Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Adding Cultural Context to Your Family History

Below is a portion of a family history that I wrote on the Lo Schiavo and Catanzaro families who originated on the island of Sicily. The resources I used for this section were particularly informative as I strove to understand the lives of these ancestors.

The sexes held distinct roles in Sicilian society. The father was the head of the household with the mother carrying out the decisions of her husband and handling the families’ finances.  The wife’s main objective was to pick wives for her sons when the time came and to make sure they had a dowry for all the daughters and a bridal gift for all the sons.  Church marriage used to be the only form of marriage until 1870 when civil marriage took precedence. After that, you will often find a couple marrying twice, both ecclesiastically and civilly.[1] 

The peasant class in Sicily consisted of five general types of occupations: agriculture, fishing, peddlers, traveling artisans and small shopkeepers.  Those who lived in coastal were often fishermen whose work provided food as well as income for their families.  Any excess catch, over and above what a family needed, was sold to provide for other necessities. Fishermen were considered a “lesser” class of peasant because they had only one useful skill, while the other peasant groups were thought to have several.[2]  A farm worker worked hard for very little wages, often leaving for work before dawn and returning long after sundown.  Others plied whatever skills they had: entertaining, herb or firewood gathering…even grave digging could produce a small fee, which could put some type of food on the table.[3]  Even now you can hear remnants of the old ways in the cries of the peddler[4] as he makes his way through the streets of a Sicilian town.  His cries ring out and the centuries-old dance between peddlers and their customers continue.  Older women barter from their third-floor balconies and, after reaching an agreement, lower their baskets by rope for their agreed-upon product. 

Most Sicilians were Catholic and their lives centered on their families and the Church.  Yet polytheism, in the forms of paganism and superstitions, was also practiced.  These practices were interwoven into the Sicilian culture and practiced alongside Catholicism.  Even as late as the 1930’s, the dead were sometimes buried without shoes, a leftover practice from the Saracens.  Paganism could be seen in the type of patron saints revered, many of whom were not biblical but rather came from the Greek and Roman gods of old.[5]  Even the use of amulets or other decorations to ward off “malocchio” or the Evil Eye can be more closely linked to paganism then anything else.[6]

The average person in Sicily did not speak the Italian language as we know it, but rather their own dialect.[7]  Similar to Italian in many respects “…the Sicilian prefers the i and u, which give it a Moorish or Turkish physiognomy; …[and] terminates both masculine and feminine plurals in i.”[8]  Clothing styles were markedly different between the classes, at least through the first third of the twentieth century.[9]  The poor often wore berets or scarves upon their heads and a cloak to hide the quality of the clothes underneath while the rich sported regular hats and clothing made of fine textiles.[10] 




[1]    Phyllis H. Williams, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America, pp. 76-78, 86.
[2]     Ibid, pp. 24-27.
[3]     Phyllis H. Williams, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America, p. 22.  The average wage for a Sicilian man working the fields was $.30 a day for ten hours of work.  Primitive means of cultivation made the work difficult and the progress slow.  See also Spencer di Scala, Italy from Revolution to Republic , pp. 154-155.
[4]        In Sicily, a “venditore ambulanti”or traveling peddler sells his product on the streets of the town by calling out what he has to sell along with the price of the product.  At one time a horse/mule and a cart was commonly used but now you’re more likely to see them use a very small truck to cart their product.  They sell anything from bread to vegetables to fruit, herbs and many other products. 
[5]        Phyllis H. Williams, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America, pp. 135-138.
[6]        Alan Dundes, The Evil Eye: a casebook, (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), information on the Evil Eye is found throughout the whole book; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/: accessed 17 July 2009).
[7]        George Smith and William Makepeace Thackeray, “Sicilian Folk-Songs”, The Cornhill Magazine (Smith, Elder and Co., 1877), p. 444; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/: accessed 28 April 2009).
[8]        “Dialects and Literature of Southern Italy”, The Foreign Quarterly Review (Treuttel and Wurtz, Treuttel, Jun, and Ricter, 1830), pp. 181; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/: accessed 28 April 2009).
[9]       Jane Holowitz, Economic development and social change in Sicily, p. 52.
[10]    Ibid., pp. 52.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Some of Italy's Municipal Archives Using Facebook



The municipal archives in the town of Selargius on the island of Sardinia is using Facebook as a tool to inform researchers about what type of information can be found in their archives, changes to hours of operation, initiatives or meetings that are planned, etc.

