Monday, January 28, 2013

Mary Burrill remembers Grammie

Grammie was the most stable figure in the world. The whole family revolved around her like electrons. They would spin around, cast off, and attach themselves elsewhere.
Busy, busy, busy electrons; housework, jobs, events, lessons, illness, births, deaths. Grammie was always in the middle, always stern, stable, practical, "elemental".
How do you squeeze her life onto a piece of paper?
She went from sailing ships to man on the moon and deep space exploration. She lived through the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, The Korean "Conflict", Vietnam; The Spanish Flu, the great depression, the cold war. She saw Lindburgh fly the ocean, the telephone, electric lights, radio, television, vitamins, antibiotics. Ice boxes became refrigerators, scrub-boards became washing machines, coal and kerosene heaters became central heating.
There was a miserable marriage with no divorce. She had eleven pregnancies and survived all but four of her children. (That couldn't have been worth doing!)
From Salina. Italy to Ellis island; Massachusetts to Maine how did that little woman(-5') adapt and adapt? (Don't answer that, I know.)
As soon as I was old enough to walk the mile or so from our home in Littleton, Maine to Her's on the Johnny Farm I spent weekends from Friday night until Sunday afternoon with Grammie.
When Uncle Bill and Uncle Phil came to live with her I had them, too. (Of course, Friday- Saturday nights were party nights so the uncles were often out one or both of those nights until late.)
So- There was a lot of quiet time. I could count on fish on Friday night,hot dogs and home baked beans(made with olive oil), on Saturday, and a big Sunday dinner. (If I'd had my way it would have been her Spaghetti and meatballs every day.)
We would read a lot, listen to the radio(Uncle Phil was often broadcast), play the Victrola or play a rousing game of Canasta...all by lamplight.
There was much quiet and much talk.
These are some snippets of what I remember of what Mary Rose Cincotta Cafarella told me; subject, of course, to the changes of time and place for both Grammie and me, make allowances please!
1. She loved and admired her grandfather: "He owned a lot of sailing ships. They went all over. They'd be gone for months at a time." While the men were away the women took care of family life, made decisions, and provisioned the next voyage.
2. Grammie told me her home on the island was very large: "You could put this house inside of it."---this house was nine rooms, two sun-porches, a connecting shed, with a small three story barn.---(keep in mind her age when she left the island was only nine years old. Things shrink when you grow up.)
She was fond of remembering how she and her cousins would get up at night"..when everyone else was asleep..." and stir up the ashes in the stove to roast sweet potatoes. It was fun and a treat.
From her bedroom she could see "three volcanoes smoking in the distance"...(I don't know the names of the volcanoes, although I feel fairly confident of Stromboli, the other two may have been vents.)
The upper stories of her house were living space for the extended family. There was a balcony with a walled courtyard. The understory was a large open storage area where her mother kept her loom. It was also storage for hardtack, large containers of oil, olives, wine, water, etc. for voyages.
In season citrus fruit was picked from trees growing near the house.
(3) These are some random statements which she made:
a. In the old days they stored food they wanted to hold in covered cauldrons in deep holes.
b. There was only one well on the whole island.
c. Nobody drank cow' milk. (And she never did. M-M-M- Cornflakes with grapefruit juice!)
d. They would cross between the islands on rocks that were exposed by low tide to visit relatives and friends.
e. When we went to visit my grandmother's house we were dressed in our very best clothes. We sat very quietly in the hall. When we were taken in to see her we had to kiss her ring. She was a Spanish princess.
Then we could go to the pantry and behind the door was a bag of dried bread. We could have a piece of it.
Here is the "Spanish Princess" thing.
The explanation I always got was that there was a Vasquez connection here and a Naples connection to royalty. All of which I never understood.
Gram always said:"All of that doesn't matter in AMERICA." (proud to be an American)
f. They kept chickens and goats.
g. "My father(Grammie's father) was a protest-ant." He was a Catholic but he "protested" the power of the Pope." (This was OUR father's protest too and why he wouldn't let me be baptised when Grammie and Aunt Jennie tried to kidnap me.){Our Father refers to Richard Mitchell who married Grammie's daughter Mary}
h. "When his children were born he would go right out on the street to find two witnesses. We were baptised immediately.
If you go to that church you can go right in and look up my baptism in the book.
i. "One time we saw my father's ship come into the harbor. My aunt let down her hair so I could hold her braids and she swam out to the ship with me on her back."
(She never learned how to swim.)
j. "I was sent to Naples when I was nine years old. My Uncle was a priest and his sister was his housekeeper. I did housework in return for learning how to read and write and speak English."
k. My mother was like a doctor. If someone got sick or hurt they sent for her. She was like a Chiropractor. She could snap bones into place."--(homeopathic-chiropractic)
l."My grandfather had to sell the sailing ships because the ships were going to steam."---This is what Gram's point of view was. (Bill, You have a better historical perspective here with the grape blight.)

(4) Shortly before she died Gram was staying with Fred(Mary Burrill's husband) and me. I took her to see Louis Riccardone(My sister's boss who was an Optometrist) for an eye exam.

