Good Bye to 2017


Soon we will say good bye to 2017. I am in the process of organizing and wrapping up some loose ends before welcoming 2018. This has been an exciting year for me as I dug my feet deeper into the rich Italian soil of my ancestors. 2017 saw the beginning of this blog after getting my feet wet with another blog on my maternal side in 2016. I was hooked!

At times it was hard to know what direction I wanted to go in, how deep to dig, how expansive on a family should I get. But in the end, I just let the spirit of those before us lead me forward. I fell in love with the Marvulli family, the family of my great grandmother Nicoletta. We solved a mystery of a picture shared with me by my cousin Ann Elmendorf grand daughter of Julia Civitano – Forese, sister of my grandfather Frank Civitano. We had so much fun this year going back and forth with photo’s trying to identify them. It could not have been done without the help of our cousin Peter Marino and his absolutely fantastic grandmother, another Julia Civitano – Bianca (my 2 cousin 1x removed) who id’d quite a few photo’s for us. Below is one of the wonderful photo’s shared with me, that mystery photo of Nicolette Marvulli – Civitano. Her picture had once graced an oval frame. My imagination of course pictured one of those beautiful ornate bubble glass frame. I had the photo enlarged to 11×14 and then went on the hunt for the perfect frame. I hit up my favorite antique store with picture in hand. The owner and I tried to find another bubble glass frame just the right size but there didn’t seem to be one that would fit properly. From there she, also a Sharon, let me into her back storage room and allowed me to look through all the frames she had collected over the years. I think I found the perfect one. (It’s nice to have a favorite place you frequent often) She let me have it for $7. Frame and picture in hand, I took it to one of the quality framing shops in town. “This is a great frame, very well done and very old” the framer commented “really”   “about how old?” “oh I’d say about 100 to 110 years old, you can tell by the workmanship and the way it was put together” What can I say other than ~ perfezionare!


We almost cracked the mystery of who murdered my great grandfather Vincenzo, Nicoletta’s husband, in Oct of 1909. We came this close, close enough to think we would finally have the assailants name.  A big thank you goes out to Peter for his leg work at the archives in NYC. Peter, I know we will solve this mystery eventually. One thing I know for sure, we will have fun trying.

I learned quite a lot about Italian history, the hard life and poverty that prevailed in so many areas of our ancestors lives. At times while researching I felt as if I was there walking along side them. I especially was moved by the story of Francesco, my 2x great grandfather, the stage coach robber and his imprisonment and death in “the criminal bath” of Civitavecchia. Once I understood the times and history, I understood the what and why he robbed that stage and some how that softened my thoughts towards him however it deepened my sadness regarding his death and the impact and imprint on his family. But that is what this blog, blogging our ancestors journey is all about, the impact and imprint it has on our lives.

We explored the many sons and daughters of Vito Luigi, brother of my great grandfather and the patriarch of so many of Civitano families here today.

I made wonderful cousin connections with so many branches in our tree. I am especially thankful to my Uncle Joe, for all the time he spent with me on the phone sharing memories, sharing his life. To all of you who have followed this blog this past year, I say thank you for each and every comment on and off the blog and privately. It has been so much fun and such a blessing to connect with each one of you. I am looking forward to the direction the spirits of the past will lead me in 2018 but if you have any ideas or family you would like me to look into, please let me know too. To each and every one of you, a happy, healthy coming new year.



Sampling the Presepe-Nativity from Italy

Staying true to an Italian tradition, it would not be Christmas with out a ‘Presepe’ the nativity scene, also known as a crèche or a crib. The name comes from the Latin word praesaepe, which means manger. Saint Francis is said to have built the first one in the 13th century in Greccio, in Lazio.

st_francisSt. Francis of Assisi in the Desert Night by Jane Cassidy

The first presepe’s had people representing the different characters, reenacting the birth of Jesus. This type of depiction is still very popular today. Some believe the origin has its roots in the Etruscan and Latin cult of lares familiares, spirits of dead ancestors who were watching over families. The ancestors were represented by little statuettes called sigillum that were placed in the homes. This was celebrated on December 20th with a holiday called Sigillaria by the Romans. In the days leading up to Sigillaria, children polished the small figures and created miniature pastorial scenes with them. The night before Sigillaria families gathered, feasted and prayed for their ancestors. In the morning the food and drink left for their ancestors the night before was replaced with gifts and toys for the children. Christianity kept the dates and changed the meaning once Saint Francis introduced the presepe as symbolism for the birth of Jesus up until the Wise Men arrived, a new tradition took hold as a way to celebrate Christmas in Italy.

I believe my love or fascination with Presepe’s has to have come from the holiday window displays of the Macy’s Department store in N.Y.C.. We never missed a year when I was a child growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. It was a truly magical and a fascinating adventure standing in the long lines, moving ever so slowly until finally, the first window display appeared. Having been raised in a Jewish home, with a sprinkling of Christmas thrown in with our holiday menorah for Chanukah, I have always felt the duo pull of both celebrations. From my ancestors home town of Grumo Appula here is their 2017 invitation to come learn about Presepe.

Risultati immagini per stemma grumo appula




Si invitano i cittadini e tutti gli appassionati ad un 7° incontro, che si terrà presso il Palazzo Municipale
lunedì 24 aprile – ore 18,00

per continuare nello reciproco scambio di ulteriori conoscenze e informazioni costruttive per elevare tecnicamente ed artisticamente la costruzione del Presepio ed esplicitare le fasi operative per realizzare accessori ed altro. Saranno distribuite alcune nuove fotocopie di modelli di presepi da poter realizzare ed esporre in una seconda mostra per le festività natalizie 2017, con proiezione di foto relative a idee presepistiche. Saranno approfondite le procedure per la costruzione di presepi con tecnica mista utilizzando polistirene e legno: murature, porte, finestre, sedie, tavoli, ecc.

to continue the reciprocal exchange of further knowledge and constructive information to technically and artistically raise the construction of the Crib and explain the operational steps to make accessories and more. Will be distributed some new photocopies of nativity models to be able to realize and exhibit in a second exhibition for the Christmas holidays 2017, with projection of photos related to ideas cribs. The procedures for the construction of cribs with mixed technique will be deepened using polystyrene and wood: walls, doors, windows, chairs, tables, etc.
Photo posted with the invitation


Below is the Presepe I constructed this year. How did I do?







The photo above is from  “The Neapolitan Creche – The Art of the Presepio” by Bonnie Alberts. A wonderful read I think you would enjoy.

ChristnativityPresepio.jpgPhoto from Wikipedia

christnativity2Photo from

ChristItalianways.comPhoto from

christpresepeNapoliPresepe from Naples

Below 2 Christmas market scenes from Trento, Italy



Christmas Market in Sorrento