Category Archives: Parish Records

CLOZ in Val di Non: History, Parish Records, Local Surnames

CLOZ in Val di Non: History, Parish Records, Local Surnames

History, Inventory of Parish Records, Surnames of Cloz. Part 5 of ‘Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People Guide for Genealogists’ by Lynn Serafinn.

In the first article of this special series on the valleys, parishes and parish registers for the province of Trento, we looked how the province of Trento (aka Trentino) and the diocese of Trento were organised, and how those levels of organisation differ. In articles 2-4, we looked specifically at the decanato (deanery) of the city of Trento, i.e. its history, frazioni, parishes, surnames, and local occupations.

Today, we move on to the first of a series of articles I will be writing on VAL DI NON, in the northern part of the province. As a reminder, here is a map I shared with you back in the first article in this series, showing the various valleys of Trentino. I have highlighted Val di Non (number 18) in YELLOW. You can see its relative position to the city of Trento, which is ‘0’ on the map.

Val di Non in the Province of Trento (Trentino)

 

Click on image to see it larger

This map was taken from the book Toponomastica Trentina: I Nomi delle Località Abitate by Giulia Mastrelli Anzilotti (2003). If you wish to review my earlier article about Trentino valleys, you can find it here:

MORE READING:   Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People. A Guide for Genealogists.

TODAY’S SPOTLIGHT: CLOZ

Val di Non covers a very large area and contains many parishes. It would be impossible to discuss all these parishes all in a single article in any detail. Thus, I have decided to spotlight these parishes in separate articles.

Today’s spotlight is the village/parish of Cloz. I chose to start with Cloz only because I just finished working on project for one of my clients, where most of the families came from Cloz, and this parish is fresh in my mind.

In today’s article, I will cover:

  • The geographical location of Cloz within the province, and in relation to other parishes/comuni.
  • A brief history of the village/parish, including a look at the Carta di Regola of 1550.
  • My own commentary on the state of the parish records for Cloz, including start years, how they are organised, where you will find gaps, etc.
  • An exploration of the most common surnames of the parish, i.e. their linguistic and historic origins in the parish, including some that no longer exist.

Armed with this information, my hope is you will have a practical toolkit to help you along with your genealogical research, when looking for ancestors in the parish of Cloz.

RESEARCH RESOURCES

My primary resource are the parish registers for Cloz. These have been digitised by the archdiocese of Trento, and were also microfilmed by the Church of Latter Day Saints. I will discuss these in detail later in the article.

Secondary sources, of which there are many, including research by other historians, are listed under ‘REFERENCES’ at the end of this article.

ALL of these sources are written in either Latin or Italian, so anything you read here will be my own translations of the original texts.

WHERE CLOZ IS LOCATED IN VAL DI NON

At an elevation of 791 metres above sea level, Cloz is located near the Novella River, a few miles northeast of Lago di Santa Giustina, at the base of a kind of ‘land fjord’ (my word) in Val di Non, where a sliver of the province of Bolzano/South Tyrol juts into Trentino.

I have highlighted Cloz in YELLOW in the map below (again, the original map, without highlighting, was taken from the book by Giulia Mastrelli Anzilotti):
MAP: Cloz in Val di Non, province of Trentino in northern Italy.

Click on image to see it larger

According to historian Enzo Leonardi on page 370 of his book Anaunia: Storia della Valle di Non, Cloz covers a territory of 833 hectares, which is only about 3.2 square miles. At the time he wrote that book in 1985, he says the village then had 731 inhabitants; he adds that Cloz had 1,002 in 1915, and 883 in 1837. Thus, the population rose towards the end of the 19th century, but then dropped by 30% after World War 1, surely due to emigration (including to the US). The latest population statistics for Cloz from December 2019 show there are only 654 people living there.

Because of downward population trends (especially in rural areas), civil municipalities in Trentino are frequently changing, so as to make them more practical.

Leonardi says the municipalities of Cloz and Castelfondo were aggregated into the pre-existing comune of Brez in 1928, but it was later reconstituted into an autonomous municipality in 1946. Just this year, however (on 1 January 2020), Cloz, Brez, Cagnò, Revò and Romallo were all merged to form the new municipality of Novella, one of the twenty-nine mergers of municipalities in Trentino-Alto Adige.

TIP: Focus on Parishes, not Municipalities

Because civil jurisdictions are so ‘fluid’ in Trentino (and indeed throughout all of Italy), a Trentino genealogist needs to focus on PARISHES rather than comuni, as they change far less frequently, and often remain the same (or more or less the same) for many centuries.

TIP: Pay Attention to Adjacent Parishes

If you are tracing ancestors from Cloz, you might discover many marriages where the spouses came from adjacent parishes, especially Revò (including Romallo), Dambel, Arsio e Brez, Rumo, and Cavareno, as these parishes ‘embrace’ Cloz on all sides.

Conversely, if you are tracing ancestors from one of these other parishes, and you cannot find a marriage record for them, you might wish to check the Cloz records, especially if you know the spouse has a typical Cloz surname, which we will explore later.

Also, it was not uncommon for spouses of Cloz residents to come from places like Lauregno and Proves, which are today part of the province of Bolzano/South Tyrol, as these places used to be part of the greater parish of Revò in the distant past.

HISTORIC OVERVIEW AND ORIGIN OF THE NAME ‘CLOZ’

Cloz has been inhabited for many thousands of years, as evidenced by a multitude of archaeological artefacts, some dating back to the Neolithic period and Bronze age. Findings include roman urns, knives, coins, various bronze and silver artifacts, gold rings, necklaces and earrings, and many tombs, some dating back to the Roman era of years.

The name of the village is at least 1200 years old. According to Leonardi, Mastrelli and Giangrisostomo Tovazzi (Parochiale Tridentinum published in 1785), the name ‘Cloz’ can be found in various forms in records dating back to Middle Ages, with the earliest version de Clauze appearing in a legal document from the year 845. The spellings ‘Cloz’ and ‘Clauz’ appear in legal documents in the 1180s. Tovazzi says other spellings include Clotz, Clozzo, and Chioz.

Apparently, the spelling of the name was even problematic for German speakers, an investiture of tithes from Prince Bishop Giorgio Hack, 15 May 1447, spells it ‘Glawcz’!

In Latin texts, the most common form of the name is ‘Clautium’, but it can also be found written as Clodium, Clotienses, and Clotium. Linguistically, Mastrelli believes the name is derived from ‘Claudius’ (the Latin form of the male personal name ‘Claudio’), saying also that ‘Brez’ is derived from Braetius, ‘Spor’ from Spurius, and ‘Mori’ from Marius.

Leonardi tells us there were once two castles in Cloz. Castel Fava, the ruins of which still stand, dates back to the 1100s and was so-called for the family of the same name. Leonardi says there was once a castle named Castel Cloz, but that we know nothing about it.

The village is divided into two districts: Santa Maria and San Stefano, the names of their respective churches; in terms of record-keeping, however, Cloz is a single parish, not two.

The church of San Stefano is mentioned in documents as far back as 1183, but the original structure was completely rebuilt around 1440. It was later restored and renovated in 1575, and then expanded in 1772 and again in 1873.

The church of Santa Maria (possibly Maria Maddalena) is mentioned in records dating back to 1485. It was restored in 1616 and again in 1889.

According to Dr Albino Casetti in his Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento, the parish archives contains several legal documents that can add to our understanding of the local history. For example, there is a series of documents in the years 1412-1415 in which the village of Cloz is engaged in disputes over boundaries issues and resource usage (including a the ‘malghe’, i.e. the dairies) with the villages of Rumo, Cagnò, Revò Romallo, Tregiovo and Lauregno. They seem to have resolved their disputes in 1415.

1550 CARTA DI REGOLA FOR CLOZ

In the past, many (if not most) Trentino communities would create a ‘Carta di Regola’ (‘charter of rules’) for their parish or village, which defined many rules regarding tithing, resource use, calendar of events, etc.

The earliest surviving Carta di Regola for the village of Cloz was drafted on 8 February 1550. Its transcription appears in the 3-volume set by Fabio Giacomoni called Carte di Regola e Statuti delle Comunità Rurali Trentine (1991). What is of special interest to genealogists when studying the Carte de Regola (‘Carte’ = plural form) is that many of the heads of households of the community will be present at the drafting of the document, and their names will have been recorded. Thus, the opening lines of most Carte di Regola can often give us a snapshot of the local population during that era, telling us what surnames were present in the village at the time. They can also sometimes help us identify ancestors whose name may not appear in the parish registers, because the Carta will often mention the names of the fathers of those who were present.

In the case of Cloz, here is a summary of the names of the men who were present on 8 February 1550 (rarely will you see the names of women, unless they were heiresses or land-owning widows):

Where the document was drafted:

  • It took place in the house of Francesco Cat
  • In the presence of Antonio, son of the late Francesco Cat of Cloz

Witnesses from the district of Santa Maria:

  • Bartolomeo, son of the late Angelo Bugnata
  • Romedio, son of the late Nicolo’ Zembrin (Gembrini)
  • Bartolomeo, son of the late Giacomo Cat
  • Dorigho, son of the late Pietro Rauzi.

Witnesses from the district of Santo Stefano:

  • Melchiore Calovino
  • […] son of the late Simone Franco (Franch)
  • Simone, son of the late Pietro Zanon
  • Stefano Carolet

From this information, we can see the following surnames as representing ‘citizens’ of Cloz in 1500: Bugnata, Calovino, Carolet (although I believe this is actually Casolet), Cat, Franch, Zembrin (more commonly spelled Gembrin or Gembrini), Rauzi and Zanon. This is useful information, as it predates the beginning of the surviving parish registers.

TIP: Carta di Regola

If you want to know more about Carte di Regola, with some interesting historical examples of how they were used, you might wish to check out my podcast from 7 April 2020 when I spoke about this topic.  You can find it on the PODCASTS page on this website, or on YouTube at  https://youtu.be/BVEADrtNeI4

RESEARCH: THE PARISH REGISTERS FOR CLOZ

The table below displays the surviving parish registers for Cloz, as per the original books, as well as how they are divided in the LDS microfilms:

PARISH REGISTERLDS MICROFILM NO.MICROFILM ITEMCONTENTS
Baptisms vol 1-61388654Parts 12-17Baptisms: 1565; 1599-1923
Marriages vol 1-61388654Parts 18-23Marriages: 1672-1923
Deaths vol 1-41388654Parts 24-27Deaths: 1662-1923
All'Estero vol 11388654Part 28All'estero (outside of province) births, marriages and deaths: 1845-1923

Sadly, there are many gaps in the Cloz parish records, as well as several cases where the records not organised chronologically. These factors have made the research particularly challenging. Recent research has also led me to conclude that some records are DEFINITELY missing.

Below is an overview of what I discovered about the state of the records for the parish of Cloz, while working on a recent project.

BAPTISMAL RECORDS

  • Although Casetti says the parish of Cloz has 7 volumes of baptisms starting in 1565, on LDS microfilm (and digital format in Trento) there are actually 6 registers, plus an additional BDM from ‘all’estero’ (abroad).
  • In volume 1, there are only 2 baptismal records for 1565, one for 1566 (surnames Catt and Zanon), and then they leap forward 33 years to 1599, which is the year they effectively begin.
  • In 1628, the baptismal records suddenly switch from straight chronological to sections organised by FIRST NAME. This means you pretty much have to look through all of the records if you want to find anyone, as you have no way of knowing whether they used a middle name as their primary name later in life.
  • After 1674, the baptismal records resume chronological order.
  • The baptismal records toward the end of volume 2 (late 1700s into early 1800s) are a MESS. There are many DUPLICATE records, sometimes with conflicting information, and the records are not always in chronological order.
  • Early 19th century baptisms are VERY scanty on information, often only giving the parents’ names and nothing else.
  • Volume 3 of baptisms has a note saying the record of births between 1811-1815 are in the ‘new book’ because that was when it was under the government of Italy, and then it went back to Austria. On the cover of volume 3, it says you will find the baptisms from 1811-1816 in the marriage protocol. This does NOT refer to the marriage records, but to the “Protocollo dei consensi prestato al matrimonio dal padre di sposi minorenni” (a book containing all the consent protocols given by fathers of spouses who were of minority age). This book has NOT yet been photographed; hence the following baptisms are currently NOT available in digital or microfilm format: one record from 16 November 1805; one record from 18 December 1808, and all baptisms between 6 January 1811 and 26 December 1815. This might attribute for the discrepancy between Casetti’s figure of 7 volumes and the 6 volumes that were photographed.

MARRIAGE RECORDS

  • There are 6 volumes of marriage records starting in 1672.
  • Marriages between 1811-1815 are not in volume 3 where they should be, but at the end of volume 2, after 1803. This is also indicated by a notice in volume 3, at the point where the 1811 marriages would normally be expected.
  • There is a short gap in the marriages between July 1803-Dec 1804.
  • Although there is no mention of additional missing records, I am certain several records are also missing circa 1800-1802.

DEATH RECORDS

  • There are 4 volumes of deaths starting in 1662.
  • There do not appear to be ANY death records for infants/children in most of the 1700s.
  • There are very few records between 1780-1798, and I suspect many are missing.
  • As with the baptismal records, some of the death records have not yet been photographed, and thus they are not yet available in digital or microfilm format. The gaps in the death records goes from 4 January 1805 (although I think it actually starts in 1804) and 23 January 1811, and again between 4 January 1816 and 9 November 1825.

ABOUT THE MISSING VOLUMES

I wrote to the archives in Trento about the missing volumes, and they told me that they HOPE to be able to get hold of those registers and photograph them, but they haven’t given me a timeframe for when that might happen. Until then, be aware that you will not find every Cloz record you might wish to find, especially during the Napoleonic era.

SIDE NOTE: Although I mention the LDS microfilms, the LDS Family History Centres have stopped making their microfilms available to the public, as they gradually transfer their libraries into digital format. After they are digitised, you will only be able to view them at a local Family History Centre, not online. However, all of these records were digitised by the Diocese of Trento more than a decade ago, and they are viewable at their archives in the city of Trento (again, not online). Over the years, I have managed to collect many thousands of Trentino parish records, which has enabled me to work from home on many (but not all) projects. This has proved especially fortunate – for me and my clients – during the recent COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Article continues below…

Get Trentino Genealogy via Email

You'll only hear from us when we have a new, informative genealogy article for you to read. We are dedicated to a spam-free world. 

We respect your privacy.

SURNAMES IN THE PARISH OF CLOZ

What I find so interesting (and wonderful) about Trentino surnames is that the names themselves contain stories about our ancestors. They can tell us things like the name of an ancient patriarch, a family occupation, a physical characteristic, or a place from which the family may have come.

Moreover, surnames are often associated with specific parishes, municipalities, or even hamlets (frazioni).

Below is an alphabetical list of surnames I’ve found in the records for Cloz, along with a bit about their meaning and history. While some of these surnames will appear in other parishes, a few of these are unique to Cloz, or are at least most commonly found there.

PLEASE NOTE:

  1. You will notice I use the word ‘patronymic’ in connection to many surnames. This term refers to a surname that has been derived from the personal name of a male head of family (i.e. a ‘patriarch’).
  2. Please note that there ARE other surnames in the parish, but I haven’t included surnames that appear to have been ‘imported’ from other parishes (especially Brez and Revò) sometime after the beginning of Cloz records. The surnames I have NOT mentioned here include (but are not limited to) Clauser, Dalpiaz, Gentilini, Leonardi, Luchi, Ongher, Menghini, Vielmi and Zuech.
  3. There is also a name ‘Taialargo’ that appears frequently in the early Cloz records, but then went extinct. I am still trying to ascertain if this was a proper surname or a For now, I have omitted that name as well, as I just don’t know enough about it.

Angeli

Variants: Agnol; Agnoi; dell’Agnol; (also spelled Anzelini, but NOT in Cloz)

The surname Angeli is generally believed to be a patronymic (derived from the first name of a patriarch/male head of the family) name Angelo, which can also be found spelled ‘Agnol’ in older records.

The personal name Angelo means ‘angel’ in Italian, but its original Greek meaning is ‘messenger’ or ‘messenger or God’. Like many other patriarchal surnames, it appears in various parts of the province, and is not necessarily historically connected to the others. The spelling ‘Anzelini’, is never found in Cloz, for example; rather, it is seen primarily in Brez.

It is interesting to note that Angeli does not appear in the 1500 Carta di Regola for Cloz.

My research has led me to speculate that the Cloz surname may have arisen from a branch of the Bugnati family, possibly descended from a patriarch named Angelo (emphasis on the word ‘speculate’ here!). Indeed, I have found many Angeli boys baptised with the name Angelo in the 17th-century records in Cloz. There are several baptismal records from the first decade of the 1600s,   the earliest being the baptism of Angelo on 20 October 1602, where the surname is ‘dell’Agnol detto or di Bugnati’ (side note: earlier I mentioned the elusive name ‘Taialargo’; Notice the godfather is ‘Pietro Taialargo di Franch’): 

1602 baptismal record of Angelo Angeli of Cloz

Click  on image to see it larger

Normally, such wording would mean the surname was ‘dell’Agnol’ and the soprannome was Bugnati; but as Bugnati appears to predate Angeli as a surname in Cloz, it might indicate that they were a branch of the Bugnati, who were now calling themselves ‘dell’Agnol’. By the end of the 1600s, the surname nearly always appears as ‘Angeli’.

In his book Sacerdoti della Diocesi di Trento dalla sua Esistenza Fino all’Anno 2000, P. Remo Stenico lists dozens of priests with the surname Angeli, hailing from various parts of the province. The earliest of those from Cloz is Giacomo Angeli (spelled ‘del’Agnol’ in his baptismal record), who was born in Cloz on 15 March 1659, and died on 9 November 1724 at the age of 65.

Bugnata

Variant: Bugnati

As already mentioned, this surname was already present in Cloz at the time of the drafting of the 1550 Carta di Regola.

In his book Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino, linguistic historian Aldo Bertoluzza does not mention the surname Bugnata or Bugnati. He does, however, discuss the root ‘Bugna’ (which is also a surname, but not in Cloz), saying it might be derived from a dialect word meaning a pimple or a boil, or any kind of swelling caused by an injury. I suppose it’s like the English word ‘bunion’. He also says it there was an ancient personal name ‘Bugna’ (perhaps with the same meaning?) from which the surname might be derived.

This surname appears to have gone extinct sometime in the 1700s. The most recent baptismal record I found with this surname is a Maddalena Bugnata, who was born 29 April 1699, although I haven’t studied the registers in enough detail to say she was definitely the last of them.

Calovini

Variants: Calovino; Callovini; Calovin

As mentioned, this surname was already present in Cloz at the time of the drafting of the 1550 Carta di Regola; I have found it in Cloz records at least through the end of the 1600s. The earliest surviving parish record I have found with this surname is the baptismal record of Maddalena, daughter of Giovanni Pietro ‘Calovino’ and his wife Cattarina, dated 31 March 1599.

1599 baptismal record of Maddalena Calovini of Cloz, Trentino.

Click on image to see it larger

Despite its ancient connection with Cloz, Leonardi cites it as being a surname associated with Fondo, not Cloz. Indeed, none of the variant forms appear in Cloz in the 19th century records on the Nati in Trentino website, so it appears to have gone extinct  there sometime before the early 1800s.

Bertoluzza offers little about the history or meaning of this surname, saying only that its origins are uncertain. It is tempting to speculate a connection with the village of Calavino, but as ‘Calo-‘ and ‘Cala-‘ are not pronounced the same in Italian, and Calavino is on the other side of the province in Valle di Cavedine, I would be hesitant to jump to that conclusion without some concrete evidence.

Canestrini

Variant: Canestrin; Chenistrino

Bertoluzza says this surname originated in Val di Non, and is derived from the word canestro or canestra, which meansbasket’, and that it probably started as a soprannome referring to artisans who made cesti, cestelli, corbe e panieri (various kinds of baskets). It appears not only in Cloz (I have found it in Cloz records throughout most of the 1600s) but also in Revò. By the 19th century, it also appears in Rovereto.

Leonardi seems to indicate the surname was not native to Cloz came there via a Vincenzo Canestrini of Romallo around 1645, but I have found evidence their arrival in Cloz is further back, and their place of origin is from much farther away.  

Admittedly, it’s a bit tricky to trace them because the surname doesn’t actually APPEAR in the earliest records in Cloz, and you have to cross-reference many records a bit to figure out who they are.

It all starts with a man referred to many times as ‘Maestro Vincenzo Murador/Murator’ (muratore), whose children start appearing in the baptismal records in the early 1600s. The first of these, dated 4 November 1602, was a Maria. In that record, her father Maestro Vincenzo is said to come from ‘Valcamonega’ (Valcamonica) but is living in Cloz.

1602 baptismal record of Maria Canestrini of Cloz, daughter of Vincenzo of Valcamonica

Click on image to see it larger

The alpine valley of Valcamonica is not in Trentino at all; rather, it straddles to provinces of Bergamo and Brescia in eastern Lombardia. The word ‘muratore’ means ‘mason’ and the fact he is referred to as ‘Maestro’ indicates these two men were master masons (a highly respected craft), and not merely a lowly bricklayers.

As we progress through the records, we finally see the surname Canestrini in 1619, with the birth of a Maddalena, daughter of Domenico ‘Chinestrin’, murador (I believe he was an elder son of Vincenzo). From this point on, we see the surname Canestrini always connected to this same family of master builders. In the death record of Vincenzo’s son Giovanni on 7 October 1662, he is referred to as ‘Giovanni Canestrini, ‘faber cementarius’, which again means a master builder/mason. In the 1630s up to 1670, there are numerous baby boys called ‘Vincenzo Canestrini’ born to men who are apparently sons (or grandsons) of the original Vincenzo of Valcamonica.

So, if you are descended from the Canestrini of Cloz, know that you have Lombardian roots. When working with the records, if the surname seems to disappear, look for references to their occupation as builders, and you should be able to trace them.

Stenico lists many Cloz priests with this surname, the earliest being Guglielmo Canestrini (probably the Guglielmo who was born 25 January 1684), who appears in parish records between 1715-1742. Bertoluzza also mentions an Antonio Canestrini of Cloz (1743-1807), who was a prominent biologist.

The name is still extant in Cloz today, although it is actually more commonly found outside the province, especially in Emilia-Romagna.

Casolet

Variants: Casoletti; Carolet

Giacomini says the surname ‘Carolet’ appears in the 1550 Carta di Regola, but I believe this was a mistake in transcription, as the surname is quite clearly ‘Casolet’ in the Cloz parish records, from the early 1600s. We also find it amongst the archives of the Thun family, in a legal document dated 14 December 1517 referring to two brothers named Bartolomeo and Stefano Casolet of Cloz.

Bertoluzza says that the words Casol, Casolin and Casolet were once the names of a type of cheese that was typical in Val di Sole, and that from these words we get various surnames.

Again, this surname appears to have gone extinct, although I haven’t researched it in enough detail to say when it disappeared or if it morphed into something else.

Catt

Variants: Cat; Catti

As seen, the surname Catt appears as far back as the 1550 Carta di Regola. It is also the surname of the child (Cattarina) in the earliest of the surviving baptismal records for Cloz, dated 20 December 1565.

1565. Baptismal record of Cattarina Catt, the earliest surviving baptismal record for the parish of Cloz in Trentino, northern Italy.

Click on image to  see it larger

Now extinct, the surname Catt appears in Cloz records at least through the 1630s, but I haven’t researched it in enough depth to say whether it was replaced by another name or simply died out. I can find no information about the origin or meaning of the surname in any of my resources.

Cescolini

Variant: Cescolin

Bertoluzza says Cescolini is cognate with the surname Ceschi, and that they were both derived from the name ‘Cesco’, which is an affectionate nickname for Francesco. Thus, it is a patronymic surname, indicating an ancient patriarch named Francesco.

The earliest baptismal record in Cloz I have found with this surname is dated 13 March 1648 (Giovanni, son of Francesco), but I haven’t yet done an exhaustive search to determine whether there are earlier records with this surname.

1648 baptismal record for Giovanni Cescolini of Cloz

Click on image to see it larger

Cescolini is still in existence in Cloz today, with a few branches having settled in other nearby parishes in Val di Non.

Dorighin

Variant: Dorighini

Bertoluzza says this is one of dozens of surnames derived from the personal name Rigo, which comes from Old German Od-Rik, and evolved into the Italian personal names Odorico, Odorigo, and Udalrico. He doesn’t address its origins or use in Cloz, but I have seen in pretty much back to the beginning of the surviving Cloz baptismal records, with the earliest appearing 1603.

The variant ‘Dorighini’ is also appears in Molveno, but the more common spelling in Cloz is Dorighin (without the final vowel). The surname appears in Cloz baptismal records through the 1880s.

SIDE NOTE: In the Carta di Regola from 1550, there is mention of a Dorigo Rauzi. This personal name is so unusual it did make me wonder if he was the patriarch of the family later known as Dorighin, but that is merely my personal musing and I have no evidence for this.

Flor

Bertoluzza says this is one of several surnames derived from the personal names like Floriano (male) or Flora/Fiore (female), indicating a patriarch or matriarch in the past with one of these names. He says it is derived from the Latin word ‘florus’, which means ‘bright’, but surely it could equally come from the word flos/flor for flower.

I haven’t done extensive research on this surname, but it does appear in parchments for Brez and Castelfondo from the mid-1500s, and in early Cloz parish registers. It is still in existence, appearing most commonly in these places.

Floretta

Variants: Fioretta; Floreta

Leonardi says this surname is a diminutive form of the surname Flor, but I do not know if there is any historical connection between the two surnames. The earliest reference to surname I have found so far is in a Last Will and Testament of Guglielmo ‘called ‘Floreta’ of Cloz, dated 1 March 1458, in which he leaves a legacy to the churches of San Stefano and Santa Maria.

While the surname is always spelled with an ‘L’ when it appears in Cloz records, the variant ‘Fioretta’ is more commonly used in Mezzolombardo and Malè. I do not know if the Fioretta link back to the Cloz families.

Stenico lists three Cloz priests with this surname (although he enters them under ‘Fioretta’), the most recent being Arcangelo Raffaele Floretta, who was born 8 Dec 1867, and died 10 September 1947.

The surname is still extant in Cloz today.

Franch

Variants: Franc; Franchi; Franco; Frang

We know this surname was present in Cloz at time of the signing of the 1550 Carta di Regola. Tabarelli de Fatis also tells us that the Franch appear on the lists of the noble gentry of Cloz in the years 1529, 1636 and 1730. Leonardi says there were 10 Franch families on the 1529 list. He also says there was a Stefano Franch of Cloz who was exiled following the Guerra Rustica (Rustic War, or Peasant War) of 1525. The earliest reference to a Franch I have found in the Cloz parish records is to a Giorgio Franch, who was most likely born sometime around 1560, and whose grandchildren were born in 1620s, although there are several Franch births (often spelled ‘Frang’) in the first decade of the 1600s

As to the origin of the surname, I have read two contrasting theories, so I will share both.

Bertoluzza says this is a patronymic surname derived from the male personal name Franco (a short form of Francesco), which has the meaning ‘courageous’, ‘ardent’, or ‘free’. This would indicate that the surname is a patronymic indicating an original patriarch with the name ‘Franco’. Evidence that could support this theory is a legal document dated 9 June 1415 where a ‘Giovanni, son of the late Franco of Cloz’ is cited as the mayor (sindaco) of parish of Cloz. If this refers to the Franch family, this might indicate the surname was not yet in use, and evolved into a surname sometime in the 15th century.

Bertoluzza and Leonardi both add that the word ‘franco’ was also used to refer to someone from the Frankish people, i.e. the Germanic tribes from which Charlemagne came, and who later occupied much of France (and from whom we get the name ‘France’). Leonardi specifies that franco referred to a ‘free contadino’, i.e. a farmer who was not a serf subjected to feudal law. One researcher suggests they were once part of the Carolingian court in France; but romantic as they might seem, drawing such a conclusion without supporting documentation is not something I can endorse.

Linguistically, the ‘ch’ at the end, along with the fact it is often spelled ‘Frang’ in early records, suggests Germanic origins (at least it does to me). Surely a Frankish connection one possibility; but given Cloz’s proximity to German-speaking province of Bolzano (aka South Tyrol), and the fact that it can also be found in that province, I would tend to look closer to home. So, for me, the ‘jury is out’ with regards to origins.

Historian P. Remo Stenico lists a good 20 Franch priests who came from Cloz, the earliest being an Antonio Franch (soprannome Taialargo), born in 1622 or 1623. He lists one Franch notary, namely Giacomo Franch of Cloz, who received his notary license on 19 May 1790. In my own research, I have found many members of the Franch family were surgeons, the earliest being Adamo Franch (son of Antonio), who was born 6 Oct 1662, and died sometime before April 1732.

