I had the pleasure of exploring some ancestral hometowns in Sicily today, without every leaving my chair.
I am, of course, an outspokenly proud Italian-American, but my relationship with Sicily is more complicated. It is a love-hate relationship. I love the food that’s been passed down to me; I love the piety and emphasis on family. But the more I learn about Sicily, the more I understand why many Sicilians left. Let’s just leave it at that for now.
Being a history buff, librarian, and sort of family historian, I have always wanted to return to my ancestral homes to visit. Now, with something as simple as Google Maps Street View, I can!
I had explored some of Sicily before using Street View, mostly “driving” through the countryside, and viewing a few shots of Palermo. I looked at one of my ancestral towns a little bit. Today I spent more time in the two towns I know of: Burgio and Castelbuono. My great-grandfather was from Castelbuono, and my great-grandmother was from Burgio. They later met in Palermo or maybe New York, and I know for a fact they married at Maria di Ausiliatrice (Mary Help of Christians) in Manhattan.
Burgio is a comune in southwest Sicily, in the province of Agrigento. It’s about 25 miles from Corleone, of Godfather fame.
Castelbuono is located in north-central Sicily, in the province of Palermo, very close of Cefalù, home of the famous Norman-Byzantine-style Cefalù Cathedral.
Google has mapped a great many roads in Sicily, even ones in small towns such as Burgio and Castelbuono. It was pretty amazing to “walk” the streets, trying to follow the signs. In Castelbuono I tried to follow the signs to the police, the castle, and a few other attractions. I was only successful with the police and the castle.
One thing I noticed was how often the Street View captured people looking at the Google car. Maybe it’s because these are small towns, with very narrow streets. Partly I think it’s just that old Italian neb-nosing. I also enjoyed seeing some of the fliers posted to the walls of the buildings. There were even ones for a circus! Another interesting find was a memorial above the Banco di Sicilia in Castelbuono that commemorated (I think) the Risorgimento (Italian Unification). Alas, no ancestors listed.
I’m very glad to have been able to get to know my towns before possibly going over there. It allows me to have more realistic expectations, and also to explore without breaking the bank. I’d encourage anyone interested in their geneology to talk to their family members, find out where you came from, and see if you can view it on Google Maps. You might be surprised at what you find!