Friday, July 18, 2014

Happy Dance

In genealogy circles, the term “Happy Dance” can mean Jackpot!, your research has paid-off big time! You found that elusive brother, sister, parent, cousin, grandparent, great-grandparent, (you fill in the blank) that you've been searching for that it makes you jump-for-joy, dance around the room, shout-out-loud, have a “zing” in your step and you can't stop smiling.

I was on Facebook the other day and came across a post, don't remember from who, that asked the question, “When did you have your last happy dance?”

With a smile on my face, I immediately clicked in the comments section and typed, “Last month!”

In the summer of 2012, my husband and I were on a cross-country road trip that brought us to New Orleans, Louisiana. A cousin in Chicago put me in touch with a collateral cousin of our family who lived in Metairie, Louisiana, his name is Philip Ficarra. I had never met him, only talked on the phone briefly a few weeks before we came. He was so glad to meet us and we felt the same toward him. Our talk turned to family stories and of course, our family's genealogy.

With the help of the family group sheets I brought, I figured out that his great-grandfather Salvadore, was the oldest brother of my grandfather Philip. Oh wow! One of my brick walls had just tumbled down! I knew there were cousins' in New Orleans, we just never met them. They in turn had heard of a branch of the family who moved to California. That was us!

Philip introduced us to his lovely mother Marguerite. Her husband had passed away but she was happy to fill me in on their branch of the family. As my husband and Philip talked cars, Marguerite and I swapped stories. Family talk eventually turned to a different branch of their family, the branch that had the “black sheep.” Philip's cousin Frank, had been murdered a long time ago. I sat up straighter in my chair. “WHAT??”

Marguerite said, “Frank had been shot in the back of his head. He had been messing around with a married woman, the husband came home, caught them, and Frank was shot.”

That story stayed with me for two years. I always wanted to see if I could find the newspaper article about the shooting and see if the details matched what Marguerite told to me.

Last month I renewed my subscription to, a web site that has digitized historical newspapers, documents, and genealogy records. In the search box for the collection Newspaper Archives I typed: Ficarra. In the Date Range search box I typed: 1900 to 1940, then clicked on the Begin Search button. The results: 105 Ficarra Records.

I thought, “Well, not too bad. I can go through them slowly, see what I can find.”

Search result number 56 was an article on page two dated Monday, November 17, 1930, from the newspaper Times-Picayune in New Orleans. I clicked on the link and was taken to the article. It was the obituary for Frank Ficarra! Further searching brought up an article on page one of the same newspaper, same date: “Mysterious Killing of Former Convict Is Puzzle to Police.” “Brother-in-Law Held After Family Affray; Seven Bullets Supposedly Fired from Six-Shooter.” “Third Revolver Found Discharged.” “Frank Ficarro Killed With Own Pistol by John Occhipinti After Beating Wife, Witnesses Say.”

I read, then re-read the article two or three times. I later found two similar articles in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana newspaper. Frank wasn't killed by a jealous husband as Marguerite said.

The following is an excerpt from the newspaper article.

Mrs. Ficarro said she and her son were asleep when her husband came home about 6:30 on Sunday morning. She said her husband came into her bedroom and awakened her, asserting that he was tired of living there and wanted her to move with him somewhere else. She said he demanded that she get up and put on her clothes.

Fearing that she might be beaten unless she complied to his commands, Mrs. Ficarro told the police that she got out of bed. She said a minute or two later she refused to go with him and jumped back into bed. When she did, Ficarro, holding a revolver in one hand, began to beat her over the head with his fist.

Occhipinti is said to have told Ficarro to stop beating his wife, adding that “he did not want any more disturbance.” Ficarro, at that remark, is reported to have threatened to kill everyone in the house.

A moment later Ficarro, according to his wife, started running toward Occhipinti. “At that instant,” the dead man's wife said, “John grabbed the revolver from my husband's hand. When John took the gun, Frank quickly reached for his hip pocket to get another gun. When he did that John fired at him. I was so frightened. I don't remember how many shots were fired.”

I found the details of a collateral cousin's murder. This was my Happy Dance!

