"A family tree can wither if nobody tends its roots."


The Festival di San Giovanni Baptiste by Susan

by  Phyllis Zeck

One of the first blogs that I wrote (see post from Oct 30, 2010) about was the town that my great, great grandmother Filomena Ursitti was born in on May 8, 1837; the town of Opi, Italy.  Susan stumbled upon my website in her search for information about the Festival di San Giovanni Baptiste (the patron saint of Opi).  Susan was planning a trip to Italy in 2012 to participate in the festival.  She would be traveling with her daughter, sister, cousin, sister-in-law, and friend.  

Susan wrote “My grandparents originated from Opi.  For years, we heard about Opi and enjoyed the family, food, customs and life my grandparents lived as Italian Americans.  Our grandparents,  parents, and extended Italian relatives were part of a group called San Giovanni Battista Society.   The group was in existence for 100 years and then ended about 8 years ago.   It started in Detroit, Michigan in 1908 from Italians who immigrated from Opi, Aguila, Abruzzo, Italy. The families found strength and support from each other through the San Giovanni Battista Society. One of the eldest members died recently, Lucy Boccia.  This was our connection to family with Opi names:  Boccia, Gentile, Tatti, DiPero, DeSantis, DeVito, DeLoro.”

Susan and I are connected through our Boccia and Gentile ancestors.  Below is a blog Susan has written and graciously allowed me to post.  Thank you Susan, I hope you are able to enjoy many more summers to come in our home land!

The view from Via Salita La Croce is beautiful, unique and narrow.  We stayed at Antica Rua B&B.  From our doorway look right and the via ends at a little hotel at the downside of the village.  Look left up the via toward the little castle at the village  square.

But there is more, higher, farther and narrower.  Nicolangelo Leone walked down the via to the B&B to welcome us and invite us to his home.

Side note:  Every step you take in Opi is either up or down, since the village is built on the top of a mountain.  Just imagine how healthy one must be to live in Opi.  Nicolangelo is 89 and he’s turning 90 on 15 January 2013.  In Italian, he told us he went to see a cardiologist for his heart.  Oh no, we were instantly worried and concerned until he quickly presented to us his prescribed medicine –  the package read for “indigestion.”  Ooohh, thank goodness.

We walked up, past the bar, past the castle through a narrow walkway, up the stairs, past the Santa Maria Assunta church, turned left onto a smaller via, and arrived at Nicolangelo’s beautiful green door.  

Welcome!  Benvenuti a cinque donne americane.  Please come in….Saluti Nicolangelo.

You are a very charming man and you stole our hearts from day one!


We were invited to meet the Officers of Opi at cappella San Giovanna Battista on Sunday, June 24, 2012, at 4:00 pm to look at documents.  We met so many people in Opi who introduced themselves and asked in Italian:  How are you related to us?  Who are your closest relatives that live in Opi?   In my best Italian, I explained our Opi heritage and how our families in the US stayed connected through San Giovanni Battista Society (SGBS).  Also, explained SGBS morto in 2008.  Yes they understood, but…   the connection.  How are you connected to us?

Cappella San Giovanna Battista

When introductions are made, Opianni’s say the last name first.  Because of the culture, it was difficult for Opi people to grasp how le cinque donne americane were connected.  In Opi, the women keep their maiden names.

Left to Right: Christine Murphy (Boccia), Padre Rossi, Susan DuBois-Reetz (Boccia), Georgio Cimini, Maruzio, Marilynn DuBois-Wieczorek (Boccia)

In the red bag, Maruzio brought the booklet:  Societa’ San Giovanni Battista 75th Anniversary Banquet and Dinner Dance, June 26th, 1983 at Roma Hall on Gratiot Avenue in East Detroit, Michigan, a letter from Orazio Paglia, and a list of Members and Sponsors of SGBS.  It’s amazing, those documents were 29 years old.   Here was the validation!  Maruzio pointed to names:  Benjamin Boccia, Gene and Susan Reetz.  Oh my Godda!  Yes, that’s us.  We pointed to relatives on the list:  Marilynn Wieczorek, Christine’s parents, our parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  All the same names:  Boccia, Gentile, Tatti, Paglia, Cimini, Ursiti, Sabatini, Ricci, DiVito, and more.  So exciting!  Everyone was talking at once.  We were happy and filled with so many more emotions.

This is Orsola Gentile hugging my daughter, Corinn. Look at how cute they are and there is a resemblance. My grandmother’s name was Grazia Gentile. Corinn and Orsola look like sisters. We were celebrating the SGB feste, listening and dancing to a live band in Opi on June 24. Very fun!

Nicolangelo and I are speaking Italian. I learned enough with Beginner I & II language classes at the Italian American Cultural Society to be able to carry on conversations. I kept telling Nicolangelo that I was married “marito” , but he took off his wedding ring and pretended to throw it away. He was very charming.











By Susan DuBois-Reetz (Boccia)   Pictures by Corinn VanWyck




The Del Principe Brothers in the 1940 Census

by  Phyllis Zeck

I was able to locate my grandfather Gilbert and 4 of his brothers at the Ancestry website.  To view what I found, log in if you have an account.  Enter the state of Illinois, the county of Cook, and the city of Chicago.  Scroll to district 103-1577.  At the top of the page you will see page 1 of 24.  Use the right arrow to take you to page 11.  Joe is on line 22 and Gilbert is on line 24.  Henry (Hank) is on line 28, Paul is on line 31, and John is on line 32.

