness names, ages and occupations. Also you will find addresses, names of parents, and sometimes names of grandparents also if known. And if you were lucky as I was, you had their signatures on these documents if they were able to write back then.
All this prompted me to do a telephone search in Italy, and much to my surprise the street names were still the same. Only the address numbers changed.
Before Christmas last year I sent a couple of letters to Camigliano to family members with the same last names. After New Years I received three letters back from my Nonno’s nieces, Rosa Palandra, Cristina Veltre, Immacolta Cenname, and they invited me to Camigliano to meet their families.
So I made my first trip October 08, 2003, and was there for ten days with my newfound family. I was there for The Feast Day Of San Simeone, and I have never seen anything like this before. San Simeone is the Patron Saint of the town of Camigliano. It was an experience I will never forget.
Being inside San Simeone Church, which is 1,100 years old, I couldn’t help but to be in complete awe. Not only because of the sheer visual delights posed by this church, but how far I had come in search of my roots. Here I was standing on the ground where it all began for my ancestors. Just walking the streets and viewing the sights of his hometown was a very emotional time for me.
To actually be in the old homestead where my great-grandparents Alfonso DiBernardo and Finizia Forese raised their family was so very emotional for me, to be in the home where my Nonno and his brothers and sisters grew up in. My Nonno’s niece Alfonsina D’Onofrio still lives in the old homestead and still carries on the family tradition of baking in the outside bake oven and still makes "pizza incinta" and struffoli.
The town of Camigliano is a very quaint little village and its people all are warm and loving. I know that my Nonno Annibale Giovanni DiBernardo would be proud and happy that one of his own family made the journey in his honor and in celebration of his and all of his ancestors memory, and I am glad that it was me. It was a dream come true, and all of my hard work paid off. I have found the family and the homeland that my Nonno loved so much. I plan to return there again soon, if the family will have me again.
My Memory Of My Trip To Camigliano
On my recent trip to my Grandfather Annibale Giovanni DiBernardos homeland of Camigliano, Caserta, Italy, I was taken aback by the simpler way of time these people live there. It was like a scene from an old Italian movie, the neighborhood men sitting outside the neighborhood bar shooting dice. The men were all lined up as they talked about events of the day and what they were planning on doing later while waiting for their turn of shooting the dice. I stopped to watch as some of them played, actually almost kneeling on the side of the street shaking the dice in their hands waiting to see if their score beat the gentleman before them. These people were always polite and happy to welcome you, but I couldn’t help but wonder if my Nonno and his father Alfonso were all part of that years before and that these men were just carrying on a long time tradition.
The dogs walking the town would run up to you begging to be petted and loved. Everyone was so warm and friendly. They have a way of making you feel as if you belong there and not just as a visitor to their homeland. I was accepted warmly and lovingly by my Nonno’s family that still remains there. Filomenia DiBernardo was the last daughter born to Alfonso DiBernardo and Finizia Forese and was born January 24, 1915, some twenty some years after my Nonno was born. She was the only sibling that my Nonno didn’t meet or lay eyes on. My Nonno never returned to the homeland and the family that he loved so much.
In the time we are living, it’s hard to believe how hard our families had it back then. They came to America in search of a better life and mostly found it here, but lost a lot along the way. Most family members stayed in America never to return their homeland that they loved so very dearly.
So for me, all the years and time that I put into researching my DiBernardo Family History has not only found me my Nonno’s family back in Camigliano, but was also a celebration of all my ancestors lives that I never got to meet. However, I feel as if I have been part of their lives by going through and finding all the documents that show that they were people living and not just a name that someone remembered. All of this hard labor took hours of sitting in front of a microfiche machine looking at these old documents written in their native handwriting and trying to figure out what letter is which to help tie your past to your present. On these documents you will find a wealth of information; names, dates, occupations, names of the mayor and, if you were lucky as I was, you’ll even find your ancestor’s signature if they knew how to read and write. All my family were able to read and write, which was unheard of back then.
I made my first trip to Italy October 08, 2003, and was with my Nonno’s family there for ten days to see their Feast Day Of San Simeone who is the Patron Saint of Camigliano. I had never seen anything as beautiful as this tradition which they still carry on today. The men carry the statue of San Simeone all around their hometown, up and down the streets and in front of every home to show their honor to this Saint, a tradition that has been all but lost to some parts of the United States. I couldn’t help but think and wonder how my Nonno and great-great-grandparents must have felt to see this and be a part of all this all those years ago.
My family has a tradition of preparing a goose to eat this day. Alfonsina D’Onofrio, who is my Nonno’s niece, still lives in the old homestead where all my Nonno and his siblings lived. A shrine made into the wall of the home to San Simeone is very common in their homes. Such a strong devotion to their religion is another part of our Italian Heritage lost here in America. I witnessed men on their way to work and after work stopping by to bring flowers to the different Saints and just to stop and say a prayer.
All the old world values that our families had generations ago are still strong today and being carried out everyday in our hometowns back there. If I could have just one wish, it would be for everyone who cared enough to be a family’s historian such as I am. And for that person to go back where the family started from in Italy and walk the same streets in the same location that their ancestors did and see the old homesteads that are still standing and still in the same family today. To visit the church and experience the wonder and the sheer total awe of it. I, like everyone else who does go back in search of their roots, am making plans to return to the homeland where our families first started out. For, without all the nameless and unknown ancestors, we wouldn’t be here today to enjoy the life that we all have come to know and love.