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The Tobias in Sicily-- La Sicilia Bedda

Flag courtesy of [by Mello Luchtenberg]. Also see and for a more comprehensive flag history.

The Trinacria flag was found and added by my good friend Ian Mobray.


Borgetto, Sicily is inland from the Mediterranean Sea about 27 miles and is a very small village. Everyone knew everyone else and gossip flew like returning birds in the Spring. It's very mountainous, and at the time a small stream/river passed through the outside of the village. Uncle Tony - Nene - Toby, found it had dried up when he visited there in 1984. Borgetto is not famous for anything, but then not many small villages are. Electricity arrived only after 1923, and before that time sunset was the time for going inside and getting ready for bed. The only artificial light came from oil lamps,lampe, and the oil was olive oil originally, then kerosene. Torches were used outdoors when the need arose to walk anywhere. Toilets were all outdoors, except for a large ceramic pot with a top shaped like a seat, which was used in the middle of the night. The community oven, furnu, where women brought risen loaves of bread dough to be baked was near the mill, lu mulinu. Our great-grandmother Giovanna Ferrara-Quartuccio baked 7 loaves a week and kept them in a locked casket because being a widow with 7 kids, she couldn't afford more than that in a week. Yes, they were hungry a lot of the time. Fresh water was gotten from the fountain in the middle of the town square, la chiazza (pronounced key-ah-tsa). Transportation was by horse, if one could afford one, or donkey. Everyone has heard of Sicilian donkeys ... a sturdy little animal used to carry loads and/or one person. Our great-grandparents and grandparents did a lot of walking.

In Palermo, the capital of Sicily, which was about 27 miles away, there were buses, trains, and automobiles, but not many.

One can imagine that social interaction between towns was very limited. There was a King in Rome who ruled over all of Italy, which had been unified only in 1850. Before that time, Italy was made up politically of several independant states, all which were autonomous and rivals to some degree with each other. Sicily had been part of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies of which Calabria, on the mainland, was the other. As one can imagine, law and order was not quick getting to small villages in the mountains of this large island so far from Rome. Not only that, but there were times when the King's men usurped their authority.


My knowledge of the Tobia branch to which we belong begins with Giuseppe Tobia and his wife, Ursola Leto. They had 2 sons: Antonino and Leonardo. Briefly, Antonino married Antonina Morici and had a son named Giuseppe, who had a son named Antonino, who many of you know as "Uncle Tony", who had two sons, me and my brother John. But the family story is not this bland; it literally starts with a bang.

After his sons Antonino and Leonardo were grown and the old man, Giuseppe, was widowed, it seems that he needed financial help from them. By this time they were married with children of their own. Antonino, our immeidiate progenitor, did his share, it seems. Leonardo did not, but the full details of that part of the story are unknown. However it worked out, one day the old man, during a conversation, discursu, supposedly asked Leonardo, "Will you help me or not?" -- and Leonardo answered in the negative. The old man took his "lupara" or shotgun and shot him. As he was dying, so the story goes, Leonardo said, "My father made me, and my father has unmade me" -- or in the original, "Me padri me fici e me padri me sfici" -- and then he died. His father was taken to court and sentenced to life imprissonment. He was already in his early 90's, so he told the judge, "Forsi fattsu sei misi, lu restu si fa fare to sorru." I'll maybe do six months, the rest you can make your sister do."


Leonardo may have been the older of the two, I have no idea; his wife's name is unknown at this time, but may have been Pietrina.(Update, 2007...her name may have been Maria) They had two daughters: one named Leonarda, and the other named Ursola. Leonarda married Dominic Rappelli and had seven children: Ned, John, Louis, Josephine, ?, and the twins, Joe and Mary who are still alive in live in South Bend, Indiana. Ursola married grandma Antonietta's oldest brother, Antonino ("zio Nino") Quartuccio, and they had six children: Giovannina ("Jenny"), Maria ("Mary"), ?, Anna and Leona (twins), and Giuseppe ("Joe"). Joe had a nickname, "Mille-Pezz," and was also known as "Little Joe." At this writing (12-12-03) he is 93 years old, and has been married to his dear wife Lois since 1935, 63 years. They still live in Michigan City, Indiana. All the descendants will be listed on another page. Now, if you were paying attention, you'll notice that a Tobia married a Quartuccio. The Quartuccio's came from San Cipirello, not too far from Borgetto.


