Category Archives: Family History

The Shooting of Len Nielson

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If you’ve been reading Wanderingkeri for a while you may remember Chills, a Nudge, and Footsteps when I talked about starting an unknown journey to learn the stories of my great-grandparents and by extension their family. That nudge has become an obsession to learn and tell their stories because we need to see how much their trials and experiences may teach us, lead us, and guide us in the days of our lives.  The following story is about my grandfather Tom Murdoch Nicol.  What stories are hiding in your family?

 

(Tom, Upper Right)Written on the back of the this picture is the following: “This is the Children’s play tent they have a good time. Tom is always making something. I wish you could see it. The boy standing by Tom with his hat on one side, the little girl and the boy by her are neighbor’s children also the one just back of John with the paper in his hand. The rest are mine. Can you tell them by their looks? All well hope you are. Don’t think that house is ours. Ours is a little bigger than that. I wish I could see you all but don’t know when that will be.” Love to all Tressa

The Shooting of Len Nielson

Heat mirages wafted across the desert ahead of them, dust softly puffed from beneath their horse’s hoofs as the boys rode south and back north, east then west looking for cattle strayed from their ranch. The air carried the occasional morning meadow lark song and the two boys kept an eye out for rattlesnakes that may stretch out or worse coil up beneath the sagebrush or in the rock filled outcrops throughout the ranch.

Tom, the oldest, had his pistol holstered at his side. He prized his pistol and was proud of it and proud of his ability to hit what he aimed at almost all the time. Hyrum, his father, had taught him to shoot at an early age as he had taught each of his boys to use weapons for protection, especially riding the ranch; rattlesnakes weren’t the only varmints that would and could injure a man or animal.  When his parent’s first came to the desert country to homestead, Tom was only two and Chase, riding next to him now, was just an infant. They’d moved onto the “Rez” when it was first opened to white settlement in 1906, and though Duchesne had grown the Nicol’s ranch was about 15 miles from town and was as desolate an area as when the Indians were first confined to the newly designated Uintah Valley Reservation in 1863.

Stopping on the top of a hard packed sandy hill searching for tell-tale signs of the wandering cattle, Tom lifted his hat and wiped his forehead wet from the persistent sun pounding down. He pulled his pistol out and shot at a rock a fair piece away; the dust popping just below the target, his steady black mare not twitching when the pistol fired. We haven’t seen a track of those cows Chase. Let’s take a break, why don’t we ride over to Len’s and see if he’s seen any strays out his way. It’s been a while since we’ve been over. Besides, the horses could use some rest and water before we move on.

Spotting Len out in his yard, Tom and Chase hallo’d as they trotted their horses next to the barn, and climbed down from their thirsty mounts. Might we water our horses Len, Chase asked? Sure boys, help yourselves.  What are you doing this far out in this heat? Searching for some cattle that wandered away from the herd. You haven’t seen any strays up this way have you Len?  Not up here, but I haven’t been out in the back acres for a while, they could be up there, but it’s pretty dried out, not much water over that way.

While the horses drank, the boys and Len leaned against the barn in the shade. That’s a nice pistol you’ve got there Tom, can I see it? Tom reached down and pulled the pistol from its holster, flipping it over to hand the butt of the gun to Len when the pistol fired mid-flip and it was pointed right at Len! As if in slow motion Tom saw where the bullet entered in the front and exited the back of Len’s neck and then watched as Len dropped to the ground.

What should they do? They were just boys, he didn’t want to go to jail, it was an accident; all these thoughts raced through Tom’s mind as he  grabbed his horse, flew into the saddle and galloped away leaving Chase staring down at Len. Pushing his horse as fast as she could run through the miles between Len’s cabin and theirs Tom was certain Len was dying or even dead and what was he to do?

His litttle black horse was lathered and on her knees when Tom jumped from her back and ran to his mother,  he blurted out “I by accident shot Len Nielson”! Being the mother of seven boys Isabella had developed nerves of steel where the actions of her boys were concerned, but at this pronouncement she collapsed to the ground.  Tom was breathing hard and tears dry on his face, the twins Alva and Alma were yelling Tom’s going to jail, pandemonium had broken loose for a minute and just as suddenly stopped when Isabella said, Stop yelling.  Let’s kneel down here and say a prayer. Isabella turned to one of the youngest boys, John Murray and said, John you say the prayer please.  As they knelt there in the yard, John prayed harder than he had ever said a prayer before. Please bless Len to be alright. Please bless that Tom won’t go to jail. Amen.