He told her that her left eye was blind. Th retina was detached and had been for years. He asked her if she had ever injured it.
Such a look came over her face.
She said that when she was very little she had been leaning over the balcony to watch her brothers playing in the courtyard and she fell. She hurt herself so badly in the eye and headaches wouldn't stop.
When I asked her if she had told her mother about the pain she said, "Yes. She hit me in the head and told me to stop crying."
So, was the retina detached in a childhood accident or did that happen when the snowplow hit her or possibly some other miserable moment in her long, action-packed life? We'll never know.

(5) How do you suppose that little "Golden Girl" (I always picture Cousin Millie when I think of Grammie as a child) who watched volcanoes smoking from her bedroom window and picked ripe fruit from her balcony ever found herself on a backwoods farm buried in ten feet of snow with a howling wind, a coal stove and two oil lamps?
I was told that when Uncle Bill and Uncle Phil took the apartment on Fair Street in Houlton(Maine) they physically removed her from the farm. Until her dying day the only thing she wished for was to be back on that farm.

(6) Three things that she said to me guide my thinking about myself even today:
a. She called me a left handed Christian because I am not Catholic.
b. Gram always said I was "lazy" because I did not function well (couldn't do assigned chores) as a child. I wasn't diagnosed with Thalasemia Beta until my forties. I now over-function so nobody will call me lazy.
c. "people like your father(Richard Mitchell) and me who have worked with our hands in the dirt all our lives aren't afraid to die."----You just become a part of everything.

Gram lived such an "extra"-ordinary life. I've drawn such strength from her example. She is my treasure and secret source of power. (Thanks Gram.)
I am your grand daughter,
(Daughter of Mary Carolina Cafarella Mitchell McLaughlin)
Mary Rose Mitchell Burrill
Lakeville Maine, USA
April 6, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Vasquez Family History

I have noticed that there are some searches for Vasquez family history on the blog.  So I will try to address this briefly now.

I have tried to find information in Malfa about the Vasquez family.  My grandmother's sister Jennie Cincotta, married Onofrio Vasquez, and my Great Great Grandmother, Giovanna was a Vasquez, married to Gaetano Cafarella, both living in Capofaro in the first half of the 19th century.  I think that this is the family member that my grandmother had to kneel to and kiss her ring, but that is not a sure thing.  The interesting thing is that her husband was a shoemaker, that the family seemed to have owned a store of some kind and I was told by an elderly shop keeper in Santa Marina, that they were famous for wine and honey at one time.  This seems like a strange juxtaposition of people, aristocracy and shoemaker.  Of course people had to be multi-talented to survive in such a remote spot and such a tiny economy. (They had their real boom economy about this time, but it was not really in full swing for some time.)
I have recently discovered that the church at Capofaro where they lived was referred to as the Vasquez church, indicating the intimate relationship with this area.
Uncle Jake had some training as a shoemaker when he was there as a youth around the turn of the century. 
Vasquez is not an extremely common name in the islands.  There are a few in Malfa.  I spoke to two Vasquez brothers and they looked over the family tree to see if they recognized anything.
We had no luck however.
The problem is, that only a few people ever really get the genealogy bug, and those who have lived for generations in a place like Malfa, often-times do not ever think about it.  They have all the tools to trace these people, but never do it.
These brothers were interested in finding relatives that moved to Boston, and had a flower shop of some kind.  I could find nothing, but I still hope I will find them in old directories sometime.
I am still hoping I will find a lead sometime and will report it when I do, so keep checking.  Meanwhile, if anyone out there has any more information than I have, please let me know.  Also, If you would like to do a little research of your own, I can tell you how to find phone numbers and addresses in the islands if you drop me a line.
One of the big issues is that there are so many Spanish and Latino Vasquez families in the US, that searches are very difficult to perform without millions of results on line.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

So What Does All This Mean and Who Are We?

I don't think I will really arrive at an answer to who we are this way. I can say that when I started all this in 1984 around Uncle Joe and Aunt May's dining table with all the gathered family experts, I had a few questions about who we were, but I thought that following a couple of family lines would answer them pretty completely. Now........God help me, I have all these hundreds of answers and no idea of how to apply appropriate questions to them. Just think how confused and lost I will be when the last of my Massachusetts family elders are gone or have completely lost their minds.

I have found church officials in the family, with no easy way to place them in the line correctly. I have found Italian Counts and Knights that will take decades to research in a language that I only stumble around in. I now have a Welsh Prince and his line of kings of a fleeting medieval kingdom in the family.

So what is it good for?

When you are working with 30 or forty generations of couples contributing DNA, and twenty or thirty branches of the family that will likely be just as complex, you might ask what in the world you have in common with them.

By the time you split all those branches up, and spread the DNA contributions out on a bulletin board,(3x5 cards work best for this) you might be able to point to that Welsh prince and say "I am descended from Welsh kings". Then you would magically rifle through the gene pool and find his contribution to your body. They all have name tags! There it is...the fourth one from the end on the 8th Chromosome. It turns out that my left nostril is this shape because of him...Please refer to the illustration.

I will tell you the ultimate fantasy.