Antonino, our ancestor, married Antonina Morici, and they had a son and a daughter. The son was our grandfather, Giuseppe; the daughter was Ursola -- we called her "zia Ursola."

Giuseppe married Mariantonia Quartuccio ("Antonietta"). Now here we have another Tobia marrying another Quartuccio. The beat goes on! They had 4 sons: Antonino ("Uncle Tony" or "Toby" -- named for his paternal grandfather), Giuseppe ("Uncle Joe" -- named for his maternal grandfather), Vincenzo ("Uncle Jim" -- named for his uncle), and Giovanni ("Uncle John").

Ursola married Vincenzo Salamone and their children were: Tony, Beatrice ("Pietrina"), Jim ("Vincenzo"), and Joe.

All the mothers and fathers, including Giuseppe Tobia and Vincenzo Salamone, came from Borgetto, Sicily, Italy. In fact, the only one who was not from Borgetto was our grandmother, Antonietta. She was born in San Cipirello, a village in the same major province of Palermo and attached to San Giuseppe Jato. When I visited Borgetto in 1988 there was a statue of a certain Salamone in a little square. Looking at him, he so reminded me ot Uncle Jim Salamone, my grandfather's brother-in-law.

We still have cousins living there in San Cirpirello, and in Monreale--a great tourist town, but none in Borgetto or the rest of Sicily for that matter.

(Update: October 2007...I was contacted by a Rosolino Tobia who lives near or in Palermo. His parents live in south Florida, USA and we've exchanged a few emails.)

Any relatives we have who bear the name Tobia are distantly related. Cousins in Naples hosted our grandparents and Uncles Tony, Joe and Vincent while they were waiting for passage to America in 1921. Nothing is really known of these cousins, except that my dad, Uncle Tony, seems to think that the uncle was named Antonino.

Some Photographs from Sicily

The church above is the "mother" church or matrice of Borgetto. It is named: The sanctuary of the Madonna of Sorrows of Romitello or il Santuario della Madonna Addolorata di Romitello.

Anthony Tobia in the house where Antonietta was born, San Cipirello.

This photo above of Uncle Tony ("Antonino" or "Nene'") was taken up against the remaining wall of the house where grandma Antonietta Quartuccio was born along with her 6 brothers and sisters (but more about them later). My dad went there in 1984? and visited the old place.

More About Antonino Tobia

Antonino Tobia. (Date: ?)
On the far right is his wife, our great-grand mother, Antonina Morici-Tobia.
A neighbor, la ciniredda, is in the middle. her nickname means "little ashen one" or Cinderella. It seems she was always covered in ashes from her cooking fire.

Note: cooking was done on an open fire in the main room. The fuel was dried grape vines which burn very hot, but quickly. Fortunately, there were always a plentiful supply. A typical house consisted of a main room where people cooked, ate and prepared meals or worked on projects in winter; one or two bedrooms, and a loft where fruit and cheeses hung.

Antonino and Antonina TOBIA


Great-grandfather Antonino was a cooper by trade. A cooper is a maker of huge wooden vats in which wine was stored and aged. He was also able, according to my dad, to keep wine from turning to vinegar by using certain herbs and minerals. So, one could also call him a vintnor as well. The Sicilian word for cooper is "utaru", which is a corruption of the Italian word for vat. He also gathered the remains of the pressed grape after the berries were pressed and sold it to perfumeries. Another interesting fact is that a famous Italian alcohol called "grappa" is also made from those pressings.

As I mentioned earlier, the village was far from the "law" and so someting had to be done to keep order. That something was a group called, La Cosa Nostra, which simply means, Our Thing. What it meant was that any domestic disturbance was handled by selected men, men of prestige and honor. Our great-grandfather was one of these men. However, he was not allowed to make rulings in his own town of Borgetto. Another from a neighboring village would make rulings there. He made rulings in Partinico, a village nearby. He was well respected and also feared because of his station in life.