The name still thrives in Cloz today, and it also shows up in other parts of the province (mostly in the north) and in the province of Bolzano.

TIP: Soprannomi

If you are unfamiliar with the term soprannome (plural = soprannomi), you may wish to read my article from 2019 entitled Not Just a Nickname: Understanding Your Family Soprannome’.

Gembrin

Variants: Gembrini; Zembrin; Zembrini; Zembrino; Zambrin

For those who may be less familiar with Italian linguistic idiosyncrasies, the letter ‘Z’ is often used interchangeably with a soft ‘G’ that appears before the vowels ‘I’ or ‘E’. It’s my guess that ‘Z’ used to be a much softer sound in Italian and Italian dialects than it is today, and it was probably very close to the soft ‘G’ in sound. For this reason, while the modern surname is always spelled ‘Gembrini’, you will frequently see it spelled with a ‘Z’ in older records.

As to the origins of this surname, Bertoluzza says it came from a soprannome referring to a locality, but says it is ‘not well defined’. There is a place called ‘Pian di Gembro’ (also known as Passo di Piatolta) in the province of Sondrio in Lombardia, but whether this has any connection to the surname is anyone’s guess. Leonardi suggests the name may have been derived from the word ‘Dicembrino’, which means ‘of/from/in the month of December’.

Whatever its origins, the name dates back at least half a millennium in Cloz. We have already mentioned that this surname appears in the 1550 Carta di Regola for Cloz. Both Leonardi and Bertoluzza mention a Zambrin (or Zombrin) of Cloz who was apparently exiled after the Guerra Rustica in 1525.

The earliest surviving parish record in Cloz with this surname is for the baptism of a Michele Zembrino, son of Romedio and Pasqua, dated 17 July 1599:

1599 baptismal record for Michele Gembrin of Cloz

Click on image to see it larger

We see children of the same couple in later years, where the surname is also found spelled ‘Zembrin’.

Then name appears in Cloz records (spelled both Gembrin and Gembrini) well into the 20th century.

Parolari

Variant: Parolar

‘Parolari’ was the old dialect word for craftsmen who made ‘paioli’, or copper cooking vessels, typically associated with making polenta. Additionally, the word ‘paroloti’ referred to coppersmiths and those who repaired paioli.

Bertoluzza says the surname arose in both Val di Non and Val Giudicarie.

In Cloz, the earliest example of the surname I have found is the baptism of Domenico, son of Giovanni Parolari and his wife Flor, dated 26 September 1599. Apparently, only one Parolari family remains in Cloz today.

Outside of Cloz, I have found the name in Premione back to the late 1600s, in Seo back to the early 1700s (both Seo and Premione are in the parish of Tavodo in the Giudicarie), and in Cloz in Val di Non, back to the late 1500s. A colleague has also reported seeing the surname in Pomarolo (Vallagarina) in the 1500s.

Bertoluzza says the surname appears in the city of Trento as early as 1441 (‘Antonius Parolarius’) and cites evidence of an Ambrogio Parolari(s) of Tione in 1537. Stenico lists several Parolari notaries (none from Cloz), the earliest being a Bartolomeo Parolari from Brevine in Tione, who practiced between 1671-1722.

There was also a noble Parolari family in Campo Lomaso, who owned an historic pharmacy until the line of heirs ran out, passing the business on to another family.

Within the province of Trentino, the surname it is most commonly found in Tione and Arco. Outside Trentino, it is equally common (actually slightly more) in Lombardia, especially in the province of Brescia.

I do know if there is any historical connection between all these Parolari families, or if the Parolari of Cloz originated from any of these other places.

Paternoster

The word Paternoster is Latin for ‘Our Father’, and it is also the Latin name for the Lord’s Prayer.

When I saw this surname in Cloz, I suspected it as an ‘import’ from the nearby village of Romallo (in the parish of Revò) and I was correct. The surname appears to have come to Cloz when a Giovanni Battista Paternoster (son of Domenico) of Romallo settled in Cloz, and then married into the Franch family (Anna Maria, daughter of Guglielmo) on 31 January 1673:

1673 marriage record of Giovanni Battista Paternoster of Romallo and Anna Maria Franch of Cloz

Click on  image to see it larger

IMPORTANT: I have not yet traced the Paternoster in enough detail to say with certainty that  Giovanni Battista was the  original (or only) source of the surname in Cloz, but as I came across this, and the surname is still so prominent in Cloz, I thought I would give this surname a brief mention in this article.

Perazza

Bertoluzza says this is one of many dozens of names derived from the root ‘Per/Ped’, which is from the name Pietro/Pero (Petrus in Latin; Peter in English).

Now extinct in Cloz (although I did find ONE family with this surname currently in Rovereto), the surname appears in the Cloz records in the early 1620s. Apparently some families with this surname settled in Michigan and Pennsylvania in the US.

Rauzi

Variants: Rauz; Rauti; Rauta; Rauzer; Raota

Another ancient surname in Cloz, we have seen that it appears in the 1550 Carta di Regola with a Dorigo Rauzi, son of the late Pietro.

Bertoluzza says Raota is the original form of the surname, but I have never seen it written that way in the Cloz registers. He says it is either derived from the German word ‘raot’, meaning a cleared land, or from the personal name ‘Ruzo’. Either way, the sound of the name certainly leads me to think it has a Germanic origin.

While Bertoluzza says the name ‘Rauta’ came from Valsugana in the 1400s, he says it also appears in Cloz at least by the late 1400s. There may be no historical connection between the two surnames, despite some linguistic similarities. In my own research for Cloz, I have found the surname as early as 1599, among the parish’s earliest surviving baptismal records. The surname also appears within a set of judicial documents drafted between 1531-1542. Spellings will vary widely, but ‘Rauzi’ is pretty much the only spelling used today.

In my research, I have identified these Rauzi whose occupations were of particular interest.

RAUZI PRIESTS:

  • Giovanni Antonio Rauzi (I don’t know his father’s name), born circa 1550, and died 16 Dec 1637. He was the pievano (pastor) of Cloz for many years, and it is assumed he was very old when he died.
  • Guglielmo Rauzi, son of Simone, born 9 Nov 1632 and died 14 Oct 1771 at the age of 78.
  • Adamo Rauzi, son of Pietro, born 3 June 1683, and died 16 May 1762, nearly 79 years old.

RAUZI SURGEONS

  • Pietro Rauzi (son of Bartolomeo) – born circa 1640, died 27 Feb 1711.
  • Bartolomeo Rauzi (son of the above Pietro). Born 10 Nov 1676. Died after 1741.
  • Adamo Rauzi, son of the above Bartolomeo. Born 13 May 1711 and died sometime after 1768.
  • Stefano Rauzi (son of Giovanni Pietro), born 17 Feb 1678, died 8 Jan 1721.
  • Giovanni Pietro Melchiore, son of the above Stefano, born 8 Sept 1709 and died at the young age of 26 on 10 Dec 1735.

RAUZI BLACKSMITH

  • Giovanni Antonio Rauzi (son of another Giovanni Antonio), born 13 Aug 1663, died 7 April 1730.

Rizzi

Variants: Riz; Rizz; Ricci; Ritzi; Ricz

The surname Rizzi is found in many parts of Trentino (not just in Val di Non), as well as in many other parts of the Italian peninsula. Bertoluzza says it first appears as a nickname as early as 1188. Because it is so old and so common, trying to draw a straight line to its point of origin is probably next to impossible.

For example, many linguistic historians believe the surname comes directly from the Italian word ‘rizzi’, which means ‘curly-haired’, and that it started as a nickname for someone who curly hair. If that is the origin of the surname, it’s not dissimilar to how the people here in England might call someone ‘Ginger’ if they have red hair. Really, the nickname could apply to anyone, anywhere.

Other historians (including Leonardi) believe it is a patronymic surname, derived from a name such as Riccio, Riccardo, Rizzo or Odorico. Again, I have seen identical patronymic surnames crop in different places, without any historic connection to each other.

In the case of the Rizzi from Cloz, however, we at least know their point of entry. The surname first came to Cloz by way of Cavizzana in Val di Sole. The first indication I have found of this is the baptismal record of Nicolò Rizzi, born in Cloz 16 October 1609, where his father is referred to as ‘Magistri Francesco Ricz of Cavizzana, living in Cloz’:

1609 baptismal record of Nicolo' Rizzi of Cloz.

Click on image to see it larger

NOTE: I have found earlier records for this family, back to 1599, but they do not mention Francesco’s village of origin.

Thus, the surname Rizzi would have ‘arrived’ in Cloz around the end of the 1500s; it thrives there still to this day.

Seppi

Variants: Sep; Sepp; Seppo

Derived from the name ‘Isepo’ or ‘Josep’ (Joseph or Giuseppe), I normally associate this surname with the village of Ruffré, which was long part of the parish of Sarnonico. However, the surname appears in Cloz back to the earliest surviving records.

The earliest Seppi in Cloz I have identified so far are Nicolò and Isepo, who (based on the birth dates of their children) would have been born circa 1575-1585. None of the records in which they are mentioned suggest they came from someplace else, which seems to indicate the surname was present in Cloz by the end of the 1500s.

We do not see them in the 1550 Carta di Regola, however, which might  mean they hadn’t yet arrived in Cloz, or they had arrived recently, but were not yet considered full ‘citizens’ of the village. Again, this is just speculation, as I don’t have enough evidence at this time.

Wegher

Variants: Beger; Begher; Bregher; Weger

Another surname of Germanic origin, we find it amongst the earliest surviving records in Cloz, the earliest baptismal appearing in November 1599.

In early records, it often written ‘Beger’ or ‘Begher’. Because there is no ‘W’ in the Italian language, Italian speakers will often change the letter W to B when recording names of people and places.

The German root of the name is ‘weg’ which means ‘way’ (as in a path or road). The suffix ‘-er’ indicates an action or an attribute of the person being described, much like ‘baker’ in English means ‘someone who bakes’, and ‘New Yorker’ means ‘someone from New York’. Thus, the word ‘Wegher’ (the ‘h’ is added to preserve the hard ‘g’) could mean ‘someone how lives by or who comes from the path/road’. Bertoluzza likens it in meaning to the Italian surname ‘Dallavia’.

Appearing (as ‘Wegher’) in Cloz records up to the 1890s, it appears not to be in that parish anymore, but can still be found in many other Trentino parishes, as well as in the province of Bolzano/South Tyrol.

Zaffon

Variant: Zaffoni

Bertoluzza offers two possible origins for this surname. He says it may be a soprannome given to someone who came from the eponymous locality called Zaffon that exists near Noriglio in the comune of Rovereto). Alternatively, he says it could be an expansion of the word ‘zaf’, a dialect term to indicate a ‘birro’, which referred to a guard who protected public order).

Whatever the linguistic origin, the surname is extremely old, appearing in notary records as far back as 1289. Based on these, the earliest identifiable place of origin of the name is Cagnò (also in Val di Non), which was part of the parish of Revò.

‘Zaffon’ appears amongst the earliest surviving parish registers for Cloz, with the first Zaffon baptism appearing on 2 July 1601. The following year, in the baptism of Maria Seppi mentioned earlier, we see her godfather is ‘Zen (Giovanni), son of the late Sisinio Zaffon, placing the birth of the late Sisinio sometime in the mid-1500s. The name Sisinio was a recurring personal name in the Zaffon family during this era. We continue to see it in the parish records for Cloz through the 1880s.

Zanoni

Variant: Zanon

Zanoni belonging to the series of surnames (including Zanini, Zanolini, Zanotelli, Zanol, etc.) which are all are derived from the root ‘Zan’, which is a short from of the personal name Giovanni. It is an extremely common name (think ‘Johnson’), not just in Trentino, but in many other parts of Italy, especially Lombardia and Veneto.

We have already mention that the name appears in the 1550 Carta di Regola for Cloz. We also see it in one of the rare very early surviving baptismal records for Cloz, with the birth of a Domenica, daughter of Cristoforo Zanon and Cattarina, born 22 December 1565:

1565 baptismal record of Domenica Zanoni of Cloz, Trentino.Click on image to see it larger

This surname is still extant in Cloz today.

CLOSING THOUGHTS AND COMING UP NEXT TIME…

I hope this article has given you some insight into the history, surnames, and available genealogical research materials for the parish of Cloz in Val di Non. If you have any questions, feedback, or you have any information from your own research, I would love to hear from you. Please do share your thoughts in the comments belong.

Next time, we’ll move on to the parish of REVÒ in Val di Non, the home parish of some many of my clients’ ancestors, and a place I have researched extensively over my years as a genealogist.

In that article (or perhaps in the subsequent one, if it gets too long!), I’ll also touch upon Romallo, Cagnò, Tregiovo, and Marcena di Rumo, which historically were part of the parish of Revò.

I hope you’ll join me for that.  To be sure to receive the next article in this series ‘Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People: A Guide for Genealogists’ – and ALL future articles from Trentino Genealogy –  just subscribe to this blog using the form below.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
3 September  2020

P.S. As you probably know, my spring and summer trips to Trento was cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns. I am also not sure when I will be back in Trento. I was hoping to go in November 2020, but now it might be a bit later, after the New Year. There  is no way to know for sure right now.  

However, I do have  resources to do a fair bit of research for many clients from home, and I now have some openings for a few new client projects starting in October 2020.

If you would like to book a time to discuss having me do research for you, I invite you to read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. Then, we can set up a free 30-minute chat to discuss your project.

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

View my Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://trentinogenealogy.com/my-tree/

REFERENCES

ANZILOTTI, Giulia Mastrelli. 2003. Toponomastica Trentina: I Nomi delle Località Abitate. Trento: Provincia Autonoma di Trento, Servizio Beni librari e archivistici.

ARCHIVI STORICI DEL TRENTINO website. III, 401, Constituzione di Censo, 1517 dicember 14, Cloz. Accessed 2 September 2020 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/3562058.

ARCHIVI STORICI DEL TRENTINO website. 5. Testamento, 1458 marzo 1. Accessed 2 September 2020 from  https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1483883.

ARCHIVI STORICI DEL TRENTINO website. 4. Elezioni di arbitri. 1415 giugno 9. Accessed 2 September 2020 from  https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1483873.

ARCHIVI STORICI DEL TRENTINO website. 203. Atti giudiziari 1531 febbraio 7- 1542 settembre 1. Accessed 2 September 2020 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/49780

BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino. Trento: Società Iniziative Editoriali (S.R.L.).

CASETTI, Albino (dottore). 1951. Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento. Trento: Tipografia Editrice Temi (S.R.L.).

GIACOMONI, Fabio. 1991. Carte di Regola e Statuti delle Comunità Rurali Trentine. 3 volume set. Milano: Edizioni Universitarie Jaca.

LEONARDI, Enzo. 1985. Anaunia: Storia della Valle di Non. Trento: TEMI Editrice.

SERAFINN, Lynn. 2019. ‘Not Just a Nickname: Understanding Your Family Soprannome’. Published 6 October 2019 at https://trentinogenealogy.com/2019/10/nickname-soprannome-soprannomi/

STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845. Trento: Biblioteca San Bernardino. Can be downloaded for free in PDF format from http://www.db.ofmtn.pcn.net/ofmtn/files/biblioteca/Notai.pdf

STENICO, P. Remo. 2000. Sacerdoti della Diocesi di Trento dalla sua Esistenza Fino all’Anno 2000. Can be downloaded for free in PDF format from http://www.db.ofmtn.pcn.net/ofmtn/files/biblioteca/Preti-Indice-Preti.pdf

TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine. Trento: Società di Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche.

TAVOZZI, P. Giangrisostomo. 1970. Parochiale Tridentinum. Originally published in 1785. 1970 version edited by P. Remo Stenico. Trento: Edizioni Biblioteca PP. Francescani.

TRENTINO DOT COM website. ‘Cloz’. Accessed 31 August 2020 from https://www.trentino.com/en/trentino/val-di-non/novella/cloz/

TUTTI ITALIA website. ‘Popolazione Cloz 2001-2019’. Accessed 1 September 2020 from https://www.tuttitalia.it/trentino-alto-adige/34-cloz/statistiche/popolazione-andamento-demografico/

Get Trentino Genealogy via Email

You'll only hear from us when we have a new, informative genealogy article for you to read. We are dedicated to a spam-free world. 

We respect your privacy.

Decanato of Trento: Parishes, Curates and Parish Registers

Decanato of Trento: Parishes, Curates and Parish Registers

Inventory of the parish registers in the parishes and curates of the decanato (deanery) of the city of Trento. Part 4 of ‘Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People: A Guide for Genealogists’ by Lynn Serafinn.

LAST TIME in this special series on the valleys, parishes and genealogical records (parish registers) for the province of Trento, we looked at the various frazioni of the municipality of the city of Trento, as well as demographics (population, languages, occupations) and surnames of the people in that city in the year 1890.

If you haven’t yet read that article (or you would like to read it again), I invite you to check it out at https://trentinogenealogy.com/2020/04/trento-city-surnames-1600/ .

As you read today’s article, you might also find it useful to refer to the MAP of the frazioni of Trento I shared with you last time.

MORE READING:   Trento in the 1800s. Frazioni, Occupations, Surnames

WHAT I WILL DISCUSS IN THIS ARTICLE

TODAY, I want to shift away from looking at the city of Trento as a civil entity, and consider how it is organised into PARISHES.

As we do so, I will also give you an INVENTORY of the currently surviving parish registers for each PARISH, to help guide you in your genealogical research.

My primary resource for this information is the book Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento by Dott. Albino Casetti (published 1961), which has been the ‘bible’ reference book for Trentino historians of all kinds (including family historians) for nearly 60 years.

This monumental work (over 1,100 pages), published only in Italian, is an inventory of ALL the archived materials in every comune and parish in the province of Trentino. As the focus of this blog is specifically Trentino Genealogy, I will be summarising ONLY the information that is most relevant to genealogists and family historians.

In this way, over the course of this series, I aim to provide you with a ‘go to guide’ of the available parish registers in all of the parishes in the diocese, adding my own insights when I happen to have worked with that parish.

ABOUT the PARISH RECORDS

  • Nearly all of the baptisms, marriages and death records for the entire DIOCESE of Trento were photographed by the LDS church (Latter Day Saints) and put on microfilm. Because of this, I have included the microfilm numbers/contents below (although they are in the process of digitising these).
  • The diocese of Trento digitised all these records about 10 years ago, and they are freely viewable at their Diocesan Archives in Trento. Most of the records that the LDS church missed have also since been digitised by the diocese (the parish of Andalo is one example); these are also available at the Diocesan Archives in Trento.
  • Confirmation is a Catholic sacrament, which can be delivered only by a Bishop. As such, ceremonies tended to be done in large groups, often for many parishes at once. The Italian word for ‘Confirmation’ is ‘cresima’ (plural = cresime). You may sometimes see the word ‘cresima’ and a date scribbled next to someone’s name in their baptismal record. Confirmation in the past was often combined with the sacrament of First Communion, and could sometimes take place when a child was quite young.
  • An ‘anagraph’ is a record for a family group, listing the head of household, wife (or wives), and their children. Typically it will include all birth, marriage and death dates of everyone in the family group, and sometimes Confirmation dates.
  • Although I have listed anagraphs and Confirmation records in the charts below, NEITHER of these is normally included in the LDS microfilms or digital images at the Trento Archives. However, in the case of the Duomo, being the seat of the bishopric, I did find many Confirmation records mixed in with the baptismal records in the 1500s (more about this shortly).
  • Most parishes also contain many other kinds of archived materials, such as pergamene (parchments, often of legal documents), taxes, inventory of goods, visits from the bishop, etc. I have not included those in these lists, as there are just too many of them, and they are not usually of much interest to family historians (except possibly some of the more experienced researchers).

REMINDER: This article is only about the CITY of Trento, NOT the rural parts of the province of Trento (also called ‘Trentino’). After we finish our discussion of the city, we’ll start our exploration of the many rural valleys and parishes of the province in detail, spread across at least 20 upcoming articles in this special series.

The DECANATO of TRENTO

As a reminder, the Catholic Church organises its churches hierarchically like this:

Diocese –> Deanery –> Parish –> Curate

Or, in Italian:

Diocesi –> Decanato –> Parrocchia (Pieve) –> Curazia

All of the parishes we will explore in this series are in the DIOCESE of Trento. Technically, Trento is an ‘archdiocese’, which just means it covers a large area, including one urban centre, i.e. the city of Trento.

There are 25 decanati (deaneries) in the archdiocese of Trento. One of these deaneries is the CITY OF TRENTO itself.

Within the decanato of Trento, there are different parishes, and within each parish there are several ‘curates’ (curazie). Curates are like ‘satellite’ parishes, which are subordinate to the ‘mother’ parish church. Curates do not always have the authority to hold their own baptisms or maintain their own records. 

Presently, there are FIVE ‘mother’ parishes in the DECANATO of Trento, most with one or more curate parishes dependent upon them. According to Casetti (page 820), these are:

MOTHER PARISHCURATE PARISHES
Cathedral of San VigilioVillazzano
Santa Maria MaggioreMattarello; Sardagna; Vela
Santi Pietro e PaoloSanta Maria Maddalena; Gardolo, Cognola, Villa Montagna, Montevaccino, Garniga (see notes)
PiedicastelloRavina; Romagnano
Povo(None listed by Casetti)

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

Some of these parishes have changed their status over time.   For example, some curates have become parishes in their own right, while others have been  ‘incorporated’ into other parishes or deaneries.  I will point these variables out as we go along.

PARISH of TRENTO: Cathedral of San Vigilio (Duomo)

A ‘cathedral’ is not just a large church; it is a church associated with a resident bishop. Moreover, in ecclesiastical terms, for a place to be called a ‘city’ it had to have a cathedral.

This medieval Cathedral – or ‘duomo’ – of San Vigilio has long been the symbol of the bishopric of Trento, if not an icon of the province itself. San Vigilio (d. ca. 397 AD) was not only an early Christian martyr but the first bishop of the province. His tomb can be visited in the underground crypt beneath the Cathedral.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for San Vigilio

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS271565
MARRIAGES191565
DEATHS161620
CONFIRMATION8 (see notes)1759
ANAGRAPHS?1830; 1840

LDS Microfilms for Duomo of San Vigilio

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144830016-20Baptisms 1564-1685 (the start date they list is slightly from Casetti’s).
1448301entire filmBaptisms 1685-1824; Index of baptisms 1824-1879; Baptisms 1824-1883; Index of baptisms 1880-1921; Baptisms 1884-1886.
1448302entire filmBaptisms 1886-1923; Marriages 1565-1780; Index of marriages; 1813-1872; Marriages 1816-1923; Deaths 1620-1701.
14483241-15Deaths 1701-1780; Index of Deaths 1793-1828; Deaths 1780-1813; Index of Deaths 1810-1873; Deaths 1810-1887; Index of Deaths 1886-1921; Deaths 1887-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Here are a few things I noticed on the occasions I have worked with the records for this parish:

  • CONFIRMATION RECORDS. Although Casetti says the register of Confirmations starts in the year 1759, in my own research I discovered that many pages of CONFIRMATION records from the mid to late 1500s are mixed in with volume 1 of the baptisms (1564-1577). As the Duomo in Trento was the home parish of the Bishop, some parents sent their children to be confirmed there, rather than waiting for the Bishop to come to their local parish/deanery. For example, I found several children from families who lived in my father’s PARISH of Bleggio in Val Giudicarie were confirmed at the Duomo in 1596. You might wish to check volume 1 of the baptisms to see if anyone in your own family tree had travelled to Trento to have their children confirmed at the Duomo, rather than wait for the bishop to come to their local parish/deanery.
  • BAPTISMAL REGISTERS VOLUMES 2 and 3 (and possibly others) are organised according to FIRST NAME of the child. For me, this is the WORST and most frustrating system of organisation because, unless you know exactually what you are looking for, it can be very difficult to find a particular record. For example, you might be looking for someone named ‘Antonio’, but he was actually baptised ‘Tommaso Giovanni Battista Antonio’; how would you KNOW to look under ‘T’?
  • SURNAMES IN EARLY BAPTISMAL RECORDS ARE OFTEN MISSING. I would estimate a good 60% of the baptismal records in Volume 2 at the Duomo don’t have a surname at all.  Instead, you’ll find things like   ‘Barbara, daughter of Valentino of Val di Sole’, ‘Gregorio of Rovereto’ or ‘Lorenzo of Arco’ (these are all examples I wrote down in my notes the last time I was perusing those records).
  • BUT…YOU MIGHT BE PLEASANTLY SURPRISED.  Despite the other frustrations,  if you are really patient (and a bit lucky), you just might stumble across random baptismal records for families from rural parishes who either had relocated to the city, or who were staying there temporarily. For example, amongst these registers, I found the baptismal records for many children of the noble Tommaso Crosina, a renowned medical doctor who had relocated from Balbido (in Val Giudicarie) to the city, as well as baptismal records for children of the Buratti family of Comano, and the Girardi family of Vigo Lomaso (both in Val Giudicarie).

CURATE of VILLAZZANO

Located in the southern part of the city of Trento, Villazzano is the site of two churches: a small church dedicated to San Stefano, already in existence by the year 1567, and a much older church dedicated to San Bartolomeo, which appears in documents as far back as 1183. Indeed, this whole neighbourhood of South Trento is called ‘San Bartolomeo’, and there is also a train station of the same name not far from Villazzano.

After many demolitions and reconstructions, the present curate church is San Stefano, and the old church of San Bartolomeo is solely a cemetery church.

Despite its long history, Villazzano was not elevated to the position of a parish until 1907.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Villazzano

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS71804
MARRIAGES81620
DEATHS71714
CONFIRMATION?1827
ANAGRAPHS?1895

LDS Microfilms for Villazzano

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144829930Baptisms 1825-1852.
14483001-15Baptisms 1852-1923; Marriages 1620-1923; Deaths 1714-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

  • I cannot explain the disparity between the start year of the baptisms (1804) as cited by Casetti and the start year cited on the Family Search website, as I haven’t personally worked with this parish. I know there are some volumes (in various parishes) that the LDS didn’t photograph when they made their microfilms; most of these have since been digitised by the diocese of Trento, and are thus viewable only through their archives, not through the Family History Centres.
  • Casetti doesn’t specify the number volumes of for Confirmation records or anagraphs; I assume  there is a single volume of each, but I have put a ‘?’ as I don’t know.
  • While I have not done research in this parish, I would PRESUME earlier records for Villazzano will be found in its ‘mother parish’ of the Duomo of San Vigilio.

PARISH of TRENTO: Santa Maria Maggiore

Not far from the Duomo is the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, a parish which has been documented back to the year 1147. In the 19th century, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Zanella (the parroco at the time) put the archives for the parish in order and created an inventory for them. But due to events sustained during the First World War, the archives were again put in disarray. Casetti says the current parroco is again putting the archives in order; I would assume progress has been made since he made this comment some years ago.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Santa Maria Maggiore

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS271548
MARRIAGES161581
DEATHS171620
CONFIRMATION131825
ANAGRAPHS31828; 1857; 1951

LDS MICROFILMS for Santa Maria Maggiore

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144832416-22Baptisms 1548-1630.
1448325entire filmBaptisms 1630-1832.
1448326entire filmBaptisms 1833-1923; Marriages 1581-1836.
1448327entire filmMarriages 1836-1923; Deaths 1620-1847.
14483281-4Deaths 1847-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Casetti says the parish archives also contain many ‘urbari’ (collection of taxes) from the 1600s onwards, as well as many diplomas of doctorates and diplomas of nobility, but I have no details on these.

CURATE of MATTARELLO

Located about 4 miles south of the city centre, the curate church of Mattarello, dedicated to San Lorenzo, was built in 1454. After centuries of being a curate parish under Santa Maria Maggiore, it was elevated to the status of a parish on 21 November 1906.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Mattarello

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS111657
MARRIAGES91657
DEATHS51657
CONFIRMATION11840
ANAGRAPHS1?

LDS MICROFILMS for Mattarello

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144825936-37Index of Baptisms 1657-1805; Baptisms 1657-1665.
14482601-22Baptisms 1665-1923; Marriages 1657-1923; Deaths 1657-1805, 1845-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

  • Apparently, there are some additional marriages and deaths from between the years 1682-1684 amongst the first volume of baptisms.
  • Casetti says there are ‘recent anagraphs’ but gives no date.
  • Casetti actually says the marriage records start in 1748, with the exception of a few from the 1680s; the LDS index says the marriages start in 1657, however. I asked the archivist in Trento , and they confirmed they do indeed start  in 1657.
  • There is a gap in the death records between 1806-1844.