Archivio Storico Comunale Selargius

It's exciting to see them employing modern day tools to communicate with researchers around the world!

This town even has some digitized records online, including a few years of military conscription and inventories of their whole collection.

Biblioteca Comunale di Selargius

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Educational Opportunities in Italian History and Culture

For the last few years, Google Books has been digitizing thousands of books contained in Italian libraries. Through this resource one can often find older, out-of-copyright, and genealogically useful books.

I am going to highlight a few of these manuscripts which can be used as a means of educating oneself about the history and culture of our ancestors. Additionally, it can be used to put historical background into our family history stories.

Un Censimento Della Citta' di Roma ...[A Census of the City of Rome...] by Mariano Armellino (free e-book) - Actual names of individuals can be found in this resource and occasionally references to their occupations.

Istoria Della Famiglia Trinci [History of the Trinci Family] by Durante Dorio (free e-book) - Particularly helpful to those with Trinci ancestors.

Dizionario topografico della Sicilia [Topographical Dictionary of Sicily] by Vito Maria Amico (free e-book) - Contains small histories of many of the island's towns.

Storia di Reggio di Calabria...[History of Reggio di Calabria...] by Domenico Spano' Bolani (free e-book) - Good to put cultural and historical context in your family history, if your ancestors came from this city.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Archivio Storico Comunale

Finding information about what type of records are held in an Italian town's archive is often easier then one thinks.

Take for example the Archivio Storico Comunale for the town of Siena. They have a great website detailing their collection.

http://www.comune.siena.it/La-Citta/Cultura/Archivio-Storico

They even provide you with information on how to make an appointment to research, hours of operation, and their procedures regarding making photocopies.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Evaluating the Evidentiary Value of an Italian Record

Now let's take a look at the document I posted on 15 May 2015, the decree of Giuseppe Fedele Covi, and discuss the evidentiary value of the different pieces of information the document contains. I've set my comments apart from the text of the document by placing them in red below.

"Decree number: 3508
Year: 1853

The Illustrious Magistrate

The undersigned, Giuseppe Fedele Covi, who resides in this city, provided the following answers to the [Magistrate’s] humble questions.


1.     He is a native of [the town of] Seio, District of Trento in the Tirolo [Tyrol].
2.     He married here [in Trieste] and is the father of three children.
3.     He has resided here [in Trieste] since 1829.
4.     He is the owner of grocery store number 967, approved by Magistrate Decree Number 12830 on 27 November 1852.
5.     He has never been convicted [of anything criminal].
6.     He earns sufficient money to maintain his family.


In the hope of attaining the grace of all, he signs [his signature below:]

Trieste, 19 March 1853
Signature of Giuseppe Fedele Covi"

The above section is the testimony of Giuseppe Fedele Covi, in order to answer a Magristrates' questions. This section would then contain primary information because it was stated by a participant in the events in question. 

What form of evidence each piece of information provides would depend on the research question. For example, if the question was "Where was Giuseppe Fedele Covi born?" then he provides direct evidence that he was born in the town of Seio in the Tirolo within his first response. Direct evidence is when the information seems to provide the answer to the research question by itself.

However, if the research question was "Where were his three children born?" then this information provides indirect evidence that his children were born in Trieste. For indirect evidence, you have to combine various pieces of information in order to reach a genealogical conclusion. Therefore, if Giuseppe Fedele had lived in Trieste since 1829 [answer 3], married in Trieste [answer 2], and had three children by 1853 [answer 2] this evidence combines to indirectly prove that his children were born in Trieste. However, I would suggest seeking the children's baptismal records in order to find direct evidence for this conclusion.

"I hereby declare, to the praise and triumph of the genuine truth, that Giuseppe Fedele Covi, a native of Tirolo and son of the living Nicol√≥ Covi, was employed in my shop in his youth, from the end of 1829 until the last months of 1833. During his service to me, he behaved with great willingness and activity and was well known for his honesty. I hereby place my signature and seal in the presence of two witnesses.

