“The Faceless Man,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 64–65
The Faceless Man
I was visiting my father in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the south of France, and he was showing me photographs of my relatives in an old, dusty album. As we came to a faded group photo with a man’s face cut out of it, I stopped him from turning the page. “Who was that?” I asked.
“My grandfather, your great-grandfather,” he replied. He looked off into the distance and shook his head. “I’m sorry to say I don’t know much about him—I don’t know what he looked like, and I don’t even know his first name.”
Although my father’s last name, Ramognino, is Italian, he was born in France, as I was. I had lived in the heart of Paris for the first 23 years of my life. And so it was with interest that I asked about this faceless man, my great-grandfather, who was Italian.
My grandfather had cut the face out of the photograph because he hated my great-grandfather for leaving his family. Up to the day he died several months before I looked in the album, my grandfather refused to say anything about this man to his children.
Father told me as much as he knew: My great-grandfather was a native of northern Italy and had immigrated to France as a young man, married a beautiful young French girl, and had three sons. Then one day he left his home and family, never to return. No one knows why, and no one knows where he went. His brokenhearted sons, especially my grandfather, grew up resenting their father.
Though Dad had tried to find his grandfather, his efforts were in vain. Relatives mentioned he had blue eyes and was very tall—six feet seven inches—which was particularly unusual for an Italian. On two occasions, 40 years earlier, my father had learned that a “tall Italian” had been in the area and had inquired about him. Later he became convinced that the man must have been his grandfather.
I left France that year feeling a little sad because my father never even had a chance to see his grandfather. I was determined to do all I could to find him myself.
This was difficult, however, for all the people connected with him had either died or refused to say anything about him.
Ironically, I was able to find out my great-grandfather’s full name because of my grandfather’s death. I knew my grandfather’s death certificate would have my great-grandfather’s full name on it, but I didn’t know which district in Paris would have the certificate on file. There are 20 districts in Paris, and though it seemed to be an arduous task, I began the search. I wrote to all 20 district courthouses asking if they had the death certificate, but I received negative responses from all of them. Then I decided to visit each one personally the next time I went to France, just in case a clerk had been careless.
Several years later, when I went to Paris to visit relatives, I continued the search for my great-grandfather. I traveled 600 miles from Paris to interview my father again, and this time he seemed to think my grandfather had died in the 15th district. But that district had already replied negatively to my written request. So I returned to Paris and, with some reluctance, decided to go to the 15th district courthouse. I didn’t expect to find anything because I had already visited several other courthouses with no success.
While my husband photographed a small park nearby, I went inside the building. Minutes later I rushed outside and ran down the steps, waving a piece of paper. “I found him, I found him!” I shouted to Don. “His name is Nicolas—Nicolas Ramognino!”
Later we felt my great-grandfather’s presence in the temple when my husband was baptized and confirmed for him. We felt so close to him we named our next son Stewart Nicolas.
I still don’t know the details of what happened to the faceless man in the photograph and why he left his family suddenly, never to be heard from again. But the spirit of the gospel, and my enthusiasm for finding my ancestors beyond the veil, has filled my heart with love for my great-grandfather. My husband and children value him as part of our eternal family, and we will always remember his name.