John R. Vollaro
October 15, 1989
Alice and I returned from our trip to
England and Italy last week which was a belated anniversary gift to
each other. We decided to include some family research with our
touristing. Although we did not have enough time to do much research,
we were rewarded with very pleasant experiences and some new
information. The information is included here along with some stories
about our adventures. The people we met and the way they responded to
us turned out to be the most meaningful part of our quest.
MANY VOLLAROS OF GRAGNANO
We began by driving to a small town in
England called Thame,
armed with only the rumor that Fredrick Quartermaine (Alice's
grandfather) was born there. On our way into town, we drove
elementary school and decided to ask where we should start. We found
the school secretary busy at work in one of the offices. She was not
too busy to stop what she was
doing to help us. She gave us the name and number of a woman in town
that knew a lot about its history and said she thought there was a
Quartermaine tomb in St. Mary's church. We learned that the
Quartermaines played an important role in the development of the town
including the building of ST Marys and alms houses for the town's poor.
However to our surprise, we learned that Richard and Sybil Quartermaine
whose tomb is in the church, had no children. Where then did the many
Quartermaine descendants come from and what happened to the substantial
Quartermaine's wealth? That and several other mysteries are being
pieced together by a woman who lives in Thame and has done extensive
research on the family prior to publishing a book on the Quartermaine
history. She was most helpful and thinks she can trace Alice's family
back to its origin in Thame.
Meanwhile, Alice and I spent 2 days in
Oxford looking at birth, death,
marriage, and census records. We managed to find the original marriage
record of Alice's great grandparents, and census records that show
the entire family as of 1881. the only problem is that her grandfather
was born in 1883 and was not included in the microfilmed records that
we had. As you can see, this is a tedious and sometimes frustrating
process. It was well worth the effort though because in the process we
experienced the character, history, and hospitality of this small town
that was the home of Alice's ancestors for many generations.
We began our adventure in Gragnano Italy
by driving into town with only
the name and date of birth of Andrea Vollaro and the belief that he
lived here. We had however a tremendous obstacle to overcome. We could
not speak or understand the native language. But that did not stop
2 trusting fools from the USA.
We began at the police station by asking
for directions to the municipal
building. The police had just received their afternoon coffee,
their blank stares told me that none of them knew what we were talking
about. What happened next took me by surprise. They offered us some
coffee. We were definitely not in New York. We finally got them to
what we were trying to say, and the man who delivered the coffee walked
us over to the municipal building and introduced us to the people
None spoke English. It took some effort but I gave them the date of
and before you know it, the hand written record of Andrea's birth was
in front of me. It said that he was born to Sebastiano and Filomena
who were residents of Gragnano. This was more than I had a right to
expect but it wasn't much after all. I wanted to find out more but
didn't know how under the circumstances. No one seemed to know what
a census is and I don't think it is taken regularly in Italy.
We found the address of Vittorio
Vollaro's furniture store in the phone book
and marched in thinking surely someone here will speak English. There
were about 6 people there but they all just stared when we began to
speak English. What happened next didn't surprise me as much this time.
They brewed some demitas and insisted that we have some with them.
Meanwhile Vittorio got busy on the phone and the next thing I knew,
I was speaking to someone who spoke perfect English, with a New York
accent! Before we knew it, we were in the presence of several more
Vollaro's who were anxious to help us. Among them were Carolina Vollaro
(maiden name) and her daughter Ann who had just moved to Gragnano
from Brooklyn NY. She and her brother Carmine opened their homes
to us in the true Italian tradition which included there great
Italian cooking. We met many, many Vollaros who live and work in
Gragnano. Some of them run a clothing factory. They are all cousins
and they all work together at the factory. As far as we can tell
though, none of the Vollaros that we met are related to us as far
back as Sebastiano and Filomena. We would have to go back much further
than 1800 to tie them all together.
Carolina's neighbor works in the
municipal building and offered to
find the other members of Sebastiano and Filomena's family for us.
It is not clear why some names are repeated and I was not able to
ask him. We speculate that perhaps there were deaths and the following
children were christened with the names of the deceased. If
knows the answer to that one please let us know.
As in England, we did not have enough
time to complete our research,
but as in England we were able to experience the character of the town
has been and still is a home to many generations of Vollaros. Their
warmth and hospitality makes it a pleasure to share their name.
We managed to clarify one more thing but
did not have time to follow
up on it. The town that Luisa was from near Gragnano is called Agerola,
(pronounced jarole, see the map).
The next time we visit England or Italy,
we hope to have more time
to explore than we had this time. We are bound and determined to
learn Italian before then too.
There are many other great stories to tell but they will wait until
the next time we get together.