CURATE of SARDAGNA

Across the River Adige directly west of Trent city centre,  Sardagna is a tiny village perched on top of Monte Bondone. Dedicated to Saints Filippo and Giacomo, the curate church of Sardagna was opened on 10 November 1679. It was elevated to the status of a parish on 11 February 1910, under the deanery of Trento.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Sardagna

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS61788
MARRIAGES71742
DEATHS61742
CONFIRMATION21859
ANAGRAPHS?1747
BIRTHS, MARRIAGES AND DEATHS ALL'ESTERO?1892-1926

LDS MICROFILM for Sardagna

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144836812-33Index of Baptisms 1788-1922; Baptisms 1788-1923; Index of Marriages 1742-1921; Marriages 1742-1923; Index of Deaths 1742-1923; Death 1742-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

  • Sadly, Casetti tells us that all of Sardagna’s older documents were destroyed by a fire caused by lightning that hit the church in 1724. I do not know if any duplicates were kept in the mother parish of Santa Maria Maggiore.
  • Note that there is a register of births, marriages and deaths ‘all’estero’, i.e. events that occurred outside the parish, particularly those of families who emigrated outside the province (such as to the Americas, etc.). LDS does NOT list them on the inventory for their microfilms. As of this writing, I do not know if they have since been digitised at the Diocesan Archives in Trento.

CURATE of VELA

North of Sardagna, and northwest of  the city centre, is the curate of Vela. Dedicated to Saints Cosma and Damiano, the church at Vela is relatively new compared to many others in Trento (1794), and it did not have permission to perform baptisms until 1833. Before then, all events would have been recorded in the registry of its mother parish of Santa Maria Maggiore. It was elevated to the rank of parish on 24 Sept 1942, under the deanery of Trento.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Vela

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS41834
MARRIAGES21904
DEATHS31844
CONFIRMATION11924
ANAGRAPHS?1884; 1905

LDS MICROFILMS for Vela

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
14483682-7Baptisms 1834-1923; Marriages 1904-1923; Deaths 1834-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

I haven’t worked personally with these records, so I cannot comment on the discrepancy in the dates of the death records (LDS says they start in 1834, while Casetti says 1844).

Article continues below…

Get Trentino Genealogy via Email

You'll only hear from us when we have a new, informative genealogy article for you to read. We are dedicated to a spam-free world. 

We respect your privacy.

PARISH of TRENTO: Santi Pietro e Paolo

Located in the heart of the city centre, this church is dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul. Although its records go back to the mid-1500s, Santi Pietro e Paolo  is relatively ‘new’ a parish,  as it was originally a curate of the Cathedral of San Vigilio.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Santi Pietro e Paolo

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS251548
MARRIAGES171630
DEATHS121598
CONFIRMATION41825
BAPTISMS ALL'ESTERO31883
MARRIAGES ALL'ESTERO21883
DEATHS ALL'ESTERO21883
ANAGRAPHS?"Recent"

LDS MICROFILMS for Santi Pietro e Paolo

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144832815-16Baptisms 1548-1617.
1448353entire film1617-1871
1448354entire filmBaptisms 1872-1923; Marriages 1630-1843.
1448355entire filmMarriages 1843-1923; Deaths 1598-1893.
14483561-5Deaths 1894-1923; ALL'ESTERO: Baptisms 1883-1895; Deaths 1883-1918; Marriages 1883-1916; Baptisms 1858-1923; Deaths 1890-1918; Marriages 1891-1923; Baptisms 1871-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Again, the term ‘all’estero’ refers to events that took place outside the province, typically referring to families who emigrated outside the province at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. Casetti does not say what years are covered for these records, but we find them listed in the catalogue for the LDS microfilms (which, happily, means they HAVE been photographed/digitised, which is not always the case).

Casetti does not give the years for the anagraphs, saying only they are ‘recent’.

CURATE of Santa Maria Maddalena

Operating since 1500S, the curate parish of Santa Maria Maddalena was incorporated into the parish of Santi Pietro e Paolo in 1808. Thus, the mother parish of Santi Pietro e Paolo will have all records for Santa Maria Maddalena since that date.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Santa Maria Maddalena

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESYEARS
BAPTISMS41580-1798
MARRIAGES31581-1808
DEATHS21650-1808

LDS MICROFILM for Santa Maria Maddalena

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
1448328Items 5-14Baptisms; 1580-1808; Marriages; 1581-1807; Deaths 1650-1808

ADDITIONAL NOTES

I cannot explain why Casetti says the baptisms end in 1798, whereas the LDS catalogue says they go to 1808, as I am unfamiliar with the records for this parish.

CURATE of GARDOLO

Situated north of the main city, and dedicated to the Visitation of the Virgin Mary by Saint Elisabeth, the present-day church at Gardolo, was opened in 1722. The curate was elevated to the status of a parish in 1897.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Gardolo

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS111722
MARRIAGES101704
DEATHS81704
CONFIRMATION11837
ANAGRAPHS219th century

LDS MICROFILMS for Gardolo

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
14483566-28Baptisms 1722-1923; Marriages 1704-1923; Deaths 1805-1909.
14483671Deaths 1909-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Earlier records for this curate should be found in the ‘mother’ parish of Santi Pietro e Paolo. Regarding anagraphs, Casetti simply says they are from the 19th and 20th centuries, without any specific years.

CURATE of COGNOLA

Built in 1633 and dedicated to Saints Vito, Modesto e Crescenzia, the curate of Cognola, northeast of the main city centre, was granted permission to have its own baptismal font on 29 January 1677.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Cognola

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS101659; 1677
MARRIAGES71637
DEATHS71654
CONFIRMATION11850
ANAGRAPHS11852

LDS MICROFILMS for Cognola

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144829819-23Baptisms 1659-1838 (see notes)
14482991-17Baptisms 1838-1923; Marriages 1637-1923; Deaths 1704-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Regarding the baptismal records, Casetti says there are only 4 records from the year 1659; otherwise, they start in the year 1677.

CURATE of VILLA MONTAGNA

About 3 miles northeast of the city centre, this curate was founded in 1672, but only started keeping its own registers in 1775. The church is dedicated to Saints Fabiano and Sebastiano. It was elevated to the status of parish in 1919. It is sometimes seen written as a single word, i.e. ‘Villamontagna’ or even ‘Vilamontanja’.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Villa Montagna

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS41775
MARRIAGES31775
DEATHS41775
CONFIRMATION11833
ANAGRAPHS21885; 1911

LDS MICROFILM for Villa Montagna

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144829921-29Baptism 1775-1923; Marriages 1775-1923; Deaths 1775-1923

ADDITIONAL NOTES

I would presume that records prior to 1775 would be found in the mother church of Santi Pietro e Paolo.

CURATE of MONTEVACCINO

In the north-eastern outskirts of the city, the frazione of Montevaccino was incorporated into the comune of Cognola in 1900. The church, dedicated to San Leonardo, was erected in 1742 (although the baptismal records appear to have started a bit earlier). The curate of Montevaccino was elevated to the status of parish in 1919.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Montevaccino

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS41740
MARRIAGES41743
DEATHS41742
CONFIRMATION11894
ANAGRAPHS11900

LDS MICROFILM for Montevaccino

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144829918-20Baptisms 1741-1821; Deaths 1742-1822; Marriages 1743-1822; Baptisms 1821-1870; Deaths 1821-1870; Marriages 1821-1870; Baptisms 1871-1923; Marriages 1872-1922; Deaths 1871-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Again, I would presume that records prior to 1740 would be found in the mother church of Santi Pietro e Paolo. I cannot comment on the slight discrepancy in the start dates between Casetti’s inventory and the LDS catalogue.

CURATE of GARNIGA

West of Mattarello, well south of the city centre, is the curate of Garniga. An ancient parish dedicated to Sant’Osvaldo, it had a long history as a curate under the mother parish of Santa Maria Maddalena. A century ago, on 26 January 1920, it was finally elevated to the rank of parish, from which point it was transferred to the decanato of Villa Lagarina (which we explore in a future article).

As it came under the banner of the decanato of Trento for most of its history, I will list its inventory here.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Garniga

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS61614
MARRIAGES51615
DEATHS41635
CONFIRMATION11827

LDS MICROFILMS for Garniga

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144827020-23Baptisms 1614-1824; Index of Baptisms 1817-1886; Baptisms 1817-1854.
14482711-11Baptisms 1854-1923; Marriages 1615-1822; Index of Marriages 1817-1873; Marriages 1818-1923; Deaths 1817-1890; Index of Deaths 1635-1890; Deaths 1891-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Casetti says there are also ‘legati pii’ (i.e. ‘legacy’ gifts donated to the parish as part of someone’s Last Will and Testament) from the year 1646. He also mentions the Confraternity of the Most Holy Sacrament from 1792, but he doesn’t say what specifically this includes (minutes of their meetings, lists of members, etc).

PARISH of TRENTO: Piedicastello (Sant’Apollinare)

Dedicated to Sant’Apollinare, the ancient parish of Piedicastello is mentioned in documents back to the year 1183. If I understand Casetti properly, he says it was traditionally used as the residence of the parish priest of the Cathedral (not the Bishop). Located just across the bridge from the city centre on the opposite bank of the River Adige, Piedicastello was occasionally used as a place to quarantine plague victims during outbreaks, so as to isolate the disease from the main part of the city.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Piedicastello

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS121577
MARRIAGES51586
DEATHS71639
CONFIRMATION21825

LDS MICROFILMS for Piedicastello

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
14483672-24Baptisms 1577-1923; Marriages 1586-1923; Deaths 1639-1895.
14483681Deaths 1895-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Again, Casetti says there are also ‘legati pii’ (i.e. ‘legacy’ gifts donated to the parish as part of someone’s Last Will and Testament) from the years 1833 and 1877, and reportedly another from 1769.

CURATE of RAVINA

Erected in 1794, and dedicated to Santa Marina, the curate of Ravina was a curate of the parish of Piedicastello until it was elevated to the rank of parish in 1944. It is situated on the western side of the River Adige, southwest of the city centre.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Ravina

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS51795
MARRIAGES51819
DEATHS21819
CONFIRMATION11850
ANAGRAPHS11882

LDS MICROFILMS for Ravina

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
144827112-18Baptisms 1795-1923; Marriages 1819-1923; Deaths 1819-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

As these records start quite late, I would assume earlier documents will be found in Piedicastello. As with some of the previously mentioned parishes, Casetti says some ‘legacy gifts’ via Last Wills and Testaments can before here from the year 1700.

CURATE of ROMAGNANO

South of Ravina lies the curate of Romagnano. Its church, dedicated to Saint Brigid of Scotland, was built in 1711. Historically a curate of Piedicastello, it was granted permission to perform baptisms in 1728 (when its baptismal registers begin) and was eventually elevated to the position of a parish in 1920.

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Romagnano

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS51728
MARRIAGES41819
DEATHS41756
CONFIRMATION21874
ANAGRAPHS11850

LDS MICROFILMS for Romagnano

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
425654719-25Baptisms 1728-1923; Marriages 1819-1923; Deaths 1756-1781.
14482721-3Deaths 1781-1823, 1854-1923.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Again, for earlier records, I would assume they will be found in Piedicastello.

Note there is apparently a GAP in the death records 1824-1853.

PARISH of POVO

East of Trento city centre, the sprawling suburban comune of Povo, which includes many frazioni mentioned in the last article, is also an ancient parish whose name appears in records dating back to the year 1131. Often seen written as ‘Paho’ in older records, the parish church here is dedicated to Saints Peter and Andrea (Santi Pietro e Andrea).

INVENTORY of Parish Registers for Povo

REGISTERNO. OF VOLUMESSTARTING YEAR
BAPTISMS111612
MARRIAGES81629
DEATHS71723
CONFIRMATION31832
BAPTISMS ALL'ESTERO?1785-1913
MARRIAGES ALL'ESTERO?1862-1915
DEATHS ALL'ESTERO?1877-1916

LDS MICROFILMS for Povo

MICROFILM NO.ITEMSCONTENTS
1448273Aug-16Baptisms 1612-1869
1448298Jan-18Baptisms 1869-1923; Marriages 1629-1923; Deaths 1723-1923; Baptisms (all'estero) 1785-1913; Marriages (all'estero) 1862-1915; Deaths (all'estero) 1877-1916.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

Casetti does not mention the ‘all’estero’ registers (i.e. those that took place outside the province); I have gleaned the information from the LDS inventory, but I don’t know how many volumes these registers span.

Note that the baptisms abroad start very early, in the year 1785. I haven’t studied those registers, but I am sure they would make for some very interesting reading.

Sadly, Casetti tells us that the Povo registers are fraught with irregularities, with many gaps and duplicates. Apparently, many of the marriage were copied over from earlier registers.

NEWER PARISHES IN THE CITY OF TRENTO

Additionally, there are many newer parishes in Trento, all established in the 20th century. I mention them here only for the sake of thoroughness, but they are less likely to be relevant to the genealogical research of most readers:

  • Trento: San Giuseppe – founded in 1943.
  • Trento: Cristo Re –founded in 1953.
  • Trento: S. Antonio da Padova – in Bolghera, founded in 1955.
  • Trento: Sacratissimo Cuore di Gesù – in San Bartolomeo, founded in 1957.
  • Trento: Santi Martiri Anauniesi Sisinio, Martirio e Alessandro (The Holy Martyrs Sisinio, Martirio e Alessandro of Val di Non) in Solteri, founded in 1955.
  • Trento: Sposalizio di Maria Vergine – founded in 1960.

About the PARISH of MEANO

Although part of the civil municipality of the city of Trento since 1926, the PARISH of Meano has never been part of the decanato of Trento. Rather, it has part of the decanato of LAVIS since 1901, and before that date it was part of the decanato of CIVEZZANO. Thus, I will discuss Meano in a later article when I look at the deanery of Civezzano.

CLOSING THOUGHTS AND COMING UP NEXT TIME…

I hope those of you who have ancestors who came from within the municipality of the city of Trento found this article useful to your research.

I much confess, of ALL the parishes in the province I have researched, those within the city of Trento are probably the LEAST familiar to me. This is because the majority of my clients are descended from families from the rural valleys, not the city. For that reason, I not been able to offer much in the way of personal commentary in this particular article.

I hope to change next time, when we shift directions and move our eyes northwards, when we begin our exploration of…

VAL DI NON!

A significant percentage of my clients came from Val di Non families, so I have had the opportunity to work with many of its parishes. Thus, I hope to go a bit deeper into the subject, sharing what I have learned from using those records.

Over the next few articles, we will explore:

  • The physical layout of the comuni in Val di Non
  • The frazioni within each comune
  • The deaneries, parishes and curates in the valley
  • The inventory of the parish registers in these parishes
  • Some of the most common surnames appearing in the various parishes.

I hope you are as excited as I am to get going on this rather substantial ‘stop’ on our tour of the province.

To be sure to receive the next article in this series ‘Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People: A Guide for Genealogists’ – and ALL future articles from Trentino Genealogy –  just subscribe to this blog using the form below.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
11 July 2020

P.S. As you probably know, my spring trip to Trento was cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns. I am also not sure when I will be back in Trento (hopefully by October 2020, but who knows?). 

However, I do have  resources to do a fair bit of research for many clients from home, and I now have some openings for a few new client projects starting around the end of August  2020.

If you would like to book a time to discuss having me do research for you, I invite you to read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. Then, we can set up a free 30-minute chat to discuss your project.

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

View my Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://trentinogenealogy.com/my-tree/

REFERENCES

CASETTI, Albino. 1961. Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento.

FAMILY SEARCH.  List of all Trento parishes available  on microfilm via LDS Family History Centres:  https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/results?count=20&query=%2Bauthor_id%3A858191

Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People. A Guide for Genealogists.

Trentino Valleys, Parishes and People. A Guide for Genealogists.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn examines the valleys, villages and parishes in the Province of Trentino, and the people who lived there. Part 1 in series.

It seems at least once a week, whether I am speaking with a new client or a new member of our Trentino Genealogy group on Facebook, I find I myself having to explain many basics about Trentino geography and localities. But for some reason, despite the obvious need, I’ve never yet discussed the subject of geography in any detail on this website.

Now, if your immediate, involuntary response to the word ‘geography’ is to yawn, you’re not alone. For me, it conjures up recollections of my 7th grade geography class in Catholic school on Long Island, where we had to memorise all the local industries of Schenectady, New York, and so on.

YAWN indeed!

Perhaps my own avoidance of the topic was due to those images of me struggling to stay awake at the back of Sister Rose Winifred’s classroom. Or, perhaps on an unconscious level, I was also worried my readers would find it a sleepy subject, even if it is crucial to our full understanding of our ancestors’ lives.

It seems my concerns were not completely unfounded. To find out whether I was being too subjective, I recently polled our Facebook group, asking them what they thought about my writing an article series on the topic of the geography of Trentino, but with a genealogical focus.

Of the 49 people who responded:

    • 35 said they thought it was a great idea.
    • 10 said it sounded good, but they weren’t sure the topic would sustain their interest (especially if it was spread across many articles).
    • 4, including some experienced researchers, said they weren’t sure (possibly because they had no idea of how I would broach the subject)
    • Nobody said they thought it was a bad idea. Perhaps some were just being polite. 😉

So, while a clear majority liked the idea with some enthusiasm, I cannot ignore the fact that over a quarter of the responses expressed some doubt about the topic.

Therein lay my challenge:

How could I present the subject of the geography of Trentino in such a way that it could sustain the interest – and be useful to – beginners through advanced researchers?

I believe the key to that challenge lies in examining not just where places are on a map, but also WHO is in those places, and HOW people and places are connected.

MESSAGE TO ADVANCED RESEARCHERS: Article 1 in this series is, by necessity, going to cover some basics, which some of you with more experience and knowledge are likely to want to ‘skim’. But I promise you, as this series progresses, it will become far more detailed and specific, combining information from many different Italian resources. So, even if you want don’t read every word of this introductory article, I humbly ask that you to get a feeling for where I will be going from here. My sincere hope is that this series will ultimately become a valuable ‘go to’ reference for you and all my readers.

So, let’s begin…

The Four ‘Lenses’ of Geography

Geography is actually a multidimensional subject. It is not just about lumps and bumps on a map, but a complex set of interrelated factors. It isn’t just about where things are, but how they are divvied up, what they are called and who has ‘dominion’ over them.

Thus, in this series, I’d like to explore Trentino ‘geography’ through these different ‘lenses’:

    1. Civil, i.e. the state
    2. Ecclesiastical, i.e. the church
    3. Geographic, i.e. the land itself
    4. People

These lenses are inextricable intertwined. Only by considering them as a whole can we attempt to create an accurate, historical and cultural portrait of any land – and its people.

‘People’ are inevitably part of the geographic landscape. People create, respond to, adapt to and change everything within the other three lenses. Their surnames, language, customs, beliefs and behaviour cannot truly be understood in a vacuum, without the context of geography.

And none of these factors can be understood outside the dynamics of time. While changes in the lay of the land itself may not be as apparent to us (although rivers are frequently shifting their path), state and church boundaries are constantly in flux, and people have always moved from one place to another. Thus, ‘time’ is an overarching container in which these four lenses dwell and move.

Many family historians become disproportionately focused on the ‘people’ lens, often at a somewhat ‘micro’ level. That is to say, they tend to collect names, dates, and other facts about of specific families (usually their own) without giving a great deal of attention to the multidimensional context in when those people lived.

Conversely, so many ‘pure historians’ give a disproportionate amount of weight to the importance the state (governments, politics, wars, etc.), at the expense of the geographic or demographic lenses.

Both of these approaches to history can result in a somewhat myopic view, missing the richness of our ancestors’ experiences of life. Only by taking a multidimensional approach to family history can we begin to understand how people and their institutions are inevitably interdependent with the land.

CIVIL STRUCTURE: Italian Regions and Provinces

As discussed in my article Ethnicity Vs. Cultural Identity. Trentino, Tyrolean, Italian?, the province of Trentino has ‘belonged’ to many different political powers throughout the centuries. Although my discussion of ‘civil structure’ will be about Trentino within the CURRENT ‘nation’ we know as ‘Italy’ today, please understand that everything I write about Trentino is referring to the SAME place, regardless of whether it was then part of the Holy Roman Empire, Austria or Italy.

So, let’s have a look at this place called ‘Italy’ and how it is divided up at a civil/political level.

For the most part, Italy’s CIVIL structure is broken down like this:

Region –> Province –> Municipality –> Village

I say ‘for the most part’ because there are some places where provinces and comuni were replaced by other entities; but as this is the structure that applies to our current topic, we’ll stick to that as a guideline.

The Italian words for these terms are:

Regione –> Provincia –> Comune –> Frazione

In the present-day country of Italy, there are currently 20 regions, 110 provinces, nearly 8,000 comuni, and I have NO idea how many frazioni.

Region

The region under discussion in this article series is Trentino-Alto-Adige, which is highlighted in RED in the map below:

trentino-alto-adige-location-on-the-italy-map
Downloaded 18 Jan 2020 from http://ontheworldmap.com/italy/region/trentino-alto-adige/trentino-alto-adige-location-on-the-italy-map.html. Note that many of these are the English spellings. Lombardy, for example, is Lombardia in Italian.

In this map, we can see easily that Trentino-Alto Adige is the northernmost region in the country. It is situated the Dolomite mountain range, part of the Alpine system.

Province

Regions generally have more than one province.

If we zoom in more closely, we can see that the region of Trentino-Alto Adige is divided into two provinces: Trentino and South Tyrol (synonymously called ‘Alto Adige’ or the ‘Province of Bolzano’):

trentino-alto-adige_hotels
Downloaded 18 Jan 2020 from http://www.hotelstravel.com/italy-ta.html

Boundaries for the provinces have remained reasonably the stable over the past century, with some exceptions. For example, the area known as Valvestino (west of Lago del Garda) was historically part of Trentino, but was given to the province of Brescia (in the Region of Lombardia) in 1934.

Your will often see Trentino referred to as the ‘Province of Trento’ (Provincia di Trento). This can sometimes be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the area, as ‘Trento’ is also the name of the capital city. For that reason, I will always say ‘Trentino’ when referring to the province and use the word ‘Trento’ when referring to the city (unless I specify ‘Province of Trento’).

Similarly, you might see the Province of South Tyrol referred to as ‘Alto Adige’ as well as the ‘Province of Bolzano’. However, recently the shift towards its historic name of ‘South Tyrol’ has taken precedent.

Is Trentino the Same as Tyrol?

Today, it NOT technically correct to refer to Trentino as ‘Tyrol’ or ‘South Tyrol’, even though many descendants of Trentino immigrants who left the province before or shortly after it became part of Italy identified themselves as ‘Tyrolean’. I have lived in England for over 20 years, and if you say ‘South Tyrol’ to anyone here in the UK or in continental Europe, they will always assume you are referring to the South Tyrol as it appears on the map above, not Trentino. Again, cultural identity does not always match up with current political boundaries.

So, for this study, I will never refer to Trentino as Tyrol or South Tyrol, even though I know and agree that many readers might think of themselves as ‘Tyrolean’.

Comuni

As a comune (plural comuni) is a local administrative entity, their boundaries are frequently in a state of flux, as populations shift. For example, for many centuries my father’s comune was Bleggio; within the past decade or so, his area became part of the comune of Comano.

Note that comuni are the keepers of local CIVIL records.

Frazioni

The word frazione (plural frazioni) literally means ‘fraction’, but a better translation would be ‘village’ or (in many cases) ‘hamlet’. Sometimes, instead of frazione, you might see the terms contrada, località (which be just a few houses in a rural area) or maso/mansu (a homestead for a single or extended family).

Unlike comuni, the boundaries of rural frazioni tend to withstand change over the centuries. This is because they aren’t really administrative entities, but simply inhabited places that have become a part of the landscape. Their names might change slightly (as is normal for anything linguistic over time), and they are also likely to have local dialect variants. My grandmother’s frazione of Bono, for instance, has been in existence by that name for at least 800 years, but local people (especially in the past) often called it ‘Boo’ (‘Boh’) in dialect.

LINKS: Resources for Italian Civil Entities

As civil structures are often confusing, here are two good websites for navigating through Italian civil architecture:

    • indettaglio.ithttp://italia.indettaglio.it/eng/index.html. The link is for the English version of the site. On the left side of your screen, you will find links to the regions, provinces, towns and villages of Italy.
    • Comuni Italiani – http://www.comuni-italiani.it/. This site provides similar information to the one above. It’s not in English, but navigating is fairly intuitive, even if you don’t understand Italian.

ECCLESIASTICAL STRUCTURE: How the Catholic Church is Organised

While understanding the CIVIL structure of Italy is surely important, it is arguably even more important that a genealogist researching in Trentino (or anywhere on the Italian peninsula) understand the ECCLESIASTICAL structure of the Roman Catholic Church.

Like the State, the Church also has a hierarchical structure overseeing the administrative and spiritual needs of its congregations. While the Pope in Rome is at the top of this chain, for our purposes, we only need to consider the part of this hierarchy with ‘diocese’ at the top.

In English, this is:

Diocese –> Deanery –> Parish –> Curate

Or, in Italian:

Diocesi –> Decanato –> Parrocchia (Pieve) –> Curazia

Diocese

As you can gather from this breakdown, a diocese oversees the operations of many parishes.

SOME dioceses are roughly analogous to a civil province or a region in Italy, but not all.

The (civil) Province of Trento is indeed covered by ONE diocese, also called ‘The Archdiocese of Trento’ (Arcidiocesi di Trento). The term ‘archdiocese’ does not mean it has jurisdiction over other dioceses. Rather, it refers to a diocese with a very large Catholic population, typically including a large metropolitan area. It may not be as large in terms of square miles as other, less densely populated, dioceses.

The head of a diocese is the Bishop; similarly, the head of an archdiocese is the Archbishop.

The geographic boundaries of the diocese of Trento have remained mostly unchanged throughout the centuries, regardless of the civil political situation. Thus, the Diocese of Trento is the most stable and important source of historical information for the Trentino genealogist.

Deanery

Called decanato in Italian, a deanery is a kind of ‘mother parish’ overseeing the operations of a group of parishes in the same geographic area.

For the genealogist, it can be useful to know the decanati overseeing your ancestors’ parishes, as they may sometimes contain duplicate records OR may have been the sole repository for another parish records during a certain era. Having this information can be especially useful when you reach a dead end in your research and have no idea of where to go next.

Like comuni, the boundaries of deaneries have sometimes shifted as populations have shifted, in order to ensure smooth administrative operations. Knowing when and how these changes occurred can also be helpful for the genealogist.

Parish

The parish (parrocchia or pieve) is the church entity with which most readers will be most familiar. A parish refers to the geographic parameters within which people of the same faith (in this case, Roman Catholic) attend the same church.

In Italian, the priest who is the head of a parish is called its parroco or pievano. Often translated as ‘parish priest’, many English speakers may be more familiar with the term ‘pastor’.

The geographic parameters of most large parishes in Trento have been fairly stable throughout the centuries, although they may have fallen under different deaneries over the years. Like the diocese, parishes really are cornerstones of genealogical research.

Curate

A curate church/parish (curazia) is a kind of ‘satellite’ parish, subordinate to the primary parish church.

Many rural areas will have curate churches that serve their local community because the main parish church is some distance away. These curate churches will often deliver Sunday Mass, and sometimes marriages and funerals; baptisms, however, will usually take place at the main parish church.

Curate churches to not normally keep their own parish records; rather, the main parish church will do that for them. Some curate churches become large enough to become independent parishes, offering baptisms, and maintaining their own records (but the main parish church is likely to keep duplicates).

In your research, you might see the records for a curate church suddenly stop. This is usually an indication you have reached the point in time before it had become entitled to keep its own records. For example, Romallo only started keeping its own records in the 20th century; before then, all its records were kept in the parish of Revò.

Thus, it is essential for a genealogist to know the connection between the main parishes and curate churches in their ancestors’ geographic area.

Article continues below…

Get Trentino Genealogy via Email

You'll only hear from us when we have a new, informative genealogy article for you to read. We are dedicated to a spam-free world. 

We respect your privacy.

The Diocese of Trento as Both Church and State

While many other dioceses in the world have shifted over the centuries, the parameters of the Archdiocese of Trento have remained pretty much unchanged for many centuries, despite many shifts on the civil landscape.

The first appointed Bishop of Trento was San Vigilio. Martyred on 26 June 405 C.E., his tomb is located (and viewable) in the crypt beneath the Duomo of San Vigilio in the city of Trento. He is the patron saint of both the city of Trento and all of Trentino. Throughout the province, you will find churches dedicated to him and frescoes depicting his life and death.

Under the order of Emperor Conrad II in the year 1027, this ecclesiastical diocese of Trento was further defined as the civil ‘Bishopric of Trento’. With this, the diocese became an official State of the Holy Roman Empire. In other words, the Bishop now became a state official, and was now called the ‘Prince-Bishop’ (Principe Vescovo). Thus, while still a priest bound by the orders of the Church, he was also minor royalty, with responsibilities to the Emperor as well.

