Category Archives: Val di Sole

The Comini of Val di Sole – Ancestry, Nobility, and Challenges of Research

Comini of Val di Sole - Ancestry, Nobility, and Challenges of ResearchTheories and evidence on the origins of the Comini of Val di Sole, and fascinating tales of the noble Comini de Sonnenberg. By genealogist Lynn Serafinn.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I am always fascinated by the origins of Trentino surnames. I get especially curious when I encounter a surname that seems to be associated with one particular village, or that is said to have originated from outside the province.

One such surname that popped up while researching the families of a few of my clients was ‘Comini’. Initially, I was curious because it wasn’t all that common, and also because I had also seen a surname ‘Comina’, and I wasn’t sure whether the two were variants of the same surname or were unrelated. Some of books I consulted seemed to ‘lump’ the two names together, but the more I investigated, the more I felt this was incorrect. Then, when I dug more deeply into the Comini themselves, I started seeing evidence of two completely different lines, living in the same village of Cassana in Val di Sole, but who arrived there at different points in time.

In this article, we will first explore the various origin theories for these two surnames in Val di Sole, from both a linguistic and geographical perspective. Then, we will investigate how and where these surnames appear in documentation from the 1500s, with inferences to the 1400s. After this, we will focus our examination on the Comini in Cassana from a genealogical perspective, to see how two different family lines bearing this surname arose in that village in the 1600s. Focusing then on one of these lines – the Comini de Sera – we will follow it through to one specific family known as ‘Comini de Sonnenberg’, who were ennobled in 1799. Finally, we will take a look at the lives of a few of the famous personalities from that family, who made significant contributions to the fields of science, art, religion, and local history.

Possible Linguistic Origins of the Surname

According to linguistic historian Aldo Bertoluzza, the surnames Comini and Comina are patronymics, derived from ‘Giacomino’, which a nickname of the male personal name ‘Giacomo’ (equivalent to ‘James’ in English), having the meaning ‘God has protected him’.1 If this is correct, the surnames would have the meaning ‘[the family] of Giacomo’.

As we’ll see shortly when we look at some research done by Giovanni Ciccolini, the personal name ‘Comino’ (sometimes Latinised to ‘Cominus’) also appears in earlier documents, and there does seem to be some evidence that these surnames are more directly derived from that name. However, Bertoluzza’s theory may still be accurate, as ‘Comino’ could be a shortened form of the name Giacomino, in much the same way as ‘Dorigo’ is sometimes seen as a shortened from of the name Odorico or Odorigo.

Possible Geographic Origins of the Surnames

Although Guelfi states that the Comini were indigenous to Trentino2, in Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine, authors Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli say the Comini probably came from Valtellina in the present-day province of Sondrio, Lombardia.3 I don’t know where they obtained that information (unless it is part of the Comini family lore), but let’s explore the possibility that the Comini had Lombardian origins.

Looking at the Cognomix website, there are currently about 683 families in Italy bearing the surname Comini. Of these, 425 of these families (over 62%) live in the region of Lombardia, with the lion’s share of them (179 families) in the eastern province of Brescia, which borders Trentino. Only two Comini families currently live in the province of Sondrio. In sharp contrast to Lombardia, the region of Trentino-Alto Adige has only 23 Comini families, with only 15 of them in the province of Trento (only about 2% of the total figure). About half of these are in various comuni in Val di Sole.4

That same website tells us there are far fewer families (only about 123) with the surname Comina in Italy today. In this case, Lombardia is second on the list, with 23 families compared to 26 in Piemonte. The surname in Lombardia is sparsely distributed, with no well-defined ‘epicentre’. In Trentino-Alto Adige, there are 17 Comina families, 13 of which are in the province of Trento. Of these, the greatest number of families (albeit only 6 of them) live in the comune of Peio.5

I cannot attest to the accuracy of these figures; nor do present-day statistics always give us an accurate picture of the past. But when we consider the overall population of the region of Lombardia is currently an estimated 10 times more than that of the region of Trentino-Alto Adige,6 there appear to be almost twice as many Comini per million in Lombardia as Trentino-Alto Adige (about 42.5 compared to 23), and nearly 5 times as many Comini per million in the province of Brescia compared to the province of Trento (141 compared to 30).7 To me, these figures make a strong case for the theory of the surname’s Lombardian origins.

Do we have evidence of Lombardian immigration into Trentino occurring prior to the year 1600?

In a fascinating article from 1935,8 historian Giovanni Ciccolini shares his research into the influx of workers, craftsmen, and professionals from Lombardia into Val di Sole in Trentino from the 1301 to the end of the 1500s, arriving during an era of great economic growth owing to the burgeoning industry in iron mining.

