Searching for My Ancestor’s Home (Part II)

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Searching for My Ancestor’s Home

Part II

by Diane H.


First Part is HERE

While I hadn’t consciously planned it, we arrived in Matera during the later afternoon, 120 years to the day when my grandfather was born.
How perfect it would be to find his house on his birthday!
With only about an hour of daylight left, we eventually found Vico Santa Cesarea, a small street dipping down into the Sasso Barisano off the broader Via Santa Cesarea. Many of the houses in the Sassi have no numbers and if you have ever been to Matera, you know how the streets weave and wind. Not really streets as we know them, they are really a series of stairways.
Confused by this labyrinth of steps, we were no longer sure where one street ended and another began. We walked and walked until hunger and a setting sun forced us to give up for the day.
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We searched again the next day under the hot July sun, but there was no number 65 Vico Santa Cesarea. We found a 65 Via Santa Cesarea above the Sassi. It would be easy to mistake Via for Vico; however, if this was the place Graziantonio died, I doubt it was where he had lived.
My great-grandfather was a farmer, and from the stories my grandfather told my father, I am fairly sure they lived in one of the cave homes of the Sassi. This house was more like where the doctor may have lived. Maybe Graziantonio did not die at home.
At the Stato Civile office, I was able to see another piece of the mosaic—my grandfather’s original birth record.
He was born at 2 Via San Pietro Barisano at a time when women gave birth at home. We had passed a church named San Pietro Barisano not far from Vico Santa Cesarea that first evening.

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San Pietro Barisano Church
I had heard stories about my grandfather being an altar boy and how he would sometimes play hooky from school so he could ring the church bells.
Assuming Chiesa San Pietro Barisano was number 1, their house would be next to the church (there were no homes across the street).
Tucked behind the bell tower were two apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs.

It could have been the one downstairs—I doubt if they would have taken their animals up and down the steep staircase every day, or perhaps it was one of the cave homes around the bend. Unfortunately, these homes were abandoned and the lack of house numbers made it impossible to be sure which was theirs.
Although it was certainly not the way I had imagined it would be, I am not as disappointed as you might think. While I could not be sure which house was my great-grandparents’, I had become familiar with their neighborhood. I went inside the church where the family prayed on Sunday mornings, where the children were baptized, and where Graziantonio was mourned. I saw the bell tower where my grandfather happily sounded the bells. I am content with this, at least for now.

Of course, my genealogy research will not end here. Graziantonio had two brothers. It’s time to find their descendants, my distant cousins.