This Bishopric of Trento remained in place for almost 800 years, until Napoleon dismantled the office, and indeed the entire Holy Roman Empire.

But, the DIOCESE of Trento itself still remains. The geographic parameters are unchanged; its bishops are still bishops of the Church.

In short, regardless of whether Trentino has been under control of the Rhaeti, Romans, Longobards, Holy Roman Emperors, French, Austrians or Italians, the PROVINCE and the DIOCESE have remained mostly unchanged (with a few exceptions) for the past 1,600 years.

When we consider this remarkable tenacity of both province and diocese, and the fact that these two administrative offices – both state and church – have always been virtually identical geographically –

We begin to understand why the people of Trentino and their descendants abroad identify so deeply with the PROVINCE over and above anything else.

And for the Trentino genealogist, ‘province’ in our case is synonymous with ‘diocese’ in terms of where we will want to look for vital records. Thus, we need to turn our attention now to how and where these records have been organised within the diocese.

Civil vs. Church Records

So many of us in the English-speaking world have grown up under a political ideology espousing the ‘separation of church and state’.

But in Trentino, and indeed throughout most of Europe, this concept simply didn’t exist until relatively recently. It wasn’t until around the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasions (at the end of the 1700s and early 1800s) that the office of the Prince Bishop in Trentino was abolished. Prior to then, church and state were inextricably intertwined.

So many of us are accustomed to think that ‘official’ documents for births, marriages and deaths are the domain of the state. And, yes, in Italy in you can obtain civil records from the registry office in your ancestors’ comuni but only from the 19th century onwards. Prior to the early (and in some places, mid) 1800s, there simply WAS no such thing as a ‘civil’ vital record.

Rather:

Vital records were NOT the domain of the state, but of the CHURCH.

It was, in fact, at the ‘Concilio di Trento’ (Latin: Concilium Tridentinum), which many English speakers may have seen written as ‘the Council of Trent’ in history classes, which took place between 1545 and 1563, that parishes were mandated to record all births, marriages and deaths within their congregation. Thus, while Italian civil records do not typically go beyond the beginning of the 1800s, CHURCH records (at least notionally) go back to the mid-1500s.

I say ‘notionally’ because not all records will have survived that far back, owing to damage from water, fire, wars and (sometimes) general neglect. That said, a remarkable number of volumes HAVE survived the centuries. Moreover, we of Trentino descent are extremely lucky because the Diocese of Trento is the ONLY diocese in the whole of Italy to have digitised ALL their parish records, and then some. The Archivio Provinciale of Bolzano appears to be in the process of doing the same.

Of course, aside from vital records, there have always been legal documents, such as Wills, land agreements, court disputes, etc., In Trentino, these were SOMETIMES kept by the comune, and SOMETIMES kept in the parish (admittedly, it is often confusing). But these are not the kinds of documents MOST genealogists are likely to consult, except those who are more advanced, and are seeking to deepen their understanding (or find evidence of) a specific event, era or person.

Thus, it is the body of work called the registri parrocchiali (‘parish registers’ or ‘parish records’) that is always the primary focus for anyone researching their Trentino ancestry.

These parish registers for Trentino are not owned by the state, but by the Diocese of Trento.

Catholic Deaneries and Parishes in the Diocese of Trento

There are over 400 parishes in the diocese of Trento, each falling under the ecclesiastical care of one designated deanery.

Book - Casetti_Guida-Storico-Archivistica-Trento

The 1,100+ page book Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento by Dr Albino Casetti has been the ‘bible’ reference book on the archives of the province for almost 60 years. When he published this book in 1961, there were 25 deaneries in the diocese of Trento, which I have organised alphabetically below:

25 Deaneries of the Diocese of Trento

    1. Ala
    2. Arco
    3. Banale
    4. Borgo
    5. Calavino
    6. Cembra
    7. Civezzano
    8. Cles
    9. Condino
    10. Fassa
    11. Fiemme (Cavalese)
    12. Fondo
    13. Levico
    14. Malè
    15. Mezzolombardo
    16. Mori
    17. Pergine
    18. Primiero
    19. Riva
    20. Rovereto
    21. Strigno
    22. Taio
    23. Tione
    24. Trento
    25. Villa Lagarina

Some of these deaneries may have changed since Casetti’s publication, but as most genealogy projects go backwards in time (probably starting before 1961), these changes should not affect our genealogical research.

Hold this list in your mind’s eye, as we’ll come back to it shortly.

GEOGRAPHICAL STRUCTURE: The Valleys of the Province of Trentino

In this modern world, where we can get to just about anywhere by plane, train, bus or automobile, few of us consider geography as a factor in how and why communities are born and evolve.

A glance at the geographic landscape of Trentino is a great teacher in this regard. A rolling panorama of mountains, valleys and glacial rivers, it possesses a kind of ‘ready-made’ zoning of habitable lands. Before modern roads and motor vehicles, crossing these boundaries wasn’t impossible, but it was certainly not something you did every day.

In fact, marriages and migrations across these boundaries don’t show up frequently in parish records until the late 19th century. And when they do show up in earlier centuries, they are immediately noticeable to the genealogist as something unusual, and certainly significant.

Toponymy and Genealogy

One of the most useful books I have found on the study of Trentino valleys and the place names within them is Toponomastica Trentina: I Nomi delle Località Abitate (The Study of Trentino Place Names: The Names of the Inhabited Localities) by Giulia Mastrelli Anzilotti.

BOOK - Anzilotti_Toponomastica-Trentina

The word ‘toponymy’ (sometimes spelled ‘Toponomy’) means the study of place names, especially their linguistic origins and their evolution throughout history. While the word is rarely seen in the English language, toponomastica is an EXTREMELY common subject in books on Italian history.

For Trentino genealogists, the study of place names is often linked directly to genealogy. Many surnames – especially those in more remote rural areas – are derived from the names of places OR the other way around.

The Valleys of Trentino

Anzilotti has chosen a most useful – and highly visual – way to organise her study of place names: by looking at them within their respective valleys in the province. When I first found this book, I was immediate drawn to her minimalist presentation. I have seen many books with maps of Trentino valleys, but they are usually very cluttered, making it difficult to see the lines distinguishing one place from another.

Here is a map of the valleys of Trentino as it appears at the beginning of Anzilotti’s Toponomastica Trentina:

MAP: Valleys of the Province of Trentino (Trento)Click on  image to see it larger

For the purposes of being able to make these 23 names searchable, here they are in text form.

She assigns the number ‘0’ for the greater metropolitan area of the CITY of Trento. Then, the valleys are numbered from 1-22:

    1. Alta Val del Fersina
    2. Altopiano di Folgaria con Le Valli del Leno
    3. Altopiano di Lavarone e Luserna
    4. Altopiano di Vigolo Vattaro
    5. Alto Garda con la Valle di Ledro
    6. Caldonazzo e Levico don Calceranica, Tenna e le Valli di Centa
    7. Civezzanese
    8. Giudicarie Esteriori
    9. Giudicarie Interiori
    10. Perginese
    11. Piana Rotaliana con la Paganella.
    12. Pinetano
    13. Primiero con le Valli del Vanoi
    14. Val d’Adige
    15. Val di Cembra
    16. Val di Fassa
    17. Val di Fiemme
    18. Val di Non
    19. Val di Sole
    20. Vallagarina
    21. Valle dei Laghi
    22. Valsugana e Tesino

Anzilotti then works through these areas, listing all the inhabited places found within each, down to the smallest homestead. Basically, if people have lived there and it has a name, she’s listed it and given some sort of linguistic interpretation of its origins. I feel like she may have missed a few (I’ll address those in future articles) but for the most part, it really is a gem of a work.

A few linguistic notes for those who don’t know Italian:

    • Val’ is the usual singular form for ‘valley’; the plural can be either ‘valli’ (masculine) or ‘valle’ (feminine).
    • Alto’ (‘alta’ in feminine) means ‘high’. The word ‘altopiano’ means ‘the high plain’.
    • ‘Di’ means ‘of’; before a vowel, the ‘i’ is dropped and an apostrophe is inserted.
    • ‘Del’ (singular) and ‘Dei’ (plural) mean ‘of the’.
    • E’ means ‘and’.
    • ‘La’ (singular) and ‘le’ (plural) mean ‘the’ when it is before a feminine noun.
    • Con’ means ‘with’

A note before we continue…

Some of you might disagree with how she’s organised and labelled these valleys. For example, the city of Trento is usually included in ‘Val D’Adige’, and Val Rendena is often considered its own valley, whereas she has included it with Giudicarie Interiore.

Nonetheless, I feel her work is a good starting point, especially as the author has some extremely useful and easy-to-read maps of each valley later in the book, which I will share with you as we go along through this series.

Thus, I ask that you go with the flow with me, even if you disagree with Anzilotti’s designations.

TRENTINO VALLEYS: The Relationship Between Places and People

Something common amongst the people of Trentino is they nearly always refer to themselves as coming from a specific valley. This is because each valley is like a container of a unique subculture, illustrated by their local languages, names and customs.

Different valleys often have different dialects. My father, for example, spoke only the Giudicaresi dialect with his parents and siblings, not Italian. People from Val di Non speak Nones, an altogether different dialect.

Because of the insular nature of these valleys, many surnames will indigenous to one valley. And when you see one of these surnames suddenly appearing in a different valley, it is an immediate indication that a branch of the family has migrated.

Knowing which surnames are indigenous to specific valleys (if not specific parishes) is of vital importance to a Trentino genealogist. This knowledge can often help you identify anomalies and solve many mysteries quite quickly. For example, a new client recently came to me saying her family were named Flaim, and they came from Banale in Giudicarie Esteriore. Well, I knew well that the surname ‘Flaim’ was not native to the Giudicarie but was, rather, indigenous to the parish of Revò in Val di Non. This knowledge immediately led me to look for the point of entry at which a Flaim had migrated from Revò to Banale, as I knew I could trace the family further back from that point.

Valleys, Deaneries, Parishes and People

While a cursory glance over our two lists of valley vs. deaneries, we can see many names (e.g. Cembra, Civezzano, Fiemme, Garda, Pergine, Primiero, Lagarina and the city of Trento) that would seem to indicate they are referring to roughly the same part of the province. But other areas are less obvious to those unfamiliar with the geographic layout of Trentino. So, how do we make sense of what is where?

At this point, a curious genealogist will certainly be asking:

    • Which parishes are in each valley?
    • What are the deaneries for my ancestors’ parishes?
    • Which parishes share the same name as their comuni (or NOT)?
    • What are the names of the frazioni in these parishes/comuni?
    • Who lived in these parishes? What were the most common surnames?
    • Where might I find my own ancestors’ surnames?

While I don’t have the ability to answer every question every reader will have, over the course of the next (several) articles in this series, I will do my very best to share with you what I have learned about these subjects,  by dint of my study and my own research.

Coming Up In This Series…

Now that we’ve oriented ourselves with the ‘meta’ structures of Trentino at a civil, ecclesiastical and geographical level, we’re ready to explore them in more detail.

In the next article in this series, I would like to start our investigation by looking at the greater area of the CITY of Trento – its neighbourhoods, suburbs, parishes and a bit about the surnames. As part of that, I’ll be sharing some very interesting (and little known) information from a book called Libro della Cittadinanza di Trento by Aldo Bertoluzza. You can find it here:

MORE READING:   Trento - The City and Surnames Before the Year 1600

After exploring the city of Trento, I’m going to shake things up a bit. I’m NOT going to go through Mastrelli’s valleys in order, but discuss them somewhat at random, to keep you surprised.

(Psst! The next article after Trento
will be about Val di Non.
But don’t tell anyone!).

For each valley we explore, I will be listing its comuni and parishes, and the deaneries overseeing the parishes. Whenever I have some experience researching in a particular area, I will share some of the main surnames I have found there. If I am aware of parishes changing boundaries or status at different points in history, I will again share what I know.

To be honest, I can’t predict exactly what it’s all going to look like. But I promise it will be relevant to Trentino family historians…

…and I will do my best not to make it as sleepy as Sister Rose Winifred’s geography class.

I do hope you’ll subscribe, so you can receive the rest of this special series delivered to your inbox. You can do so via the form at the bottom of this article.

If this article has sparked your interest to keep reading about this topic, it would mean so much to me if you could take a moment to leave a few comments below, sharing what you found most helpful or interesting about the article, or asking whatever questions I may not have answered.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
23 Jan 2020

P.S. My next trip to Trento is coming up in March 2020. My client roster for that trip is already full, but if you would like to book a time to discuss having me do research for you on a future trip, I invite you to read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. Then, we can set up a free 30-minute chat to discuss your project.

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

View my Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://trentinogenealogy.com/my-tree/

REFERENCES

ANZILOTTI, Giulia Mastrelli. 2003. Toponomastica Trentina: I Nomi delle Località Abitate. Trento: Provincia Autonoma di Trento, Servizio Beni librari e archivistici.

CASETTI, Albino. 1961. Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento by Dott.

SERAFINN, Lynn. 2019. Ethnicity Vs. Cultural Identity. Trentino, Tyrolean, Italian?

Not Just a Nickname: Understanding Your Family Soprannome

Not Just a Nickname: Understanding Your Family Soprannome

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn explains the role of the soprannome in Trentino and other parts of Italy and shows how to recognise them in genealogical records.

Sooner or later, anyone working with Italian genealogy will encounter something called a soprannome’ (plural: soprannomi).

And if you’re working specifically on Trentino family history, you might also hear or read the word scutum’, which is the Trentino dialect word for soprannome.

Despite the fact that EVERY family of Italian origin has a soprannome, many people researching their Trentino (or other Italian) ancestry either don’t know anything about them or fail to recognise them when they see them. And of those who DO know something about them, they often misunderstand the meaning and ‘behaviour’ of their family’s soprannome over time.

I’ve mentioned soprannomi within the context of other articles on this website but have never spoken about them in detail. As this subject is such an important part of Trentino genealogy, I thought it would be helpful to devote an entire article to the subject.

In this article, I will discuss:

  • What soprannomi are and why they are used
  • Why I think the word ‘nickname’ is not an appropriate term for them.
  • The various ways soprannomi are recorded in parish registers
  • How soprannomi are ‘born’, change, and what they might mean
  • Why soprannomi can be both a blessing and a curse for genealogists
  • How to record soprannomi in your family tree

Recording Data – The Computer as an Analogy

Think back to the days when you first started using a computer. Imagine you’ve just created your first Word document.  You probably just saved it to the default ‘Documents’ folder without thinking about it. You might not even have given it a title, just calling it something like ‘Document 1.’

But over time, you made lots and lots of Word documents. Perhaps some were business letters. Perhaps others were letters to the family, stories you wrote or genealogy research notes. After a while, it became difficult to find the documents you had written in the past because they weren’t labelled clearly, and they were all in one big folder called ‘Documents’.

So, what did you do? Well, first of all, you probably started renaming the documents, so you knew what was what. But then, you might also have started creating folders inside the main ‘Documents’ folder. Perhaps one folder was called ‘Business Letters’, and another ‘My Research’, etc.

But soon, you created still MORE documents. For example, perhaps your research diversified, and now you wanted to separate your notes for different branches of the family. So, you started to create subfolders inside the folder called ‘My Research’.

By labelling your files clearly and creating a system of folders and subfolders, it became easier for you to identify and find the correct files when you needed them.

In simple terms, we can say that creating a structure is fundamental to being able to identify things and to distinguish one thing from another.

Name, Surname, Soprannome – An Increasing Need for Accuracy

If you think about it, names, surnames and soprannomi serve much the same purpose as the filing system on our computer:

  • Our personal names are like the documents, in that each document is an individual entity.
  • Our surnames are like the folders in which our documents are stored, in that they group many individuals into different categories.
  • And, in the case of Trentino and other Italian ancestry, our soprannomi are like the subfolders within those folders, in that they create sub-groups within the group.

Just as your system for naming files was less complex when you started out using your computer, naming people was also less complex in the past, when the population was smaller, and most people were living in small, rural hamlets or homesteads.

Indeed, in the beginning, people were known mainly by their personal names along with their father’s name and/or their village of origin. Thus, in early records (and sometime even after surnames were already in use), you will see things like ‘Sebastiano of Sesto’, or ‘Nicolo’ son of Sebastiano of Sesto’.

But just like when you created folders because you had created so many documents you could no longer find what you were looking for, people started using surnames.

The Italian word for surname is ‘cognome’ (plural = cognomi):

Con = with

Nome = name

When the words are joined together, the ‘n’ in ‘con’ is changed to a ‘g’, which creates the sound ‘nya’ (like the ‘gn’ ‘lasagne’).

Thus, cognome means ‘with the name’, implying it is a kind of partner to the name.

While some surnames on the Italian peninsula appear in records as early as the 1200s or so, you don’t really see them becoming the norm until around the 1400s, and even then, they are often a bit ‘fluid’ and still in the state of change/clarification.

The ‘Black Death’ (1346-53) dealt a severe blow to the European population, wiping out an estimated 50% of the population. But gradually, and additional outbreaks of plague notwithstanding, the population not only restored itself, but eventually expanded by the 1600s.

Then, we see a situation where there was a limited number of cognomi within a small community, but lots of sons were being born, all naming their sons after their fathers. Just like your research documents, things started to get confusing.  This is when soprannomi became necessary.  

Like cognome, the word soprannome is also comprised of two Italian words:

‘Sopra’ = above or ‘on top of’

‘Nome’ = name

When the words are joined together, the ‘n’ is doubled.

Thus, together, the term means ‘on top of the name’.

What are Soprannomi and Why Are They Used?

As you might have already surmised:

A soprannome is an additional name used that is used to distinguish one branch of a family from others who share the same surname.

I think it is useful to think of a soprannome as a kind of ‘bolt on’ family surname, an idea that is also consistent with literal meaning of the word (‘on top of the name’).

Just as creating subfolders can be extremely helping in helping organise and identify individual files on our computer, soprannomi can be extremely useful in identifying the correct people – both during their own lifetimes, and in our family trees – especially when many people seem to have the same name and surname.

And, although I have NOT seen this mentioned in any of my research resources, I would assume that soprannomi might also have been considered useful (if not necessary) tools in helping ensure close bloodlines didn’t intermarry. As I mentioned in an earlier article (see link below), marriages between 3rd cousins or closer were only permitted via a special church dispensation.

MORE READING:   Kissing Cousins: Marital Dispensations, Consanguinity, Affinity

Why I Think ‘Nickname’ is a Misleading Term

I have frequently seen the word soprannome translated into English as ‘nickname’. However, I believe this is a misleading term, and it doesn’t really reflect the true purpose and behaviour of a soprannome.

When we use the term ‘nickname’ in English, we usually mean:

  1. A shortening/adaptation of a person’s personal name (such as ‘Charly’ for ‘Charles’ or ‘Peggy’ for ‘Margaret’) OR
  2. An individual ‘pet name’ given to someone reflecting a personal trait or characteristic; alternatively, it may be associated with an achievement or event unique to them. Almost everyone will have had at least one ‘pet name’ in their lives, if not various ones from parents, schoolmates, spouse, friends, etc., according to their relationship with them.

While a soprannome might share some obvious similarities with one of these criteria, its historical origins might be so obscure that even the families who ‘inherited’ it may no longer know where it came from or what it means. Moreover, the original significance of the soprannome may have no relevance whatsoever to the family in the present day. This is quite different from what we associate with the term ‘nickname’, which is usually something intentionally given to someone to create a sense of intimacy and familiarity.

The function of a soprannome is also quite different from a nickname, as its purpose is to identify a specific lineage of people within a larger group, rather than one particular person. Perhaps the English word ‘clan’ might be a bit closer in meaning, but I don’t know enough about clans in other cultures to make a true comparison.

How Soprannomi Are Recorded in Parish Registers (or not!)

After analysing hundreds of thousands of Italian parish records from at least five different provinces, I can conclude:

There is NO consistently used system for recording soprannomi.

Soprannomi appear in all manner of ways in the records, depending on the era, the parish and the individual style of the priest. You can sometimes read decades worth of records in some parishes, and never stumble across a single soprannome. In fact, I have NEVER seen the soprannome for the branch of our Serafini family in any record, despite the fact it has most likely been around since the beginning of the 19th century. I only know the soprannome anecdotally, via my cousins in Trentino.

That said, there are some common practices for recording soprannomi, including:

‘Detto’ or ‘Dicti’

Perhaps the most commonly seen way of recording a soprannome is with the word detto’ (if the record is in Italian, usually after 1800) or the word dicti’ (if the record is in Latin, as is almost always the case before 1800). Without going into the grammar too much, these words are derived from the verb ‘to say’. You will often see them in documents with the meaning of ‘the aforesaid’, but in the context of surname/soprannome, they can loosely be translated as ‘called’ or ‘otherwise known as’.

For example, consider this baptismal record from 1705:

1705 Baptismal record for Antonio Buschetti, soprannome 'Caserini'

Click on image to see it larger

Here we see the name of the baptised child is Antonio, and his father is referred to as ‘Giovanni, son of Francesco Buschetti, called (dicti) Caserini. In other words, the surname is Buschetti, and the soprannome for that branch of the family is Caserini.

Be aware, however, that these words are FREQUENTLY abbreviated, e.g. ‘dtofor detto, or ‘dtifor dicti. Here’s one example from a 1768 marriage record from Tione di Trento:

1768 marriage record from Tione di Trento.

Click on image to see it larger

Here, we see the groom is referred to as ‘Antonio son of the late Francesco Salvaterra called Borella’ (i.e. surname Salvaterra, soprannome Borella), and the bride is ‘Cattarina, daughter of Giuseppe Salvaterra called Serafin’ (i.e. the surname is again Salvaterra, and the soprannome is Serafin or Serafini). In both cases, the soprannome is indicated by the word dicti in its abbreviated from.

‘Vulgo’

Recently when I did some research in Valvestino in the province of Brescia (Lombardia), I encountered another method of recording in soprannomi in Latin records, using the word ‘vulgo’. This word loosely means ‘commonly’, but in this context can be translated as ‘commonly known as’.

Consider this baptismal record from 1839 (during an era when I would have expected to see the record written in Italian):

1839 marriage record from Valvestino in the province of Brescia, Lombardia, Italy

Click on image to see it larger

Here, the child’s father is referred to as ‘Giovanni Grandi, vulgo Ecclesia’ (the priest had actually omitted the surname at first and inserted it above the line). Thus, the surname is Grandi, and the soprannome is ‘Ecclesia’. However, in this particular case, the family’s soprannome is actually Chiesa (which means ‘church’ in English), as the priest has used the Latin word for church (Ecclesia).

Surname Followed by Soprannome

Some priests don’t bother to use an indicator such as detto, etc. for the soprannome, preferring simply to write the two names one after the other. Consider this baptismal record from 1760, again from the parish of Tione di Trento:

1760 baptismal record for Francesca Failoni of Tione di Trento.

Click on image to see it larger

Here the priest refers to the father of the child as ‘Felice, son of Francesco Failoni Battaia’. It is understood from this context that the surname is Failoni, and the soprannome is Battaia – at least we HOPE that is what he means.

I say ‘hope’ because, in my experience, priests will occasionally REVERSE the surname and soprannome, making it difficult to know which is which. A perfect example is this same document, in the name of the godmother. She is described here as ‘Maria, widow of the late Vittorio Seraphin (Serafin or Serafini) Salvaterra’.

Having done a fair amount of research on the families of Tione, I am fairly certain the Vittorio’s surname was Salvaterra, and his soprannome was Serafin(i), not the other way around (in fact, we saw an example of this combination in a previous record in this article). I couldn’t say that this was definitely the case, however, without future research.

‘Equal’ sign

Sometimes soprannome is preceded by an ‘equal’ sign (=). I have seen this system used most frequently in 19th century records. Usually, this sign will be between the surname and the soprannome, but not always. Consider this 1838 death record from the parish of Cavedago in Val di Non:

1838 death record for Tommaso Viola of Cavedago

Click on image to see it larger

Here, this 86-year-old deceased man is called ‘Tommaso Viola, son of the late Giovanni = Rodar’. In other words, his surname was Viola, and his soprannome was ‘Rodar’.

Article continues below…

Get Trentino Genealogy via Email

You'll only hear from us when we have a new, informative genealogy article for you to read. We are dedicated to a spam-free world. 

We respect your privacy.

Where Do Soprannomi Come From?

Much like Italian surnames, many (but not all) soprannomi may be derived from:

  • The personal name of a patriarch or matriarch
  • A place of origin of either a patriarch or matriarch
  • An historic profession of the family
  • A personal characteristic or attribute of a family or individual

Personal names

Some examples soprannomi I’ve encountered which mostly likely came from patriarchal personal names include: Stefani (from Stefano), Battianel (from Giovanni Battista), Vigiolot (from Vigilio), Gianon (from Giovanni), Tondon (probably from Antonio), and many others too numerous to count.

Sal Romano of the ‘Trentino Heritage’ blog told me that one of the soprannome for his Iob family was ‘Sicher’, which he theorises may have come from the personal name of a man named Sichero (Sicherius in Latin) in the 1670s.

Occasionally, you will see a soprannome that is derived from the name of a female ancestor, especially if the name is not so common. For example, one of my clients’ trees had the soprannome ‘Massenza’ because that was the name of one of the matriarchs for that line back in the 1700s.

Notice how I am expressing different levels of certainty here. That is because, of the above soprannomi, the only one for which I have definitely identified the origin is ‘Massenza’. The origins of the others are only hypothetical until research proves (or disproves) the theory.

Place of Origin

Some soprannomi indicate a connection with another place somewhere in the ancestral line. My friend and client Gene Pancheri, author of Pancheri: Our Story, told me that one of the Pancheri soprannomi is ‘Rumeri’, which means ‘a person from the village of Rumo’. He traced the origins of that soprannome to one of the female ancestors (who married a Pancheri of Romallo) who had come from Rumo.

Similarly, my own Serafini branch has the soprannome ‘Cenighi’ because my 4X great-grandmother, Margherita Giuliani (married to a Serafini in Santa Croce parish), came from the frazione of Ceniga in the parish of Drò (near Arco).

When making a tree for a client last year whose ancestors came from Tione di Trento, I noticed one of the soprannomi for the surname Salvaterra was ‘Ragol’. While I haven’t yet traced it back to its source, it is highly likely to have originated with female who came from the nearby village of Ragoli, which was often included within the parish of Tione in the past.

Notice how all of the examples above are linked to matriarchal lines. In my observation, most soprannomi that are linked to a place of origin tend to come from a female line. This is because women tended to move to the village/parish of their husbands (unless the woman was wealthy or had inherited property from her father).

There are exceptions, of course. On a list I recently received for Villa Banale in Val Giudicarie via Daniel Caliari at Giudicarie Storia, one of the soprannome for the surname Flaim was ‘Nonesi’, which means, ‘from Val di Non’. I found this interesting because Flaim is not indigenous to Villa Banale, and ALL the Flaim from that parish are descended from one man (named Bartolomeo Flaim) who came from Revò in Val di Non, who migrated there in the 1700s. Thus, all the Flaim there are technically ‘Nonesi’; it made me wonder how they figured out which branch got to ‘keep’ this soprannome as a memory of their origins.

Family Profession

Most soprannomi I have found that relate back to profession will refer to a ‘family’ profession rather than one for an individual. In this regard, the many variants on the word for ‘blacksmith’ spring to mind: Ferrari, Frerotti, Frieri, Fabro, Fabroferrari, etc. While most of these are also surnames in their own right, you will also see them crop up as soprannomi, telling you that, at least at some point in your family’s history, the blacksmithing was the family occupation.

Perhaps one of the most curious soprannomi I have ever encountered was when I was researching the Etro family of the Bassano del Grappa area of the province of Vicenza (Veneto), who migrated to the mountains of Madonna di Campiglio near Pinzolo in Trentino in the 1860s.

Their soprannome was ‘Rollo dei Mori’, which means ‘Rollo of the Moors’. In this era, the term ‘Moor’ referred to dark-skinned people from the Iberian Peninsula who were of north African descent, and usually Muslim.

It his book Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino, Aldo Bertoluzza stressed that the surnames/soprannomi derived from this word were most likely used to describe someone with black hair or very dark complexion, NOT someone who had Moorish background.

Bearing that in mind, there was something about the Etro family that MIGHT explain this curious soprannome: THEY WERE CHARCOAL MAKERS (carbonai).

Charcoal making was a ‘whole family’ operation, requiring the family to spend many months of the year in the woods, away from their main village. Children learned the skills of the profession from a young age, and sons often followed in their fathers’ footsteps, also becoming carbonai when they grew up.

