Sardinia, Palermo, Cefalu and Messina

Signora Rosa
Signora Carolina

A year before the Road Trip with my sister (1996), I had to book our timeshare for the next year. Since the timeshare is in Spain, we usually returned to Fuengirola for at least 2 weeks and had a wonderful time with Monika, Freddy, Zala, Seb, Gerardo and a cast of other characters.

But the next year I wanted to go to Sicily. I had never been there but something was pulling at me to go. Vito, not so much, as he enjoyed Spain. Plus a former colleague wanted to go.  So, I booked a week in Sardinia and a week in Cefalu.

So, in my Journey to Discovery episode (2nd), I mentioned writing to the Stato Civile in the Commune of Messina. Simultaneously, I went to the Italian white pages and did a search on the surname Cottone in Messina. I sent out some letters (what I call a mass mailing) and hoped I would receive at least one reply.

Fast forward, to May 1997: 2 days before we left for Sardinia and Cefalu, I received a reply to one of my letters!!!  I couldn’t believe it!!!  I wanted to reply, but decided that I would try to contact the Signora when we were in Sicily.  That letter burned a hole in my pocket the whole time we were in Sardinia.  The Emerald Coast is absolutely gorgeous!! We stayed at a wonderful timeshare in Cannigione (Sporting Hotel Tanca Manna).


After a week of soaking up the sun, time at the beach, finding great restaurants and exploring the island, it was time to fly from Olbia to Palermo. Since we had a 1 day lag between checking out of 1 timeshare and checking into the 2nd one, we booked into the President Hotel overseeing the port of Palermo.   How we got there was a miracle!!  There are NO street signs in Palermo, as they are embedded into the cornerstones of buildings!!  So, unless you drove on the sidewalks, which vespas were doing, you had no clue!!  As Vito was driving around in the city, an angel in the next car asked “Dove stai andando?” We all replied “Il porto”. She asked “l’aeroporto”. “No, porto”. She said “Vieni seguimi!” [Follow me]. Thankfully we arrived at the hotel.

During the course of the day, Vito, who is in the hotel business, did his networking among the staff. In speaking with the maitre d’, Giovanni, he happened to mention the letter I received right before we left. Giovanni took the information and called the family in Messina.  He told us that we were invited for Sunday dinner at their home!!!  OMG!!!  We couldn’t thank him enough.  I was stunned!!!!

Checked out the next day and drove to Cefalu to the Mazzaforno Sporting Club, our home base for the next week. We spent the day exploring in the town of Cefalu, especially the Piazza Duomo where the Norman Cathedral is located. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Norman Cathedral
Piazza Duomo


So, on Sunday morning, we started our trip to Contessa, a municipality of Messina. We drove on the A20 highway until the road was blocked by a mountain (yes, a mountain with no tunnel)!! We then had to take the sea road (a single land in either direction) for about 140 kilometers. Then back up to the A20 highway, which you can see from the sea road. Too weird!!

We stopped at an Agipe (petrol station) to ask for directions, but instead the attendant called the house for us and lo & behold our rescuer told us to follow him. When we arrived at the house it was a street party!!  They were barbecuing in front and the whole family was there to welcome us!!!  It felt like Christmas!! What a wonderful day with a loving family. After dinner, we then went to another cousin’s home on the Straits of Messina. What a fantastic day!! Grazie Signora Carolina e Signora Rosa.


Road Trip

Circa 1950 Laurie, Great-Aunt Carmela and cousin Michael at he farm in Port Jervis NY
Circa 1950 Laurie, Great-Aunt Carmela and cousin Michael at “the farm” in Port Jervis NY

I had called Margaret, introduced myself and spoke about the family and my research. We made a date to meet. Soon after, on a gorgeous Saturday morning, I drove 100+ miles to my sister Laurie’s house. After having coffee and talking, we set out. Laurie wanted to drive! Yikes!! My sister thought she was a great driver. It was a bumpy and terrorizing 100 mile ride to Port Jervis in New York.

Thankfully we found the house. A woman opened the door. He said “Hello, my name is Margaret, and my mother-in-law, Carmela, was the sister of your grandfather Frank”. Incredible!! We had a light lunch with wine and chatted. Margaret told us that there was a trunk in the attic. Then, the door into the kitchen and opened a man and two girls entered. Maragret introduced her son Michael and his two daughters. Incredible!! More cousins!!

After lunch, Michael brought the trunk down from the attic and opened a box nestled inside it. OMG!! There were many documents inside!! The most important – the birth certificate of Camilla(aka Carmela) Cottone!!! The city of birth listed was Librizzi Messina !! So, I know the city where my grandfather was born!! After this discovery, we went to the local cemetery to pay our respects to our relatives.

Later that evening on the way home, Laurie asked me “Now what?” I told her I needed to obtain the address of the Comuni in Librizzi, Messina, Sicily, Italy……

Journey to Discovery

So, now that I had these documents, I couldn’t wait to get started. My organizational skills kicked in and I grabbed my coding sheets to begin my flowchart. And of course this led to many unanswered questions.

So, I called Mom and started the cross-examination about the documents and family. My mother was a woman of very few words, especially about the family. Since she had sent me her fathers’ death certificate, I asked where he was from in Italy. She said “Papa came from Messina”. Ok. Messina is both a city and a province in Sicily.

I did some research and found some tools to help with my next step.

  • I found the address for the Stato Civile in the Comune of Messina that accepts requests for birth, death and marriage extracts.
  • I then went to the Latter Day Saints web site to obtain a form letter for my request. I started out with a basic one but then began tweaking it to add the information I had.
  • I then found a translation web site called Babelfish to help translate my Word document into Italian. This was before Google translate existed.

So, I sent my letter to Messina, Sicily, Italy. In addition, I went to the Italian White Pages, and searched for folks with the surname Cottone in Messina. I then did a mass mailing to all these folks asking if they were related to my grandfather. Yes, I know, a search for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Two weeks later I received a reply stating that they had no record of my grandfather, Francesco Cottone.

I called Mom and she said “Maybe Margaret could help”. Ok, but who is Margaret? Margaret was Carmela’s daughter-in-law. Ok, but who is Carmela? Carmela was Grandpa Cottone’s sister!!! Really?? Why didn’t I know this?

So, Mom gave me Margaret’s phone number in upstate NY. Before I would call Margaret, I called my older (by 8 years) sister Laurie. She said that she, Mom and Dad would “go up to the farm” to visit Aunt Carmela before I was born. So, I told Laurie that I was going to call Margaret, introduce myself and ask if we could visit.

Road trip………