by Barb, recently back from an amazing vacation

Hi Folks. Our vacation was wonderful. The cruise around the Greek Islands, then on to Malta, Sicily, Sorrento, Ponza, and Rome was fabulous. The sun was shining and the temperatures were in the low 70s every day, perfect for touring ruins and small Mediterranean harbor towns.

Once we reached Rome we took a side trip to Calabria to visit the village my husband, Bill Carito’s, paternal grandparents emigrated from in 1921. Montauro is in the “instep” part of the Italian boot. Like other towns in the area, it is high on a mountain, with another portion of the town, Montauro Scale, on the beach. Today the area caters to tourists, particularly those from the north of Italy, during the summer months.

The view from Montauro, behind the church

Bill had been in touch with a second cousin via Facebook for some time, but in the months before we left, he’d dropped off of social media. Attempts to reach him had been unsuccessful. When we arrived in Calabria, we really didn’t know what to expect.

Bill rented us a lovely apartment on the beach. The first morning we were there we got in our rental car and drove up the twisty mountain roads, full of switchbacks, steep inclines, and beautiful views of the sea. When we reached Montauro there was roadwork, so we parked outside the town center and walked in. We found the church and explored the almost deserted streets of the little town.

The Church of San Pantaleon

Everywhere we went, in our terrible, broken Italian, we told the story of how Bill’s grandparents had left the village in 1921, and how we were looking for a second cousin named Giovanni Carito. None of the few people we met knew anything. An attractive woman hanging laundry from her balcony spoke to us, apologizing for her English (so much better than our Italian!), and even called out an older neighbor, but she didn’t know anything either.

A balcony, much like Angela's
A balcony like Angela’s

The town was so tiny there was no place to eat or even get coffee, so we went back down to the beach area to get lunch. We’d been told the church would be open at 5:00 p.m. so we planned to return then. We thought there might be a priest there then who could help us.

So down the twisty, turny mountain roads we went, and then back up again. We arrived back a little after 4:00 and discovered the church was already open, a youth choir practice going on. We sat and listened to the lovely voices and Bill took photos of the church, San Pantaleon, which has a sort of legendary quality in his extended family.

Choir practice ended and the choir director emerged from behind a pillar where she’d been playing a keyboard. It was Angela! She said, “I am going to help you.” She got out her cell phone and started calling and texting. (Everyone in the village seemed to use What’s App.) The town is so small that five minutes after she contacted them, people would walk into the church to try to figure out who Bill was and who he was related to. Everyone tried to be helpful. Every person we talked to had a cousin in Boston or Philadelphia or New York. But we were getting nowhere. People knew Caritos, but there were too many of them. (This never happens in the United States where Carito is a quite uncommon name.) Which Carito were we seeking?

Then an older gentleman appeared, cashmere sweater draped across his shoulders. He asked, “Is this Giovanni Carito Carabinieri?” (A member of the Italian national police force.) Bill remembered Giovanni’s Facebook profile. “He is!”

Montauro street

Then everyone had something to say. “He lives in the next village.” “His brother died young.” “His sister lives in Cantanzaro.” And so on. Angela messaged Giovanni’s wife and got no response. She and Bill exchanged numbers in case she heard anything back. We told her we were headed to the cemetery to see what we could learn there.

As we left the cemetery, a woman ran by us. It was Angela! “I have news,” she said. Giovanni’s wife had called her. She spoke a little English. She would be calling us.

The phone rang before we even left the cemetery. Mission accomplished. Giovanni and his wife would meet us near the beach. We drove off, down the scary mountain roads.

“Angela is amazing,” my husband said.

Angela is a plot device,” I answered. Angela is the person who saves your bacon when you are writing a story and you need one person to find another. But Angela is real.

The story of what happened when we met Giovanni and Barbara was, in some ways, even more satisfying and wonderful than our adventures in the little Italian mountain village where Bill’s family’s journey to America began. I finished the story on Maine Crime Writers here.

Readers: Have you ever taken a journey to discover something about your family history?

[All photos in this post are by Bill Carito. If you like them and want to see more, you can friend him on Facebook at and follow him on Instagram at billcarito and bill.carito.colorphotos.]

31 Thoughts

  1. How wonderful! And I can hardly wait for the sequel. I went to Slovenia to meet my parents’ extended families when I was 15. An amazing time making connections, seeing where my parents grew up, and experiencing the culture.