Amongst the 155 men identified by Ciccolini, we find five referred to by the first name ‘Comino’ or its Latin equivalent ‘Cominus’, showing us the personal name was not completely uncommon in Lombardia in that era.

However, only one actually bears a surname resembling Comini or Comina, namely one ‘Cominus, son of the late Pietro de Cominis of Precasai (i.e., Prescaglio in Val Camonica)’, whose name appears in a document drafted in Peio on 24 September 1565, where he is cited as a witness.9 But we would be wrong to leap to the conclusion that this ‘Cominus’ was the patriarch of the Comina line in Peio, as other evidence shows the Comina were already living in Peio at least half a century earlier.

Thus, as interesting as Ciccolini’s research is, the records he cites neither confirm nor disprove that the Comini or Comina came from Lombardia. But if they did, some of these families HAD to have settled in Trentino no later than the late 1400s, as we can find them (but not always in an obvious way) in documents in Val di Sole by the early 1500s, with no reference to any non-Trentino place of origin.

Comini and Comina – Are they Variants of the Same Surname?

Several historians seem to make no distinction between these two surnames, but I believe this can lead to confusion. Bertoluzza puts them under the same heading in his Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino,10 but he is looking at them through the ‘lens’ of linguistics only. While these surnames may share a common linguistic root, all the evidence I have found indicates they are not genealogically related – or at least not within the past six centuries or so.

These surnames get repeatedly muddled in other sources, especially when the focus is only on one family or the other. For example, Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli say the Comini (who were later ennobled) are documented in Ossana and Fucine in the early 1600s.11 Aside from the fact that both the Comini and the Comina were already present in Val di Sole at least a century earlier, I am fairly certain the family in Ossana and Fucine were the Comina, not the Comini.

Such confusion is probably understandable, as these surnames are often vague in early documentation. With the exception of higher nobility, surnames in general are not really used until the 1400s, and even then, they always going to be somewhat ‘fluid’ for the next few centuries. In the case of the Comini / Comina, early records will often have the truncated form ‘Comin’ or the Latinised versions ‘Cominis’ or ‘Cominus’. But by the year 1700 or so, most surnames take on a more permanent form, similar (if not identical) to how they will appear today. By this time, the distinction between Comini and Comina in Val di Sole becomes clearer:

  • Comini is found predominantly in Cassana in the parish of San Giacomo.
  • Comina is found predominantly in Peio, with some in nearby Ossana.

Of course, over the centuries, you will see branches of these families spreading out into other parts of the province (and beyond), but our discussion of their ‘origins’ in the province will focus mainly on these two places.

Restored fresco in the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana. Photo from the Trentino Cultura website
Restored fresco in the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana. Photo from the Trentino Cultura website at https://www.cultura.trentino.it/Rubriche/Restauri-in-evidenza-fra-pubblico-e-privato/Gli-affreschi-ritrovati-nella-chiesa-di-S.-Tommaso-a-Cassana

The Comina of Peio in the 1500s

Called ‘Pellium’ in Latin, Peio is a curate parish of Celledizzo, part of the decanato (deanery) of Ossana. Although there has been a church there since at least 1380, the baptismal records for Peio do not go beyond the year 1653. Peio’s death records start a few years later in 1669, and its marriages do not begin until 1811,12 although these may have been recorded in Celledizzo, where the marriages begin in 1686.13 There are some fragments of ‘urbari’ (inventories of assets, income, etc.) from first half of the 1500s and later years. One of the curates of Peio, don Giuseppe Baggia, who served there for nearly half a century, exhaustively compiled family trees and a local history of Peio. Starting his project in 1888 and continuing it until his death in 1906, he drew his information from what remained of the parish archives, after numerous fires had destroyed the bulk of its earliest records.14 Unfortunately, I have not been able to consult these trees for this current investigation.

As we have no parish registers to fall back on, we can only interpolate the history of the Comina in Peio by piecing together these fragments. This is largely what Fortunato Turrini has done in his excellent book, Carte di Peio. The first reference to a ‘Comina’ he cites is from a legal parchment dated 30 September 1516, which refers to a ‘Martino, son of Francesco Nones’.15 Parenthetically, he tells us that ‘Nones’ is actually referring to a branch of the Comina family, who presumably used ‘Nones’ as their soprannome (this is most likely drawn from the observations by don Giuseppe Baggia). If Martino is a legal adult with a father who was still alive in 1516, it would place his father Francesco’s birth date somewhere in the mid-1400s.