In my mind, I imagine the family would often have been seen with blackened hands and faces as a result of their occupation. Perhaps ‘Rollo dei Mori’ was an affectionate or teasing term given to (or adopted by) the family because they were charcoal makers.

Of course, this is JUST my own theory.

Moorish style chandelier at Castel Stenico, Val Giudicarie

SIDE NOTE: Interestingly, Moorish themes and motifs were very popular in Trentino, and indeed throughout Italy between the 17th and 19th centuries. Consider this amazing ‘Moorish’ chandelier in Castel Stenico in Val Giudicarie. I’ve seen many such artefacts in many places in the province. It also brings to mind the ‘Dance of the Moors’ in Verdi’s opera Aida.

Character or Attribute of Family or Individual

Recently I stumbled across the soprannome ‘Piccolo Vigiloti’, which suddenly cropped up after several generations of seeing ‘Vigilot’. This is an example of a patriarchal soprannome differentiating to reflect an attribute of either a branch of the family or an individual. We can safely assume that the ‘Vigiloti’ branch got too big for the soprannome to be useful, and rather than create a new soprannome, they called one of them ‘Piccolo’, meaning ‘small’. As this branch was not the main focus of my research at that time, I didn’t trace it back to its roots, but my guess would be it either means ‘the smaller branch of descendants of Vigilio’, or ‘the descendants of the YOUNGER Vigilio’ (which I think is more likely).

Another soprannome I encountered that might be connected to a personal attribute (although, again, I haven’t yet excluded other possibilities) is Papi, which I have seen in connection with the surname Rigotti in San Lorenzo in Banale in the 19th century. The word ‘papi’ is the plural of the word for ‘pope’ (papa), not to be confused with the word papà, which means ‘father’. Both Papa and Papi are surnames in other parts of the province, but the soprannome MIGHT have no connection with these. Rather, as Aldo Bertoluzza theorises in Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino, it might have been used as a nickname for a man (again, perhaps in an affectionate way) who was said to have the demeanour or ‘presence’ of a pope.

There are a lot of ‘mights’ here, of course, and I prefer NOT to speculate too much, lest it blind me to the truth later. I think soprannomi that are derived from attributes are often the most difficult to identify with confidence, as we have no way of knowing much, if anything, about the personality of the people or families in question.

Soprannomi Taken from the Surname of a Matriarch

I’ve put this topic under its own header because I didn’t want it to get lost amongst the other categories.

Some soprannomi are actually other SURNAMES. Some examples I’ve personally encountered include:

  • Serafini/Serafin (a common surname in Ragoli and Santa Croce) was a soprannome for a branch of the Salvaterra in Tione in the 19th century (as we saw earlier).
  • Armanini (a common surname in Premione) was a soprannome for a branch of the Scandolari in Tione in the 19th century.
  • Conti (a surname in many parts of the province, but it also means ‘Counts’), was a soprannome for the Pancheri of Romallo in the 20th century.
  • Bondi (a common surname in Saone, and later in Santa Croce) was is a soprannome for a branch of the Devilli of Cavrasto in the 1600-1700s.
  • Bleggi (a common surname of Tignerone/Cilla’) was a soprannome for a branch of the Duchi in Sesto in the 1500-1600s.

Now, while I cannot say categorically this is true across the board, my ‘educated guess’ is that most of these surname-derived soprannomi are the surnames of a matriarch in the ancestral line.

In the case of the older lines, I probably will never be able to prove this theory, as the records won’t go back far enough to find the origins. Moreover, the further back you go in time, information about women in general becomes increasingly scant.

The fact that some soprannomi are identical to surnames can be a real bother – especially if a priest writes the soprannome before the surname in the record, as you have no way of knowing which is which without cross-referencing lots of other records.

Even worse is when a priest suddenly decides to use the soprannome INSTEAD of the surname, leaving the surname out altogether. That is definitely NOT fun.

When Soprannomi Become a Nightmare

On that note, consider this 1708 marriage record, where the groom is clearly identified as Giovanni Battista, son of the late Vigilio Bondi:

1708 marriage of Giovanni Battisa 'Bondi' Devilli and Domenica Farina

Click on image to see it larger

As Giovanni Battista is also called Bondi in his 1690 baptismal record, I originally took this at face value, and assumed ‘Bondi’ was the family surname.

However, for the longest time I couldn’t figure out who this Bondi family were or how they connected to the rest of the tree. They just sort of ‘popped up’ out of nowhere, like time travellers.

Then, and only by a great stroke of fortune where the priest made a correction in the records, I saw another marriage record for the same Giovanni Battista (he had been widowed twice at this point), where the priest had ORIGINALLY written ‘Bondi’, and then crossed it out and wrote ‘Villi’ (one of many spelling variants for the surname ‘Devilli’) above it:

1730 marriage record for Giovanni Battista Devilli and Margherita Caliari

Click on image to see it larger

Only then did I realise that the ‘Bondi’ family and the ‘Devilli’ family were one and the same – which was really handy, as Giovanni Battista Devilli happened to be my 6X great-grandfather.

Now consider this record of a double marriage in 1583, in which two siblings married two other siblings:

1583 Reversi Ballina double wedding, Santa Croce del Bleggio.

Click on image to see it larger

Now, I know many of you will find this challenging to read, so let me just identify the key people:

  • Benedetto REVERSI (son of the late Antonio) married Lucia BALLINA (daughter of Vincenzo)
  • Silvestro BALLINA (son of Vincenzo, hence brother of Lucia) married and Maddalena REVERSI (daughter of the late Antonio, hence sister of Benedetto)

In this record, the priest (don Alberto Farina) has apparently recorded the surnames for the couples, without and mention of soprannome.

But now have a look at this baptismal record from 1588, written by a different priest (Nicolo’ Arnoldo) of the same parish:

1588 baptismal record for Antonio 'Tacchel' Reversi, Santa Croce del Bleggio

Click on image to see it larger

The child’s first name is Antonio, and his surname (or so we assume) is underlined in the first sentence. It looks like ‘Tacchel’, but I have also seen it spelled ‘Tachelli’ in other records. I also found a record for Antonio’s elder sister, ‘Margherita Tacchel’, born in 1568.

Like the ‘Bondi’ family, this ‘Tacchel/Tachelli’ family were kind of floating in space on my tree for the longest time because I just couldn’t figure out who they were. But the answer was staring me right in the face (you can probably already guess it, as I’ve already shown you the document with the answer).

As you can see in Antonio’s baptismal record, his parents’ names are ‘Benedetto’ and Lucia’, and they lived in Cavaione. Now, remember we are talking about tiny hamlets, especially back in 1588. Only a handful of extended families would have been living in each frazione.

Add to that, the name ‘Benedetto’ is not a super common. But the combination of Benedetto AND Lucia in Cavaione in the 1580s? What are the chances of there being more than one such couple?

The answer is: none. There was indeed only one couple with those names in that village at that time.

As my tree is pretty large, I ran a few filters in my Family Tree Maker programme to find a ‘Benedetto’ living in Cavaione in this era and found Benedetto Reversi and Lucia Ballina, whose marriage I had already entered into the tree. What’s more, I knew that Benedetto’s father’s name was Antonio, and it was the usual practice back then to name the first son after the paternal grandfather.

All this made a very strong case for concluding that these were one and the same couple, and that ‘Tachel/Tachelli’ was a soprannome for this branch of the Reversi family (a surname that is still in use to this day in that parish).

MAIN ‘TAKEWAY’: If you see a surname that just sort of ‘appears’ in the records, and no mention is made that the family came from someplace else, consider the possibility that you are looking at a soprannome and that this family may already exist in your tree.

SIDE NOTE: The surname for the ‘Ballina’ family here eventually become ‘Fusari’. But I digress…

Article continues below…

Get Trentino Genealogy via Email

You'll only hear from us when we have a new, informative genealogy article for you to read. We are dedicated to a spam-free world. 

We respect your privacy.

The Ever-Changing Nature of Soprannomi

While the linguistic conventions for creating soprannomi might be similar to those for surnames, there is one BIG difference between them:

While surnames tend to stay the more or less the same for a long time (often for centuries), soprannomi will CHANGE whenever they need to, sometimes from one generation to the next.

Whenever a branch of a family gets very large, with lots of male descendants carrying the family surname, new soprannomi will suddenly spring up to differentiate these various male lines. This is why you might sometimes see a father with one soprannome, and his son with another.

So, if a relative tells you that your family’s soprannome is such-and-such, don’t just accept it something ‘cast in stone’. It might be so, but then again it might not. It’s essential to know WHEN they are talking about. If that person saw that soprannome in a book or in some parish records from the 1600s …well… it is highly unlikely this will be your family soprannome TODAY. Many soprannomi will be used only three or four generations (sometimes less) before they morph into something else.

Remember, it’s just like creating subfolders (and sub-subfolders) on your computer. There is no way to keep everything straight without continual, dynamic change to adapt to new situations and needs.

And sometimes, but less frequently, these adaptations may result in a more radical change, where a soprannome will replace the surname altogether. In my father’s parish of Santa Croce, for example, the family now known as ‘Martinelli’ used to be called ‘Giumenta’ before the 1630s, adopting their soprannome (apparently derived from a patriarch named Martino who was born around 1515) as their surname. Similarly, the present-day surname ‘Tosi’ in the same parish came from the soprannome of a branch of the noble Crosina family of Balbido.

Unless you are aware of these shifts from soprannome to surname, it can seem like your ancestral family has vanished into dust when you are trying to trace them backwards.

Tracing the Origins of Your Family’s Soprannomi

As you can see, origins and behaviour of soprannomi are highly varied, often unclear, and constantly changing.  As such, tracing the origin and meaning of a soprannome can range from really obvious to doggedly elusive.

But if we are to have even the slightest chance of understanding them, and to using them as genealogical tools, we must make it a practice to keep a record our family soprannomi whenever we encounter them. They are not just colourful names, but important clues as to our ancestral lines, which can help us identify specific people, places and/or occupations of the past.

If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend that you start keeping a list of soprannomi, taking care to record: 

  • The SURNAMES they are connected to
  • The VILLAGES in which they appear
  • The DATES (both the earliest AND the most recent) you have seen them in a record

I keep an ongoing list of soprannomi for my father’s parish, mostly from the 1500-1700s. I keep it as a ‘general task’ in my Family Tree Maker programme, and refer to it frequently. For me, those years are the most crucial to record, because (as already illustrated) there are so many instances of the priests using soprannomi instead of surnames. Without this ‘road map’ I could easily get lost.

Recording Soprannomi in Your Family Tree

I believe it is important to record soprannomi in your family tree, not only because they are an important part of your family history, but also because doing so will also help you keep track of your ancestral lines.

So, what is the ‘best’ way of doing this? I think it ultimately comes down to personal choice. I’ve used a variety of methods in different trees,all with their own advantages/disadvantages. Below are a few options you might consider.

TIP: Whichever method you choose, BE CONSISTENT. Try to use the same method throughout the same tree. My oldest tree (now around 26,000 people) has a patchwork of styles, which I am gradually trying to standardise.

OPTION 1: Soprannome as a MIDDLE NAME

Sometimes I put soprannomi in ALL CAPS as a middle name just before the surname.

This has the advantage of making things visible for me to find them quickly in the index when using a programme like Family Tree Maker or searching for that person on Ancestry.

However, it can also be confusing, as I also use the same method with middle names that are used as the primary name by which the person was known.

OPTION 2: Using ‘Also Known As’

Both Ancestry and Family Tree Maker have an option for ‘also known as’ (AKA).

This might seem like a good choice for a soprannome, but I feel that is better used for when someone is known by one of their middle names OR an actual NICKNAME as we think of it in English.

OPTION 3: The ‘Double-Barrelled’ Surname-Soprannome

In some parishes, the surnames are SO repetitive, and the priests CONSISTENTLY used soprannomi in just about every record, I have occasionally opted to HYPHENATED the surname with the soprannome. This was a method I used when making a tree for someone with family from the parish of Tione di Trento, as the soprannome in that parish are almost always see in conjunction with the surname.

The advantage of this method is it immediately organised everyone with the same surname-soprannome combination alphabetically in the person index for the tree, which is actually very useful.

The disadvantage is that, if you don’t know a person’s soprannome because it wasn’t recorded in the record, they might look like they are disconnected from their branch of the family.

OPTION 4: Create a Custom Fact or Event Called ‘Soprannome

Although sites like Ancestry and programmes like Family Tree Maker don’t have a ‘soprannome’ in their default settings, it is possible to create a ‘custom fact’ (in Family Tree Maker) or ‘custom event’ (in Ancestry) and label it ‘soprannome’.

Personally, I believe this the BEST option, as it makes it absolutely CLEAR that this name is a soprannome and not something else. When using Family Tree Maker, it gives you the additional advantage of being able to create filtered lists or custom reports for specific soprannomi (which can be really informative). Equally important, you can also write NOTES about the soprannome ‘fact/event’, where you can discuss how it was derived, when it started, where it was recorded, or any other relevant information.

UNBREAKABLE RULE: Record WHERE You Found It

Regardless of which method you choose or devise to record your family’s soprannomi, there is one ‘unbreakable rule’ I strongly advise you include in your research practice:

After the soprannome, make a note of where you found it – preferably the earliest record.

For example, if a soprannome is in Giovanni’s baptismal record, put down ‘as per Giovanni’s baptismal record’ or something to that effect.

But what if it’s NOT in the baptismal record for Giovanni, but in the baptismal records of two of his children? Then, write ‘as per the baptismal records of his children, Antonio and Maria,’ etc. This helps you remember that the soprannome MIGHT have started with that generation, and not earlier. Later, if you find an earlier record, change the notation to reflect that.

Please trust me on this point. In the past, I neglected this important ‘rule’, which resulted in me not being able to identify where the soprannome first entered the tree, which can potentially create some confusion as you move backwards in time.

How NOT to Record Soprannomi (or Nicknames) in Your Tree

Two things you should NEVER (ever!) use in the name field for people in your tree are:

  1. Quotation marks (AKA inverted commas)
  2. Parentheses (AKA brackets)

I’ve seen these on so many trees on Ancestry, I’ve lost count. They are especially common in trees where people changed their names after immigration.

SIDE NOTE: While not on the subject of soprannomi, I really want to stress that married surnames should NEVER be part of a woman’s name – neither in the name field, and not in the ‘also known as. It is already understood that she would possibly have been known by her husband’s surname if she lived in the US or UK. Besides, when we are talking about Italian women, many, if not most, retain their maiden names throughout life.

So, let’s have a look at what a MESS all these variables can create. I’ll use my father’s eldest sister as an example (both she and my dad are deceased):

  • My dad’s sister was born Pierina Luigina Serafini,
  • She was known as Jean Serafinn in America.
  • She was sometimes called ‘Gina’ in the family and ‘Jeannie’ by American friends.
  • She was married to a man whose surname was Graiff who died young.
  • Later she remarried a man with the surname Watson (he is also deceased).
  • Oh, and just for the heck of it, let’s go ahead and throw in our family soprannome, ‘Cenighi’.

Using the ‘quotation mark’ and ‘parentheses’ methods, and inserting her married surnames, my poor aunt’s name might end up looking like this:

Pierina Luigia “Gina” (Jean Serafinn) “Jeannie” Serafini “Cenighi” Graiff Watson

Please DON’T do this!!

Not only is this only horribly confusing to as to what her name actually IS, but all those quotation marks and brackets can cause errors in software programmes.

The best policy is to record the person’s name AT BIRTH in the name field, and then put alternative names in the ‘also known as’ field. And, as mentioned, the husbands’ surnames stay with the husbands, not the wife.

Thus, here is how my aunt SHOULD be entered into the tree:

  • NAME: Pierina Luigina Serafini
  • ALSO KNOWN AS: Jean Serafinn
  • SOPRANNOME: Cenighi (not in records, but via verbal info from Serafini cousins)
  • HUSBAND 1: Albino Graiff
  • HUSBAND 2: Gary Watson

If you really wanted, you could put additional ‘also known as’ to put her nicknames ‘Gina’ and ‘Jeannie’, but I think those are unnecessary, as we already know she was known as ‘Jean’.

Also, if you wanted (and if you knew enough information), you could write some notes about the historical origins of the soprannome in the notes for that fact in Family Tree Marker…. something I am again only just starting to integrate into my own trees. Here are some notes I’ve entered about the Cenighi soprannome:

The soprannome ‘Cenighi’ originates with Margherita Giuliani, who married Alberto Serafini in 1803, as she came from the frazione of Ceniga in the parish of Drò (near Arco). Their descendants are thus known as the ‘Cenighi Serafini’. I have not yet seen this soprannome in any records; rather, I was told the soprannome by Luigina Serafini (daughter of Luigi Paolo Serafini and Gemma Gasperini). Apparently, the family were unaware of the origin of the soprannome prior to my researching the family history.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks so much for taking time to read this article on soprannomi. I do hope you enjoyed it, and found it informative and useful to your research. It’s an article I’ve been wanting to write for some time now. It’s a complex topic – in many ways more complex that surnames.

I also hope I have presented a convincing argument AGAINST the word ‘nickname’ as a translation for the word soprannome. It really doesn’t do the term justice, nor does it reflect its important social function.  Perhaps we can all agree to stick to using the original word – soprannome. 

I would mean so much to me (and you would really help me know if these articles are explaining things clearly enough), if you could take a moment to leave a few comments below, sharing what you found most helpful or interesting about the article, or asking whatever questions I may not have answered.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
6 Oct 2019

P.S. My next trip to Trento is coming up in November 2019. My client roster for that trip is already full, but if you would like to book a time to discuss having me do research for you on a future trip in 2020, I invite you to read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. Then, we can set up a free 30-minute chat to discuss your project.

P.P.S.: As I’ve had so many other projects lately, I have still not finished the edits for the PDF eBook on DNA tests, which I will be offering for FREE to my blog subscribers. I will send you a link to download it when it is done. Please be patient, as it will take a month or so to edit the articles and put them into the eBook format. If you are not yet subscribed, you can do so using the subscription form at the end of this article below.

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

View my Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://trentinogenealogy.com/my-tree/

Kissing Cousins: Marital Dispensations, Consanguinity, Affinity

Kissing Cousins: Marital Dispensations, Consanguinity, Affinity

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn explains canon law regarding consanguinity and affinity, and how dispensations in marriage records can help us in our research.

When we think of our genealogical ‘pedigree’ we often imagine it to be an ever-expanding ‘fan’ of ancestors, multiplying by two at each generation. After all, we have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on, so it makes perfect sense that this doubling would continue ad infinitum, right?

Well… no. While it makes sense in theory, in reality this doubling at each generation is both a mathematical and practical impossibility.

The Mathematics of Why Our Ancestors Did Not Double Every Generation

If our ancestors had doubled at every generation, they would eventually exceed the total population of the earth. And I mean by a LOT. For example, if we allow for around 30 years per generation, by the time we get back to around the year 1,000 C.E. we would have gone back about 32 generations (more if you are younger than I am). If we double our ancestors at every generations, we would end up with over 4 billion ancestors. Well, the problem with that is that the entire human population of the earth for the year 1,000 is somewhere between 250-350 million peopleroughly 93% LESS than the total number we would need if our ancestors actually doubled at every generation.

And the further back you go, the more our calculations contradict the actual figures. By the time we got back to time of Julius Caesar, for example, we would have reached an astronomical one quintillion ancestors (that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000) – a figure so large it is doubtful our planet would be able to sustain us. In reality, there was an estimated total 200-400 million people alive on the planet at that time: only 0.000000000002% of the number of people needed if we were to double at every generation.

To understand these figures better, it is important to bear in mind that population growth in the past was not as linear as it is today. Infant mortality was high. Young women died in childbirth, and young men died in accidents and wars. Poor sanitation, infections and malnutrition claimed the lives of many others, sometimes before people were old enough to marry and have children. The plague and other epidemics were a recurring presence, often wiping out huge chunks of the human population. Overall, the population of the human species, although going up and down repeatedly through the centuries, didn’t really ‘explode’ and rise consistently until around the beginning of the 19th century.

The Practical Reasons Why Our Ancestors Did Not Double at Every Generation

People in the pre-industrial era tended to stay – and marry – within a small geographic parameter. Those of us who have researched our families will probably have discovered that most of our ancestors married within their community of birth, or at least not far from it.

The reason for this is twofold:

  • Long-distance travel wasn’t as easy or available as it is today.
  • Most people were subsistence farmers, whose survival was dependent on the land; thus, moving around was not usually a practical option.

In one genealogy course I took, the lecturer said the ‘rule of thumb’ was that, for countless millennia, until the introduction of the bicycle (and later the railway), people chose spouses who lived no further than a day’s walk away from their own home. In my own research, I would estimate at least 90% of people married much closer than that, i.e. usually within their own parish, and often within their own tiny frazione (hamlet). I would bet most couples knew each other their whole lives before marrying.

Considering again the mathematical calculations, if I trace my father’s Trentino ancestry back to the beginning of the parish records in 1565, it would reach back around 14 to 15 generations. If my ancestors had doubled at each generation, the figure would be somewhere between 8,000 to 16,000 people. The problem with this is that, at any given era in the past, there never were more than around 1,500 people alive in my father’s parish, and of those, maybe only 25-35% would have been of child-bearing age. And while some people certainly married outside the parish, those marriages were in the minority.

Endogamy and Pedigree Collapses

So, what is the explanation for these anomalies between biology, practicality and mathematics?

Two terms are needed to answer this question: ‘endogamy’ and ‘pedigree collapse’.

Endogamy is a term used to describe the tendency for people to marry within their own community. I have often seen writers use this term with reference to ethnic minority groups living within larger ‘majority’ societies. However, in my experience, the term really is applicable to ALL communities throughout history. Every one of us is the ‘end product’ of an endogamous ancestry because, until the past century or so, nearly all of our ancestors chose spouses within their own communities of origin.

Because people tended to marry within their own communities, it was inevitable that some (if not most) husbands and wives would end up being related by blood in some way. In other words, they would share a common ancestor (or pair of ancestors). When we have couples in our ‘pedigree’ (list of ancestors) who share a common ancestor, it creates what we call a ‘pedigree collapse’. We call it a ‘collapse’ because our ancestors do NOT double at the point where the couple shares a common ancestor. For example, if your grandparents were 2nd cousins, it means they shared great-grandparents (your 3X great-grandparents). Thus, instead of having 32 great-great-great-grandparents, you would only have 30.

Due to the mathematical and practical reasons already discussed, pedigree collapses happen repeatedly in our family trees. If you dig deeply enough into your family history, you are likely to find that nearly all of your ancestors had common ancestors at some point in the past. In fact, once you get back to the beginning of the parish records in the mid-1500s, you are quite likely you are to discover you are related to virtually everyone who was alive in that parish at the time, and that most of these ancestors are related to you via multiple branches. Some of my ancestors from that era are related to me at least 10 different ways!

That is how ‘pedigree collapses’ reconcile the anomaly between theory and practice.

Consanguinity versus ‘Inbreeding’

When my clients first find out they have ‘pedigree collapses’ in their trees, some become alarmed. Isn’t this what people call ‘inbreeding’? Doesn’t that cause all kinds of genetic problems? And isn’t ‘inbreeding’ forbidden by the church?

To address these concerns, we need to introduce another term: ‘consanguinity’.

Consanguinity means two people are related by blood (in Italian, con = ‘with’ and ‘sangue’= blood). We can also say they have a ‘consanguineous relationship’.

‘Inbreeding’ is consanguinity in the extreme. It refers to when people who are very closely related marry generation after generation, usually within the same ‘line’. For reasons I will touch upon later in this article, this happened more frequently in the upper classes than the ‘peasantry’. And, yes, true inbreeding can cause serious genetic health issues.

But normally, the degree and frequency of consanguinity most of us have in our family trees do not create a significant genetic weakness. If that were the case, the entire human race would have died out long ago. Moreover, as we’ve seen, consanguinity was actually a practical necessity: without it, our ancestors wouldn’t have been able to FIND any marriage partners.

That said, as we’ll explore next, the Church (and more recently, civil governments) created many rules about the degrees of consanguinity permitted between a husband and wife, to ensure families did not become too ‘inbred’.

Marriage and the Church

Something I find interesting is that the Christian sacrament of marriage as we think of it today wasn’t clearly defined until the year 1215, at the Fourth Lateran Council. Before that, anyone could claim they were ‘married’ simply by cohabiting. In ‘Canon 51’ (a canon is a mandate or church law) from that council forbid the practice of ‘clandestine marriages’, even if witnessed by a priest. From this point, it became church law that all those who intended to marry were required to announce their intent publicly by publishing banns in their parish church.

One of the reasons for making marriage a public was to ensure there were no legal impediments to it. One obvious impediment would be if either party was already married or promised in marriage to someone else. But another impediment, defined more clearly in Canons 50 and 52, was the issue around consanguinity and affinity.

Canon Law Regarding Consanguineous Marriages

The Fourth Lateran Council decreed that a marriage between persons who had a consanguineous relationship at the ‘fourth degree’ or closer was prohibited.

‘Fourth grade’ grade means they shared a common ancestor (or pair of ancestors) four generations back, i.e. great-great-grandparents. To make this easier to understand, here is a table I’ve made showing 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade consanguinity:

CHART – Consanguineous Relationships According to Canon LawCHART - Consanguineous Relationships According to Canon Law

Click on image to see it larger

Note that I have written ‘common ancestor(s)’ rather than ‘common ancestors’. This is because a couple might share only one common ancestor. For example, if a woman died in childbirth and the husband remarried, the children of the second wife would be the half-siblings of those of the first. In this case, the husband might be the only common ancestor, as the bride and groom might be descended from a different mother.

Interestingly, prior to this ruling, marriages were actually prohibited back to the 7th degree (6th cousins!). Eventually, the church realised this rule was impossible to monitor (especially as there were no official records of births before the mid-1500s, and it was unlikely most people could trace their ancestry that far back), but it also made it virtually impossible for people to find an eligible marriage partner in their community who was not related to them in some way.

English Thinking Versus Italian Thinking

The ‘grades’ of consanguinity are sometimes confusing for an English speaker because a ‘second grade’ relationship in terms of canon law is what we would call ‘1st cousins’. Similarly, ‘third grade’ is what we would call ‘2nd cousins’ and ‘fourth grade’ is what we would call ‘3rd cousins’. For this reason, I find it useful to shift my thinking to a more visual way of seeing the relationships (as in the chart above) rather than trying to think in English terminology.

Also, when you are communicating with Italian speakers, trying to translate from English doesn’t always work. For example, some time back, before I fully understood how Italian speakers thought about cousin relationships, I used the term ‘cugini di secondo grado’ (‘cousins of the second grade’, which I took to mean ‘2nd cousins’) when I was explaining to a parish priest how I shared great-grandparents with my Serafini cousins. The priest was quite insistent that I meant ‘cugini di terzo grado’ (‘cousins of the third grade’), which confused me until I realised he was thinking in terms of canon law.

Canon Degrees Versus Civil Degrees

Something else that English speakers might find confusing is that the grades in canon law are substantially different from those defined by CIVIL law. In America, for example, the degrees of consanguinity are calculated by counting up and down the lines (rather than back to the nearest common ancestor), without including the two starting individuals.

For example, my grandparents, Pietro Luigi Serafini and Maria Giuseppa Onorati, shared common a pair of 3X great-grandparents:Relationship Chart: Maria Giuseppa Onorati and Pietro Luigi SerafiniClick on image to see it larger

This means:

  • They were 4th cousins, in our English language way of thinking.
  • They were ‘cugini di quinto grado’ (cousins of the fifth degree) in Catholic church (canon) law.
  • They had a 10th degree relationship according to US civil law (i.e. there are 10 people between them if you count up and then down the tree).

No wonder the terminology is confusing for so many!

Affinity – A ‘Spiritual’ Relationship

Sometimes a couple were not related by blood but via a marriage in the family. This is referred to as ‘affinity’. For example, if a man’s first wife died and he wanted to marry his late wife’s sister (i.e. his sister-in-law), they had a ‘first grade affinity’; if he wanted to marry his late wife’s first cousin, they had a ‘second grade affinity’.

I have seen some genealogists refer to affinity relationships as ‘spiritual’ relationships’. In my view, they are, at least, ‘emotional’ or ‘psychological’ ones. A sister-in-law, for example, may be treated as and viewed as a ‘sister’. As such, the same prohibitions regarding affinity marriages applied in the church.

This law of affinity was, in fact, the logic Henry VIII used (or abused) when he rationalised his divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry based his claim on the grounds that Catherine was the widow of his late brother (who died at age 16). Thus, Catherine was (in terms of canon law) Henry’s ‘spiritual sister’, even if she was not his biological sibling.

