Interview with Edmondo Marra

by Maria Teresa De Donato

Another very welcome guest came back to visit us today on my Blog and Virtual Cultural Salon.

It’s my dear friend and colleague-author Dr. Edmondo Marra, retired physician and former Mayor of Volturara Irpina, the native land of a branch of my ancestors.

The topics Edmondo and I can talk about are many, as many are the books he published over the years, and that are available on the Amazon Distribution Channel and can also be ordered at the bookstores.

With Edmondo we had two other previous interviews – whose reading I recommend to all the friends who follow us – entitled respectively Neighborhood and sense of community: Volturara Irpina (Av), centered on the history of this town and on some aspects that have characterized it over the centuries, including the phenomenon of banditry, and Irpinia Between History and Legend, in which we considered various themes and characters whose lives are lost in the mists of time and continue to fascinate us while oscillating between reality and fantasy.

Today, therefore, we shall be continuing the analysis of the history of Volturara Irpinia (AV) and of Irpinia in general, examining in particular the families that over the centuries contributed to its growth from all points of view.

MTDD: Hello Edmondo and thank you for accepting my invitation. It is always a pleasure to talk to you.

EM: Thanks Teresa. Being a guest of your Virtual Salon is a very welcome moment for me. I participate with enthusiasm because you are a person who promotes culture without having a second agenda, but just for the sake of knowing and studying.

MTDD: I heartily thank you for these words of yours, Edmondo, which are also applicable to you, whom I admire and respect very much, and I feel honored to be a friend of.

For those who do not know you yet, would you like to explain how your love for genealogy was born and why did you feel the need to do all this research and immortalize it in your books?

EM: Discovering the names, the events and maybe the faces of my ancestors has been a dream of mine since I was a boy and I was able to make it come true over time with enormous sacrifices overcoming difficulties that seemed insurmountable. Today I can be satisfied because I was able to compose the family tree of my family and my wife’s family up to 1500 with all its components, male and female. As you can imagine, the search range is immense. 4 parents, 8 grandparents, 16 great-grandparents, 32 great-great-grandparents, etc. To get to the fifteenth generation there are thousands of names and I think that, if put on a wall, it has an enormous length. The nice aspect that no one points out is that the presence of each of us on this world is a true miracle of nature. It would have been enough if any of our ancestors had died before, from one of the many epidemics, or had thought of something else that day and we would never have been born. Who knows how many poets, writers, scientists, musicians were not born because their ancestor died before procreating them for contingent causes such as diseases and/or wars.

Over time, research has become a real passion and I have been collecting and scanning documents for years. I spent whole days in the municipal, parish and provincial archives to photograph and collect material. I was also helped by boys and girls who allowed me to create an immense multimedia archive by reconstructing the history of my town with forgotten or never mentioned events and characters. I have transcribed in Excel all the marriages, births, and deaths of my town and today I am able to create the family tree of every Volturarese citizen in one day. Over time I published a book on Amazon on each local surname (about twenty) with the family trees of each branch to also see the degree of kinship between them and to allow everyone to get closer to this science I am extremely fond of. Knowing the past is the viaticum to live the future with happiness and remembering who generated us is a duty as well as a great pleasure.

MTDD: The material to consider is very vast, just like there are many Volturarese families that have distinguished themselves over the centuries.

I would suggest, therefore, to start from yours … that is, from Marra and/or Della Marra …

EM: I started with researching my family and I expanded on the Marra of my town which are more than 400. Then I discovered that in 1500 the first ancestor that originated the Marra family in Volturara actually came from a nearby town, Serino, and I started reading the notarial deeds of that town going back in time. The della Marra family with its members appeared and I discovered that it was a noble family from Barletta that managed the fiefs of Serino and Volturara for over 200 years from the end of 1200 to 1530. So far, I have not been able to connect the della Marra family to the common Marra due to lack of documents, but it is certain that before the arrival of the della Marra in Serino, the Marra family did not exist in that area, so there is a certain link between the arrival of the della Marra and the common Marra, but I don’t know what it is. The Internet was very useful to me at this stage because the Della Marra family history is well documented and I discover that it is a Norman family that arrived in Italy with William of Hauteville in 1037 and distinguished itself in the kingdom over the centuries for power and wealth. The first news is given in Ravello and then in Barletta from where they spread throughout the south, buying fiefdoms and contracting well-chosen marriages. Research on its origins before arriving in Italy led me to Normandy in Sainte Opportune la Mare and to Norway in a fjord called Maera (Mare), from where they would have left in 912 AD.