Drafted just few years later in 1522, we are fortunate enough to have a surviving copy of the Carta di Regola (‘Charter of Rules’) for Peio. In that document, we find the names of 38 men, representing 16 households, who have the right to participate in the meeting. Among those present, but not included among the electors, we find one ‘Martino, son of the late Francesco Nones’, as well as a ‘Pietro, called “Ganza”, son of the late Leonardo dei Nones’. Again, Turrini tells us these ‘Nones’ men are actually ‘Comina’. Later, the document does mention a ‘Martino Comina’, so it is difficult to know whether the two Martinos are the same person or two different individuals.16

Assessing the information from these documents – and trusting the accuracy of don Baggia’s assessment that ‘Nones’ is a soprannome for the family later known as Comina – we find ourselves faced with several questions:

  • Were the ‘Comina’ men present at the meeting not included as electors because they were not yet full ‘citizens’ of the community?
  • If so, could this indicate they had settled there within the past generation?
  • If so, is there any link between these ‘Comina’ and the ‘Comino, son of the late Pietro de Cominis’ from Val Camonica we see later in the 1565 document cited by Ciccolini?
  • If so, could ‘Pietro, called Ganza’ in the 1522 Carta be the father of Comino?
  • Why is one Martino called ‘Comina’ and the other is not? The use of a soprannome does indicate we are dealing with more than one branch of the family, even in this early era. Do they share a common origin?
  • Where did this soprannome ‘Nones’ come from? Normally this word would refer to someone from Val di Non, not Lombardia.

By the end of the 1500s, roughly two generations later, we finally find the surname ‘Comina’ firmly established in Peio. A parchment from 1580 refers to an ‘Antonio, son of the late Martino Comina’ as well as ‘Francesco, son of the late Pietro Comina’.17 Another parish in the Peio archives from 1597 mentions a ‘Francesco and Maria Comina’.18

The ‘Comin’ and Comini of Malé in the 1500s

During my research, I stumbled upon a baptismal record in the parish of Malé, dated 13 April 1595, for an ‘Antonio, son of Pietro Comina of Peio in the parish of Ossana, living in Malé’.19 However, this Comina line does not seem to have continued in Malé. They are also not to be confused with Comin/Comini families who already were living in Malé before this date.

1595. Baptism of Antonio, son of Pietro Comina of Peio, living in Male'.
Click on image to see it larger

In Malé, the surname ‘Comin’ appears amongst its earliest surviving baptismal records, the first being on 4 August 1554 for a Barbara, daughter of Bartolomeo Comin of Malé and his wife, Maria20

1554. Baptism of Barbara, daughter of Bartolomeo Comin of Male'.
Click on image to see it larger

The wording of the document infers Bartolomeo was native to Malé. As Barbara is the only child of this couple in the register, it is possible her parents were already in their 40s, which could push the birth date of Bartolomeo to around 1510, but most likely not after 1525.

In a later Malé baptismal record for a Cristoforo Comin dated 11 February 1571, we learn his father is another Bartolomeo, son of a Giovanni, who was then deceased.21 This places the late paternal grandfather Giovanni in the same generation as the Bartolomeo seen in the previous 1554 record, meaning he was also born sometime near the beginning of that century.

1571. Baptism of Cristoforo, son of Giovanni, son of Bartolomeo Comin of Male'.
Click on image to see it larger

Later in Malé, on 18 November 1603, we find a ‘Giovanni, son of the late Cristoforo Comini of Malé’ cited as a witness at the signing of a legal document.22 Again, we can assume Giovanni was at least 25 years of age, hence he would have been born around the same time as the Cristoforo above (so his father would have been an earlier Cristoforo). Curiously, on the same day, and written by the same notary, we find another document referring to a dom. Melchiore Comin (without the ‘i’ at the end).23

The surname seems to fade away in in Malé in the early 1600s, as the last birth I have found there is for a Domenica Comini, born 2 June 1616.24 This record gives the name of her paternal grandfather, Simone Comini, who appears to be still alive (although I cannot find a death record for him after this date). Again, the inference is Simone was native to Malé, which means he would have been born there in the mid-1500s. But apart from this baptism, I cannot find any records for this family in Malé at all (at least not in the index), nor any death records for Comini in later years.

