I’ve been pleasantly deluged with reactions to my Sicily piece in Sunday’s Times. I don’t know that it’s possible to give a blanket response, except to say thanks, but one question appeared in a lot of replies, which I can answer. Why, since I know that my great-grandfather’s last name was Sciotto, don’t I change it back to that? I considered that years ago, and concluded that my name as it stands represents who I am as an American of Sicilian extraction. It shows the history.

Beyond that, I’ll start posting some of the reactions here, since there seems to be a common thread of Sicilian-Americans who have or would like to retrace their family history, and people might like to see what others are up to. Here are the first few:

I immensely enjoyed the NY Times piece “Digging Up Your Roots in Sicily”. I made a similar pilgrimage to a tiny village in the province of Liguria, aptly named Buto because it perches on a butte in the foothills above Siestri Levante. Of the sixty direct descendants of my grandparents who emigrated from Buto to San Francisco in 1912, ten have made the reverse journey to Buto. My first visit was profound and emotional because my grandparents had a picture of themselves taken in front of the village church on their wedding day. That photo, and a few other pictures of their pre-American life were always on display in their home. When I drove into Buto and saw the tall bell tower, the tower of the wedding picture, I knew that was my village, my place to be. And, humorously, Buto has wild boars too, the dreaded cinghiale who run in packs, knock down garden fences, and eat all the precious wild mushrooms.

Lauri Basso Langton
Lauri Langton


I recently read your piece in the Times about your ancestry search in Sicily.

As you can tell from my email address, I too, am a Previte. Originally from Boston, MA, I now live in and work in Manhattan. My father’s grandparents are from the Messina region of Sicily! I believe they first lived in New Hampshire before moving to Massachusetts after some time. I have visited Italy during a brief time while studying abroad in Madrid, but did not it make the trip to Sicily (it’s on my list!)

I very much enjoyed your article and had to ask if you ran into any Previte’s during your search there? I was very curious to know!

Thank you very much and it was a pleasure reading your work.


To: Russell Shorto
From: Phil Sidotti

Ciao Paisano…
Being of Sicilian descent I’m signed on for any articles about Sicily that appear in the NYT.
How wonderful to see a link to your article, “Digging Up Family Roots in Sicily,” in today’s email.

San Pier Niceto is the birthplace of three of my grand parents…my maternal grand father Ignazio Pitrone, his future wife Francesca Insana and my paternal grand mother Rosa Maria Mazza. My paternal grand father, my namesake, Philip Sidoti was born 40 kilometers away…just above Tindari…in the village of Montalbano Elicona. On my two visits to Sicily we stayed with our Sidoti family in that village because my dad had first cousins there and we were in contact with them. Next time, I would like to stay at the agriturismo you mentioned (or perhaps one closer to SPN).

I’ve visited San Pier Niceto on two occasions with my parents and two sisters. Both wonderful experience particularly since my parents spoke the language and were able to explain our mission. Unfortunately we didn’t make preliminary plans to visit so no one was expecting us. I imagine it’s what your visit would have been had you not contacted Mario Italiano.

Oddly enough when we pulled into the town and parked at the top of the hill my older sister recognized a man exiting a car next to us. It was Mr. Fama, her next door neighbor from North Brunswick, NJ. He spends summers in SPN. New Brunswick and North Brunswick have large populations of San Pier Niceto ancestors.

Anyway, it wasn’t until after my visits that I became interested in the genealogical aspect of the towns. Since then the information I’ve gained has all come from genealogical sites and distant family connections. I’ve wanted to get back to do research in the churches, graveyard and municipal building. I came close this year…very close…but it didn’t happen.

I was in or around Sicily for three weeks in July. I signed on for a sail on a 38’ catamaran to the Aeolian Islands and the west coast of Sicily. I planned on being on board for two weeks and visit SPN the last week however because there was no set itinerary for the sail we stayed longer in some ports and never arrived in Catania until the day before my flight back to the states. While I am sorry I didn’t get to visit the towns, I have no regrets. The sail was one of the most adventurous and exhilarating experiences of my life.

On a positive note, I’m planning to visit San Pier again, in either the fall or spring when it’s cooler. I also have the name of Mario Italiano who can help connect me to the many relatives I have there and perhaps to the places where my grand parents were born.

One last thing…my grand parents also migrated from Sicily to western Pennsylvania. The Insana’s and Pitrones went to Barnesboro, PA and the Sidoti’s and Mazza’s went to Johnstown and Punxatawney respectively. My father was born in Johnstown.