You run across an old snapshot of a 15th century Lord High Treasurer of England, that you know is related to you. He has his arm draped over Henry the 7th's shoulder and it looks like they just picked up a couple of babes in a tavern in Winchester, just down the street from the cathedral. (Where else) You look at it carefully as those 15th century Polaroids are fading out pretty fast. Suddenly you exclaim...."Oh..My...God...He looks just like my brother Dick if he just grew a red goatee!
Actually, you do get those little revelations. But it happens a little differently.

You are browsing through old family photos, or see a family portrait in some museum house in Pennsylvania, and you say ...Oh...MY...God...I thought those eyes came from Grammie Cafarella's family, and those hands too...but you are looking at your Mitchell side.

It does not take too long before you realize just how interconnected we all are.

I knew that the Normans were in Sicily for a time, but it has only been recently that I found that they were all over the southern part of Italy, and they were from the same handful of families that eventually became our relatives in north western England.

You also realize that some of your basic ideas about history just have to be scrapped. What the hell were these Frenchified Vikings doing in North Africa, Palestine, Russia and Sicily. Not every European a thousand years ago was traveling to neighboring villages twice in a lifetime with the family oxcart. Europe, (and people from other cultures will find that Asia and the Americas were the same), was a very dynamic place. And you must remember that just because technology was a bit primitive, does not mean that these people were in any way dumber than we are, or less able to leave DNA in some hotel one night stand, half way around the known world.

Anerio Cincotta is fond of telling the story of his teen aged father hopping on 25 foot boats in Malfa and ending up in Lisbon a few days later, with his father in hot pursuit to drag him back... Do we really think that this sort of thing happened a hundred years ago, or do we picture these people spending their lives in a single village somewhere, trapped in a proscribed role in their community, until cheap steamer tickets to the New World or Australia set them free?

You also learn that your ancient family members were not that much different, and sometimes a lot less virtuous than you picture.

I was tickled to learn that one of my great great+ grand parents was one of the very earliest settlers in New England...1623(I think) in Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and later in Marblehead where evidence of his name is in the streets of the town. Pretty Neat...until you realize that this guy named Norman, was traveling to the New World as a non Puritan laborer, and his name was an Alias! His name was actually Fryeth. Times just don't change.

OK, so how about another example.

Perhaps you history buffs know that the famous Henry the 8th was a younger son. He had an older brother Arthur. Arthur was a great choice for a Prince of Wales, where the family of Tudors was from. What would inspire confidence in the English rabble like a new King Arthur. And here he was the future sovereign in a new and teetering dynasty after the Wars of the Roses!

If you know about Arthur, you probably also know that he died young and did not assume the throne.
That is an interesting tidbit of history, but did you know that one of your 15th century ancestors was Arthur's intimate friend, and that Arthur had his own room in our family member's home even as an adult.

Connections...That is what I get out of all this. I get a feeling of connectedness..if that is a real word...

When I went to King's Landing in New Brunswick and volunteered my time as a blacksmith and as a painter, I knew that I had a connection, and that my father had grown up only a few miles away. But I did not really...FEEL... my Canadian background. I did not feel his British...his Loyalist...his backwoodsman identities. I have not been able to find much on my grandfather Mitchell...his supposed Patterson clues so far... As a result I do not feel the slightest connection with my Irish roots...I do not identify with my Mitchell name that much either. I definitely snickered when I heard that Aunt Vera thought that the Mitchells in Lowell were all a bunch of horsethieves...I can absolutely identify with that!

All of my recent discoveries about my Grandmother Henrietta(How unfortunate was that name?) have opened new worlds to me. I feel the Loyalist and the Canadian now. I can even feel the Norman French. Why have I always been drawn to Welsh stories, Celtic folk songs. I absolutely love Normandy and count my time at Mont St. Michel as one of the highlights of my life.

I am feeling a connection with the world. Even if I do not have a single source to point to as my family's home, I go someplace and can say to my self , "my family once walked these same streets". This was something that overwhelmed me in Malfa when I walked along with the procession for Saint Joseph's day, to the top of the town, where Grammie's birth records are. She said, " Just go into that church and you can find my baptism in a big book there". When you do these things you find that you do not recover from the accumulated emotions from the day before, and there you are connecting yourself into a place on the earth, a place in history and a place in family.

I think we all wonder from time to time if there is really a point to the time we spend on earth...well, maybe not...But doing all of this has given me a tranquility and satisfaction knowing that I am part of a whole, even if that whole is running the planet into the dumpster. If we survive our own ineptitude, who knows, in a couple of thousand years when some descendant, direct or otherwise, on our next home planet,... some grandfather will point to a fuzzy point of light in an obscure part of the galaxy and say to his grandchild...."On that little point of light we had a wonderful ancestor. She was a round little woman who had a hard life, but as a child she lived on a little, flower covered volcanic island in a sparkling blue sea. She used to get up at night and sit in her window when her parents and her cousins were all asleep. She could smell Jasmin on the wind, and a little sulfur, too, as she watched the volcano across the channel in the Thyrennian sea, erupting, just as it had for 2000 years before she was born. It would cast gold framed shadows on the wall of her bedroom."