After the prayer, Isabella turned and said, Kenneth, take care of Tom’s horse.  I hope you didn’t ride her to death Tom, she said, as she and Tom hitched the wagon and then whipped the horses into a cantor as they turned back up the road to Len’s cabin.

Stretched out on the ground Len closed his eyes and knew he was going to die. Chase, yelled Len! Len! What should I do? But Len was clutching at his neck blood oozing between his fingers, slowly dripping to puddles beneath his head. At once Chase knew what to do! He pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket; stuffed one end in the front bullet hole and the other end into the back bullet hole and held on tight. Slowly the blood stopped running out onto the dirt, but Chase was also afraid Len was going to die.

Looking toward home Chase saw a rolling cloud of dust and knew help was on the way.   Isabella and Tom were off the wagon seat hardly before the horses had stopped. Bending over Isabella said a prayer of thanks that Len was yet alive, and that Chase had known what to do to stop the bleeding.   It was a miracle that the track of the bullet missed all of Len’s major arteries, missed his larynx and missed his spine and major muscles.  If Chase hadn’t stuffed his handkerchief into the holes he would probably have died from blood loss.

Over the next weeks life on the ranch returned to normal; Tom’s horse didn’t die, John Murray at age five was certain that it was his prayer that saved Len’s life, and Tom and Chase found the stray cattle.  Stopping over to check on Len the boys were grateful that Len didn’t hold any hard feelings; him saying it was an accident, but he was glad he wasn’t dead and he supposed that with that kind of thing between them that they’d always be friends.[i]

 

[i] Author’s Note: This fictionalized story of the shooting of Len Nielson is based upon the true experiences of Thomas M. Nicol (age about 14) and H. Chase Nicol (age about 12) as told to Tom’s son Keith Nicol and recounted in the James and Mary Murray Murdoch Family History.  Additional facts of the prayer given by John Murray Nicol (age 85) given to author Keri Nicol Vest-Vergari (Tom’s oldest granddaughter). As to who actually went to Len’s aid is unknown from family lore, but taking author’s license, as a mother I could not imagine that Isabella would stay at home waiting, but rather go as quickly as possible to offer aid to what may have become a tragedy.

 

Chills, a Nudge & Footsteps

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Hyrum C & Isabella Murdock Nicol Homestead Uintah  County, Utah. Settled 1906

Five years ago I was in Duchesne (pronounced Do-Shane) Utah over the 4th of July on a fire assignment … before in-briefing I spent a couple of hours in the county records office researching the homestead my great grandparents had near there. I was able to get a copy of the ledger page showing the final patent they received and the sale of the homestead. Just before we left for another assignment, a few friends and I drove up Sower’s Canyon and found the old place which is now inside the Uintah-Ouray Reservation. We took pictures, Dick made a video and at home I found a photo of my great-grandfather and grandfather outside the door of that cabin. It gave me the chills.

Well, lately the “Indian Ranch” has come to mind more than a few times; I don’t know why, but I have learned that when something comes to mind without a reason it’s something I should pay attention to. The attention I’ve been paying to the nudge has lead me to read old newspapers, searching for my great-grandfather’s name. Eureka! There were more than a few articles and advertisements found; one or two with my great-grandmother’s name also. So I’m on a hunt. For what, I’m not sure, but I’m certain in time it will be revealed.

In the meantime I had a wander through old newspapers. They’re fascinating, filling the bulletin board of a frontier and homesteader’s life: Who is traveling, who is sick, who changed jobs, who built a barn, bought a cow or a horse, put up fence in record time, or bought a murder house cheap. The insights into the world of frontier homestead towns and people had me thinking of the hard life and many sacrifices they made to build a country from nothing but raw materials and their hands. A big box store wan’t around the corner to pick up an extra board, saw blade, or food. They cut the trees, forged the iron, plowed the fields and built canals and dams in the desert to water those fields, their cattle, their gardens and themselves. They were no strangers to government greed and graft, religious contention, migration and immigration problems, financial market fluctuations, divorce, and violence.  I highly recommend a perusal through the Utah Digital Newspapers project if you have Utah ancestors or even just want to peer back in time.