Much to Henry’s annoyance, the Pope refused his request to have the marriage annulled, reminding the King that he had granted the couple a DISPENSATION to marry in the first place, back in 1509 (more about dispensations in a minute). But Henry wasn’t about to take no for an answer, and he went ahead and dissolved his marriage to Catherine, married Anne, split from the Roman pope, set himself up as the spiritual leader of the new Church of England, and forever changed the course of British (and European) history.

Marital Dispensations – The Legal Loophole

While canon law regarding consanguinity and affinity in marriage was the ‘official’ ruling of the church, in practice, couples were frequently given permission to marry despite such ‘impediments’, provided they obtained an official church dispensation, usually granted by the Bishop of the diocese or his representative.

When a priest records a marriage in the registry, he also provides details (or, at least, he’s supposed to) about any dispensations that may have been granted to the couple. Mention of a dispensation is always of interest to a genealogist, as it can provide important clues as to how a tree will progress as you move backwards in time. Understanding what they mean can sometimes make work faster, and also help you break through barriers when records are ambiguous or missing.

The reasons why the church might grant a dispensation will vary according to circumstance. Occasionally, it is deemed a matter of moral necessity, such as when the couple are already known to have had an intimate relationship (and especially if the woman is already pregnant). More commonly, however, a dispensation may be granted because there simply wasn’t another suitable (and available) partner within the parish. This is especially understandable when we consider how small and isolated many rural parishes were in the past.

Although I’ve never seen this discussed, one would assume that various other factors may have been taken into consideration, such as whether similar dispensations had occurred in the previous generation, within the same branch(es) of the family. But while that may have been the case, I am continually amazed at just how commonly marital dispensations were given in the past.

Moreover, while dispensations for affinity relationships were governed by the same guidelines as consanguineous ones, I have seen markedly fewer of these in marriage records, which makes me think that many of them sort of ‘slipped through the cracks’ as they were considered to be less important.

More Frequent Dispensations Among the Noble Classes

Many of my clients are surprised when I discover a line of noble ancestors in their tree; but, in my experience, you’d be hard pressed NOT to stumble upon a noble line or two if you go back far enough.

During the Holy Roman Empire (and later during the Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empires), there was a plethora of ‘rural nobility’ in the province of Trentino. Some of these families were ennobled by the Emperor himself (imperial nobility), while others were ennobled by the Prince-Bishop (ecclesiastical nobility).

In my research, I’ve often noticed more frequent marital dispensations noble families than for ‘ordinary’ contadini (farmers). In some noble families, you will find a dispensation at almost every generation, often at a close level of consanguinity (2nd and 3rd grade).

Funnily, some of those same clients who were first delighted to discover they had noble ancestors, later became alarmed to find out how much they had intermarried! To understand why we might see so many consanguineous marriages amongst nobility (and even more amongst royalty), we need to consider how society was organised in the past.

During the feudal era, the ‘peasantry’ constituted at least 90% of the population, with the church and nobility comprising the other 10%. When choosing a ‘suitable’ marriage partner, it was considered essential that you select someone within your own ‘class’. Thus, nobles married other nobles (or at least someone who is descended from a noble, even if he/she no longer had the official title). As the noble families comprised a small minority of the local population, if they kept on marrying within the tiny geographic parameter of their local parish, the ‘pickings’ were going to get slim pretty quickly with each successive generation.

For this reason, rural nobility almost NEEDED to look beyond their own villages for spouses every now and then, lest they become too ‘inbred’ (which is what eventually happened to the royal Habsburgs). Being wealthier and less tied to the land for their survival than the poorer classes, they at least had greater means to do this.

Recognising and Understanding Dispensations in Marriage Records

As a family historian, it’s important to:

  • Remember to LOOK for marital dispensations in marriage records
  • Be able to RECOGNISE a marital dispensation when you see one, and
  • Be able to UNDERSTAND what the dispensation means, and what it can tell you.

Looking for dispensations becomes a matter of habit the more you work with parish records.

Recognising them is not as hard as you might think, even if you don’t understand Italian or Latin. Keep your eyes open for words that look like ‘impediment’ (impedimento) dispensation (‘dispensa’), ‘consanguinity’ (consanguineità) or ‘affinity’ (affinità).

Understanding them will require you to look for key words like grade (grado), ‘fourth’ (quarto), ‘third’ (terzo) or ‘second’ (secondo) and then referring to the chart above called ‘Consanguineous Relationships According to Canon Law’.

Below are a few examples illustrating a variety of dispensations in church marriage records, and how they reflect the relationship between the husband and wife.

EXAMPLE 1: 1836 – Third Grade Consanguinity

1836 marriage record of Giovanni Brocchetti and Cattarina Grazia Bleggi.

Click on image to see it larger

This marriage record, dated 17 Sept 1836, is from the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio in Val Giudicarie. The groom is Giovanni Brocchetti of Cavrasto (age 20), son of Basilio Brochetti and Rosa Andreolli. The bride is Cattarina Grazia Bleggi (also age 20), daughter of Francesco Bleggi of Cavrasto and Grazia Armani of Fiavè (then part of the nearby parish of Vigo Lomaso).

Below the groom’s entry, the priest has noted that the groom had obtained a dispensation from the Ordinario of Trento (i.e., the office of the Archbishop), as he had a third-grade consanguineous relationship with his intended bride. He also records the number (100) of the ‘protocol’, which refers to the registry in which the parish priest records permissions, dispensations, etc.

So, if we refer to our chart showing consanguineous relationships, we see that ‘third-grade consanguinity’ means they had a shared ancestor(s) three generations back, i.e. at the level of great-grandparent. In ‘English language’ thinking, this means they were 2nd cousins.

We can see this consanguineous relationship illustrated in the following relationship chart. Here, we see the paternal grandparents of Giovanni’s father are also the maternal grandparents of Cattarina’s father (Bartolomeo Brocchetti and Elisabetta Pellegrinati):

Relationship chart of Giovanni Brocchetti and Cattarina Grazia Bleggi

Click on image to see it larger

When I first obtained this marriage record, I hadn’t yet traced the ancestry for both Giovanni and Cattarina back to their shared great-grandparents. The priest’s notation about the dispensation provided me with valuable information that sped up my research considerably.

Article continues below…

Get Trentino Genealogy via Email

You'll only hear from us when we have a new, informative genealogy article for you to read. We are dedicated to a spam-free world. 

We respect your privacy.

EXAMPLE 2: 1883 – Second and Third Grade Consanguinity

1883 marriage record of Cesare Viola and Angela Viola

Click on image to see it larger

Here’s a really interesting record I found recently when doing research in Trento for a client. This record, dated 28 April 1883, is from the parish of Cavedago in Val di Non.  The groom is Cesare Viola (age 24), son of Giacomo Viola and Angela, whose surname is also Viola. Perhaps a bit confusingly, the bride’s name is ALSO Angela Viola (age 20), daughter of Bartolomeo Viola and Maria Melchiori (it says Merchiori in the record).

Now, with all those common surnames, you might guess the couple would have had a consanguineous relationship – and you’d be correct. If you at the fifth line in the section about the groom (on the left), you’ll see the words:

‘senza scoperta d’altro impedimento che dal dispensato di II e III grado di consanguineità’

This means, ‘without discovering any impediment other than the (already) dispensed (i.e. having been granted a dispensation) 2nd and 3rd grade consanguinity’. The priest then goes on to cite the details of the dispensation, as well as the civil license.

Now, what do you supposed ‘2nd AND 3rd grade consanguinity’ means here? Does it mean they were related in two ways? Well, I suppose it could, but more often than not it means the couple’s common ancestor(s) was at two different generational levels.

In this case, Cesare’s maternal great-grandparents, were the same people as his wife Angela’s paternal grandparents. If you look at the following relationship chart visually, you can understand why they priest called their relationship ‘2nd and 3rd grade’: the common ancestors are two generations before the bride, and three generations before the groom:

Relationship chart of Cesare Viola and Angela Viola

Click on image to see it larger

Now, in our English-language way of thinking, the couple were 1st cousins 1x removed, as Angela’s father was the younger brother of Cesare’s grandfather. Frankly, I find this way more confusing than thinking in ‘canonical’ terms.

I must confess, this particular family tree has a LOT of pedigree ‘collapses’ and so many recurring surnames it was really confusing at first. But the clarity with which the priests have notated the marital dispensations helped me a LOT when piecing it all together.

EXAMPLE 3: 1778 – Third and Fourth Grade Consanguinity

Another example of ‘mixed’ consanguinity is in this marriage record (now in Latin, rather than Italian) dated 6 May 1778, again from the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio:

1778 marriage record of Bonifacio Blasio Furlini and Maria Levri

Click on image to see it larger

The couple here are Bonifacio Blasio Furlini (son of Antonio) and Maria Levri (daughter of the late Bartolomeo), both from the frazione of Balbido. In lines two and three, the priest alludes to a dispensation granted for ‘third and fourth grade consanguinity’. Again, this refers to the fact that the couple shared a pair of common ancestors at different generational levels. In this case, Bonifacio’s great-grandparents (three generations back) were the great-great-grandparents (four generations back) of his intended bride, Maria:

Relationship chart for Bonifacio Blasio Furlini and Maria Levri

Click on image to see it larger

When I had entered this particular marriage into my Santa Croce tree, I had already pieced together a good deal of the Furlini line. The information I gleaned from the marriage record enabled me to place Maria Levri in the right place, despite the fact that over 30 years of 18th-century marriage records are missing for this parish.

EXAMPLE 4: 1873 – First Grade Affinity1873 marriage record of Giovanni Battista Speranza and Luigia Scalfi

Click on image to see it larger

This marriage record, dated 27 Jan 1873, comes from the parish of Saone in Val Giudicarie.

Here, the 29-year-old groom Giovanni Battista Speranza (son of Pietro Speranza and the late Maria Cappellari) is described as the ‘widower of Giulia Scalfi’. After the information about the banns, the priest has said Giovanni Battista had obtained a dispensation for 1st grade affinity from the Curia of Trento on 23 Nov 1872, and for 2nd grade affinity on 28 Dec 1872.

I haven’t yet identified the 2nd grade affinity relationship but let’s have a look at the dispensation here for 1st grade affinity, as it’s quite interesting.

I almost NEVER see the term ‘1st grade’ in dispensations, because it would mean we were taking about siblings (who would never be permitted to marry in the Catholic church). But here, it clearly specifies ‘AFFINITY’ referring to a sibling relationship at an in-law level.

Well, as the 19-year-old bride’s name here is Luigia Scalfi (daughter of the late Ignazio Scalfi and the living Elisabetta Battitori), it seemed pretty likely that Luigia was the sister of Giovanni Battista’s late wife, Giulia Scalfi.

At the time I found this record, I hadn’t yet traced all the siblings for Luigia (who was actually baptised ‘Emma Luigia Perpetua Scalfi’ on 25 Jan 1854); but, sure enough, using Nati in Trentino I found she had an older sister Giulia Virginia Scalfi, who was born 31 Jan 1850.

MORE READING:   Searching Online for 19th & 20th Century Trentini Ancestors

Also using that site, I found Giulia and Giovanni Battista had two children in 1870 and 1872, meaning they most likely married around 1869 (I haven’t looked for their marriage record yet). The birth date of their second child was heart-rending – 29 May 1872, just 8 months before Giovanni Battista married Giulia’s sister. This means Giulia had to have died sometime during those 8 months, most likely shortly after giving birth (again, I haven’t looked for her death record). She would have been only about 23 years old when she died. Such a tragedy!

These days, remarrying so quickly after the death of a spouse is difficult to imagine, as it would barely give the family a chance to grieve and recover. But back then, it was actually not an uncommon practice. And remarrying a sibling of the late spouse was also not uncommon; after all, it meant a blood-relation (an aunt or an uncle) would be the new ‘step-parent’ of the children left behind, if any. They were more likely to have an emotional connection to – and natural inclination to care for – their late sibling’s children.

What is even more heart-rending about this family’s story is that, after having two children together (one of whom died in infancy), GIOVANNI BATTISTA himself then dies on 7 Sept 1875, at the age of 32. Now, poor Luigia has become a widow at the age of 21! Four years later, she remarries a man named Luigi Buganza, with whom she has 8 more children. (Side note: they had no ‘impediments’ cited in their marriage record).

THIS couple (Luigi Buganza and Luigia Scalfi) were the great-grandparents of the client whose tree I was making when I ‘met’ this family. To me, I find it poignant to think of all the deaths that had to come before this couple finally got together. Had not BOTH Giulia and GB passed away at such young ages, my client would never have been born.

EXAMPLE 5: 1859 – Dispensation for Time of Year

There is another kind of marital dispensation that warrants mention, and this one has nothing to do with any kind of familial relationship. It is a dispensation to be married during one of the ‘ferial times’ (feria) in the Catholic calendar, namely during Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas, through to the Feast of the Epiphany) and the Lenten season (from Ash Wednesday through to the first Sunday after Easter).

The reason why couples needed a dispensation to marry during Lent or Advent is that these are supposed to be times of austerity and prayer. Because of this, they would have to have had a simple marriage, without any elaborate celebration. When I first learned about this, I reflected on how, when I was a child, we traditionally associated May and June as the most common wedding months.

But just because ‘feria’ was not the traditionally most desirable time for a wedding didn’t mean nobody got married during those periods. Consider this marriage record from the parish of Moena in Val di Non, dated 2 March 1858:

1858 marriage record of Fioravante Giacomuzzi and Margherita Damolin

Click on image to see it larger

Here, the groom, Fioravante Giacomuzzi, and his Margherita Damolin were granted a dispensation for marrying during ‘ferial time’, as the date fell during the season of Lent (it was the 2nd Tuesday of Lent, to be precise; Easter that year fell on Sunday 4 April).

When I see things like this, I’ve got to ask, what would compel a couple to marry during a period (which was probably a bit wet and chilly, too) when they could not have a nice big celebration?

Well, in this case, I am pretty sure I figured out the reason. Five months earlier, Margherita had given birth to their illegitimate son, whom she named Fioravante, after his father. The child was born in a maternity home in the city of Trento called ‘Istituto delle Laste’ (one day I’ll write more about this interesting place). And while he was under the care of the Institute, there was a possibility he would be fostered out to another family.

In so many of these cases, the child’s father is not cited in their birth records. But in this case, the elder Fioravante acknowledged he was the biological father of his son of the same name. For whatever reason, he and Margherita did not marry before the child was born, but not it seems they were making haste to legalise/sanctify their union, so they could legitimise their 5-month-old son as quickly as possible.

Closing Thoughts

As a genealogist, I find the appearance of pedigree collapses in our trees to be of continual interest. Whenever I see a dispensation mentioned in a marriage record, not only do I get excited about trying to figure out the puzzle of how the couple is related, but I also know this valuable information may also help me verify other data that may be elusive. But most of all, I find it fascinating to see the ongoing relationships between specific families over time.

I hope this article has been useful to you as you progress in your research, and helped make it a little easier to understand the ‘sea of words’ you may feel like is in front of you when you open a new record. Although most of the records I have looked at in this article were from the 19th century, older records will contain pretty much the same degree of information (if you’re lucky!). Knowing ‘the basics’, as I’ve aimed to demonstrate in this article, can really help to make advances in your family history.

If this article gave you any ‘ah ha’ moments, I’d love to hear about them. And, as always, do feel free to ask questions or share interesting discoveries about your own family in the comments box below.

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
12 Aug 2019

P.S. My next trip to Trento will be in November 2019. I am only just starting to compile my client roster for that trip, so if you are considering hiring a genealogist to do your Trentino family history, I invite you to read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. Then, we can set up a free 30-minute chat to discuss your project.

P.P.S.: I am still working on the edits for the PDF eBook on DNA tests, which I will be offering for FREE to my blog subscribers. I will send you a link to download it when it is done. Please be patient, as it will take a month or so to edit the articles and put them into the eBook format. If you are not yet subscribed, you can do so using the subscription form at the end of this article below.

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

View my Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

How Cemeteries Can Help Grow Your Family Tree

How Cemeteries Can Help Grow Your Family Tree
Panoramic view of a section of Trento Monumental Cemetery (Cimitero Monumentale di Trento), Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy.

Trentino Genealogist Lynn Serafinn discusses cemeteries in Italy, and shares tips on how gravestones can help you discover more about your ancestors.

Like so many other genealogists and family historians, I love walking through cemeteries. I don’t see them as morbid or spooky, as so much of our popular culture portrays them. I see them as profound expressions of love, admiration, community and social values.

But cemeteries can also be rich sources of historical information, and catalysts that can help us discover many things we might not have known about our families. Sometimes, a random gravestone can turn out to belong to an ancestor, a distant cousin, or a family member of someone else you may not have met yet.

In this article, I want to give you a taste for how cemeteries can help you in your quest for constructing your family history, so you can start to discover and unlock the treasures they may hold. We will look at:

  • The Pros and Cons of Working with ‘Virtual’ Cemeteries
  • The Limitations and Inaccuracies on Gravestones of Immigrants
  • Why There Are No Ancient Graves in Italian Cemeteries
  • Parish Cemeteries vs. Frazioni Cemeteries
  • How Women Are Recorded on Trentino Gravestones
  • Gleaning Information and Identifying People You Don’t Know
  • Family Groups on Trentino Gravestones
  • How Gravestones Can Reveal More Than Just Dates
  • Expanding Your Research and Leaving a Legacy

The Pros and Cons of Working with ‘Virtual’ Cemeteries

I’ve observed that descendants of Italian immigrants often want to jump right into finding their ancestors in Italy before taking ample time to gather as much documentation as they can in their ‘adopted’ country. When we talk about Trentini descendants, those countries are typically either the US or somewhere in South America. I recently had a client who lived in England but, like me, had moved here from the US about 20 years ago. This client’s ancestors were not actually from Trentino, but from Genova. Since moving away from her birth place of Chicago, and since the passing away of her parents and other elders of the family, she had lost her connection to the family lore and had little information that could help us get to the point where we could start researching her family’s ancestor in the Italian records.

When I took on the project, the first thing I wanted to do was fill in the blanks of her family AFTER they had emigrated from Italy. For that, one of the most valuable resources was Find-A-Grave, a website containing millions of memorials from cemeteries around the world, all submitted by volunteers. It is, if you will, a collection of ‘virtual’ cemeteries viewable to anyone with Internet access.

Using Find-A-Grave immediately opened a floodgate of information for my client’s family tree. Not only did I find death dates, but many people are linked together, showing connections between spouses, children, siblings, etc. This information enabled me to construct entire families, which I later cross-checked with other online sources like Ancestry and Family Search.

Additionally, some of the memorials contained obituaries from local newspapers, which gave me even more information – including information about when my client’s ancestors first came over from Genova. This led me to find immigration documents. Using what I found in these virtual cemeteries, I was able to glean enough information about her family’s Italian origins to make me confident I could start tackling the Italian records. From there, things became much easier for me, and I quickly managed to take her family tree back to the mid-1700s with a day’s work.

*** FREE RESOURCE ***

Click HERE to download a PDF list of cemeteries in North and South America known to have the graves of many Trentini (aka Tyrolean) immigrants, with links to their pages on Find-A-Grave. No sign-up or email address is required.

But while using Find-A-Grave was a great success on this project, the site does have its limitations.

  • All content on the site is provided solely by its users, so the data is as accurate or inaccurate as the people who enter it. TIP: If you see a mistake on a memorial in Find-A-Grave, you can (and should) send a suggested correction to the moderator of that page.
  • Not all cemeteries are listed. TIP: You CAN add a cemetery if it is missing (and I encourage you to do so), but be sure to check it isn’t already listed under a slightly different name.
  • Most cemeteries listed are in the United States. In fact, there are only a handful of cemeteries listed on Find-A-Grave from the province of Trento (CLICK HERE to see what they are). TIP: Again, I encourage you to add cemeteries you know in Trentino, but if you do, it is wise to enter them under their Italian name. Also, you MUST put ‘Provincia di Trento’ after the name of the comune, as that is how Find-A-Grave refers to and recognises locations in the province.

Limitations and Inaccuracies on Gravestones of Immigrants

While cemeteries can provide us with vital pieces of our ancestral puzzle, my observation of gravestones in our ancestors’ adopted countries (especially the US) is that:

  • They often lack detail. Frequently they only have the death date (sometimes only the year), without a date of birth (or at least the year). Even more rarely do they contain much information about who the person was in life, or about his/her relationship within the family.
  • They are full of mistakes. Information on gravestones is supplied by a surviving member of the family. Family members – especially children of immigrants – can be inaccurate about dates, names, etc. Back in their ‘old country’, the family would have had access to the original documents via their local parish priest. But without that historic connection to their place of birth, the family has no such stream of information. People who emigrated at a young age (or were BORN in their adopted country) will often mishear, misunderstand, mix up or COMBINE two places, names or events. This results in a muddle of mis-information and false beliefs that will always be some variation on the truth. My cousins, aunts, uncles – even my own parents – were all prone to these kinds of false beliefs. I had to do a LOT of unlearning, relearning and re-educating when I embarked on this genealogical journey.

Equally (and possibly MORE) prone to errors are the obituaries that may have been published in local newspapers. The original information is provided to the newspaper by the surviving family who, as I’ve already said, can frequently get things wrong. Then the newspapers themselves can (and often DO) compound the errors, especially when it comes to the spelling of names and places unfamiliar to them. Birth, marriage and arrival dates will often be wrong, as well. Hopefully they at least get the death date right!

Why There Are No Ancient Graves in Italian Cemeteries

Now, let’s cross the ocean and go back to the patria to have a look at cemeteries in Trentino (or anywhere in Italy).

One of the first things people comment on when they visit an Italian cemetery for the first time is the practice of putting photographs of the deceased on the gravestones. This can be an exciting discovery for the family historian, as they can finally put faces to some of the names they have been researching.

But once they get over that novelty, the next thing they notice – often with some amount of confusion and disappointment – is the ABSENCE of old gravestones. I mean, some of these parish churches go back over 700 years or more; surely we are going to find plenty of fascinating, ancient gravestones in their cemeteries, right?

Well…no.

Yes, you are likely to find old tombs of priests and patron families inside the church dating back many centuries, and you might also find a few older headstones for priests or patrons (perhaps from the 18th century) affixed to the outer walls of the church or perimeter wall of the cemetery. But other than these:

most gravestones are likely to be no older than about 80 years.

This is because, in many European countries, a coffin is exhumed at some point after burial and the skeletal remains are removed from the grave and placed in an ossuary – typically a box, building, well or wall. Then, the same grave is used to bury someone more recently deceased.

This removal of bones has nothing to do with religious practice, but with practical necessity: if everyone who ever died in the parish were put into a coffin and buried under their headstone forever, the space required for the dead would soon take over the land needed for the living.

Just what ‘at some point’ means seems vary in different parts of Italy. I recently read an account where a person’s grandfather’s remains were exhumed only 10 years after he died (the writer expressed some understandable distress). In my father’s parish, however, they appear to wait a couple generations before transferring the bones. That way, the spouse and children of the deceased (and probably most of the people who once knew the deceased in life) are also likely to have passed away. Certainly, this is a more sensitive arrangement.

SIDE STORY: Once when I was showing the underground crypt in Santa Croce to some American cousins, the lady who had unlocked the church for us found a small piece of (very old-looking) jawbone that had fallen out of the wall in a small alcove. She sheepishly whispered a request for us not to say anything about it to anyone, and she respectfully put the bone back into the wall. At the time, I thought she might have been worried teams of archaeologists would descend upon the church and tear it apart. Later, I realised this was probably the site of an ancient ossuary, and she may have wished to avoid upsetting anyone. The crypt itself is at least 1,000 years old, and it was built on the site of an older, Longobard (Lombard) church.

Parish Cemeteries vs. Frazioni Cemeteries

In larger parishes with many frazioni (hamlets) spread out over a wide area, you will often find small satellite churches serving these communities, some of which might have cemeteries of their own. In these cemeteries, you might get lucky and find a few older graves, especially if the family was prominent in that frazione.

For example, when I first went to the main parish cemetery for Santa Croce del Bleggio, I was disappointed not to find the graves of my Serafini great-grandparents, who died in the 1930s.  But when I visited the cemetery adjacent the little church of San Felice in the frazione of Bono, where my grandmother’s Onorati family had lived for many centuries, I found the graves of my Onorati great-grandparents who had died earlier, in the 1920s. I believe the reason may be partially due to the Onoratis’ historical prominence in Bono; but the frazione is also tiny, and the cemetery is not nearly as crowded as the main parish cemetery. Some frazioni cemeteries are even larger than the main parish cemetery.

Remember also that married women are most likely buried in the parish (or frazione) in which they lived with their husband. Unmarried women will most likely be buried in the parish (or frazione) in which they were raised. So, when you make your trip to Trentino, be sure to ask whether there is more than one cemetery in the parish. You might discover your ancestors in a place different from where you had expected.

How Women’s Names Are Recorded on Trentino Gravestones

Identifying women on gravestones can often be more challenging than identifying men, as the way they appear will vary according to culture.

For example, because women in the US, Britain and many other countries take the surname of their husband when they marry, they are nearly always referred to by their married names on their headstones when they die in their adopted homeland. In such a scenario, a woman’s gravestone might not be very useful for research, as it doesn’t offer much information about her origins.

In contrast, Italian women retain their maiden names throughout life, even if they have been married for decades. Thus, MOST of the time, a gravestone will give some sort of reference to both her maiden and married name.

There are three common conventions for recording a woman’s name on a headstone. Let’s look at each in turn.

‘Nata’ or ‘N.’ (indicating birth name)

Typically, if a woman is buried in the same plot as her married husband and/or children, she will be referred to by her married name, BUT it will usually have the word nata’ (or its abbreviation ‘N.’), which means ‘born’ (feminine gender).

Here is an example from the frazione of Balbido in Santa Croce del Bleggio. The family name is Riccadonna, and you can tell from the photo and the layout of the stone that we are looking at the grave of a husband (Cesare), wife (Colomba) and one of their children (a son named Danielle, born in 1926, although the date is hard to see behind the flowers). Below Colomba’s name it says ‘N. Brunelli’ (nata Brunelli); thus, her birth name is Colomba Brunelli.

Gravestone of Cesare Riccadonna and his wife Colomba Brunelli, Balbido cemetery, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino, Italy
Gravestone of Cesare Riccadonna and his wife Colomba Brunelli, Balbido cemetery, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino, Italy

Below is another clear example of ‘N.’, from the frazione cemetery in Tignerone in Santa Croce del Bleggio. This is the grave of Ersilia Bleggi, who was born Ersilia Gusmerotti in 1879:

1952: Grave of Ersilia Gusmerotti (married name Bleggi), Tignerone cemetery, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino, Italy
1952: Grave of Ersilia Gusmerotti (married name Bleggi), Tignerone cemetery, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino, Italy

Lastly, here is another example of ‘N.’ on an older, more weather-worn stone from the parish of Saone. On this stone, they have written the surname before the personal name, i.e. ‘Bondi, Catterina, nata Buganza,’ who ‘died on 20 February 1903 at the age of 60’:

1903 grave of Catterina Buganza (married name Bondi), Saone cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
1903 grave of Catterina Buganza (married name Bondi), Saone cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
‘In’ (indicating married name)

Sometimes a woman’s birth name is given first, followed by her married surname prefixed by the word ‘in’. I have noticed this is most frequently used if the woman happened to be buried in the grave or tomb of her birth family (which could be in a different parish or frazione from her husband’s).

For example, the BIRTH name of the woman in the gravestone below is ‘Giustina Parisi’. But if you look beneath her name, it says ‘in Gasperini’. It’s a little worn, so the ‘I’ is a bit hard to see, but it is definitely ‘in’, not ‘n’. The surname is also partially worn off, but it is definitely Gasperini:

1974 grave of Giustina Parisi (born 1894), married name Gasperini, Tignerone cemetery, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
1974 grave of Giustina Parisi (born 1894), married name Gasperini, Tignerone cemetery, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Here is a clearer example of ‘in’ from an ossuary in the Cimitero Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) in the City of Trento:

1958 Gravestone for Maria Parisi (born 1920), married name Pisetta, Trento Municipal (aka Monumental) Cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
1958 Gravestone for Maria Parisi (born 1920), married name Pisetta, Trento Municipal (aka Monumental) Cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

VIDEO: See a video I took at the Cimitero Monumentale di Trento when I visited it in July 2018 (second on page).

‘Vedova’ ‘ved’ or ‘v.’ (indicating she was widowed)

If a woman’s husband predeceased her, she will be referred to as his widow (vedova in Italian) in records and on her headstone. In this case, the stone will give her birth name, followed by the word ‘vedova’, ‘ved.’ or simply ‘v.’, which is then followed by her late husband’s surname.

