ancestors came from Italy, you should strongly consider taking a family
heritage trip to explore your roots. In recent years, various touring
organizations have sprung up to offer customized tours of the home villages of
one’s ancestors, combined with genealogical research to expand one’s family
tree. While I’ve managed to do this on my own by learning Italian, living in
Italy part time and devoting many weeks to research, not everyone has the time
and resources to do that. The next best thing is to pay someone in Italy to
help you plan a customized trip, where you can visit your ancestral villages
and possibly even meet living relatives.
Santoro, the founder of Travel Italian Style, offers family heritage trips
along with other travel planning services. Send her what you know about your
Italian ancestors and she’ll partner with Italian genealogists and researchers
to explore your family tree and then take you on a tour of your ancestors’ home
city or village.
“From genealogy research to meeting relatives in your family’s village in Italy, anything is possible with our team of experts,” Cassandra said. “There’s nothing better than a bilingual tour guide to walk you through the streets and discover the areas where your family lived and worked. We can even book you a cooking experience, so you can learn recipes from the local area that your family comes from.”
Chuck and Marie Jorgensen, from Brainerd, MN, have fond memories of the family heritage trip they booked with Marilyn Ricci of Take Me Home Italy. Afterwards, they commented: “It was so fun to meet the Italian relatives—who fed us for two days. They were very enjoyable, and it brought tears to my eyes to see where my grandfather lived so many years ago . . . and that we all walked the same little streets in town that he did. It will never be forgotten.”
|Elena, Paul and Andrea|
ancestors come from the area of my roots, between Lucca and Montecatini, you can make no better choice than to put yourselves in the
able hands of tour guide and interpreter Elena Benvenuti and researcher Andrea
Mandroni. Elena knows the area’s history well—she’s Tripadvisor’s number one
rated attraction in Montecarlo—and Andrea is the premier local genealogist.
Andrea can search out your family tree, and Elena, who speaks English well, can
show you the towns and churches where your ancestors came from. Born and raised
in Lucca, Elena even offers cooking classes that feature her family’s local recipes.
|Giuseppe Daniele Pantera, taken between|
1860 and 1880.
recently recommended Elena and Andrea to Paul Jurmo, a friend I met through the
Internet. Following my advice, he and his wife and son wrote to Elena and
Andrea and planned a trip to Montecatini. They met up in nearby Montecarlo to
hear Andrea’s genealogy discoveries and to learn about the nearby town of
San Gennaro, where Paul’s great grandfather Giuseppe Daniele Pantera and
earlier ancestors had originated.
“I was very grateful for the care Andrea took in making my family tree and providing documentation, and in how he clearly presented the information and patiently responded to my questions when we met,” Paul said. “Elena is a very knowledgeable, professional and personable tour guide, and she and Andrea were a great team, both informative and friendly. I highly recommend them.”
discovered the names and dates and places of birth of about 35 ancestors and
cousins that were previously unknown to him. He learned some history of San
Gennaro, and, after leaving Andrea and Elena, he and his wife and son visited
the town and its church to get a feel for the place where Giuseppe Pantera had
been born and raised. Paul wrote a very complete report for his American
relatives, and he also shared a copy with me.
some excerpts from his pilgrimage to San Gennaro, which took place on Christmas
morning of 2018:
along back roads for about 30 minutes from Montecatini Terme, passing through
small nearby towns (including Collodi, where the author of the Pinocchio story spent time as a boy). After getting lost a few times on the winding roads,
we made the turn onto the rural lane to San Gennaro. We drove slowly up a hill
through pretty olive groves. As we rose higher on the hill, we stopped for
beautiful vistas and looked out over the rolling hillsides and to distant
mountains on the horizon. One could imagine life on that same road in those
same orchards two hundred or more years ago.
|The Pieve di San Gennaro, the church that the Pantera families attended in Italy. |
houses began appearing along the roadside. We drove the final stretch of the
road and into a parking lot at the edge of the village main street, which
serves as the backbone of the community and is lined with old three- and
four-story residences painted in yellow and other eye-pleasing Italian-style
colors. The village was quiet, with no cars on the narrow street and only a
very few people walking along. It appeared that most people weren’t home, maybe
visiting elsewhere on Christmas Day or at the village church. We walked to one
end of the street and then back up the street in the direction of the church,
whose tower could be seen poking its head up over the houses at the other end
of the village. I wondered whether our ancestors had lived in one or more of
these houses or perhaps in another house on the outskirts of the village.
made our way up the hill, we made a final turn that took us to a small
cobblestone plaza in front of the church. Christmas Mass was underway. We
didn’t want to intrude, so we waited outside, listening to the congregants
singing and the priest praying. Then the church bells began ringing and the
parishioners emerged from the front door. Not wanting to be intrusive, we
didn’t get too close, though I secretly was hoping to catch a glimpse of
someone who looked like one of the Pantera aunts or uncles I’d grown up with.
Though I didn’t quite see anyone who fit that description, I did see a lot of
nice-looking, friendly, well-dressed people greeting each other and looking
like they were happy to be together on such a special day and beautiful
most of the congregants had walked or driven away, we went into the church,
which we had read was built around the 13th century on the site of an even
older church. The church was not one of the big cathedral-type churches that
tourists tend to visit in places like Italy. We took photos of the interior and
exterior from different angles, which showed the altar, the priest, his lay
assistant, the pulpit, some of the paintings and other decorations, one of the
holy water fountains, and the baptismal fountain. I thought that this was a
place where many members of our family tree had spent a fair amount of time,
being baptized, taking sacraments, attending masses, getting married and
attending weddings, and attending funerals.
the priest, but they were only able to communicate on a very basic level
because of language differences. However, Paul said he was greeted warmly and felt very
welcome. His visit was too short to allow time to see the cemetery or seek out
any possible living relatives in town, but that could be on the agenda for a
visit shows that one doesn’t necessarily have to pay a high price and opt for
complete travel arrangements. He made his reservations himself, and by paying
Elena and Andrea directly, he saved a bundle over the fees needed for complete
trip planning services. However, it takes time and even a bit of good
fortune to find a top-notch guide who also partners with the area’s best
researcher, so it could be safer to hire a complete travel service such as Take me Home Italy or Travel Italian Style.
come to Italy myself to research my roots and see the places where my
grandparents grew up, I can relate to the satisfaction that Paul felt. I’ve
been fortunate enough to live in Montecarlo long enough to meet dozens of
living relatives and other members of the local community—a source of great
pleasure and fulfillment. Seeing the homes, streets, places of work and
churches where my ancestors were born, baptized, married and gathered for
worship evokes feelings that are difficult to describe and
impossible to duplicate.