So as I sit here, hooched up in my air conditioned room, on a comfy couch, sipping a smoothie after an early morning golf game peeking into the windows of my ancestors lives and I’ve decided I’m grateful that it’s not the time I was called to live in … because I know that I’m soft, and expect water from the tap, commodities in the store just down the street, instant communication, and stuff to do, places to go, access to everything I could ever want or need at my finger tips and once ordered they’ll show up on the doorstep tomorrow.

I also realize I live under the same sun, watch the same moon and stars each night, and by walking (figuratively or not) their trails and holy places, I follow their footsteps and I’m grateful for the realization and knowledge that I am part of an eternal chain of life; mother and father to child, as far back as life itself.  Now it is I  who is great-grandmother and I ask myself, what story will I leave behind? Where are the prints of my footsteps heading?

 

 

 

 

Rattle, Rattle … do ya wanna hear a Snake Story?

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snake1I was bored driving home the other day and I started thinking about snakes.; specifically rattlesnakes and how many snakes I’ve “encountered” in my life. So, how many snakes does a person encounter in their lives?

If you’re an outdoor kinda person, like me, and live in what was once the wild west then you might run into one “occasionally”.  So I started thinking of all of my snake stories … then I started counting my snake stories … and I realized that I have had a heck of a lot of “encounters” (near & far) with rattlesnakes!

Disclaimer to this rattlesnake story: Back in the day … before hyper-parenting became the norm … I actually let my kids be kids. They hiked without me, they swam without me, they rode motorcycles without me, oh! they had lives without me. And! They didn’t die … this rattlesnake story is theirs … my interaction was limited to screaming from the camp below, hugging them when they returned and reassured them guardian angels are real.

In American Fork canyon after an afternoon picnic …   I was studying, lying in the sun … the kids started hiking up a rock scree above the camp spot. Laughter and screams and rock slides were echoing across the canyon when I heard, “HOLD STILL”!  “SNAKES”!

The screams became intense and I heard Clayton encouraging Angie to jump sideways and run, or something like that. I saw a cloud of dust and Angie slide to the bottom,  screaming, “snakes, snakes”!

Then Clayton yelled, “I can’t move, they’re everywhere”!  Anyway, I heard a scream and more rocks and dust billowed out of the trees as Clayton panted towards us. “Snakes! They were all around us!  I just jumped! I don’t know how we got away from them”!

I know how they got away unharmed.  I taught them of their guardian angels.  images3

Shiver! Snake dens.

Then there was this time when my son Steve and I, were making our way along a path through a ponderosa forest in the dark. We had ran a couple of miles at dusk to catch a spectacular sunset from the Observation Point which over looks Zion National Park.  Oh! You have to see a night in a ponderosa forest  … it takes your breath away.

We had our flashlights kind of ahead on the trail, but flitted their pale lights over the trees, across the flats and into the canyon below; mostly we relied on a bit of moon light to make our way.  All at once, Steve whipped around and shone his light on our back trail … one of the biggest rattlesnakes I’d seen was coiled RIGHT in the MIDDLE of the path we had just crossed .. it was less than 10 feet behind us!

CReeeeepy!! We grabbed one another’s hands and sprinted back to the truck, flashlights flipping back and forth in front of us; back and forth to the sides of us until we jumped into the truck and slammed the doors.  I asked him what made him turn around?  He whispered, “I felt something evil”.

Deep breath! Snakes on a path.

Then there was this time coming down from Mount Graham in Arizona in the middle of the day; the traffic was stopped. At least 10 cars or so and people were out all bunched up in front of the cars … I thought, car wreak? road construction? Nope! The biggest, most GINOURMOUS rattlesnake I’d ever seen was taking the sun across a full lane of traffic!  From its tail laying on the dirt at the edge of the asphalt to it’s head almost touching the painted center line … it was just laying there, not a twitch.  No one would drive over it, or get close enough to prod it along … I don’t recall how long it took before traffic started moving again. That snake was HUMONGOUS, it could have eaten a coyote!