For example, this placard for Libera Bondi, widow of (someone named) Marchiori, was attached to the top of the family headstone in the parish of Saone in Val Giudicarie (I took this shot in 2016; it may have since been engraved):

2012 grave of Libera Bondi (born 1919), widow of Marchiori, Saone cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
2012 grave of Libera Bondi (born 1919), widow of Marchiori, Saone cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

The question, of course, is WHO is the late Mr. Marchiori? We’ll come back to that question in a moment.

This next stone is from Cimitero Monumentale in the City of Trento. In this case, the woman’s birth name was Anna Pegoretti and she was married to Giovanni Casotti, whose name is right above hers. You can see he predeceased her by more than three decades. The fact that Anna is cited as his widow indicates she never remarried (and was already almost 60 when her husband passed away):

1995 grave of Anna Pegoretti, widow of Giovanni Casotti, Trento Monumental cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
1995 grave of Anna Pegoretti, widow of Giovanni Casotti, Trento Monumental cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Gleaning Information and Identifying People You Don’t Know

None of the people whose gravestones I shared above are ancestors of mine. In fact, I took those photos out of a sense of curiosity rather than any specific investigative motive.

But as a genealogist, my natural curiosity often leads me to seek out details about a person I find on a gravestone, even if I don’t know them. When I do, I often discover I am connected to them in some unexpected way.

Let’s take Colomba Riccadonna, born Brunelli, from the first gravestone I showed you above. The stone says she was born in 1893.

As she was born between 1815 and 1923, I used the online database created by the Archivio di Trento called Nati in Trentino to find out who Colomba was. All I had to do is plug in her name and year of birth. Luckily, there was only one Colomba Brunelli born that year:

1893 baptismal record listing for Colomba Maria Brunelli, from Nati in Trentino online database.
1893 baptismal record listing for Colomba Maria Brunelli, from Nati in Trentino online database.

I also used Nati in Trentino to try to identify Cesare, but there were actually two Cesares born in 1887, so I needed to find their marriage record to learn which one he was. I also searched for additional children for the couple and found a daughter born in 1923. They probably had other children, but the online database doesn’t go past 1923.

When I entered Colomba into my tree, I discovered she was a distant cousin (7th cousin 1X removed). Not exactly a close relation, but you never know what such a connection might lead to later.

I used the same process to discover the birth information for Ersilia Gusmerotti, Giustina Parisi and Catterina Buganza, and discovered:

  • ERSILIA was my 7th cousin 2X removed.
  • GIUSTINA was my 3rd cousin 2X removed.
  • CATTERINA was the great-grandmother of one of my clients. I hadn’t planned it that way; I just happened to have taken the photo when I was in Saone on a previous trip. Las month, when I was working on that client’s tree, I looked through my photo archive and discovered I had a picture of her great-grandmother’s grave.

You never really know who or what you will discover when you start taking photos of random gravestones. I could never have predicted a photo I took a couple of years ago would end up being the great-grandmother of one of my future clients. But my client was thrilled to see the photo, as she’s never been to Saone, and this took her closer to her roots.

Family Groups on Trentino Gravestones

Many gravestones in Trentino will contain names from an entire family group. To demonstrate this, let’s go back to the widowed Libera Bondi and look at the full image of the stone on which she appears:

Grave for the family of Modesto Marchiori and Elisabetta Bondi, Saone, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
Grave for the family of Modesto Marchiori and Elisabetta Bondi, Saone, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

The primary surname on this stone is MARCHIORI, and the patriarch is Modesto, on the left. To his right, we see ‘Elisabetta Marchiori, born Bondi’. Looking at the dates, we can ASSUME Elisabetta was Modesto’s wife. Of course, we would need to verify that with documentation (I already have, and they were indeed husband and wife).

Moving down the stone, we come to Giuseppe (born 1910) and Antonio (born 1912), with no surname mentioned. The omission of a surname implies they share the same family surname, i.e. Marchiori. Again, looking at the dates, we might guess that Giuseppe and Antonio were the sons of Modesto and Elisabetta. To verify this theory, I looked them up on Nati in Trentino. Sure enough, I found them listed amongst Modesto’s and Elisabetta’s children, along with several other siblings.

But now we have the question of the two women: Emilia (born Biancotto) and Libera (born Bondi). We can assume they were probably married to these two sons. But who was married to whom?

While there is no online resource to answer this question, I was fortunate enough to have access to the family anagraphs for Saone for this era when I was doing research in Trento recently, where I found this entry for Modesto’s family:

Anagraph for the family of Modesto Marchiori (born 1867), Saone parish records, Archivio Diocesano di Trento, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy.
Anagraph for the family of Modesto Marchiori (born 1867), Saone parish records, Archivio Diocesano di Trento, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy.

Anagraphs (called ‘Stato delle Anime’, or ‘State of Souls’ when they appear in the parish records) are records of family groups and contain a wealth of information, including dates of birth, confirmation, marriage and death. They can also include the names of the spouses in the annotations column at the right. In most places, anagraphs were started in the mid to late 19th century. The various comuni also started recording them in the 19th century, maintaining them at the registry of anagraphs; but so far, I have only dealt with those kept by the church.

In the ‘Annotazioni’ (annotations) column in the anagraph above, the priest has recorded that Giuseppe was married to Libera Bondi and Antonio was married to Emilia Biancotto, with dates of their respective marriages (I know it’s difficult to read here, but I have a larger, full-colour image on my computer that shows it more clearly).

So, while the gravestone didn’t give us all the information we needed, it certainly pointed us in the right direction, giving us clues about what we should look for next. Thus, it was a crucial part of our research.

As it turns out, this family group are ALSO related to my afore-mentioned client, as Elisabetta (Elisa) Bondi was the daughter of her great-grandmother Catterina Buganza, and sister of her grandfather. In other words, Elisa was her great-aunt. Tracing this family helped me identify many of her close cousins.

How Gravestones Can Reveal More Than Just Dates

If you analyse every aspect of a gravestone, you will often find it contains a lot more information than dates alone. Sometimes you can discover a person’s occupation, gain insight into their personal character, or get a feeling for their relationship with their family and community.

On a recent visit to Cimitero Monumentale in the City of Trento, I took dozens of photos of graves, many of which contained clues about the kinds of people who had been laid to rest. Here are two highlights:

1933 ossuary gravestone for Secondo Bertoldi, pharmacist, Trento Monumental cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
1933 ossuary gravestone for Secondo Bertoldi, pharmacist, Trento Monumental cemetery, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

This photo is of the ossuary memorial for a man named Secondo Bertoldi. The stone tells us he was born in Lavarone on 20 Aug 1872 and died in Trento on 20 Feb 1933 (Roman numerals are used for the months). But it also tells us he was a chemist/pharmacist (here in England, pharmacists are also called chemists, but the term is not generally used in the US). Additionally, it says he was a ‘fervent patriot’, and that he lived his life in a loving way and by doing good. It also says that his wife, Anna Maria Bosetti, arranged for this stone to be laid as a ‘loving and tearful memory’ of Secondo. All these words give us a much richer picture of who Secondo was than what we might have learned from documents alone.

Sometimes even the most minimal of headstones can lead to a potentially interesting story. Here’s another photo I took in the ossuary at the Trento cemetery:

Ossuary gravestone for sisters Maria and Giuseppina Vitti of Trento, who died in 1968 and 1974. Cimitero Monumentale di Trento, Trento, Trentino Alto-Adige, Italy
Ossuary gravestone for sisters Maria and Giuseppina Vitti of Trento, who died in 1968 and 1974. Cimitero Monumentale di Trento, Trento, Trentino Alto-Adige, Italy

The stone merely says ‘Vitti Sisters’, and then gives their first names and years of birth/death. A quick search on Nati in Trentino told me that Giuseppina (born 27 Aug 1888) and her sister Maria (born 15 Oct 1890) were both born in the city of Trento in the parish of Santi Pietro e Paolo (Saints Peter and Paul), and were the only two daughters of Andrea Vitti and Santa Tommasi. The sisters also had two brothers, but I don’t know anything other than their dates of birth.

Apart from this, I know nothing at all about this family. But the fact that these two sisters – both of advanced age (78 and 86) – were laid to rest in the same grave AND they were referred to by their birth names leads me to theorise that neither sister married. It also leads me to think they were probably very close throughout their lives. While these are just my own guesses based solely on what I am seeing in the stone, these guesses might help point me in the right direction if I were to research this family in depth.

Expanding Your Research and Leaving a Legacy

Whether you are planning a visit to a local cemetery, or you are hoping to visit some cemeteries when you are in Trentino, be sure to bring a camera and photograph as many graves as you can, even if you have no clue WHO the people are. If the cemetery is very large – or if the thought of dealing with all those photos is a bit overwhelming – focus on photographing stones containing one or two specific surnames.

And remember, when in Trentino, don’t just visit the main parish cemetery; ask if there are other cemeteries in the frazioni where your ancestors may have lived.

Don’t worry about trying to make sense of who is who when you are taking your photos. That will only slow you down and make it less enjoyable. Look at your trip as a kind of ‘treasure hunt’ where your mission is to get as many good photos as you can. Be sure to get the WHOLE stone in your photo, so you can see all the words in context. They may not mean anything to you now, but they may mean something important later.

And don’t forget that graves in Italy don’t stay around forever. A few years from now…

your photo might end up being the only tangible evidence of a person’s grave,
as the remains and headstone for that person may soon be moved – or removed altogether.

Consider SHARING your images on your tree on Ancestry, as well as on Find-A-Grave. That way, you are not only helping yourself, but also making it easier for OTHER Trentini descendants to find the graves of their own family members. Your photo might mean the world to a complete stranger many years from now.

BRIGHT IDEA: Perhaps we could create a ‘virtual party’ for the purpose of creating all the Trentini cemeteries on Find-A-Grave and entering our family’s memorials on there. We could use our Trentino Genealogy Facebook group to coordinate it. What do you think?

I hope this article has helped you understand more about interpreting gravestones in Trentino, and has also inspired you to go out and start recording as many Trentino graves as you can – as soon as possible, before they disappear.

I look forward to your comments. Please feel free to share your own research discoveries in the comments box below. 

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

P.S. My next trip to Trento is from 21 Oct 2018 to 15 Nov 2018.
If are considering asking me to do some research for you while I am there, please first read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site.
Then, can set up a free 30-minute chat to discuss your project.

P.P.S.: Whether you are a beginner or an advanced researcher, if you have Trentino ancestry, I invite you to come join the conversation in our Trentino Genealogy group on Facebook.

Subscribe to receive all upcoming articles from Trentino Genealogy!
Desktop viewers can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen.
If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

View My Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

LYNN SERAFINN is a bestselling author and genealogist specialising in the families of Trentino. She is also the author of the regularly featured column ‘Genealogy Corner’ for Filò Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

In addition to her work for clients, her personal research project is to transcribe all the parish records for the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio (where her father was born) from the 1400s to the current era, as well as to connect as many living people as she can who were either born in Bleggio or whose ancestors came from there. She hopes this tree, which already contains tens of thousands of people, will serve as a visual and spiritual reminder of how we are all fundamentally connected.

View the Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

Was One of Your Trentino Ancestors a Notary?

Was One of Your Trentino Ancestors a Notary?
1521 legal document drafted and signed by notary Sebastiano Genetti, son of Giovanni, of Castelfondo in Trentino.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn explains role of the notary in Trentino society, and how discover exciting details about your notary ancestors in church and civil documents.

One afternoon in 2014, I was sitting a kitchen in the tiny frazione of Bono, in the parish of Santa del Croce. I had just had the thrill of being reconnected with my long-lost 2nd cousins, the grandchildren of the elder brother (Erminio Onorati) of my paternal grandmother (Maria Giuseppa Onorati). Located in the Giudicarie Valley, Bono has been the home of the Onorati family for at least the past 600 years – probably centuries longer. And this grand, multi-storied mountain house in which we were sitting – although beautifully remodelled and modernised – had been the home of our Onorati ancestors for unknown generations.

As my cousins shared precious old photos of our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ families with me, we also shared stories about our childhood families – on both sides of the Atlantic – As we shared our filò, my cousins mentioned that the Onorati were renowned in the Giudicarie because they had been ‘notaries’ for many centuries.

At first, I didn’t understand the significance of being a notary (notaio), as my past experiences with notaries hadn’t made particularly lasting impressions on me.  When I was a teen in the US, I went to a notary at the post office to get an application endorsed for my first passport. Many years later, after I had moved to the UK, I went to a notary who endorsed some legal documents for me. To be honest, I don’t even remember what those papers were anymore! In short, a ‘notary’ was someone so much on the periphery of my daily life that I kind of gave them no thought at all. So, naturally, when my cousins inferred that being a notaio was some really big deal, I realised they were probably talking about something with which I wasn’t actually familiar.

Since then, I have studied and learned a great deal about notai (plural of notaio) and discovered many notaio families in both my clients’ ancestries and my own. Identifying notai in our family trees can be an exciting discovery, as it brings depth to our understanding of their lives, education, social status and even marital customs.

That why I thought it would be a great idea to write an introductory article just about notaries in Trentino. So today, we’ll explore who the notai were in Trentino society, how to find out more about our notary ancestors, and how their presence on our family trees can enrich our understanding of our Trentino heritage.

The Profession of the Notaio

While most of us in English-speaking countries think of a notary simply as someone who endorses signatures on official documents, in Italy they served (and still serve) a much more significant role in government and daily life.

A notaio is a legal professional whose title is granted either by a sovereign or by a local authority. In the past, those appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor (or the Austrian Emperor, after the HRE collapsed) were called notaries with imperial authority.

Performing his duties within an assigned territory/jurisdiction, a notary served the public by giving legal certainty to deeds, contracts, wills, trade agreements, legalization of signatures, etc. for his clients.

From what I have seen, notaries were often a varied mix of scribe, contract lawyer, registrar and (occasionally) tax collector.

The Education of the Notaio

A notaio was a highly-educated man. He was literate in both his native tongue as well as Latin. He was also fully educated in law, contracts and legal requirements. He also had to have very clear handwriting (unlike some of the priests who maintained parish records!) to ensure his contracts were legible. That said, some notaries used special scribes to draft the document, and which they then signed and authorised with their own official mark.

In a time of wide-spread illiteracy, their high degree of education, endorsements from legal authorities, and the vital role they played within their communities meant the notai were especially elevated in social status.

The Notaio in Society

Some the more renowned and experienced notai would work at the regional castles, or as personal assistants to specific government or church officials. I have also seen a few go on to become court judges and law makers.

But the majority of notai worked within their own local communities. This meant that they knew the families for which they performed their duties. Every official document, every official bill of sale or land agreement, every legal dispute, Will, dowry or inheritance settlement would have been drafted and handwritten by a local notary, who would sign the document with his official hand-drawn mark, used only by him.

Our contadini (farmer) ancestors didn’t go to some distant, impersonal government office to get these documents made and signed. Their local notaio would typically meet with them (along with the required witnesses) in a neighbour’s sitting room or courtyard, or sometimes in the rectory of the church (often in the presence of the parish priest). We know this because the notary always records the place in which the document was written and signed.

How Can You Know If Your Ancestor Was a Notary?

If your ancestor was a notaio, there will be obvious indications in any parish records in which he is named.

First of all, a parish record will very often SAY notaio (if the record is in Italian) or notarius (if the record is in Latin). This is especially the case if the person is serving in some official capacity at an event, (such as a witness at a wedding), but it would generally be mentioned even if it is talking about the father of a baptised child, the father of someone who is getting married, etc.

Secondly, the name of a notary is almost always preceded with some sort of honourific term, the most common of which are ‘spectacularus’ (often abbreviated as ‘spec’), egregio and excellentia. Any of these terms would convey a similar meaning to ‘the illustrious’, ‘the honourable’, ‘his excellency’, etc. Be aware, however, that these honourifics may also be used with rural nobility (and sometimes doctors), who may or may not be notaries.

Discovering More About Your Notary Ancestor

If you see such indications in the parish records, you might then wish to see if that person is mentioned in a book called Notai Che Operano Nel Trentino dell’Anno 845 by P. Remo Stenico. This book is widely considered to be the most comprehensive list of Trentino notaries throughout the centuries, although I must confess that I have found several people who are cited as being notaries in the parish records who are not listed in the book.

The names of the notaries are listed in alphabetical order, using Latin spellings. In most cases, Stenico provides the earliest and latest dates he has be able to find during which the notary was actively in practice. This can often help you estimate birth and death dates, if you do not have access to them in the original parish records. SOMETIMES Stenico also mentions the name of the father or other family members of the notary, which can be a real find. Once I even learned the name of my 8X great-grandmother from Stenico’s list, as she was cited as both the wife and the daughter of prominent notaries.

Stenico’s book is a ‘must have’ for anyone researching their Trentino ancestry. You can download the PDF version of this book for free by http://www.db.ofmtn.pcn.net/ofmtn/files/biblioteca/Notai.pdf

Pergamene – Parish and Municipal Parchments

While most of us tend to think of baptismal, marriage and death records as the cornerstones of genealogy, one of the greatest treasures in the archives held both by parishes and comuni are their ‘pergamene’ or parchments.

These libraries of documents – some going back over 1,000 years – contain everything from government decrees, land sales, legal disputes, and even local histories. Whenever these documents were official in nature, you can be sure a notary wrote and signed it. Occasionally, if a document became damaged with time, another notary may have rewritten it; but it is amazing how many of these documents still exist in their original form, with the original notary’s signature and mark.

The Provincial Archives for the province of Trento have been very active in working to digitise pergamene of the parishes and comuni throughout Trentino. If you search for a specific parish, comune or surname in their online catalogue, you might discover pergamene written by your notary ancestor. While most of the digital images are NOT yet available online, you can obtain copies of those of interest if you personally the Provincial Archives in Trento. You can search their inventory at https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/sistema/semplice.

You might also find some ORIGINAL notary records at ‘Sala Trentina’ at the Trento Municipal Library (Biblioteca Comunale di Trento). On my last trip, I found a legal dispute from 1618 over an unpaid dowry between one of my Onorati ancestors and his wife’s brothers. Apparently, their father died shortly after the wedding, and the brothers didn’t bother to make good on their late father’s agreement! I had originally discovered the existence of document in the catalogue at the Provincial Archives, but then learned it was actually kept at the library. It was wonderful to be able to hold the original document in my hands, and for a nominal fee the librarians made a PDF scan of it for me so I could take it home and study it.

The Mark of a Notaio

Finding an original document written by your notary ancestor is especially exciting for a family historian; not only will be able to see your ancestor’s handwriting and his signature, but also his unique notary mark.

A notary mark is a combination of signature and artistic flair. This mark was handwritten, not a stamp, as it would be today. Each mark was as individual as the person using it, making it difficult (if not impossible) to be imitated or forged.

On a recent trip to the Provincial Archives in Trento, I obtained digital images of several interesting notary marks made by my own ancestors, as well as a few of my clients’ ancestors. Personally, I get a thrill when I look at these little works of art, some of which were drawn half a millennium ago.

Notary Mark 11521 notary mark of Sebastiano Genetti of CastelfondoClick on image to see it in full size.

This notary mark is from a document written in 1521 by Sebastiano Genetti, son of Giovanni, of Castelfondo in Val di Non. If you look at the end of the first line of his signature, he specifies he is authorised by the a ‘sacra imperiali’, i.e. he was a notary with imperial authority. In fact, later in his life, Sebastiano was ennobled by the Holy Roman Emperor, Massimiliano II. Sebastiano was my 11X great-grandfather.

Notary Mark 21631 - Notary Mark Marco Campi of Gallio, Santa Croce del BleggioClick on image to see it in full size.

This notary mark is from 1631 and was written by Marco Campi, son of Antonio Campi, of Gallio in Santa Croce del Bleggio in Val Giudicarie. Marco also came from a noble family. Notice Marco’s notary mark is a castle. This is because their family name was originally ‘Castello Campo’, and simply ‘Campo’ or ‘Da Campo’ before that. The Da Campo family built the medieval castles Castello Campo and Castel Toblino in the 13th century. This and other notary documents written by Marco have enabled me to narrow down his death date to within three months (between Feb and April 1636), as his the last document I can find with his signature is dated 28 Jan 1626, and he is cited as deceased in the marriage record of one of his daughters on May 3rd of the same year. This is especially helpful as there are no death records for Santa Croce before the year 1638. It was also very helpful because prior to finding these notary records, I had wondered if Marco had died during the great plague of 1630, but apparently he survived. He was 66 when he died.

Notary Mark 3 1636 Notary mark of Lorenzo Levri of FiavèClick on image to see it in full size.

Signed on 14 July 1636, this notary mark is from Lorenzo Levri of Fiavè, also in Val Giudicarie. The mark looks like a baptismal font to me, but I am not if that is what it is supposed to be. Notice  Lorenzo’s initial (L.L.) in the centre of the mark. Working under the Giudizio di Stenico, Lorenzo operated at least between the years of 1635-1669, (possibly longer), so this was relatively early in his career. The Levri family had many notaries throughout the centuries, at least from 1521 through the early 1800s. In older Latin records you will usually see their surname written as ‘Lepori-‘ (with various endings, depending on the grammar of the sentence).

While not a blood relation of mine (he was distantly connected via marriage), the document from which this came was land sale agreement involving my 9X great-grandfather Sebastiano Sebastiani of Comighello.

Notary Mark 4

1642 Felice Onorati notary mark

Click on image to see it in full size.

This last image is from September 1642, and is an example of one of the dozens of notaries from the Onorati family of Bono, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article. This notary mark is for Felice, son of ‘the living’ Giovanni Onorati (spelled ‘Honorati’ in Latin). Notice his initials ‘F-H’ (linked together) in the centre of the mark.

Felice was a distant cousin, but was in the same family as many of Onorati notary ancestors. I thought his notary mark was so lovely I had to share it. The record from which this comes is a debt resolution agreement for a man named Bartolomeo Giovanna, who was a distant uncle of mine, and the 8X great-grandfather of a friend/cousin of mine living in California.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this article has given you some information, ideas and inspiration to investigate whether any of your own ancestors were notaries, and to find out more about their lives and their work. Please feel free to share your own research discoveries in the comments box below. 

For those of you who may be seeking some help in researching your Trentino ancestors — notaries or not — I am going back to Trento from 26 June to 10 July 2018. If you would like me to do some research for you while I am there, please first read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site.

And finally, whether you are a beginner or an advanced researcher, if you have Trentino ancestry, I invite you to come join the conversation in our Trentino Genealogy group on Facebook.

Until next time, enjoy the journey.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

View My Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

LYNN SERAFINN is a bestselling author and genealogist specialising in the families of Trentino. She is also the author of the regularly featured column ‘Genealogy Corner’ for Filò Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

In addition to her work for clients, her personal research project is to transcribe all the parish records for the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio (where her father was born) from the 1400s to the current era, as well as to connect as many living people as she can who were either born in Bleggio or whose ancestors came from there. She hopes this tree, which already contains tens of thousands of people, will serve as a visual and spiritual reminder of how we are all fundamentally connected.

View the Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

Genealogical Breadcrumbs: Notes, Sources & Reviewing Research

Genealogical Breadcrumbs: Notes, Sources & Reviewing ResearchGenealogist Lynn Serafinn explains how and why to cite genealogy sources, and how good research habits can help you fill in the gaps when records do not exist.

In my last article, I talked about the many ways we can make mistakes in genealogy and put the wrong information in our family tree. I also said the two most important habits of GOOD genealogists are:

  1. They always CITE their sources.
  2. They regularly REVIEW their work.

In writing today’s article, I realised I needed to add a third habit to the list:

  1. They KEEP NOTES of their research.

In fact, keeping good notes is so fundamental to research, I’m going to bump it up to #1 on the list of essential habits of a good genealogist: 3 Essential Habits of a Good GenealogistClick on image to see it larger.

Please SHARE this meme with your family history friends on social media.

Today, I want to talk about how these three habits work together in genealogy, and how they can help you create a trail of clues I like to call ‘genealogical breadcrumbs’, which can help lead you to the truth about your ancestors’ lives.

As always, while some elements of this article will be specific to Trentini genealogy, most of the concepts are equally applicable to ANY family history research, regardless of origin.

Keeping Notes of Your Research – Even When You’ve Found NOTHING

You might think ‘keeping notes’ means keeping track of what you discovered. However, I find it is just as important to keep a record of what I DID NOT find, and where/why I didn’t find it. For example, say you tried to find the marriage record of your great-great-grandparents in the parish records where your great-great-grandfather lived, but your search was unsuccessful. In such a case, you should write a NOTE in the description field for the marriage (Ancestry, Family Tree Maker, etc. will all have a description field) to the effect of:

‘I checked the marriage records for X parish between 1800 and 1820, but could not find it.’

I also find it useful to make a note of how thoroughly you’ve checked; after all, there is a big difference between doing a ‘quick check’ or scouring through the records three times. Make notes of ANYTHING of which you are uncertain, as well as any possible conflicts of information you might have found (e.g. two children for a couple appear to have been born too closely together).

What do you do if the original records for a parish/era no longer exist? Make a note saying something like:

‘There are no surviving marriage records for X parish between 1800 and 1820.’

Keeping such notes saves you time, as it helps ensure you don’t keep looking for the same records over and over (trust me, I’ve been there!).

What Are ‘Sources’?

A ‘source’ is a document (vital record, census, etc.), publication (book, website, blog article, etc.) or person (dictated verbally, in a letter, in an email, etc.) from which/whom you obtained your information. For example:

  • If you find a birth date of your ancestor Giuseppe in an official birth certificate, the birth certificate is the source.
  • If you find an estimated birth year for Giuseppe via a census record, the census record is the source.
  • If your Aunt Matilda told you Giuseppe’s birth date, Aunt Matilda is the source.
  • If you have obtained Giuseppe’s birth date from all three of the above, then ALL THREE are your sources – even if they give you conflicting information.

There are two types of sources:

  • Primary sources are original documents of an event or person, such as a birth/baptismal record, marriage record, death record or military record.
  • Secondary sources are quotes, opinions or other third-party accounts of an event or person, such as a book, article, letter or personal discussion.

In my opinion, certain records – such as census records – can be both primary and secondary sources. For example, it is a primary source for a person’s address on a specific date, but a secondary source of a person’s name or estimated year of birth (and they are often WRONG).

What Are ‘Source Citations’ and What Do You Put in Them?

A ‘source citation’ is a notation in your family tree of where you obtained your information. Most family tree programmes (Ancestry, Family Tree Maker, etc.) enable you to add and attach source citations to specific facts. A good source citation provides information about the source, such as the title, author, publisher, volume, year and page number of the source. If you are citing a parish record, for example, don’t just say ‘parish records’; rather, be sure to provide the name of the parish, the volume/book/part in which the record is located, and the page number (if there is one). It is also important to cite where/how the record was accessed, i.e. original record, digital image, microfilm, etc. Here’s an example of how I cite sources when working with digital images of the parish records at the Archives at the Archdiocese of Trento:

Santa Croce del Bleggio Parish Records (Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy).

Repository: Archdiocese of Trento Archives

Trento file 4256260_00985; Santa Croce parish records, marriages. LDS film 1448051, part 5, no page numbers.

(After the citation, I typically transcribe/translate the document as well, but that’s a whole different topic.)

If that looks like a lot of writing, the first two lines are a template I set up in Family Tree Maker. I set one up for every parish I research. That way, I can pull down the template and insert the information about the specific reference, which you see on line 3. Even that is a ‘template’ I’ve made up, to enable me (or others) to locate the records where I obtained the information. In this case, ‘Trento file’ refers to the number of the digital image I obtained in Trento, and it really is only relevant to people who do research there, as these files are not available outside the archives.

The reference to the ‘LDS microfilm’ is so that people who might be doing research at their local Family History Centre can find the exact page where the record is located. Of course, the FHC are retiring their microfilm service at the end of August 2017, so this information will become less relevant as they move over to digital images in the next few years.

Even if your source is a word-of-mouth account, you can (and should) cite the person’s name, and possibly the year in which he/she provided the information. You might also wish to say whether they gave you the information from memory or if they had any documentation.

Don’t forget to cite YOURSELF as a source if providing information from first-hand knowledge, e.g. your own birth date, the birth dates of your immediate family members, etc.

There is no ‘set in stone’ method for citing sources, and yours don’t need to be as detailed as mine. But once you understand the reasons why it’s important to cite your genealogical sources (which we’ll look at next), you too might wish to be more thorough in your citations.

Why Are Source Citations Essential in Genealogy?

