What’s a personal blog without some deep secret gushing? I’m following some GeneaBloggers prompts to keep this blog active while I do some of the more mundane research for my ICAP research project. So today on Wishful Wednesday I’d like to talk about the ancestor who I most wish I could have met. This special lady was my Nonna (my mother’s mother) Maria Sulfaro nèe Stagno. She is closely followed by my Nonno, Giuseppe Sulfaro, but I have already done a post about him. Why wish I could have known Maria? What sets her apart from the countless other ancestors that I have spent my time researching? Certainly, Paolo Sulfaro, had the most interesting life. He was a traveller and a war hero. But there’s other kinds of bravery that sets people apart. Women like Maria Stagno, and her mother before her, and many of the mothers and daughters who lived in the harsh realities of a life we are lucky not to know, amongst the wretchedness of poverty and poor healthcare.


(From Left to Right) Concetta Stagno, Maria Stagno (Sulfaro), Paolo Stagno, Margherita Musarella, Giuseppe Stagno, Maria Stagno & Catena Stagno

Maria Stagno was born on the 14th of October, 1922 in Giardini, Messina. She was the daughter of Ignazio Stagno and Margherita Musarella. She lived during the time of Mussolini, who attempted to exterminate the Mafia in Sicily during the 20’s and 30’s. She was also present for the Second World War where many Sicilian cities were bombarded, including nearby Messina and Catania. Despite the horrors of war, Giardini, now known as Giardini-Naxos, was a quiet and picturesque fishing town.  On the 14th of March, 1943, Maria married my grandfather Giuseppe Sulfaro in the Parrocchia di Maria S.S. Della Raccomadata. Below is a picture of their marriage record:

marriage giuseppe maria sulfaro

They had 4 children in Giardini and 1 in Australia, and for privacy purposes I won’t publish their names. Maria did suffer the loss of a child while she was in Giardini. Her second-born son died after 14 months of life. Unfortunately I have not been able to retrieve his death record to see what the cause was. There was also no grave site in Giardini for him.

In 1951, Giuseppe moved to Innisfail, Queensland, Australia, leaving Maria behind with her 3 children for 5 years until she was able to move to Australia with him in 1956. The environment and living conditions were harsh for them. They did not speak English and stuck together with the small Italian community of immigrants. After a few years of living in Queensland they moved down to Victoria, Australia, taking their 4 children and settled for good in their new country.

In 1966, Maria was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma the most dangerous kind of skin cancer. After 4 years of battling it with experimental treatments, some of the only things they could do for people with skin cancer at the time, she died on the 26th of December, 1970.

I’ve told you some of the factual things I learned about the grandmother that I never met. But I haven’t told you why I wish I could have met her. My mum, despite losing her mother at the tender age of 12, never forgot to tell her children stories about her mother, and so I grew up knowing bits and pieces about her personality: that she loved to read, that people came to her for help in writing love letters to their wives and girlfriends, and that she missed her home desperately. These are a few things that I have in common with her. I also love to read and write. But the biggest thing we have in common is immigrating to another country. I definitely have not had it as hard as she did. I moved to a country that speaks the same language as I do. And I have the ability to travel back and forth to Australia. My Nonna never got to go back home to Italy. She never got to see her family again. We have the luxury of planes now. But I wish that she was alive today so that we could compare our experiences. I wonder if she had the same frustrations as I do when people don’t understand my accent and act like I’m speaking a foreign language. I wonder if she hated the Australians and thought sometimes that Italians are so much more superior. (Like I sometimes do with Americans.. shh don’t tell anyone.) I also wonder what she wrote to her mother in the letters that she sent back to Giardini. What did Margherita Musarella tell her daughter? What did her sisters and brothers say? I wish that I could know.

Genealogy is legitimately the best way to get to know an ancestor that died before you existed, but the trouble with this method is that sometimes you forget that you didn’t actually know them. I get so caught up in my research that I forget that I never knew what my Nonno’s voice sounded like, what her little human quirks were, and the way she looked when she was angry or how she looked when she laughed. But is it better or worse to know all the things about her that I have learned through genealogical research? Is it better to leave the past where it is? I emphatically think that we should all learn everything we can about the people who came before us – how else can we improve our lives and the lives of our descendants? The experience can be frustrating for sure. I sometimes cry about how much I wish I could just ask my ancestors these burning questions. I’ve cried like I miss them. Like I knew them and they died and I’m mourning them. Is that weird? Maybe. But you get so invested in these people, like characters in a novel, and unlike a book I can’t let them go because they’re a part of me. I do wish I knew Maria Stagno, my Nonna, the lady who liked writing letters and who missed her mother and moved to a foreign country. But some of my wish has come true because I do know her a little bit. And nobody can take that information away from me.