We did that on Sunday; met our Lismore cousins for the first time, found out that dozens of locals called themselves Perin/Capellin with various spellings for Capelin all variations on the word capello - hat. It was/is a nick name.
What followed on Tuesday was unexpected. I'd done some research before I left home- scouring the Italian white pages for familiar names in local villages. People who might be relatives of ours (Perin, Cappellin, Cescon, Lucon), Cescon and Lucon being the maiden names of Lorenzo's two wives (one died on the expedition). There were lots of names but only a few which also appeared on the international Perin family tree which local man Antonio Perin had created. Alongside the Perin name I had a couple of other clues to follow - names of villages from death certicicates etc. It was going to be a case of luck over science.
I'll share a couple of them with you.
1. Giuditta Lucon in Cimetta.
Cimetta is six streets. I had an address but it seemed to lead us to a factory site. We pulled up outside the obligatory church to check the map and noticed a group of men in the portico. ‘Let’s ask them.’ I said to Mick.
‘Scusi. Dove?’ I said and proffered the page I’d printed from the Italian white pages. Dove is my overused opening phrase coming immediately after ‘Sono australiano, Parle inglese?’, my attempt to demonstrate that I’m making an effort and that I’ve probably reached my limit. This is usually followed by a stare of incomprehension at my mangled Italian. ‘Dove’ comes next – ‘Where?’ With the “where are we” and “I’m lost” as subtext.
‘Ah Giuditta. Si. Si,’ they chorused. She was clearly a well known to them. One of the group (who appeared to be engrossed in the process of restoring the interior of the church), beckoned for us to follow. I thought he was going to point us in the right direction but to my surprise he jumped into his Fiat Bambino and motioned for us to follow. Five hundred metres later he pulled into the drive of a two story house beside the factory. He got out and went to enter via a gate to the garden when a face appeared at the open window fronting the driveway.
She was in her late 70s and in the background a young man with down syndrome hovered. She was suspicious but the presence of Angelo helped allay her fears that she was about to be robbed. I have little idea of what followed but between Angelo and myself and Giuditta we seemed to agree that her name was Lucon and that we were seeking information about our great grandmother Maria Lucon. Angelo was the intermediary between us which was absurd as Angelo spoke not a word of English. She talked a lot. I think her mother may have been a Lucon or maybe her husband’s mother or her Auntie’s cousin might been one but she did have Lucon in her name and Italian women keep their maiden name often using it as a middle name.
Whatever, she had a striking resemblance to our Aunty Rita who was a generation closer to Maria. Both had what was once red hair, very fair skin and a chiseled features. Aunty Rita talked at a rate of knots as well. Maybe the DNA brings these remarkable elements through time? She offered us a drink. We said yes. And she served us a cold gingerella through the window and toasted us with one of her own.
Mick took lots of photos. We were both prepared to suspend disbelief and choose to believe that Maria Lucon was here in spirit.
1. 2 . Egidio Perin (Motta di Livenza) and Sergia Perin (Chiarano)
On paper these two people should have been brother and sister, descendants of Lorenzo’s brother Fedele who stayed in Italy in 1880. They were in the right area and corresponded to entries in Antonio Perin’s version of the family tree.
Egidio and his wife were very welcoming but clearly not the Evidio we were seeking. Notwithstanding this misunderstanding which was sorted out within seconds, they still insisted on inviting us in for a coffee and a chat. Chat!? Well you know what I mean.
Feeling a little deflated we headed for Venice and only as we left Motta di Livenza did I dare mention to Mick that there was one more possibility. I hadn’t mentioned Sergia to him or if I had he was so confused by now that it had not computed. ‘Okay” says he. ‘Why not.’
I wasn’t sure what the point was. After all, Lorenzo left 135 years ago. What would I do if I found a direct descendant? Claim the inheritance? Remind Sergia that Fedele still owed Lorenzo that twenty Lire that he borrowed before they parted? Become pen pals? Promise to learn Italian so we might actually have a conversation?
Sergia’s place turned out to be around the corner from where we’d stopped for a lunch break. The postie gave us the directions. I rang the bell. Niente (nothing). I rang again…. A woman’s large round face (nothing like Giuditta) appeared at the window. She looked like we’d woken her from her afternoon nap. Not particularly happy to be interrupted. Her face (not unlike my Uncle Cyril’s large Irish visage) was framed by an arrangement of artificial flowers on the sill. Here we go again I thought. ‘ Sono Steve Capellin . Siamo Australiani.’ I said ‘Are you Sergia Perin?’ I asked. ‘Si’ she replied. Was your father Mario Fedele Perin?’ ‘Si” ‘And your mother Marcella Semenzata?’ ‘Si.’ I kept going now offering her the family tree as reference. ‘Si, si, si.’ She kept saying. ‘I know all these people’ she was saying. Which then became a flurry of Italian telling us where each of them now lived and who was living and who dead. We got lost, but we knew we had a “dinkum relative.”
I was convinced. She was too but she still had a sneaking suspicion that these Australians behaving like Mormon preachers might be part of some elaborate sting. Bingo! She softened. I was able to establish that we were not “primo” not “secondi” but third cousins. At which she disappeared inside and seconds later joined us in the garden her face beaming. ‘Caffe?’ Oh shit. We had left the best until last and had now run out of time. The rental car was due back in Venice at 4pm. It was now 2:30 and we needed to get on the road. ‘Grazie, non.’ A bit sad but maybe better to leave everyone wanting more than spoil it with a dysfunctional and agonizing half hour over coffee. Maybe I will learn Italian and return to explore the family connections further. I’d better hurry. Sergia is 77. Fit as a mally bull for the moment but who knows what will happen in the next few years.
It did establish a couple of things. There were Perin/Capellins who survived in Italy and this was the right place - Chiarano and nearby Giarine are home to the clan.
Beuno. Molte Bueno.