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A visit to the Home of our Ancestors E-mail
Written by John Cofrancesco   
Friday, 13 June 2008
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A visit to the Home of our Ancestors

by John A. Cofrancesco

As the 19:50 Trenitalia from Naples approached our destination station of Telese-Cerreto my thoughts were of how it all began in 1994 with the purchase of a certificate providing a brief, and as I was to later learn, erroneous history of the Cofrancesco surname.  This was the start of my efforts to learn more about my Italian ancestors.
Over the next several years I interviewed the few remaining older relatives that I was able to locate, and searched civil and church archives, and records of the various New York immigration stations.  At last I learned that my great grandparents and their eight children came to this country between 1889 and 1900.  Most arrived separately, coming as the family saved enough for the cost of a steamship ticket.  They came from the small village of Massa di Faicchio in the Titerno River Valley, located in the Province of Benevento, some 75 kilometres northeast of Naples.

By now I had exhausted the sources of information available to me in the United States, and I knew that if I was to learn more about my ancestry I would have to obtain records from Italy.  From the internet I accessed an Italian telephone directory and copied the addresses of all Cofrancescos presently living in Massa.  I wrote to each of them, seeking their help.  A few months later I received one reply, not from a Cofrancesco but from a woman named Anna Di Leone.  When visiting her cousin Biagio Cofrancesco, she saw the letter I had written to him.  Anna is most interested in family history and graciously offered to help me. We began a correspondence by email.  However I have little knowledge of Italian, and Anna knows little English, so we had to rely on on-line translation programs to communicate.  Anna searched records in the local church, La Chiesa di San Nicola, and soon had traced my ancestors to my great, great, great grandparents.  I also was able to learn more about the history of Italy and life in the Titerno River Valley in the 1800s.  Now I knew I must visit the home of my ancestors, walk in their footprints, and meet the woman who so generously provided me with the information I was seeking.

I had first visited Italy in 1958 while a student, and later in 1998 with my wife Carol. These trips were arranged by tour companies and visited the usual tourist attractions.  Since there are no commercial tours that go to Massa I would need to plan this trip myself, a task complicated by my lack of knowledge of Italian.  As I began to plan the trip for Carol and me, my cousin Augustine and his wife Romily asked to join us.  Then my son Paul expressed an interest in going.  Since these relatives had never seen Italy I decided to take them to Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi coast on our way to Massa.  As I was completing arrangements for transportation and lodging I received a phone call from Rome.  It was Ryan Cofrancesco, a first cousin twice removed.  He grew up in the United States, spent some time in Europe after graduating, and was now working as a tour guide at the Vatican in Rome.  He learned of our planned trip through his grandfather (another one of my cousins), knew little of the Cofrancesco family history, had never been to Massa, and asked to join us.  This was to prove a godsend because he is fluent in Italian.  So now we were a party of six!

The arrival to Massa, Home of our Ancestors

The motion of our train coming to a stop at Telese-Cerreto ended my reminiscing and returned me to the present, 16 September 2005.  We were about to meet Anna Di Leone and her family!  What would it be like?  Any anxiety we may have felt vanished as we exchanged hugs and, with Ryan’s help, introduced ourselves.  Her father Michele and brother Antonio accompanied Anna.  They helped us load our luggage into their waiting cars and we drove off in the darkness to Massa.

We arrived at the Di Leone home and entered a large room on the first floor.  There was a long dining table along one side at which some 20 people were seated.  After meeting Anna’s mother, Antonietta, and Anna’s twin sister Ada we met the other people.  Many were Cofrancescos who lived in Massa but others had travelled some distance just to greet us.  And then the food and wines began to arrive.

Di Leone Family Home at Massa
At the Di Leone dining table

It was truly a feast fit for royalty, and we felt as if we were being treated as such.  As I showed the people at the table the family history I had written and the family tree I had drawn, thanks to the information Anna had found for me, we tried to figure out just how we were related.
And just as we thought the evening was about to end in walked the musicians.  They were friends and relatives, including Biagio, playing his guitar. They played songs that were of the era of my direct ancestors, using ancient instruments such as the Tamburello, the Triccaballache, and the Putipu’.  There was singing and dancing well into the night.  We were all overwhelmed with the magnitude and warmth of our reception.