While citing sources might seem like the less exciting side of genealogy, most experienced genealogists will tell you that genealogy without proof, sources and/or documentation is simply MYTHOLOGY (just Google the words ‘genealogy sources and mythology’ and you’ll see how often this topic has been discussed). In ANY kind of research – but especially genealogy – source citations have a threefold purpose:

  1. CREDIBILITY. As I said in my earlier article, ‘The Science of Finding Your Female Ancestors from Trentino’, genealogy is all about formulating hypotheses and then finding evidence to support or dispute it. Without at least one reliable source, our ‘facts’ are meaningless. The more reliable sources you have to back up a claim, the more likely it is that our ‘facts’ are true. Generally, primary sources are considered more ‘reliable’ than secondary sources such as word-of-mouth, books or other people’s family trees (see my additional comments about this below*).
  2. ATTRIBUTION. There isn’t a researcher on the planet who hasn’t found information from someplace else. While sometimes that information is a primary source (like a parish record), other times it has come from someone else’s research. Regardless of whether you are using primary or secondary sources, you MUST give proper attribution. Otherwise, you are plagiarising someone else’s work and/or intellectual property. Proper attribution will also provide evidence of the reliability of the original source.
  3. CROSS-CHECKING. Genealogy is a continually unfolding process. In other words, you (and others) will continually unravel new mysteries, even after you have found evidence for a specific person. Sometimes, the information you have found for one person is crucial in helping solve the mystery of another. OR, sometimes the information you have put on the tree was entered incorrectly or was incomplete. Incorrect/incomplete information is especially common when you are just starting out and you don’t understand how to interpret the records properly. If you have carefully cited your sources, you can return to the original document, reassess it, and fix the incorrect or incomplete information. Citing your sources also enables OTHER researchers – either family members or people you may not even know yet – to cross-check and/or expand upon your information.

* SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER: Ancestry dot com gives you the ability to cite another person’s tree as a source. That’s all well and good, but if that person’s tree has no reliable (preferably primary) sources to back up their information, such a ‘source’ is no proof at all. I know it can be tempting to build your family tree as quickly as possible, but piecing together your ancestry using other people’s unsubstantiated information is likely to lead you WAY off track, and you will end up disappointed when you find out much of your family history is simply untrue.

Creating a Breadcrumb Trail – Recording and Citing ‘Implied’ Information

As suggested at the start of this article, good genealogical practice helps you create a trail of ‘genealogical breadcrumbs’, which can narrow down information, even when documentation for that information does not exist. When you work with original records or images of the same (such as microfilm or digital image libraries), you can find a great deal more information than you would in indexed records or (most) online databases. For example, priests often use the Italian word fu, or the Latin word quondam (often abbreviated as ‘q.’), to indicate someone is deceased. Typically, these designations will appear:

  • IN MARRIAGE RECORDS: Before the name of a deceased father and/or grandfather of the bride or groom. In the latter part of the 19th century, you will also start to see it used to refer to a deceased mother of a bride/groom.
  • IN BAPTISMAL RECORDS: Before the name of a deceased paternal grandfather.
  • IN BAPTISMAL RECORDS: Before the name of a deceased father of an unmarried woman, or the deceased husband of a widowed woman, when she is the godmother of the child being baptised.

While such inferred information isn’t precise, it can help you create an estimated date of death for the person cited as deceased, as you know they died sometime before that event. Thus, you can enter an estimated date of death for that person, putting something like ‘Before March 1692’ in the date field on your tree. Less commonly, the word posthumous may appear before the name of the father in a baptismal record. This means the father died sometime between the date of conception and the birth of the child. This helps you narrow down the date of death to roughly a 9-month window. In this case, you can put something like ‘Between Jan – Aug 1709’ in your date field.

But here’s where good genealogical practice is especially important. When you estimate dates:

Be sure to cite the SOURCE(s) from which you INFERRED the estimate.

Why should you cite your sources when you’re just estimating a date? Two equally important reasons:

  1. Because you are likely to forget why you made that estimate in the first place. This could lead you to CHANGE the estimate to a date that is less precise or altogether incorrect.
  2. Because you may have made a mistake when you interpreted the record. Unless you know how to find your way back to the original record, you won’t be able to locate the source of the error. Without being able to check the original record, you might continue to conduct your research based on incorrect assumptions.

How do you cite a source when you are making an estimate? The SAME WAY you would cite your source for a baptism, marriage, etc. However, in this case, you would include NOTES about how you arrived at the estimate. For example, here is how I created a note for an ancestor of mine named Gaspare Genetti (later spelled Zanetti):

Estmated date of death for Gaspare Genetti of Castelfondo
Estmated date of death for Gaspare Genetti of Castelfondo

Click on image to see it larger.

The problem in finding the exact date of death for Gaspare is that, apart from a few death records for some of the parish priests, there are no death records for the parish of Bleggio before the mid-1660s. As I know Gaspare died before 1660, all I can do is formulate an estimate, based on available evidence. However, by carefully examining records of his family members, I managed to get a pretty good idea of when he died:

  • In this case, I have estimated his death as, ‘Between March and July 1637.’
  • Next, I explained how I deduced that estimate, saying that Gaspare was alive when his daughter Cattarina was born in February 1637, and that I ‘think’ he is cited as deceased in marriage record of his older daughter Margarita in July 1637. I say, ‘I think’ in this case, because I didn’t feel the handwriting on Margarita’s marriage record was 100% clear.
  • I go on to say that I KNOW he was deceased by the time his other daughter Vittoria marries in 1657, as it is clearly written in that document.
  • I then refer to five supporting source citations, which I linked to this estimated date. Each citation gives the Trento file, parish, page number, etc. as shown earlier.
  • I also uploaded a couple of images for these sources, which helps the readers assess the evidence themselves. It also enables ME to go back and reread the documents, to see if I made any errors.
  • Later, if I find other documents that give me an earlier or more precise date, I can change it, citing another source.

In this way – even if there are no existing records – it is often possible to formulate a narrow range of dates during which an event took place.

Creating estimates supported by source citations can also help speed up your searches through existing records. Let’s say you want to know the death date of your 5x great-grandfather, Giovanni. If you were to trawl through all the death records for his parish without having a rough idea of when he died, you’d probably end up searching aimlessly through hundreds of records, unsure whether ANY of them referred to your Giovanni. But if you have already formulated an estimate for his death, gleaned from information found in the marriage records of his children, or baptismal records of his grandchildren, you can limit the range of years in which you need to look. This will significantly decrease the amount of time you need to spend searching for a record, and increase the likelihood of finding the correct document.

The Importance of Reviewing Your Work

In genealogy, it is often all too tempting to go for quantity at the expense of quality. We want to go back one more generation, rather than dig more deeply, verify or refine the information already gathered. But I know from experience that, while it might seem like a dull proposition, going back to review your work can often breathe new life into your tree:

  • A cryptic word on a record you looked at ten times in the past might suddenly leap out and you and make sense.
  • Your language skills might have improved since the last time you studied a set of records.
  • You may have become more skilled at deciphering messy handwriting.
  • You might have recently discovered that your family used a soprannome during a certain period, which means you may have missed them in the records when you looked last time.
  • You might look at your tree and suddenly realise two people are the SAME person.
  • You might suddenly realise someone you thought was related only by marriage is actually the father of your 10x great-grandfather.

OR… You might realise an underlined word in a baptismal record is not the person’s surname (as it usually is), but their village. This happened to me JUST last night. I was reviewing some transcriptions made a few months ago, and noticed I had made a note that there was one record where I didn’t understand the surname. I took out the record and within a second I could see that the surname was missing from the record, and the priest had only given the first name and the frazione. Immediately, I realised I had found the 1566 baptismal record of one of my 9x great-grandfathers, Antonio Domenico Frieri (son of Filippo) of Marazzone. It seems so obvious to me now, but I must have looked at this record a dozen times before, without making the connection:

1566 Baptismal record for Antonio Domenico Frieri of Marazzone.
1566 Baptismal record for Antonio Domenico Frieri of Marazzone.

Click on image to see it larger.

There is no way ANY of us get it right – or complete – the first time around. Without regular review of our work, we may feel like we have hit a brick wall, while the information is staring us in the face and we simply haven’t yet noticed it.

Closing Thoughts

I hope you found this article useful and informative, and that it has inspired you to become a ‘master’ in our craft. Most of us who do genealogy are not only driven by a desire to find out about ourselves, but also by the wish to leave a valuable and lasting legacy for our children, grandchildren and extended family. To ensure that happens, we family historians must aspire to maintain the highest standards in every aspect of our research. As I said, while keeping notes, citing sources and reviewing one’s work might seem like the less ‘glamourous’ side of genealogy, they are the activities that will help your visions become reality.

So, be sure to post this reminder over your desk:

3 Essential Habits of a Good GenealogistClick on image to see it larger.

Please SHARE this meme with your family history friends on social media.

I would welcome any comments or questions on this, or any other topic to do with Trentino Genealogy. Please feel free to express yourself by leaving a comment in the box below, or drop me a line using the contact form on this site.

Until next time, enjoy the journey.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

P.S.: I am going back to Trento to do research on August 16th, 2017. If you would like me to try to look for something while I am there, please first read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. I look forward to hearing from you!

Subscribe to receive all upcoming articles from Trentino Genealogy!
Desktop viewers can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen.
If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

View My Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

LYNN SERAFINN is a bestselling author and genealogist specialising in the families of Trentino. She is also the author of the regularly featured column ‘Genealogy Corner’ for Filò Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

In addition to her work for clients, her personal research project is to transcribe all the parish records for the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio (where her father was born) from the 1400s to the current era, as well as to connect as many living people as she can who were either born in Bleggio or whose ancestors came from there. She hopes this tree, which already contains tens of thousands of people, will serve as a visual and spiritual reminder of how we are all fundamentally connected.

View the Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

How the WRONG Information Ends Up in Your Family Tree

How the WRONG Information Ends Up in Your Family Tree
Baptismal record from 1567 where priest has omitted the father’s surname, Onorati.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn discusses 15 common ways we make mistakes in genealogy, and offers tips on how to separate fact from fiction in your family history.

It’s easy to get hooked on the act of discovery when researching our family histories. We love finding new people and adding them to our tree, and can often feel disappointed if our tree hasn’t grown after a hard day of research. But sometimes, our desire for growth can make us careless. Lack of rigour in our research can bring many errors into our precious family trees – from incorrect dates to the wrong people. This is especially the case when we are just starting out and less experienced, both in the subject matter (our ancestors) and the process of research itself.

Even when we are experienced, genealogy can be an informational nightmare. It’s bad enough trying to make sense of foreign, inaccurate or missing primary sources, but we must also contend with imperfect personal memories and simple human error. Then – with our trees and the trees of millions of others being freely available online – one mistake can become multiplied thousands of times over.

That’s why I wanted to write an article about how we family historians can get it very WRONG, if we’re not as meticulous as possible in our work. While some of this article will cover things specific to Trentini genealogy, most of the concepts I will share are applicable to ANY family history research, regardless of origin.

15 Ways We Make Mistakes in Genealogy

Mistakes are inevitable in genealogy, but they DO need to be addressed. The first step in dealing with them is to know where and how they most commonly happen. Here are some of the most common ways mistakes enter our family trees:

1.      Relying solely upon people’s memories or family hearsay.

When we first start doing our family history, we typically begin with what we (and other family members) already know. The problem is, what we THINK we know may not actually be true, especially if we are talking about the past. Some examples:

  • One of my father’s sisters wrote a very sweet love story about her parents’ early marital life (many years before she was born). In the story, she said they lived in Merano. The problem is, this is pure fiction. My grandparents never lived anywhere near Merano. My aunt made it up (probably because she had been born in the US, and had never actually visited Trentino). This colourful myth is still in circulation within the family, and it’s really difficult to get people to ‘unbelieve’ something after they’ve believed it so long.
  • One of my clients gave me a death date for her great-granduncle. But the more I researched him, I could find no evidence to back up this date. When I asked where she had gotten this date, she told me someone in her family had given it to her, but she had no documentation for it. So, assuming this date was incorrect, I started my search from scratch. Eventually, I found the correct record – a good 20 years earlier than the date her relative had told her! To this day, we have no idea how the fictitious date was even conjured.

2.      Copying or merging information from someone else’s tree.

Websites like Ancestry and MyHeritage are very enthusiastic about giving you ‘hints’ for your ancestors. Often these hints come from information in other members’ trees. The problem is, unless you know the person who made the tree, and have complete faith in their competence as a researcher, it’s a REALLY (really, really!) bad idea to copy that information onto your tree – especially if they have not cited any sources or provided any images of original documents. Furthermore, even if the information they have is 100% correct for THEIR ancestor, it doesn’t necessarily mean the ‘hint’ you’ve received is for YOUR ancestor. Merging people into your tree via these online hints is one of the fastest ways to compromise the quality of your work and turn your tree into a complete fiction. If you believe you’ve found the right person, manually copy the information into your tree, with accurate notes about who you got the information from, so you can verify it later.

3.      Typos.

Research is always a case of taking information from one source and writing it down in another place. For example, if you find a birth date, you have to enter it into your tree. It’s easy for a slip of the finger to result in a misspelled name or incorrect date, so careful proofreading before uploading your information is always the best policy. Reviewing your work regularly (an idea we’ll come back to in the next article) is another good habit to develop, as you’re bound to find typos lurking in places you may not have checked.

4.      Lack of familiarity with the language.

If you’re unfamiliar with the language in which a record is written, it’s easy to get it wrong when you are trying to translate it. In Trentino, virtually all official documents before the mid-19th century (whether church or secular) are written in Latin. Later, they start to shift into Italian. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Latin scholar or be fluent in Italian to make sense of most of the relevant details, but you do need at least some understanding of the language.

5.      Lack of familiarity with the date conventions.

I’m not sure about the rest of Italy, but Trentino priests (especially in the 17th and 18th centuries) had a quirky method of writing dates that can confuse those who are unfamiliar. Have a look at these two baptismal records from 1669 and 1670, respectively, and try to make out the MONTHS in which they occurred:

Baptismal record from 1669, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trentino
Figure 1: Baptismal record from 1669 – CLICK IMAGE to see it larger.

CLICK IMAGE to see it larger.

1670 baptismal record of Giovanni Parisi of Bono, Santa Croce del Bleggio, diocese of Trento.
Figure 2: 1670 baptismal record of Giovanni Parisi of Bono, Santa Croce del Bleggio, diocese of Trento.

CLICK IMAGE to see it larger.

In Figure 1, you’ll see the priest wrote ‘Xbre’ for the name of the month. If you remember Roman numerals, ‘X’ represents the number 10. So, you MIGHT assume ‘Xbre’ means October, the 10th month, yes? Well, you’d be wrong. ‘Xbre’ stands for DECEMBER, the 12th month. Why? Because the Italian word for ‘10’ is dieci. Although dieci MEANS ‘10’, it SOUNDS like the Italian word for December – dicembre. So, when you see ‘Xbre’ it is shorthand for December.

Figure 2 gives a similar example. The month is written ‘7bre’. This time the priest did not use a Roman numeral, but the regular (Arabic) number ‘7’. Again, you might thing this refers to the 7th month, i.e. July, but it doesn’t. In Italian, ‘7’ is pronounced sette, so ‘7bre’ is shorthand for the month of SEPTEMBER.

The last four months of the year are frequently abbreviated in this way (October is ‘8bre’ and November is ‘9bre’). The reason might have something to do with the fact that these months were originally the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months of the year; but given the fact that the current calendar was introduced much before the 17th century, I think it’s just the way the priests heard the words in their heads. But, if you’re looking at the words as numbers rather than hearing them as sounds, you could easily record the wrong month for your ancestor’s birthday.

6.      Lack of familiarity with toponymy/geography.

Knowing the names of local parishes and villages (frazioni), as well as the names of contingent and more distance places in the region, is also an essential skill if we are to avoid mistakes in our family trees. I once saw a tree in which every child in the family was born in a different village, some of which were hundreds of miles from each other. While we in the 21st century may be accustomed to moving around frequently, this was less common in the past. This error happened because the man who made the tree was unfamiliar with Trentino and had no idea where places were on the map. Using an online database, he entered all the names he believed matched his search, but it was almost entirely incorrect. Good genealogists don’t just look up names and dates; they also take the time to learn about the places they are researching.

7.      Lack of familiarity with the local surnames (and how they evolved over time).

When we start our research, we tend to look for information solely about our own family. This can cause us to develop ‘tunnel-vision’: we might find a record with something that somewhat resembles our family’s surname and assume it is our surname because we don’t know of any other surname like it. Here are some examples from my own research into a branch of my family with the surname ‘Gusmerotti’:

  1. The name ‘Gusmerotti’ was originally derived from the first name ‘Gosmero’ (the suffix ‘-otti’ meaning ‘big’). Thus, some very early records that say ‘Gosmero’ or ‘Gosmeri’ are typically predecessors of those who later called themselves Gusmerotti. When I first started my research, I failed to notice many of my early Gusmerotti ancestors’ records because the surname didn’t have the ‘-otti’ ending.
  2. Several years ago, when I knew little about surnames in my father’s parish, I found a record written in very small, tight handwriting, in which the surname started with a ‘G’, had ‘u’, ‘m’ and ‘t’ in the middle, and ended in a vowel (but I wasn’t sure if it was an ‘i’ or an ‘a’). At the time, the only name I knew that fit these parameters was Gusmerotti, and I thusly assumed it to be so. Later, I realised it actually said ‘Giumenta’ (which means ‘mare’), a surname that became obsolete sometime in 17th century, having evolved into the name ‘Martinelli’, and then ‘Martini’. In fact, Martinelli is more than likely a soprannome that ‘stuck’ over time (we’ll look at soprannomi next).

8.      Not recognising a soprannome when you see it.

I’ve mentioned the use of soprannomi in other articles on this site. Soprannomi (plural of soprannome), are specific to Italian genealogy, including Trentino, and unless you get a handle on them, you can sometimes fail to recognise an entire branch of your family. A soprannome is used as a kind of ‘bolt on’ to a surname, to distinguish one branch of the family from another. Here’s a sample of a few soprannomi from my father’s parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio during the 16th-18th centuries, and the surnames of the families to which I have seen them attached:

SOPRANNOME RELATED SURNAME(S)
Ballina, Balini Fusari
Bella Caresani, Duchi
Bellotti (var. of Bella) Caresani
Berlingoni Duchi
Bertagnini Crosina
Blasiola Farina
Bleggi Duchi
Bondi, Bont Devilli
Cimador Devilli
Ferrari, Fabriferrari, Frerotti Briosi
Jakobi Gusmerotti
Martini, Martinelli Giumenta
Ottolini Panada
Rizza Devilli
Solandri Beltrami
Tosi Crosina
Trentini Devilli

While soprannomi can tell us a lot about who is related to whom, they can also cause many inexperienced researchers to make mistakes. This is because:

  • Rarely do soprannomi bear ANY resemblance to the surnames.
  • Soprannomi change frequently, typically lasting only one to three generations before they morph into something else.
  • A priest will often use a person’s soprannome INSTEAD of the surname, when he records an event.
  • Sometimes a soprannome will permanently replace the surname, which can make it seem like a family has fallen off the face of the earth.
  • Many soprannomi are also surnames – but of OTHER families!

All these idiosyncrasies can cause you to miss one of your ancestors, attach someone to the wrong family, or assume you are looking at completely unrelated families. Unfortunately, the ONLY way to master the changes of soprannomi is to study the images of the original records of your family’s parish METICULOUSLY. There simply is no other way.

9.      Misreading the handwriting.

Trying to understand handwritten documents can be a challenge even for the experienced genealogist, but it is especially difficult when you are new to research. Aside from the unpredictable spelling of names and places, and the frequent use of short-hand, sometimes the handwriting in the document is just plain MESSY! The only way to minimise mistakes caused by misreading handwriting is continual practice with images of original documents.

10.  Overlooking the details.

Parish records often contain a lot of subtle information, which can be easy to miss if you read too quickly or not carefully enough. You might fail to notice ONE word indicating the fact that someone’s father was deceased, or that someone was a widow/widower when they married. A single word might indicate someone was NOT originally from the place they later lived, or that a godfather at a baptism was the brother of the mother of the child. Sometimes that single word is the only piece of information that will save you from months of fruitless – or inaccurate – research. Squeeze every bit of evidence out of your documents, and record every minute detail that tells the story of your family.

11.  Drawing conclusions based on only ONE source.

Major mistakes can creep into our tree if we base our assumptions on information we’ve gathered from only one source (i.e. a baptismal, marriage or death record) without cross-referencing it to anything else. This happened to me when I was just starting out. I stumbled upon the death record for one of my 2X great-grandfathers, Bernardino Luigi Onorati. The record listed his date of marriage to my 2X great-grandmother, Margarita Elisabetta Gusmerotti. I knew from the baptismal record of my great-grandfather (their son) that Margarita’s father’s name was Lorenzo. I looked on the Nati in Trentino website and quickly found a Margarita Elisabetta Gusmerotti, daughter of Lorenzo, born in 1818. Happy I had found the right woman, and knowing the date of their marriage, I proceeded to research my new Gusmerotti line, spending many weeks on microfilm at my local Family History Centre. A few years later, I was in Trento and I suddenly realised I had never actually looked for the original marriage record of my Onorati 2X great-grandparents. As I now had access to digital images and my research abilities were vastly improved, I found the marriage record within minutes, rather than weeks. But when I read the document, my jaw dropped and I got a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. The name of Margarita’s MOTHER was not what I had on my tree. Evidently, there were TWO different Margarita Elisabetta Gusmerottis, daughters of two different Lorenzos, and two different mothers, born around the same times. I had spent weeks (if not months) researching the WRONG families.

After I stopped kicking myself for not having checked earlier, I went to work. I found my TRUE 2X great-grandmother – Margarita Elisabetta Rosa Gusmerotti, born four years earlier in 1814. Then, I got to work building her lineage – with the new Lorenzo and my newly-found 3X great-grandmother. Happily, however, as I have been researching the entire parish for the past several years, I was able to link her lines to many other people I already had on the tree, and I quickly traced many of her lines back to the early 1600s.

12.  Searching solely for your ancestor, instead of your ancestor’s FAMILY.

Have you ever taken a good look at your family tree, and think something along these lines?

‘Maria got married at 45 and her last child was born when she was 65 years old…hmmm…that doesn’t seem quite right….’

If not, you’re either really GOOD at catching mistakes, or you haven’t been careful ENOUGH in your research. Mistakes like these commonly happen when we find a record we believe to be our ancestor’s, and then STOP looking for anything else. Often, after we dig a little deeper, we might discover that the record we found was actually that of an older sibling who died when he/she was very young, for example. But because we want to feel like we’ve accomplished something after a day of research, it’s often tempting to tick off items on our ‘to do’ lists and move on to something else.

Fastidious researchers don’t just look for their ancestors – they look for their ancestors’ families. I think of it as ‘building families’ – births, marriages and deaths of everyone in the nuclear family of my ancestor. This gives me a much more accurate picture of who everyone is, and the relationships between them. It also minimises the chances that I will connect someone to the wrong spouse at another generational level.

13.  Not recognising when the PRIEST has made a mistake.

It’s natural to want to believe parish records are 100% accurate, but unfortunately that is NOT the case. Parish priests may be dedicated to their spiritual duties, but they are also human. And like any other human being, they are prone to errors. Perhaps they miswrote a name because they heard it incorrectly, or they came from outside the parish and were unfamiliar with the local families. Maybe they didn’t have time to write it down carefully. Or, perhaps they felt it was unnecessary to specify every detail, as they assumed anyone reading the document would know who they were talking about. An example of this can be seen in the image of the baptismal record I used in title of this article, where the priest wrote ‘Matteo of Bono, notary’, omitting the surname ‘Onorati’. To him, it was obvious he was talking about Matteo Onorati; but to someone in the 21st century, it may not be immediately apparent, unless you are intimately acquainted with the records for that era.

Or (and this might surprise you), perhaps they simply couldn’t be bothered. While most priests are fastidious record-keepers, I get the distinct impression that some of them really couldn’t stand the obligation of having to write everything down. That’s when they got messy, took short cuts, left out information – and made mistakes. The only way to evaluate documents you suspect contain errors is to complete the architecture for a family as thoroughly as possible (as discussed in the previous point). That way, you can recognise inconsistencies and anomalies more easily, and make sure one person’s error doesn’t steer you off course.

14.  Depending too much on transcriptions.

While parish priests might make their share of errors, it’s nothing compared to errors made when documents are transcribed by someone completely unfamiliar with the culture of the person whose information they are recording. Some perfect examples are US census records, ship manifests and Ellis Island immigration documents. In these, you have TWO levels of possible transcription error:

  • First, when the government official writes the information into the document
  • Then, when the website transcribes/indexes the document

For example, the Ellis Island immigration documentation for my grandfather lists his village of origin as ‘Dunendo’. One of my cousins put ‘Dunendo’ on his tree, and wrote to me asking where it was because he couldn’t find it on the map. The problem is, ‘Dunendo’ doesn’t exist; the name of the village is Duvredo. The transcriber misread the handwriting, and the mistake then became ‘fact’.

Census records are also notorious for incorrectly spelled names and incorrect ages. If you are depending upon these kinds of ‘official’ documents for information, use them with a pinch of salt, and NEVER assume transcriptions are accurate.

15.  Depending too much on ‘Nati in Trentino’ or other online databases.

In this digital era, we are used to ‘Googling’ everything. We want to do quick searches and find information right away. The problem is, to make things searchable, they must first be transcribed from other sources, and then filtered to respond to specific search parameters.

We’ve already looked at the problems transcriptions can bring with them. Fortunately, the database on the Nati in Trentino website (see my previous article ‘Searching Online for 19th & 20th Century Trentini Ancestors’ about this site) is very WELL transcribed, making it fairly reliable for 19th century searches. However, you still have the limitations of what it DOESN’T show because it’s not included in its search parameters. For example, you cannot see the names of grandparents or godparents. You cannot see if a priest has made a notation that the child died shortly after baptism. Many people use Nati in Trentino when they first get started researching their Trentini ancestors, but it is a mistake to rely upon it as your sole source of information, because it will likely create errors in your tree.

Errors are also likely to occur if you depend too much on the Family Search website. There, many Italian parish records have been transcribed by volunteers. These volunteers can only choose which parishes Family Search happens to be currently working on. Thus, it is highly likely the volunteers will be unfamiliar with the parishes whose records they are transcribing. There are many rules on how Family Search want the documents transcribed, which I found frustrating when I gave it a shot a few years ago. I stopped volunteering because I strongly felt these limitations create problems for the people using the database.

Closing Thoughts

The main difference between a good genealogist and a mediocre one is not how many mistakes they make, but how rigorously they stay on top of them. A good genealogist develops a research routine and standards that help ensure mistakes get FIXED quickly, and that all information can be verified by some form of documentation. To do this, you need to cultivate two essential habits:

  1. CONTINUOUSLY REVIEW YOUR WORK. No matter how long you have been doing genealogy, it’s unwise to take anything for granted. Your earlier work may contain errors you never noticed, or never addressed. Over the years, you may have inadvertently compounded these by assuming one thing to be true that wasn’t. Look for gaps, inconsistencies and conflicting information. Check, check and triple check. Next year, check it all again.
  • ALWAYS CITE YOUR SOURCES. Source citations are like genealogical ‘breadcrumbs’. They enable you to trace back to where you found information and verify whether your conclusions are true. They also give other people confidence that your information is correct. Lastly, they give clues that point you in the right direction to find records or other family members. Even if your only source is a specific titbit is family hearsay, a phone call or a personal letter, always cite who gave you the information, and how/when you received it.

In my next article, we’ll look specifically at citing sources – how to do it, why to do it, and how to use citations to back up HYPOTHESES you can formulate, even when the precise information may be missing. I hope you’ll subscribe to Trentino Genealogy to receive that and all upcoming articles. You can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing the site on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

I hope this article has given you some useful information that can help bring more accuracy into your work, and more confidence as a researcher. I would welcome any comments or questions on this, or any other topic to do with Trentino Genealogy. Please feel free to express yourself by leaving a comment in the box below, or drop me a line using the contact form on this site.

Until next time, enjoy the journey.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

P.S.: I am going back to Trento to do research in August 2017. If you would like me to try to look for something while I am there, please first read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. I look forward to hearing from you!

Subscribe to receive all upcoming articles from Trentino Genealogy! Desktop viewers can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

Lynn on Twitter: http://twitter.com/LynnSerafinn

Join our Trentino Genealogy Group on Facebook: http://facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy

View My Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

LYNN SERAFINN is a bestselling author and genealogist specialising in the families of Trentino. She is also the author of the regularly featured column ‘Genealogy Corner’ for Filò Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

In addition to her work for clients, her personal research project is to transcribe all the parish records for the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio (where her father was born) from the 1400s to the current era, as well as to connect as many living people as she can who were either born in Bleggio or whose ancestors came from there. She hopes this tree, which already contains tens of thousands of people, will serve as a visual and spiritual reminder of how we are all fundamentally connected.

View the Santa Croce del Bleggio Family Tree on Ancestry:
https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/tree/161928829

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.