Copyright, 2014, Gayle Ficarra Wolcott


Saturday, June 7, 2014

6 June 2014, SCGS Jamboree, day 1

The first free session I went to was "10 Tips for Finding Newsletter Content" by Gena Philibert-Ortega. Gena comes to our local society, Ventura County Genealogical Society each July and does a mini seminar for us ( so I know her talk would be worth my time. I'm not our newsletter editor but I picked up some terrific tips from her about writing articles for our newsletter.

The next session I went to was "Making the Case: Change and Technology in Your Society" by Randy Whited. I've heard Randy talk before too. He use to host the Blog Talk Radio podcast, My Society. He explained the changes that the Texas State Genealogical Society made in the way they conducted their society business.  

So many sessions to choose from, oh my! I finally settled on an old favorite of mine, Thomas MacEntee "Genealogy Cloud Computing." He did not let me down. He's always prepared, always has great handouts, he's knowledgeable and even funny. I always try and get at least one of his classes when he's on the roster.

2:30 p.m. session I chose "Evernote for Genealogists," with Jordan Jones. I was sitting about two rows back from one of the projection screens. I sometimes found it hard to hear Mr. Jones.

4:00 p.m. session was with another all-star speaker, Paula Stuart-Warren, "Manuscript Finding Aids: Locating Migrating Family Records." Ms Stuart-Warren doesn't disappoint, she really knows her stuff! I didn't have her handout printed out in advance but I downloaded it onto my tablet so was able to follow along.

I probably shouldn't have gone to my last session at 5:30 p.m. I was tired, kept watching the clock because the session was going to end at 6:30 and the banquet was starting at 7:30 p.m. Wouldn't give me much time to dash back up to my room, change my clothes and then get in line for dinner. But I went anyway because it was Rhonda McClure, "Following the Crumbs: Tracing Family through Land Records." In my mother's paternal line our ancestors were farmers. I want to start researching Wisconsin land records. I liked her talk and handout; I'll probably refer to it often.

Copyright, 2014, Gayle Ficarra Wolcott

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

I wanted to post some of my Dad's Army photos for today. I have his original Army knapsack. Inside are all his pictures he either took himself or were given. Some are blurry, some are very clear. All are black and white. My plan is to scan, then periodically post them here.

A few of the photos have writing on the back; wish there were more with identifying information. My brother George Jr, is a spitting-image of Dad with his uniform.

Miss you Dad, thanks for your service!
George A Ficarra, 19 years old

George A Ficarra (in white shirt) with his Army tank buddies,
Germany, 1945.

Dad's original dog tags. Angie Ficarra was his mother.

©2014, copyright Gayle Ficarra Wolcott

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Birthday We'll Never Forget!

I just had a birthday (yesterday in fact) and have been reminiscing about past birthdays. Good ones and the not so good ones. Some funny and some not so funny. Here's one our family remembers very well.

When my sister, brother and I were little, our Mom always made our birthday parties special. Our grandmother, aunts, cousins, and friends were invited. She would have a bright paper tablecloth with matching napkins and cups on the dining room table. Mom would bake and decorate the cake herself. It wasn't fancy by today's standardsjust an eight-inch round, two-layer, Betty Crocker cake mix.

Similar to our cake topper
   Once all the games were played and the presents had been opened, we'd all march into the dining room and grab the nearest chair. Grandma and all the aunts were lined up along the wall. We would be waiting for the arrival of the cake. Mom had a very special cake topper she would bring out only on birthdays. It was a round, plastic, carousel-theme with horses affixed to the tent with string. On the back of the base was the wind-up key. When you turned the key the little horses would flair out over the cake. We would all sing the birthday song. The candles would be blown out, Mom would remove the cake topper, then cut and serve a piece to everyone.

The one item we I never saw at any other birthday party was the individual ice cream cups with their own wooden paddle spoon. Mom didn't just scoop ice cream from a carton and drop it on our plate next to a slice of cake. No-siree-Bob! Everyone had their very own ice cream cup! She would call out, “Who wants chocolate? Who wants vanilla?” I don't know how she understood everyone with different answers flying around the room. We would pull the cardboard lid off the top, and dig in with that wooden paddle spoon.

My fifth birthday was different. It was the one we would not forget and will talk about for years.

Everything was going like clockwork. Grandma, aunts, cousins and friends were here. The table was set, the ice cream cups were in the freezer, the cake was in the kitchen along with the cake topper.