Eyes wide! Snakes on a road.

And then there was this time that  Sweetie and I were wading through a red rock slot canyon rain-filled pool  when two snakes slithered down the rocks, into the water, and swam across the pool. I screamed, and tried to climb the rock wall … it was more than CRrrrreeeepy!images-1

Dripping and shaking! Snakes in a pool!

Wow! I really do have a lot of snake stories!  I have a lot more, but then you’d just think I was bragging.

Here’s a thought . Although snakes creep me out and danger is always a possibility … I’ve never been bitten by a rattlesnake, not even close.  I was bitten by a garter snake I’d taken away from one of the kids. Like most everything that could be threatening … just be smart. Back away is always a good strategy … antagonizing a snake is never a smart thing to do.

So I’ve seen snakes on rocks, snakes on paths, and snakes under bushes. I’ve seen snakes stretched across roads, snakes hanging out by the front door or chilling in the garage, and yes, only once in a pool …  but I’ve never, ever, no never seen snakes on a plane.

 

 

*Disclosure. These aren’t my snake pictures …

 

 

 

 

 

2 Trillion = Me

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Most of us ... missing ... Steve, Aarin & Bayla ... Pam & Jeff, Clayton, & Breena ... & Chris' wife Cindy

Most of us … missing … Steve, Aarin & Bayla … Pam & Jeff, Clayton, & Breena … & Chris’ wife Cindy

Kings, Princes, Paupers, Explorers, Indian fighters, Indians, Pilgrims, Pioneers, Plague Survivors, Artists, Authors, Mariners, Dreamers and Adventurers’ … through them I exist.  The number of our ancestors is mind boggling. Just back 40 generations = 2 Trillion, yes Trillion, ancestors to make me or you. Of course, that is not 2 Trillion unique individuals … the further back one goes, the more redundancy in family lines and people. If only 10% of Europe’s population survived the great plagues, well, you can see the further we go back in time the fewer unique ancestors we have and in the end … we are all family.

Out of the 2 Trillion ancestors I have (we have), I know few of them.  I’ve known those near me, generationally speaking, my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. The connections to their parents and grandparents lost as they died and they left a few stories and fewer photographs. Their parents and generations back have for many years been forgotten and are generally only a name and a date in a book on a shelf.

However,  their stories are calling to me, find me, write them down.  Some five years ago I wanted to share with my family their ancestors. I spent six months and prepared for two family history weekends; one in which we told stories of our Utah Pioneer heritage and did a road trip throughout Utah and Wasatch Counties.  The second weekend we caravaned to Wyoming and spent three days reenacting a part of our family’s story, through a pioneer handcart trek in Martin’s Cove, WY.

As I started searching for stories of the people in our family who first came to America, and then found those that brought our family to Utah … (I started by taking the genealogy books off of the shelf) they came alive … they became real people who lived through turbulent times, loved, had families, gave up their lives, their homes, left family and friends to step onto a new land … to live something new. A new beginning, a fresh start.

Five years later, I am being prompted to find more  stories … and to share them. Those few stories I found for our My Heritage, My Legacy weekends have only whetted my desire to learn more about my ancestors and also to write my own story.  I’m an adrenaline junkie and when I read from a personal journal or recollection my heart starts thumping a bit harder, I hold my breath and sometimes the tears can’t be held back … it’s like finding buried treasure.  When I read or write about them, once again these ancestors live. At that moment, sometimes I think, someone hasn’t said that name out loud for years … and now they aren’t forgotten any longer.  Our stories may be only a short sentence in the scheme of history; but that sentence is everything … without our ancestors we wouldn’t be  where we are and without us our posterity can’t be all they are meant to be.

My question today is the same as it was five years ago … I have a wonderful heritage … What will be my legacy?

 

 

How many miles?

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Red Rock Walkin ...

Red Rock Walkin …

I’m a family history junkie (if you hadn’t figured that out) and I often lament, “why didn’t they write something about their life”? I would love to read a journal or a letter … some tangible word that would bring their thoughts, hope, dreams, struggles, triumphs or daily hopes alive. In the meantime I haven’t kept a journal regularly, I’ve tossed more letters than I can count, and … in my quest for Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond, one of the weekly tasks is to write my Memoir .  Uggg, I think each time I sit down to answer the thoughtful questions meant to open up my locked consciousness. It’s not that I haven’t had a life … I have … much of it I’d just like to keep private, and some I’d just as soon as not remember … if you don’t mind … but, there are things sliding out of my memories that I haven’t thought of in ages (if at all).

