Discovering Sicilian Family

In October 2014, I and seven cousins, their spouses and friends, took a trip of a lifetime to Rome and Sicily, in search of our roots in Partinico Sicily. For most of us, it was our first visit to Sicily, and what transpired was nothing short of miraculous.

Ten months prior, I discovered an ancestral tour guide through – the mother-load of all things Sicilian. Our guide, Rosy Bartolotta, specializes in uncovering family history around Sicily AND she’s originally from Michigan. I sent the particulars about our great grandparents, Angelo Comito and Antonina Barbiera of Partinico and explained they left Sicily for America in 1907 and we lost contact with the Partinico family in 1915, after Angelo died in a factory fire. Rosy set out researching the Comito family.

We stayed at the regal Excelsior Palace Hotel in Palermo, about 20 miles from Partinico. Rosy and her husband Michele met us in the morning with a van and off we went exploring. She immediately put my mind at ease; they were successful locating Comito family – descendants of our great grandfather Angelo’s twin brothers, Salvatore and Giuseppe.

We arrived at the Partinico city center, in front of the Chiesa Madre (Mother Church) and standing at the top of the church steps was our 2nd cousin, Leonarda and her husband Antonino. Her grandfather was our great grand uncle, Salvatore. One by one the American cousins climbed the steps to greet them, as we tried to hold back tears of joy. We also met our 2nd cousin, Francesca. After several minutes of hugs and attempts to communicate, Leonarda invited us back to her home to eat. With pleasure we said, yes!

First, we were invited to meet the Mayor of Partinico. Unfortunately, he was detained on business but we met his 2nd in command. He gave us a brief history of Partinico and offered us delicious Sicilian treats and Espresso, naturally!

Giornale Di Sicillia Sicily October 2014

Family from USA visit

Outside the Mayor’s office, a news reporter approached us about the purpose of our visit. Rosy gave them the scoop, and the following day our picture and story appeared in the Giornale Di Sicillia newspaper.

We headed to the Records Office to meet the Archivist. He helped us find several records including the marriage record of our great grandparents. I laid my hand on the very spot where our great grandparents signed their names in 1896. It was a very moving connection for me because I knew the page had been untouched in 118 years.

Outside the Records building a TV reporter with two cameramen asked if they could film our story. We were elated and agreed; the result was a moving representation of our longing to discover our Sicilian family. The video aired on TV that evening.

Finally, we headed to the home of Leonarda who had prepared an incredible meal for 15 people! Leonarda brought out her genealogical documents to show our family connection. More Sicilian cousins arrived and Antonino brought out champagne to toast this amazing 100 year family reunion.

If that was the end of my family reunion story it would be enough, but wait… there’s a bit more!

The descendants of our grandfather’s other brother, Giuseppe Comito saw our family story on TV and reached out to Rosy to meet with us. With such limited time we literally had to meet on the roadside. I’ll never forget meeting Nunzia, my 2nd cousin and granddaughter of Giuseppe, and her charismatic husband, Castrenze. I felt an instant link with them and all my Sicilian family; it was as if I was home. The next day, our last evening in Sicily, we enjoyed a delightful family get together at a local pizzeria.

The American and Sicilian cousins were finally reunited – our hearts were changed forever.

La Rocca Family

Guzzardo Family2

Family: Our link to the past and bridge to the future

I was very close to my paternal grandmother, Ann Comito Battiata. Her father died tragically in a fire on the job when she was only 7. For survival, she married at 15, became a mother at 16, and was a widow by 18. In her heyday she was a Flapper of the Roaring 20’s until she experienced a spiritual awakening in 1930. Her faith carried her through very difficult times, including the Great Depression, WWII, the deaths of her mother and husband, and right up until her own death in July 1977.

Etched in my mind are so many precious memories of her cooking, watching television game shows while knitting a mile a minute, shifting her 3-speed on the column Chevy with her right hand, while holding a cigarette in the left hand, studying the well-worn pages of her Bible, and telling me to ‘never forget your family.’ By profession she was a hair dresser, but also worked at Detroit Tiger Stadium. What a character – she was witty, patient, forgiving and kept secrets of her very arduous past.

After she died, I was heartbroken. I took comfort in researching her Sicilian family, which wasn’t easy in the early 80’s. There was no or Throughout the years, I’ve gathered remnants of her life, starting with her parents, Angelo Comito and Antonina Barbiera of Partinico. Partinico is an agricultural town about 20 miles southwest of Palermo. They immigrated to Coldwater Michigan in 1907 and my grandmother was born in 1908. After her father died in 1915 her mother took Annie and her little sister Jennie to Detroit, where they knew other families from Partinico. They lost all contact with the family back in Sicily.


By the 1990’s I had hit a roadblock in my Sicilian research and concluded the only way to learn more about our family was to go to Sicily. There was just one issue. No it wasn’t the Mafia, I was not afraid of them. I read a book describing where local bandits travel the highways in Sicily stealing from tourists. I pictured a scene from an old western movie, where outlaws swooped down on an unsuspecting stagecoach, forcing travelers to handover their valuables. As a single woman, this depiction made me apprehensive about traveling alone to Sicily. There was no one to go with me, so the trip idea was abandoned.


Fast forward to September 2013, the yearning to visit Sicily was pulling at me, like an ocean current. I looked into some tours, but I needed a custom tour, so I could spend time researching in Partinico and possibly uncover relatives. My father, now in his late 80’s, suggested I try to get a custom tour and see if any American cousins would go with me. I took his sage advice, (I normally do) and created an event on Facebook. I thought perhaps one or two cousins may be interested, but to my surprise, seven cousins along with their spouses and/or friends wanted to go. Suddenly I found myself the official travel coordinator of 15 going to Sicily in October 2014.

Check out my next post, where I’ll go into more detail about our amazing family trip to Sicily, and whether we were successful at reuniting family in Partinico.