Trieste, 23 April 1836
Signature of Giacomo Antonio Depaul


I, Andrea Rabaux, hereby witness the signature of Mister Giacomo Antonio Depaul, which was made by his own hand [written in the hand of Andrea Rabaux, likely in lieu of a signature]. 

Signature of Giacomo Augustinish, also a witness to the above [signature of Giacomo Antonio Depaul]'[1]  

If the research question was "Who was Giuseppe Fedele Covi's father?" then the testimonial section by Giacomo Antonio Depaul provides direct evidence that his father's name was Nicolo Covi. However, because he was likely not a direct participant or eyewitness to the birth of Giuseppe Fedele Covi it provides secondary information.

Could Giacomo Antonio Depaul have personally known Nicolo Covi? Sure, but this document doesn't provide evidence of that either way. Therefore, we have to evaluate what evidence it does provide and assign the appropriate evidentiary strength to each piece of information.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at Melanie@holtzresearch.com.


[1] Trieste, Trieste Province, Italy, “Decretti [Decrees], 1853”: number 3508, register marked 1230 and 1/9 1, Decree of Giuseppe Fedele Covi; Archivio Generale del Comune di Trieste [Municipal Archives for the Town of Trieste], Via Punta del Forno, n. 2, 34121 Trieste, Italy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Update from Portale Antenati

Since March, Portale Antenati has made great strides in making more civil records available.

16 March 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Macerata

9 April 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Pesaro

24 April 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Pesaro, Sezione di Urbino

14 May 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Imperia

19 May 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Imperia, Sezione di Ventimiglia

22 May 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Savona

25 May 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Trapani

Happy hunting!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Decretti [Decrees] - Adding "Meat" to Your Family History Through Unusual Resources

When researching in the city of Trieste, I found a notation on a population register page that there was some form of Decree [Decretto] for the ancestor I was researching.

The register where the decree was found contained 5,000 entries but the extra work to find this decree was well worth it. The decree contained information about this ancestor that is rare to find within any other type of Italian genealogical resource.

Decree of Giuseppe Fedele Covi

"Decree number: 3508
Year: 1853

The Illustrious Magistrate

The undersigned, Giuseppe Fedele Covi, who resides in this city, provided the following answers to the [Magistrate’s] humble questions.


1.     He is a native of [the town of] Seio, District of Trento in the Tirolo [Tyrol].
2.     He married here [in Trieste] and is the father of three children.
3.     He has resided here [in Trieste] since 1829.
4.     He is the owner of grocery store number 967, approved by Magistrate Decree Number 12830 on 27 November 1852.
5.     He has never been convicted [of anything criminal].
6.     He earns sufficient money to maintain his family.


In the hope of attaining the grace of all, he signs [his signature below:]

Trieste, 19 March 1853
Signature of Giuseppe Fedele Covi


I hereby declare, to the praise and triumph of the genuine truth, that Giuseppe Fedele Covi, a native of Tirolo and son of the living Nicoló Covi, was employed in my shop in his youth, from the end of 1829 until the last months of 1833. During his service to me, he behaved with great willingness and activity and was well known for his honesty. I hereby place my signature and seal in the presence of two witnesses.

Trieste, 23 April 1836
Signature of Giacomo Antonio Depaul


I, Andrea Rabaux, hereby witness the signature of Mister Giacomo Antonio Depaul, which was made by his own hand [written in the hand of Andrea Rabaux, likely in lieu of a signature].

Signature of Giacomo Augustinish, also a witness to the above [signature of Giacomo Antonio Depaul]'[1] 


[1] Trieste, Trieste Province, Italy, “Decretti [Decrees], 1853”: number 3508, register marked 1230 and 1/9 1, Decree of Giuseppe Fedele Covi; Archivio Generale del Comune di Trieste [Municipal Archives for the Town of Trieste], Via Punta del Forno, n. 2, 34121 Trieste, Italy.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Course on Italian-American and Irish American Dual Citizenship

Last chance to register for live attendance of the course on dual citizenship I am co- teaching with Melissa Johnson, CG!!! Class begins tomorrow!