Describe your room at ages 6-12: I didn’t have to share and I didn’t have a closet or a door … which was ok because if I had a door to slam I would have been grounded.  I haven’t even thought about what my room looked like … there was an upholstered rocking chair and a bed. There is no color in my memory of that room until I was 12.  I wonder what that means.

Beginning this journey has been slow.  I did pick a stupid time to start; I/we have been on the road for about a month. In fact, the new Escape, purchased the 4th of May has …wait for it… rolled over 6700 miles on yesterday’s trip up to Council. Dang! 11 months sticking around?  … sigh.

Can I find the bright side to lowering my road days? It’ll give me time to work on clarifying Me 2.0  or rather make that 62.0 … nope, I’ll just skip ahead to 62.0.2  … the first version of a release is always a bit buggy.

Pssst … nah, I won’t really be hanging tightly to the homestead … life is too short, family too dear, nature too enthralling, and adventure really does call when you least expect.  I may have to rent an Escape …. So, where are you going?

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for a Haunting …

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Yep! That's me.

Yep! That’s me.

Wahoo! Here I am at the worlds LARGEST family history and genealogy tech conference RootsTech in Salt Lake City … 26,000 family history nutz all in one place. I’m just giddy! The keynote speakers are inspiring and the presenters premier.I’m psyched to get home and delve into all of the  tools, tech, and new to me databases for research.

Enthralled I listened to retired NBC Universal executive Paula Williams Madison shared her family’s journey searching for their lost Chinese grandfather and their documentary Finding Samuel Lowe.  Have you ever listened to Storycorps on NPR? This morning I cried listening to stories of inspiration, forgiveness, and love as David Isay shared 9 years of collecting conversations in the Storycorp booths throughout the United States … I’m inspired to download the new storycorps app and capture conversations with my family and friends.

I love all the new tech … like Keepy  a new social media app that can capture video comments on posts or how about Tap Genes, an app which collects your Family Health Tree where all that ‘runs in your family’ is recorded. Or if you’re just beginning to find your family tree this site will give you a fighting chance in the world of research sites … The Family History Guide.

BUT what’s really cool is where I’m staying … honest … two blocks from the Salt Palace Convention Center is the Historic Peery Hotel.  … so what I know you’re asking … so what?

 Haunted?

Haunted?

It’s Haunted!  At least that’s what I’ve heard … it’s on the Ghost Tour as one of the top 10 haunted places in Salt Lake City. Alas … I’ve not been haunted.  No unexplained perfume or cigar smoke, no childish laughter in the elevator ,no Moaning Mary in the hall.

Ah, but I have tonight … I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

 

 

Familia Italia Style

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IMG_1300Seven days in Umbria was not enough! This was the part of our Italia journey that I was most excited about … meeting Sweetie’s family connections in Campitello, an 1100+ year old village in the mountains of the Monte Cucco’s National Park.IMG_1275

Family history is one of my passions … when I find another person and connect them into their family tree I almost cry.  Their name may not have been spoken or thought of in hundreds of years  and I feel them … they are not forgotten, they lived, and because they lived we are. I followed the Vergari and Fanucci journeys from Jessup, Pennsylvania back to this deep valley in the mountains of Umbria.

Sadly, as the immigrant generation passed on the Jessup and Campitello family connections were lost, except for photographs of people we didn’t know that were carefully kept in a box of memories.

Sweetie and I knew we wanted to spend time in Campitello and hoped to find some family still there, but how to find them? The internet, of course.  I wrote a letter (having an Italian speaking friend translate it for me) and included Greg’s family tree then sent them cold to every Vergari, Scarinci, Lanuti, and Fanucci in Campitello, Scheggia e Pascelupo and Gubbio for which I could find an address.

Greg Vergari & Mario Fanucci

Greg Vergari & Mario Fanucci

The responses were immediate and overwhelming … I was facebook friended, received email and letters by post.  “Come, Come”, “..don’t know if we are related but Come, Come” , “…I have letters from Jessup; Come, Come”, “I have pictures .. Come, Come”.

