England to Italy

 By 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.


    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 past the 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, and  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 understand 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 there. None spoke English. It took some effort but I gave them the date of birth 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 anyone  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 that 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.

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