“Genealogical Applications of Dual Citizenship: Italian-American and Irish-American”
Melanie D. Holtz, CG, and Melissa A. Johnson, CG
2 May–9 May 2015
Standard $69.99
Plus $99.99
Attaining dual citizenship can be a life-changing experience, and is sought for a variety of reasons. This course will focus on the benefits of dual citizenship by descent; eligibility requirements for Italian-American and Irish-American dual citizenship; and the differences in how to apply for dual citizenship by descent, choice, or marriage. Attendees will also learn about the laws surrounding dual citizenship, where these laws can be found, and how the Hague Convention affected the legalization of documents around the world.
If you are of Italian-American or Irish-American descent and have ever considered applying for dual citizenship, then this course is for you. You will learn everything you need to know in order to prepare a successful application. Let’s learn how to regain the citizenship of your ancestors!
Professional genealogists wishing to learn how to help people prepare for dual citizenship can also benefit greatly from this course. The focus on dual citizenship with both Italy and Ireland will give you a solid overview of this specialty within professional genealogy.
Melanie headshotMelanie D. Holtz, CG, is a board-certified genealogist, writer, and lecturer. She operates an international business that specializes in Italian genealogical research, Italian-American dual citizenship, and Italian-American heirship cases. She maintains offices in both the U.S. and Italy. She’s authored courses on Italian genealogy for the National Institute of Genealogical Studies and FamilyTree University and will coordinate a course on Italian research in 2016 at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.
Melanie is a former member of the Board of Directors for the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and the current Chair of APG’s Professional Development Committee, where she’s advocated for mentorship and expanded educational offerings within the organization. She writes about Italian genealogy, resources, and genealogical standards on her blog, Finding Our Italian Roots (http://italiangenealogyroots.blogspot.com). To learn more about Melanie please visit her website at www.holtzresearch.com.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMelissa A. Johnson, CG, is a board-certified genealogist, writer, and editor. She specializes in Italian-American and Irish-American dual citizenship, with a focus on New Jersey and New York City ancestral families. In addition to dual citizenship services, Melissa’s research specialties include New Jersey and New York City from the colonial period to the present, British families in the U.S. and abroad, and genealogical writing, editing, and publishing.
Melissa is the Reviews Editor for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly(APGQ). She is a Trustee of both the Genealogical Society of New Jersey and the International Society for British Genealogy and Family History. She lectures on Irish and Italian dual citizenship throughout the New York and New Jersey area, and is the course coordinator for Elements of Genealogical Writing, Editing, and Publishing, to be held at the 2015 British Institute. For more information about Melissa, visit her website at www.johnsongenealogyservices.com.
Course Schedule (all times U. S. Eastern)
2 May 2015
  • 11:00am “Understanding Dual Citizenship by Descent: Benefits, Eligibility, and the Law”
  • 1:00pm “Preparing Applications for Irish-American Dual Citizenship”
9 May 2015
  • 11:00am “Preparing Applications for Italian-American Dual Citizenship”
  • 1:00pm “Case Studies in Dual Citizenship: Italian-American and Irish-American”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Understanding the Records

The civil birth record abstracted below was very typical for this time period and offered few surprises. It was on a pre-printed form with the appropriate information filled in. 

The father’s age was given but not the mother’s. They do not outright state this family lived in a hamlet, as often seen when this is the case. However, it is intimated when they give a street name and not a house number. Homes in a hamlet were often not numbered.

 Birth Record of Santo Tricarico

"Number Sixty-four
Santo Tricarico

Santo’s birth was reported to the town hall in San Martino di Finita on 16 October 1886 at 10:00 a.m. Reporting his birth was his father, Pietro Tricarico. Pietro was twenty-six years old [born about 1860], a farm laborer, and resident of San Martino.

He declared that the male child he was presenting was born on the 13th of the current month in his home on Via Santa Maria [house number blank]. The child’s mother was Rosaria Corno, his legitimate wife, with whom he resided. Rosaria was noted to be a seamstress.

The child was given the name Santo. The witnesses to the presentation and declaration were: Pietro Lombardo, age sixty, and an onion seller as well as Domenico Pazzia, age sixty, and a farm laborer. Both of the witnesses resided in this town.

Pietro Tricarico was literate and signed at the bottom of the record. Both of the witnesses were illiterate."[1]





[1] San Martino di Finita, Cosenza Province, Italy, “Registro di Atti di Nascita [Register of Acts of Birth], 1886”: record 64, birth record of Santo Tricarico; FamilySearch microfilm #1,640,602.