Stories of Life in Old Borgetto

My father, Uncle Tony, tells the story that one day he was out playing, and he saw two neighbor kids, whom he didn't particularly like. He threw a stone at one of them, but the stone went astray and connected with a man on a horse ... got him in the leg, but good. The man came after the boy, Tony, who ran to his grandmother. Nothing was said, until some neighbor woman cried out to the man that his leg was bleeding. At this the man became so enraged, he pointed to little Tony and told him, "I'm gonna kill you," but he didn't mean it so seriously. However, Tony ran to his grandfather and told him some man wanted to kill him. Meanwhile, outside, the grandmother, Antonina, is having a verbal altercation with this man. For whatever reason, he picked up a stone and threw it at the old lady (Antonina), striking her in the hip. She said nothing to her husband (Antonino). When he asked his wife if this was true, she answered that it was, but pleaded with him not to do anything. A while later, the wife of the man who had been hit by my father's erring stone, came in, fell to her knees and begged the old man, our great-grandfather, not to kill her husband. Our great-grandfather told her, "diccillu a to maritu, ca ci mannu saluti*, and ever after, the family never wanted for fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses, wine, olive oil, you name it. Although this may seem strange and primitive, if not violent to us, there had to be a societal reason for this sort of behavior. *translation of the words above: [they mean , "Go tell your husband, that I send my regards"....and that means, he's safe!].

There was a man, Cicciu ("Frank") Macaluso, by name, who was a good man, a music teacher and at one point, decided to run for local government, to wit: as mayor. He had a friend, Bernarduzzu ("Little Bernard"), with whom he pal'd around. Well, in those days there were no radios, and so for entertainment, raccounteurs made their route of all the villages telling stories of old for a few pennies or "carrini". Stories of heroic figures and myths ... among them, the Story of One Thousand and One Nights. Well, as our family were sitting outdoors one summer's evening and getting lost in a story, shots rang out ... BOOM BOOM ... from the distance. The word came that Cicciu Macaluso and Bernarduzzu had been killed. This was a sad day because both men were loved by everyone, young and old. My dad was only a child, but remembers that the funeral procession was so long that people were already on the hill where the cemetery is located while people were still filing out of church. Several days later, the murderers were found and stoned to death ... by the men of the town. This was the justice of the time, circa 1914. (There's something wrong with this date)

Another, but lighter story. In our grandmother's time, circa 1892, it was normal for children to go to convent schools and after that, the boys went to work following in their father's footsteps. The girls stayed home and helped their mothers. Part of what they did was needlepoint and tattering. Some of the work was outstanding. They did this to create the linens they would need as future wives. Our grandmother's place was just outside the front door. It just so happened that the family hen laid eggs next to this spot, so that whenever the hen clucked, and young Antonietta was in the mood, she'd just reach down, grab a freshly laid egg, pierce it with her needle and drink it down secretly. Things were tough for them since their dad had died a young man from a wound in Turkey.

  • The song on the first page tells of a lost rooster.

    This one tells of a young man who is infatuated with 3 sisters, but doesn't know which one to pick for a bride.

    (Chorus: "Sugn' amanti, sugn' amanti di tri sorru, quantu mi moru, quantu mi moru. Sugn' amanti, sugn' amanti di tri sorru, quantu mi moru in verita'. E tiri tu lala lala, e tiri tu lala lala, quantu mi mor' in ver-i-ta'.

    Verse: Si mi pigghiu, si mi pigghiu la cchiu nica, ci vol a riga, ci vol a riga. (repeat chorus)

    Verse:Si mi pigghui, si mi pigghiu la mezana, fa la baccana, fa la baccana.(repeat chorus)

    Verse:Si mi pigghiu, si mi pigghiu la cchiu rranni, chi focu ranni, chi focu ranni.(repeat chorus)

    Another song: Pi mia nun ci voli stu maritu; ci voli nu picciottu valurusu, nun si fa nenti si fa lu fittusu, a basta ca me sapi travagghia. A cussi quan' u lu chiammu Iddu forti s'a rintigna, e nun staiu cu lu scantu ca 'un mi sapi travagghia.

    And yet another: (circa WWI) I littri van' e bennu ca lu Turku sta murennu; facemu nu tabbutu pi ddu pezzu di curnutu....Bo Bo Bo fatti li *cazzi* to. (sorry for that expletive) A Tripuli ci stava nu vecchiu scarpareddu, sutu lu bancuceddu truvau nu strunzuceddu...Bo bo bo...fatti , etc. Lu generali Coturno a scrit' a la regina, "si voi vidiri a Trieste, ti lu mannu na cartolina...Bo bo bo. etc.

    Non ce rosa senza spina. There is no rose without thorns