Talking about our ancestors
The musicians

Second day: Visiting around and enjoying great food and music

The Di Leones then drove us to the Marchese, which reminded us of both a bed and breakfast and working farm.  The owner, Anna Marchese, was there to greet us as we drove up.  After a good nights rest we awoke and were amazed to see our surroundings.

Mt. Acero in the distance from the Marchese Agriturismo

We were in the midst of a vast vineyard and in the distance we could see Mt. Acero.  At breakfast we learned that virtually everything served at the dining room was grown or raised on the property.
The Marchese Agriturismo
Ryan and Paul helping cap bottles of wine

Soon the Di Leones returned to drive us to Cerreto Sannita, where Michele had his showroom and factory.  On the tour of the facility we learned that they manufacture tile and marble products that they sell all over the world along with high quality bathroom and kitchen fixtures.  Michelle was justifiably proud of his business.  Following a tour of the town and a stop at the mineral springs of Telese Terme, we returned to the Marchese.  We were given a tour of the vineyards and winery, and then invited into the owner’s family kitchen where Paul and Ryan helped label and cap bottles of wine for sale at that evening’s annual "Sagra enogastronomica".

Walking around Massa

We returned to Massa at dusk and walked around town, visiting the streets where a number of Cofrancescos now live.  Lights were strung over Massa’s main street and large tents covered an area where chairs and tables were set out. There were numerous booths where home-prepared food could be purchased as well as local wine and other beverages.  We enjoyed the food and listened to the music well into the evening.

Massa by night
At the Sagra Enogastronomica

Third day: The Church of S. Nicola of Massa and another fabulous meal

The next day was Sunday and we arrived at the Chiesa di San Nicola (Church of St. Nicholas) early so Michele could show us around.  Painted tile murals told the story of St. Nicola.  We were told my great, great grandparents are buried under the church, and saw the altar where my great grandparents were married and the font where my grandfather was baptized.  This was the most emotional moment of the trip for me.

Massa - Chiesa di San Nicola (Church of St. Nicholas)

After mass we were driven to Anna’s restaurant, Il Monticello, located just outside of Massa.  We were treated to another fabulous meal, complete with a variety of wines and more music.

The Monticello Restaurant...
...another fabulous meal

After the taking of a group picture with our hosts and the local priest we were driven to Telese-Cerreto for our train to Rome.

The group. Front row: Michele Di Leone with Antonietta and Ada, Romily, Carol and Augustine.
Second row: Anna, John, and Ryan. Third row: PadreTommaso, Paul, and Antonio.

It was a sad and tearful, yet joyous farewell to the people who opened their homes and hearts to us.  It was the end of a once in a lifetime experience.  While our earlier visits to Italy were very enjoyable, we were tourists and did not see the real Italy and be welcomed as family as we were on our visit to Massa.


Since our visit, research on the Cofrancesco family history has continued.  The results are contained in this web site,, Pacifico Cofrancesco, Site Administrator.  I now am able to trace my ancestors back to the mid 1500s and the town of San Lorenzello, which is in walking distance of Massa.  We did not visit San Lorenzello in 2005.  Perhaps we will do so in the future, but I am sure we can never again experience the thrill of our first visit to the Titerno River Valley.

John Alling Cofrancesco John Alling Cofrancesco was born in New Haven Connecticut on 27 March 1935.  His parents were John Cofrancesco and Anna Alling.  His grandfather, Nicola Cofrancesco, was born in Massa di Faicchio, Italy and immigrated to the United States on 13 May 1890.  John graduated from Yale University in 1958 with a Masters in Civil Engineering, and spent the next 30 years as a commissioned officer of the United States Public Health Service.  He married Carol Pardee in 1959.  They have three children and six grandchildren, and now live in Olney, Maryland.  After retiring from a second career in 1995, John became interested in family genealogy. In addition to tracing his Cofrancesco ancestry, he has documented his maternal ancestors as well as his wife’s paternal and maternal ancestors.  John and Carol enjoy travel and visited the homeland of his Italian ancestors in 2005.
Photos: John  A. Cofrancesco, Paul Cofrancesco

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