I’ve taken enough of your time. Thank you once again for a wonderful article. I’m passing it around my family.


Phil Sidotti


I very much enjoyed your story “Digging Up Family Roots in Sicily” in the NY Times. It reminded me of my first visit to Olivadi Calabria, where my Italian grandparents immigrated from. In July 1991 my father (Fiore), Uncle (Frank) and family friend (Cosimo) wandered into Olivadi. Like you, we had a random encounter with City Hall — in our case, a city administrator who for some reason was there on a Saturday morning. Within minutes she provided the names and addresses of my father’s three first cousins . She then led us to their homes, kicking off an amazing day’s adventure of Calabrian family, food, history, and culture, much like the day you describe in San Pier Niceto.

In 2008, my wife, 8-year-old son, and I spent two weeks in Isola delle Femmine, Sicily, then stopped by Olivadi on our way to the Amalfi Coast. Regretfully, it was a wasted, frustrating visit. I hadn’t arranged for an interpreter, and no one at City Hall spoke English.

In 2010, I applied for and received Italian citizenship, based on my grandfather’s Italian lineage (my father was 100% American). My son also received Italian citizenship at the same time. If you’re interested in dual citizenship, I’m happy to send you details.

Also, On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal is a great read about Sicilian food and culture.

Best regards,


Michael D. DeLapa
DeLapa | Consulting

I love your writing. Am a writer myself and I so appreciate good writing.

Am also the child of Sicilian immigrants. Have been thinking recently that I should set down some of the family stories for my five grandchildren, who are only one-quarter Sicilian.

I did set down some family stories in my (very torrid!) contemporary romance novel, The Sicilian Amulet. It was a great deal of fun…but, as my first attempt at a novel (it was accepted for publication after two subsequent novels got published to good reviews, but it was my first try at writing a novel) it has its bits of somewhat purplish prose 🙂

My cousin Renee Restivo runs culinary tours from Noto, in Sicily. Never been there — was in Sicily in 1987 with my daughter but we missed this World Heritage Site — but it sounds lovely. Renee does a combination of agro-tourism and culinary tours in the spring and fall that are supposed to be pretty good. She has also done Arthur Avenue tours. The paternal side of her family and of mine — we are distantly related, but how distant can folks in a small village be? — emigrated from Castrofilippo, in the mountains north of Agrigento. My mother’s family is from Borgetto, in the Conca d’Oro.

I will look up your other books. I remember the review about the New Amsterdam book. (Have you ever read the mysteries set there:

Cheers, Jo Manning


Great article in today’s NYT. I read it with much interest, delight and enjoyment. I had hoped the article would have been longer.

Seems the “Sci” in Sicilian surnames often was changed to “Sho” when they came here from Sicily. My mother’s maiden name on the ship’s manifest was “Sciortino” and after they settled in New Jersey it was changed to “Shortino.” I don’t know why.

Attached in a Shutterfly book I am working about a story my father wrote when he was in his 70s, living in Leisure Village, Lakewood, NJ. It’s his own writing (8th grade education) about his decision to leave his mother and fiancé in Lecara Friddi, Palermo and come to America in 1918. He describes it well and keeps his focus on this event and doesn’t wander off too much.

Since I came home from the service in 1967, I have been an avid reader of my Italian/Sicilian ancestry. My first book was “The Italians” by Luigi Barzini in ‘67 and my last two books are “Seeking Sicily” by John Keahey and a re-reading of The Leopard by Giuseppe T Lampedusa.

I’d suggest you read “La Storia” by Jerre Mangione (University of PA) and Ben Morreale (SUNY at Plattsburg). It will become part of you. The old Sicilians suffered.

My wife and I were in Italy for 18 days last year and seven of them were in Palermo. People ask me if Sicily was beautiful. Sometimes I think and say “Yes, it is very beautiful but also very different. It’s hard to really describe it. There would be so many adjectives.”

We did go visit my parents’ hometowns of Lecara Friddi, Castronovo di Sicilia and Alia. We did visit Cefalu, like you and bought a ton of ceramics from the Sireci family at the top of the hill, that were shipped home. We took the train from Rome, over the ferry on the Strait of Messina and then to Palermo…. a wonderful experience, especially the riceballs on the ferry!

We had private tours in Sicily and became friends with our guides that we still maintain communications. Dr Trude Macri (of Passage to Sicily tours) will be doing research for us in the Runfola family. You might want to contact her. We had recommended her to some friends and they were very pleased.