MTDD: Absolutely fascinating! I am delighted that you too have managed to go back so far in time to discover your origins. Another family that you mentioned in our previous interviews is precisely that of the Pennetti, from which I am descended through my paternal grandmother Teresa, whom I did not know because she died young when my father was only eleven, and my paternal great-grandfather Vincenzo, and of which, thanks to your painstaking research and documentation, I was able – and I thank you from the bottom of my heart – to reconstruct that branch of the family tree of back to 1600.

For those who have not yet had the opportunity to read our previous interviews, would you like to summarize some aspects that characterized these ancestors of mine? What did they stand out in particular and why do you think they deserve to be mentioned?

EM: I found the Pennetti family since the first notarial deeds of Volturara dating back to 1572 (in the Latin documents it is Pendecta, then Pendetta, Pennetta and from 700 Pennetti). It is certainly one of the oldest families in my town and, for me, the family of notables par excellence. The notaries are Pennetti as early as the seventeenth century, the doctors are Pennetti and they are your direct ancestors. They made the history of Volturara, maintaining an elegant attitude without overdoing it and almost always having a good relationship with the people. Enlightened, and prone to social and political changes over time, they overcame the tormented events of the history of the South with respect and culture. In the 1700s they split into two branches, sometimes opposed to each other, and in the 1800s only the branch of your family remained, while the other became extinct due to lack of male heirs. After the unification of Italy, your great-great-grandfather Gerardo, a lawyer, moved to Ariano Irpino, where your great-grandfather Vincenzo was born, maintaining relations with his town from time to time. The two sons Vincenzo and Giuseppe lived between Naples, Avellino, Volturara and the nearby village Sorbo Serpico where they owned a villa.

Giuseppe was an engineer and an excellent local history writer. At the end of the nineteenth century he moved to Basilicata.

Vincenzo is an Irpinia and Volturarese glory who excelled in journalism (founder of some provincial newspapers) fighting the malpractice of politicians and powerful people, and in culture (he published several books with research and studies on the ancient world). Graduated in law at the age of 30, he became a university chair at the Federico II of Naples in civil law. He died the following year, aged 31, of an intestinal infection in a period where there were no antibiotics. He also loved the worldly life and was a friend of Salvatore di Giacomo and other Neapolitan poets and writers.

MTDD: Very interesting. I almost feel like I’m in their midst as you describe my ancestors to me.

Which families have contributed most to the social and political development of this land and how have they done so?

EM: In addition to the Pennetti, very few have given their commitment to improve their town. All aimed at taking rather than at giving, they contributed to maintaining a status quo of poverty and immobility that created a massive emigration at the end of the 19th century, after the Second World War and in the last ten years. The Pennetti themselves sold their properties in town and left after the war.

First of all, the great historian and man of faith, Father Alessandro Di Meo (1726-1786), author of the Annals of the Kingdom of Naples in middle age in twelve volumes, the source of all Italian and European historians, should be remembered.

Antonio Masucci (1618-1682), a conventual friar in Naples, author of many novels lost by now in the wind of forgetfulness.

Vincenzo Pasquale (1841-1917) author of some unpublished works, which I had the pleasure of publishing over time thanks to his descendants who gave me the unpublished manuscripts.

Roberto Rezieri Di Meo author of The History of Volturara in 1989. Nicolina Catarinella, living, who has written a lot about local history and customs with several books published.

MTDD: Which families have distinguished themselves from a cultural and artistic point of view?

EM: The Pennetti, Masucci, Di Meo, De Feo, Marra family.

MTDD: Can you give us an overview of the other families that have most left their mark on the history of Volturara and Irpinia, indicating the area?

EM: It is a very broad subject that is difficult to address in a few lines. I reserve the right to tell you about it on another occasion

MTDD: Very well. I will be very happy to have you again as my guest.

In the spiritual and religious area, which are the families from which personalities were born who particularly distinguished themselves and were most loved by the local population and why?

