Monday Madness

August 10, 2009 at 03:19 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Carnival of Genealogy, Madness Monday | 2 Comments
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The Name that drove me to Distraction!

I am changing a few names here because of Italian very strict privacy laws. A few relatives are still alive to this family that might object to parts of the story but suffice it to say, it is all true to the best of family members’ memories who recounted to me!

His mother had passed away when he was a young boy. His father was a butcher who, according to family accounts, was well-to-do. Being a widower with young children, he sought a new wife to help him. He found her in the seaside town of Sperlonga where his butcher shop was located. She was only fourteen but her family was happy to have a well-to-do son in law and agreed to the marriage. The boy was already out of the house as a teenager when his sister came to him to complain. His stepmother was feeding her own children and her brothers, but not feeding their siblings. He felt obliged to pay his stepmother a visit – he warned her to feed the children or he would kill her. She must have taken the threat quite seriously because everyone lived. No one could explain how it was the father did not interfere himself.

The day of the Italian Wedding reception for our new couple was a wonderful sunny day with lots of activity bustling about. Family and neighbors were coming and going bringing gifts for the young couple. The women were cooking in preparation for the reception. Suddenly a commotion was heard – another had arrived – a tiny wizened old woman dressed head to toe in black. She looked so terrified. Even the groom seemed upset and finally explained this ‘person’ was Sperlonga – everyone began chattering at once – they called her an ostrega (witch) who would bring bad luck or curses to the couple. She had heard about the party and was hoping for food. All the family money had been gone for a long time and she was hungry. Mama’s eyes were filled with sadness and compassion. She tried to speak quietly to the groom but the bride already understood. Mama, a devout woman, wanted to feed the woman; she was not worried about curses. The bride touched her groom’s arm –”Feed her. To refuse will put a greater curse on us in God’s eyes.” So a compromise was reached – the tables in the dining room practically groaned with food and a dish was brought to Sperlonga in the kitchen where Mama and the bride sat with her while she ate. That was the only time the young couple saw her and regrettably took no photos.

By 1996 the bride was working on the family genealogy and wanted to enter information about the grandparents. Visiting with family in Rhode Island and Italy she attempted to find out about Sperlonga but no one could remember her name! She had been so despised that no one ever referred to her as anything but Sperlonga. Yet some of the siblings were friendly with cousins and half-siblings. Every year the family tree grew but without Sperlonga’s information.

The Italian branches found it amusing that the crazy American was able to add so much information each year. They were soon enjoying adding new names too. All that time Sperlonga remained a mystery. They traveled with family on vacation in 2005. While in Itri, they had a chance to visit with a cousin through Zio, Mama’s brother. The cousin and his wife came to dinner one evening. While relaxing with coffee, the family tree banner was unrolled and she asked the cousin to help fill in missing names. He read the eight foot banner and began to laugh.” Why do you still call that poor dead old woman Sperlonga? Hasn’t it been long enough to let her rest in peace?” She looked up suddenly – everyone else was staring at him. “Do you know her name?” “Of course, it’s ….!” She happily wrote as he spelled it!

That weekend, everyone made the trip to Tarquinia to visit another sister and family. One more time the banner was unrolled and everyone had fun checking out new names. Two nieces both excitedly noted Sperlonga had a name – the sister was in the kitchen and heard them. She called out, “that’s not her name! It’s ….!” Now it was the girls’ turns to be shocked! “For five years you did not know. What happened?” The sister laughed that hearing it said wrong triggered her long buried memory! So finally, poor old Sperlonga has been given her name. Maybe this will afford her a bit of peace.



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  1. You make me wish I could trace my Italian heritage!But alas that is likely my toughest brick wall.I am really enjoying reading your family history,thank you so much for sharing!

    • It is not as difficult as you think. Every certificate in Italy gives the information on a couple generations. It is also easy to determine approximatge dagtes from them. There are many microfilms navailable at your local FHL on Italy’s various towns and communes. Also check out the web links on the right side of my page – they will be happy to help you on the Italian searchers sites free!They will get you hooked on the research in no time!

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