BTW: are you a member of Arba Sicula out of St. John’s in Queens, NY?

I will be picking up a few of your books. I like your writing style.


Sal Runfola

Farmingdale, NJ


great article!

I was 20 when I cam to America from a town near Siracusa so instead of researching my roots, which I know, I wrote a book From Sicily to Connecticut where I tried to capture my life in Sicily from 1950 to 1970 and then life in the USA since 1970! I wrote the book for my grandchildren: I want to make sure they know where we came from and how we lived!

More recently I have created a web site, Casa Emigranti Italiani , a virtual museum telling the stories of those who like me emigrated to America while also trying to provide a framework for the times and the challenges they faced!

Hope you find them of interest.

Paul Pirrotta


As a writer I’ve always tended to seek out origins. My first book, about the search for the historical Jesus, was an attempt to get at the “real” story behind my Catholic upbringing. After living in Manhattan for several years, I wrote “The Island at the Center of the World,” a book about the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, the seed from which New York City grew.

Recently I began considering my family. Among its manifold curiosities is our last name. People always ask me about the derivation of “Shorto.” The story I’d heard as a child was that after my illiterate Sicilian great-grandparents settled in my hometown of Johnstown, Pa., they enrolled their children in school and said the name aloud: Sciotto. And the administrator wrote it as he or she heard it.

Continue reading my travel story in the August 17, 2013 issue of the New York Times.

PW’s prepublication review of “Amsterdam”…

“Shorto conjures the anything-goes spirit of contemporary Amsterdam, with its pot-smoking and red-light districts, from the city’s fascinating past as a major port city. Amsterdam, to Shorto, was not only the first city in Europe to develop the cultural and political foundations of what we now call liberalism—“a society focused on the concerns and comforts of individuals,… run by individuals acting together,” and tolerant of “religion, ethnicity, or other differences”—but also an exporter of these beliefs to the rest of Europe and the New World. Shorto composes biographical sketches of these originators (Rembrandt, Spinoza) and exporters (John Locke, the Dutch East India Company) as he guides readers on a narrative tour of Amsterdam’s intellectual history, its rise from a sleepy site of religious pilgrimage to the center of a trading empire into the present. Shorto’s examination of Dutch tolerance also focuses on its failures, including an examination of collaboration with Nazi occupiers during WWII, and its current struggle to integrate its “immigrant underclass” into a more egalitarian multicultural life. Shorto’s brilliant follow-up to his previous book on Dutch Manhattan (The Island at the Center of the World) is an expertly told history of a city of new, shocking freedoms and the tough-minded people that developed them.”

Kirkus – First Pre-Publication Review of “Amsterdam”…

A History of the World’s Most Liberal City
Author: Russell Shorto

Review Issue Date: August 1, 2013
Online Publish Date: July 15, 2013
Pages: 368
Price ( Hardcover ): $28.95
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-385-53457-4
Category: Nonfiction

The dynamic historical account of a vibrantly complex European city and the legacy of social, political and economic liberalism it bequeathed to the Western world.

Legalized prostitution, lax drug laws and a generous social welfare system have given Amsterdam a reputation for being “the most liberal place on earth.” But as cultural historian Shorto (Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason, 2008, etc.) points out, it is ultimately incorrect to say that the concept of liberalism itself, which “involves a commitment to individual freedom and individual rights…for everyone,” was born there. It is instead more correct to say that the ideas that inspired those thinkers who gave form to what liberalism was—John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, among others—arose from the peculiar set of geographical and cultural circumstances that attended the birth of Amsterdam. Since the Netherlands is “one vast river delta,” Dutch cities like Amsterdam came into being thanks to the development of organizations that depended on cooperation to deal with the ever-present threat of flooding. More importantly, the water-protected communities the Dutch built allowed them the freedom to also flourish as individuals. A spirit of tolerance pervaded all aspects of Dutch life. Medieval Amsterdam became home to religious dissidents. With the rise of mercantilism in the 16th century, it became headquarters of the United East India Company, “the world’s first multinational corporation.” Economic liberalism transformed Amsterdam into a rich cosmopolitan city, and wealth gave rise to a golden age in art, architecture and science. When the capitalistic excesses of the Industrial Revolution collided with socialist theory in the 19th and 20th centuries, a liberalism that honored the good of all, rather than just a privileged few, emerged. Shorto’s examination of Amsterdam’s colorful history offers important insights into the promise and possibility of enlightened liberalism.

Vigorous, erudite and eminently readable.