The exciting story of Aida Zayas




Aida came here from Miami to discover her roots. Thanks to this travel she discovered her grandfather’s place of birth, Padula. Additionally, she also met some distant cousins.

I can’t wait to return to Padula and spend time with my loving cousins and I can never truly express what Michele and his team have done for me and I hope that you entrust them with your family story.”

As an only child with vague memories of my childhood hearing my Dad and his brothers joking and trading stories in Italian, I have always felt that a piece of my heart was missing.

I knew that my Italian grandfather Carmine had left Padula mid 1800’s for the dream of America. I was given a portrait of him by my Dad which I proudly displayed on my family photo gallery. But I did not know much else. Why and when did he leave Brooklyn, NY for Cuba? He met my Spanish grandmother and began a family there, but I’m told he always spoke of America. I knew this was why my uncles and parents all moved to the Miami area in the 1940’s after Carmine had passed away.

My cousins and I shared family celebrations with Cuban and Italian traditions. But we didn’t know much about our paternal ancestor and his origins in a small Southern Italian village.

With a scheduled pilgrimage trip to Italy with my husband on my calendar in late September, I thought that maybe I could search for my Italian ancestral roots. But where would I possibly begin? I happened upon a YouTube video featuring a NYC retired firefighter who had a hometown reunion with a living relative in Padula and I saw the name of who made his dream possible, Museo Del Cognome. After locating their website, I emailed and asked if they could help me. Thus began my journey.

Throughout those spring and summer months, I hired them to first research and provide an ancestral tree. I was emailing with them and providing what little information I had. After that was provided, I still wanted more! Was there any family left in Padula? I then hired them to do a full present day research into any living relatives remaining in Padula. When I was told that they had located a cousin, I was surprised and curious. I wanted more detailed information, but I sensed they were being secretive. We arranged a two day visit with a detailed itinerary, but no family meetings were listed. My husband and daughter were cynical and advised not to raise up my hopes. But I felt in my heart that I was in for the surprise of my life.

What happened next was life changing.

Michele and his merry band of researchers had coordinated our pickup from Salerno and drive into Padula.

We visited the Certosa with Viviana who provided a detailed tour in English. We were then handed over to Michele and Giusi who drove us around the town. When we arrived at the hotel that we had wanted to stay at but had been booked by a large group, I wondered why we were there. Looking back now, I remember the look on Giusi’s face as she was bursting with the surprise they had planned but couldn’t tell me.

Upon entering this lovely hotel, I was greeted by two beautiful ladies. One was the hotel co owner and the other her aunt. Imagine my shock when I was told they were my cousins. As I began to cry and told them I had been learning Italian on Duolingo for the last 6 months, in walked a 20 year old cousin who greeted me with a big hug and the two cheek kiss. We were taken to the dining room and there was so much cross talk in Italian and English. As I was still trying to take it all in, four more cousins walked in and introductions were a mix of tears, hugs, and more kisses.

As the bountiful trays of delicious food began, there was so much to talk about! I told them about my Dad and my Mom’s passing away and how I always felt that my story was not complete. I found out they were all related to my grandfathers sister who had remained in Padula and of course our shared great grandfather Domenico.

Michele and Giusi were prepared with the family diagrams and tree and we could all see how we were related. After what seemed like a whirlwind of emotion, it was time to say goodbye to these warm and loving people. They couldn’t believe I was leaving the next day. Too short of a time for a lifetime of this journey.

We began a family chat on Whats App and promised to stay in touch.

Next, we were driven to the cousins home who couldn’t make it to the luncheon. My young cousin accompanied us to his nonna’s home.

There we met a sweet and loving lady who knew all about my grandfather and his life in Cuba. She had pictures and a postcard from Havana that had been sent so long ago. She promised to send me those pictures soon. We shared prosecco and sweets amid family stories. She invited us to spend Natale with her in her small house in the near future. We said our goodbyes knowing we will see each other again.

We were then taken to a church to see the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel high up on the altar encased in glass. I wondered why I was there. I was asked to look closely at the inscription in gold letters at the base of the statue. My great grandfathers name! He had donated the statue to the church in honor of his devotion to Our Lady. I knew then why I was always devoted to her and the Carmelite Saint Therese and the Carmelite sisters who taught my children at their school in Miami. Ancestral ties are not only in the physical form, but in the spirit as well.

After a visit to the Museo, we went to the parish rector’s office which was full of ancient family registries. Michele looked like Sherlock Holmes as he poured through them and found my grandfather’s baptismal entry.

After an exhilarating day, we were driven to the Hotel Certosa to enjoy a delicious dinner and spend the night.

I couldn’t sleep with all that I had experienced and the whole new family I had just met.

The following day we were picked up by Michele and Francesca for a sightseeing trip way to the top of the mountain and a closer look into the village and its history. Michele took us to see the small home where my great grandfather had passed away. You can see the deep joy Michele has to share with you his Padula.

After a trip to the cemetery to visit my great aunt’s family internments, it then began to make more sense as to who was who and how we all were a famiglia.

As we said our goodbyes, Giusi told me she that she did not sleep because of all the emotions we had experienced. I agreed and together we shared a hug that said it all. I told her that she and Michele and team had a vocation that was very special and how they had the ability to change people’s lives.

After our ride back to the Salerno train station, we hugged Michele and Francesa and thanked them for an experience of a lifetime.

I can’t wait to return to Padula and spend time with my loving cousins and I can never truly express what Michele and his team have done for me and I hope that you entrust them with your family story.