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L to R … Rita Fanucci, her mother Ubaldina, Daniella Fanucci Bellucci, Greg Vergari, Daniella’s mother Elisabeth Lanuti Fanucci

When we arrived in Campitello, we were greeted with open arms. The table was set for lunch though we weren’t expecting it, and after lunch more cousins arrived; with open hearts … some came with photographs and the letters we had sent.  I had brought a 20′, yes 20′, long family tree and they went to work adding names, correcting my spelling and sometimes moving people into a different family group.

Later they walked us around the area showing us the home Greg’s great grandfather lived in and the church built 1000 years ago which is still in use each Sunday.

The home of Enrico Vergari before he immigrated to Jessup, PA, USA

The home of Enrico Vergari before he immigrated to Jessup, PA, USA

We had thought we would be visiting individually everyone that had responded  to us .. but Daniela made it so easy for us.  She gathered everyone together, opened her home not once but twice!

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Greg Vergari, Remo Scarinci & his sister Giovanna

When we arrived we may not have known them, but they knew us. They knew Greg’s father and grandfather and grandmother. They knew the cousins from America and they spoke with fondness of their visits (the last one in 1977). Some remembered and talked about their cousins as if it were yesterday. The first day we met Remo Scarinci and his sister Giovanna (they are double cousins … Vergari & Fanucci side of the tree), Fiorella & Stephano Fanucci (Anna Lisa’s mom & dad), and Mario Fanucci (though not directly related to Greg, he is a cousin to Greg’s cousins through their mother in Jessup).

Did I mention that the interwoven and convoluted connections between Fanucci’s and Vergari’s is the proverbial gordian knot … like playing the fictional Double Fanucci card game made famous in the computer world of Zork.

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L to R … Chiara Fanucci Scarinci, Maria Scarinci Braccini, her husband Beneveuto Braccini, Giovanna Fanucci Ceccacci, Dina Scarinci Fanucci, Greg Vergari, Elisabeth Lanuti Fanucci, Quinto Fanucci, Ubaldina Fanucci Fanucci

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Sisters. Laura & Lisa Fanucci

The second afternoon at Daniela’s we met cousins from another side of the family. The 90+ year olds shared many memories adding names to the tree that I couldn’t have done alone. With the help of Daniela’s daughter Alice and google translate (Lisa had other commitments that day) we had an afternoon filled with love and memories. (Quinto and his sister Chiara came from Rome to share the afternoon with us.)

Giovanna came again and brought her daughter and granddaughter. Catia is a ceramic artist and with her husband Roberto Fugnanesi has a studio Futuro d’arte (contemporary ceramics) in Perugia.

In between the days we drove to Campitello Giovanna invited us to her house to meet her husband Ubaldo and their daughter Paola who is studying law. Fiorella drove us and Lisa was again our wonderful translator.

That evening Stephano and Fiorella treated us to pizza night in their home in Gubbio.  Stephano’s brother Romano came and we met Lisa’s sister Laura.  We laughed a lot! Fiorella made these wonderful filled biscotti. I immediately asked for the recipe and though I haven’t made them yet I bought metric measuring cups so I could make them correctly without doing the whole grams to cups conversions.

L to R ... Stephano Fanucci, Keri Vest-Vergari, Fiorella Mosca Fanucci, Laura Fanucci, Lisa Fanucci, Romano Fanucci

L to R … Stephano Fanucci, Keri Vest-Vergari, Fiorella Mosca Fanucci, Laura Fanucci, Lisa Fanucci, Romano Fanucci

Stephano is writing a history of Campitello and his willingness to share some of his research with me was an answer to my prayers. (That’s a whole other post to come.)

We said ciao to Campitello and the wonderful family who opened their hearts and homes to us … the rain may have hid our tears but not the smiles on our faces or the love in our hearts for these wonderful people. Family once lost to us through time and an ocean … found again …

Stephano kept asking me why I did family history and the only way I could explain was to touch his heart and Greg’s heart and locked my fingers together.  Love.  Family. Together.  Forever.

L’amore, La famiglia , Insieme, per Sempre