After the games were played and presents opened we traipsed to the table. Lots of talking, laughing and joking around the room. Everyone had their ice cream cups and the cake was on the table. The candles were lit, the carousel was wound-up, whirling and twirling on top the cake. Everyone started singing, but before I could make a wish and blow out the candles, WHOOSH!! The cake topper caught fire. A flame went straight up and the cake topper melted into the cake.

Mom picked up the nearest paper cups and threw soda on the flames. Suddenly, the aunts were tossing different things on top of it to smother the fire. Smoke curled up toward the ceiling. The carousel horses had been swinging out and some actually flew into the candles. Several aunts grabbed kids and ran for the door. Others scattered to a nearby room.

Kids and adults were stunned as they stared at what was left of the pile of burnt, melted plastic, wet cake and liquified frosting. My major concern wasn't that my cake had caught fire, it was that I was having a birthday with no cake. I remember putting my finger into the frosting and wanting to taste it.

That was the end of our very special cake topper. We never had another one like it. The cakes mom continued to make were still the eight-inch round, two-layer, Betty Crocker cake mix; but now, she bought the peel and stick edible candy decorations that had candle holders and letters you could spell out Happy Birthday. They made the cake look fantastic.

Later birthday parties were not as exciting as a cake on fire, but they were fun just the same. Every once in a while, we'd reminisce about my fifth birthday “blow out!”
My 10th birthday.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

February 9, 2014: 50th Anniversary of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show

When I was growing up, most Sunday nights our family would gather in the living room at 8 pm in front of our black and white TV to watch The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. He had a great variety show for the whole family. Ed would introduce the most popular artists in show business. From music, film, Broadway, opera, and comedy. When the space race was happening, Ed would sometimes have an astronaut stand up in the audience and take a bow.

My older sister, who was a freshman in high school, asked me if I was going to watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan that night.

My reply was, “Who's that?”

She clued me in, “They're a new, popular band from England. Their music is all over the radio. Everyone at school is talking about them.”

“Sure, OK. I'll watch with you,” I said.

Since Dad had control of the TV, we told Mom and Dad we wanted to watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.
“Who are they? Are they bugs?” Dad asked.

My sister explained they were a new, popular band from England. Mom and Dad relented.

When Ed finally introduced The Beatles, the camera panned over to the band. Their first song they performed was “All My Loving.” The teenage girls in the audience squealed in delight at the sight of The Beatles. The squealing soon turned into screaming. They screamed throughout the entire song. We had never seen or heard anything like it before. The sounds, the reactions, the volume, it was overwhelming! I think we sat there with our mouths open. WOW!

I became an immediate fan. I wasn't quite a teenager, but I was caught up in the action. Mom and Dad's reactions weren't the same as ours. “That long hair! The noise!” Mom and Dad rolled their eyes and wanted to change the channel right then and there. “NO! They're going to sing two more times in the second half of the show! You can't change the channel now!” It took some convincing, but the channel stayed on CBS.

During their second song, “Till There Was You,” the camera individually cut away to John, Paul, George and Ringo and put their name on the screen, to help introduce them to America. Now we knew who they were. When Dad saw one of the Beatles was named George, he thought they were somehow all right. Dad's name is George too. For their final song, the Beatles performed “She Loves You.” It's still one of my all time favorites.

On August 12, 1966, The Beatles began their 14-date final tour with a concert at Chicago's International Amphitheater. They played two shows, at 3 pm and 7:30 pm, each of which was seen by 13,000 people. My girlfriend, Connie and I, had tickets for the 3 pm show. We wanted to be as close to the stage as we could. We paid $6.50 for the most expensive tickets.

The opening acts for the entire tour were The Remains, Bobby Hebb, The Cyrkle, and The Ronettes. The Beatles' standard set throughout the tour consisted of 11 songs: Rock And Roll Music, She's A Woman, If I Needed Someone, Day Tripper, Baby's In Black, I Feel Fine, Yesterday, I Wanna Be Your Man, Nowhere Man, Paperback Writer, and I'm Down. During the tour they occasionally substituted the final song with Long Tall Sally.

That 1966 show I attended when I was a teenager is still one of my fondest memories. I have bragging rights!