  2. Oh, fabulous, Barb! No photos of Angela? I met a bunch of Maxwell fourth cousins in Indianapolis a few years and am still in touch with them, but nothing as exotic as Italy! All the sides of my family I know of have been in this country too long for that. Can’t wait for the sequel.

  3. Barb! You’re going to make me wait until Friday to hear the rest? That’s torture!!!

    What a wonderful and exciting tale. Your husband is absolutely right. If you included everything Angela did in a story, I’d be going, “Oh, Please!” (Actually, I’d be going, “Oh, Pleeeeeeze!!!”) What a wonderful person to go so all-out to help you. Actually, I regularly encounter people who go all out to help a stranger. It is truly a non-rare experience. Nevertheless, hooray for Angela.

    I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland and Ireland to see if I could find any of my Webster or Mitchell relations, but it was one of those things that kept being put off, and now is, most unfortunately, unlikely to happen.

    Well, my breath is baited as I await Friday. Terrific story Barb!

    1. You are right, Lee. It is a non-rare experience for people to help a stranger. It is one of those truths of the world that keep me writing cozies, which are essentially optimistic about human nature.

  4. Wow what a fantastic vacation and finding a relative just adds to the joy!

  5. After my father died, my mother, sister, niece and two daughters rented a villa near Barga, Italy, where my great-grandparents on his side came from. Barga is in Tuscany, in the mountains near where battles were fought in World War II. North of Pisa and east of Florence. We met one man who had the same last name but the family connections are quite frayed by now. But Barga is fantastic, a walled medieval town with colbblestone streets and a huge cathedral on the hill. I had a strange experience there. Touching the marble pews felt “familiar” to me–ancestral memory perhaps? Also wonder if that’s why I have such an affinity for mountains. Barga is also noted for “sending out” men who had the plaster trade (figurines, ornamental work, etc.) My great-grandfather owned a plaster shop in Greenwich Village, and artistic talent runs in the family.

    1. What an exciting adventure. Bill’s grandfather made decorative iron work and we wondered if he had made any of the many old stair railings and trellises we saw around the town.

  6. It happens every time I go to Ireland. My first trip, in 1998, was meant to be a simple visit to a place new to me (wrapped up with England and Wales), but then I fell in love with West Cork, and you can see where that led. Now when I visit, I run into strangers on the street who turn out to be cousins, and we compare notes about which branch of the Connollys or the Regans we belong to. It’s comforting in a way–like walking into an entire extended family, which I had never expected.

    1. There are no Caritos left in Montauro proper and no familial memory of which house in the village was theirs, but there are Caritos in the surrounding towns. We didn’t run into any extended family in Italy, though there are plenty in Massachusetts, for sure.

  7. Barb, your story brought back many memories. Annette and I met her distant cousin on our honeymoon in Amalfi. We took a picture of the cousin who looked just like her. When we went back 35 years later we went from shop to shop with the picture. Our Italian is limited and outdated too, but we found her! I can’t wait to hear the rest of your story. BTW, those pictures are amazing.

    1. Ang–I love that story about Annette’s family. Bill says his Italian is so bad because it’s the language his parents spoke when they DIDN’T want their kids to understand what they were saying.

  8. So thankful your plot devise came through. 😄 You’re right that it a book that is what it would seem like, but it does happen in real life. Sometimes I think we are too hard on fiction writers as a result.

  9. What a wonderful story, Barb! Of all the countries in Europe, Italy is the one I’d go see.

    I don’t even know if I have relatives in “the old country.” But many years ago The Hubby went to go see distant cousins in Luxembourg who owned a winery.

  10. What a wonderful experience, Barb. I’ve never set out to find relatives (there are so few to begin with) and I’m the youngest (which is to say I’m one of the few left) so I haven’t bothered trying to find any. However, at my father’s funeral a man came up and said he doubted we had ever heard of him, but he said he knew my father as a young man. When he said his name I was bowled over. My father had talked about him a lot. I always figured he was either no longer living or lived in some other part of the country. I even have pictures of him with my father when they were both young. Not a relative, but even more special to me.

    1. I understand why this is so special. Part II of this story is about stories that are important and passed down in families.

  11. That is a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. No, there is no chance I would l find relatives in any Old Country. My grandparents came from corners of what was then the Russian Empire. The Nazis made sure no one left behind survived, but I and others have run into distant relatives by accident in unexpected places an d I often wonder what I would learn if I dug deep into the archives.

  12. From the pictures and your story, this was a magical vacation. All vacations are good in my estimation but magical is not something you can predict. So happy for the presence of Angela.

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