Scroll to the bottom of the census to see that Anna Del Principe (line 29), Hank’s wife, was asked supplemental questions in this census.




Counting down to the release of the 1940 U.S. Census

by  Phyllis Zeck

Those of us who are genealogy fanatics are tapping our toes waiting for April 2nd which is the release date of the 1940 U.S. Census.  The census information is released to the public 72 years after it is taken.  For the first time the census will be available in a digital format.

The 1940 census contains 49 questions ranging from the standard questions such as address, names of people in the household, ages, and occupation to questions aimed at people 14 years and older requesting in depth information about employment and wages.  These questions, in part, were to determine how households were affected by the great depression.  Below is a short video about the 1940’s census.

In the 1940’s:

  • The US population was 132 million.
  • The national debt was $43 billion.
  • The average salary was $1,725.00 a year.
  • Minimum wage was 30 cents an hour.
  • A new car cost $850.00, a gallon of gas was 11 cents.
  • A first class stamp was 3 cents.
  • A gallon of milk cost 54 cents.
  • Fifty five percent of US homes had indoor plumbing.
  • Life expectancy at birth was 65.9 years for females and 61.6 years for males.

You will not be able to search the 1940 census with a person’s last name.  You can search the records with an address or with the Enumeration District number.  You will be able to obtain the Enumeration District number using this link http://stevemorse.org/census/unified.html.

Click on the following link to see detailed questions the census taker asked https://www.familysearch.org/1940census/enum_instructions

For more information about the census click this link http://www.archives.gov/research/census/1940/

Happy searching!




Devastation in Cinque Terre, Italy

by  Phyllis Zeck

In 2000 my husband Don, daughter Ashley (then age 16),  sister Lori and I traveled to Italy.  On our list of things to do was to visit the towns of Cinque Terre.  Cinque Terre (five lands) consists of five towns tucked away in a series of inlets along the Mediterranean Sea.  Multi colored homes are nested among jagged rocks.

The northern most town is Monterosso al Mare and is rumored to have been established as far back as 1056. The next town to the south is Vernazza, then Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

The towns are accessible by train.  Some small cars will be seen in the towns but it is very hard to maneuver around the crooked streets.  You can hike from one town to the next. We rode the train from Florence through Pisa and then to Monterosso. We were on the last leg of the journey chatting away as the train went into a tunnel.  We rounded the bend and cleared the tunnel and our mouths dropped; the glorious blue sparkling Mediterranean Sea was glistening in the sunlight to our left.  I will never forget that incredible sight!

Our hotel was in Monterosso so we got off at the last town and headed for the Hotel La Spiaggia.  First things first, we needed a bathroom.  Now the bathrooms in Italy could be a whole blog in itself but we had reached a new low with this rest stop.  The facilities were literally a hole in the floor!


We checked into our hotel, had lunch and got our guidebook out to decide which hike to take.  We decided to try Monterosso to Vernazza, a one and a half hour hike the guidebook advised us. We stocked up on sun block and lots of water and took off.   We had learned that the Italians do things differently from us Americans but it seemed very odd that the women hiking in the opposite direction were in dresses and high heels and both men and women were not carrying any water.  We thought this must be a shorter hike than the guidebook said.

Well into our second hour of the hike we began asking the hikers traveling in the opposite direction “how much further to Vernazza?”.   They all replied the same “it’s just around the corner!”.     After three hours of hiking we reached our destination.   

The scenery was incredible.  We saw lemon trees and passed vineyards and olive groves. The sea sparkled and the boats bobbed up and down with the gentle waves.  We stumbled upon a concrete machine gun bunker from WWII.  We arrived in Vernazza hungry and tired but exuberant from one of the most amazing hikes of our life.

Lemon trees and olive groves

The next morning we went for an early morning stroll along the beach and visited with the fishermen who were bringing in their morning catches.  Don tried to talk me into fish for breakfast, but I was sticking with pizza.

Today your prayers are needed for the people in northern Italy. Devastating rains during October and November have made passage in the towns of Cinque Terre impossible.

People were evacuated via the sea.  The flooding and mud slides have brought down bridges and houses. The villages in Cinque Terre lost electricity and the roads and railroads are blocked.  The most severely destroyed towns are Monterosso and Vernazza.  The mayor of Monterosso said the fishing village had been all but wiped out.

Our family was very fortunate that we were able to hike these glorious towns and enjoy their beauty 12 years ago.  I hope that Cinque Terre is quickly restored and the residents are able to return to life as they knew it before the devastating rain and mud slides interrupted their peaceful way of living.

Jan 5, 2012 Update.  Copy and past the link below to read an updated post from Jan 3, 2012 about Vernazza.






by  Phyllis Zeck


Antonio was Pietro and Elvira’s first child. He was born in 1888 in Pescasseroli, Italy. He married Margaret Heenan (pictured left) and they had two daughters: Elvira Antionett (Snookie) and Eileen (Turk).

Elvira married Roy Edwin Weber. They may have had a daughter named Margaret. Eileen may have had one son. If anyone knows of any relatives of Elvira or Eileen please send me any information you have.

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Elvira (Snookie) played the accordion


Eileen (Turk) was a ventriloquist
Eileen’s son Ron still has “Allen”

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Margaret, Snookie, and Turk Snookie and Turk