EM: The Di Meo family, which is very widespread in my town, has as its reference the figure of Father Alessandro, present in the main square with a life-size bronze statue donated to the Municipality by emigrants to America in 1926.

MTDD: What are the Volturarese families whose surnames are associated with individuals who ‘reigned’ or who in any case belonged (and/or still belong) to the aristocracy?

EM: In the centuries-old history of my town, as a local, only Decio Masuccio was the owner of Volturara from 1596 to 1627, buying the fief from Antonio Carafa de Marra and acquiring the title of Baron. All other families belonged to notables and small landowners, being the local territory enclosed in a beautiful but not too large valley.

MTDD: Were there any dynasties, even between rulers and aristocrats, of Volturara that became extinct over time?

EM: The barons Nicola and Corrado della Marra bought the fief of Volturara in 1303 and passed it on from son to son for nine generations until 1530 for a total of 227 years. The family died out in 1600. All the feudal lords of the town resided in Naples with a local contact person who acted as a tax collector and were not Volturaresi.

MTDD: Edmondo, do you think this historical and genealogical research work of yours is concluded or is there still a lot to ‘dig up and bring to light’?

EM: There is still a lot to read and to look for, even if the interest of the people is minimal and there is no space for local history in schools. I would like to be able to understand, for example, the thread that binds the Della Marra to the current Marra in a scientific way as required by genealogy, but I can’t find the documents, or understand the origin of the surnames since they were established.

Like many towns, Volturara has participated in the events of the kingdom of Naples over the centuries with characters and episodes to be discovered, for now forgotten in pages of archives that no one can find, given the vastness of the number of documents and the low visibility of them.

MTDD: Following the terrible earthquake that destroyed Irpinia in 1980, much of the material in the archives has been lost.

How were you able to continue your research? What tools did you use?

EM: Unfortunately in the village there has never been a classification of municipal and parish documents, but ultimately almost all the documents existing after the earthquake have been saved, even if some have deteriorated. Most of them are in the provincial archives in Avellino which have not received excessive damage and which can be easily consulted. The big problem are the documents of the Angevin age of Naples which were destroyed by a fire caused by the Nazis. A huge and irreparable loss for the culture of the South.

It is precisely the network of National Historical Archives that is giving great help to both historical and genealogical research through the online publication of all the documents of births, marriages, and deaths from 1809 to 1920 of the Italian Municipalities with the possibility of being able to consult them freely on line. We are at the beginning, but if they also put the other documents by scanning them, every scholar will have the opportunity to be able to consult any type of document from home without problems.

MTDD: We hope this happens soon. It would be wonderful to have the opportunity to continue these searches and discover many other ‘hidden treasures’.

Are there other aspects, always related to your publications on genealogy, that we have not covered? If so, I’d love you to mention them …

EM: My dream is to find an expert who creates a program with a search engine to sell to all the Municipalities with which every citizen can build the genealogical tree of his family directly online on the institution’s website with a link, possibly for free.

MTDD: It seems to me a really excellent idea. I wish you to be able to make it happen as soon as possible.

Those who wish to do so, how will they be able to contact you?

EM: My email is

MTDD: Thank you, Edmondo, for joining us today and for all the information you have provided. Genealogy is a matter of fact endless. I am sure, and I sincerely hope that your fellow citizens not only appreciate all the work you have done in this field over the years, but that they might also recognize its cultural and social value, aimed at researching and documenting the history of your people, your land, and your local culture.

Remembering and treasuring one’s origins is vital for all peoples.

EM: Thanks to you, Teresa, for the further opportunity given to me to talk about my microcosm to which I have sought and am trying to give a historical memory so as not to disperse the values, actions, ideals delivered to us by those who were before us. My passion for history does not take me away from current reality, on the contrary it makes me understand it with intense meanings that often are overlooked by many people. I will continue to look for ancient papers, with forgotten characters, unknown events and books that no one has read in the hope of enriching my knowledge and giving, to those who will come after us, news about a world that has undergone major changes in recent decades, completely canceling uses and customs that have constituted the life of our ancestors for many centuries in a slow and constant becoming that the third millennium throws into the bin of forgetfulness quickly and often unfairly.

Thank you, and I shall talk to you soon!