My next stop on the family history tour was twelve kilometers straight into the mountains and to the ancestral home of my grandmother, Basilia LoPresti. Bus schedules from Campofelice to Collesano seemed few and far between so I started to hitch on the quiet road leading out of town. I was immediately picked up by a sweet older couple. The woman, who was Swiss, met her Italian husband when he came to work on the trains in Switzerland. Now retired, they spend their winters living in Collesano.

With only a few hours allotted to visit Collesano because of incoming thunderstorms, I went straight to the municipal offices and within minutes we had located my grandmother’s birth certificate. I wandered around the streets of the small village up to the walls of an old castle and then down to the graveyard to search out stones.

Due to some unfortunate planning in an earlier life, this was not my first experience in an Italian graveyard – I once spent the night camped out in one in Cinque Terre. Italians stack the bodies above ground in concrete slabs, one of top of the other, and in some cases twenty bodies high. If ancestors don’t keep paying to upkeep the grave, the bodies are eventually removed and replaced with fresh corpses and new headstones.

I just found this odd — maple trees and cactus side by side. I’m off to the next village. Next up: I head even further into the mountains to find my Sicilian cousins.