1616. Baptism of Domenica, daughter of Bartolomeo, son of Simone Comini of Malé.
Click on image to see it larger

Bartolomeo, son of Baldassare ‘Comin’ of Caldes (1551)

A legal document drafted in Terzolas (a frazione in the parish of Malé) dated 6 December 1551 mentions a ‘Bartolomeo, son of the late Baldassare “Comin” of Caldes’, who grants the use of some grazing and farming land he owns in Cassana to a Domenico Claser of Almazzago.25 Assuming Bartolomeo was a legal adult (at least 25 years old), whose father Baldassare passed away at a ‘typical’ age for this era, Baldassare was most likely born no later than the 1480s. The fact the wording says ‘of Caldes’ rather than ‘living in Caldes’, also infers Baldassare was born there. The contract is also said to have been drafted in the ‘kitchen of the home of Comini, a cobbler’; it does not give his first name, nor does it say whether he was originally from Terzolas or someplace else.

Aside from these few examples, I have found no other documents for any Comini living in Malé or Caldes in the 1500s or 1600s. Moreover, the Comini mentioned in these documents do not appear in the death records for Malé or Caldes.

However, this 1551 land agreement contains a vital clue to what happened next in the story of this particular family: the mention of the village of Cassana. From this point forward, Cassana is the place with which the Comini would become most commonly associated. Although evidence indicates that the Comini were already present in Cassana by the early decades of the 1500s, it is possible the ‘vanishing’ Comin/Comini of Malé and Caldes were part of a larger family who settled in Cassana over the next few generations.

Fresco of the Last Supper in the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana.
Fresco of the Last Supper in the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana. Photo from the Trentino Cultura website at https://www.cultura.trentino.it/Rubriche/Restauri-in-evidenza-fra-pubblico-e-privato/Gli-affreschi-ritrovati-nella-chiesa-di-S.-Tommaso-a-Cassana

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The Village of Cassana in San Giacomo: Challenges of Research

Before we look specifically at the Comini, I want to explain a few things about the vital records for the village of Cassana.

These days, Cassana is part of the civil comune of Caldes; but for genealogical research, our attention will always focus on parish registers and church archives. Like most villages, Cassana has its own church, namely the little church of San Tommaso, which has long served the citizens of Cassana for Sunday Mass. However, their parish registers (births, marriages, deaths, etc.) have always been maintained by the parish of San Giacomo – originally known as ‘Solasna’, a name you will frequently see in older records.

The parish registers for Solasna/San Giacomo date back to December 1668. We know there was an earlier register that has been lost with time, from which only four pages still exist. These four pages, numbered 61, 62, 69 and 70, which have never been microfilmed or digitised, are dated between 14 May 1660 and 5 May 1668, just before the beginning of the surviving register. Given the fact these fragments start on page 61, we can imagine the lost register may have taken us back another at least 30 years, or possibly to the beginning of that century, but it’s difficult to say with certainty, as the page fragments are said to be from a book in a format smaller than the other registers.

I also checked the Livo parish records, as Livo is the ‘mother’ parish of San Giacomo, but I found no evidence of Cassana families there within that crucial timeframe.

Thus, sadly, we have to accept the fact we will not find vital records for the Comini of Cassana before 1668, which makes it difficult to construct a precise genealogical history from them. While some information can be gleaned by piecing together evidence legal parchments (pergamene) and charters (carte), these can only provide a patchwork of clues, leaving things open to much conjecture.

Despite these challenges, as I will explain shortly, I believe there is enough evidence to demonstrate there were at least two different Comini lines in Cassana, one of which arrived no later than the early 1500s, possibly directly from Lombardia as some historians have suggested. While I have excluded a connection between them and the ‘Comina’ of Peio, I am leaving an open mind as to a possible connection between the one of both of these Comini of Cassana and the early Comin / Comini of Malé and Caldes.

The Arrival of the Comini in Cassana

One thing we know with certainty is that two Comini men obtained the ‘diritto di vicinia’ of Cassana on 18 December 1603.26 The word ‘diritto’ means ‘the right’ or privilege. Cognate with our English word ‘vicinity’, the word ‘vicinia’ referred a community of people who were entitled to share in local natural resources, such as forests, water, grazing land, etc., for a specific village. Members of that community were called ‘vicini’. Only ‘vicini’ were entitled to participate in the decision-making process for the regulatory laws for the village. (Side note: the noun ‘vicini’ in modern Italian has lost this meaning; today it simply means ‘neighbours’).

The men who became vicini on this occasion were brothers Michele and Baldassare Comini, sons of the late Baldassare. Typically, residents had to have lived in a village for at least a generation before they were granted the privileges of vicini. However, this document says Michele and Baldassare were ‘living in Cassana’, implying they had moved there from someplace else.

Of course, we have no way of knowing where this ‘someplace else’ was, but we did see earlier there was a different Baldassare Comini (deceased before 1551), whose son Bartolomeo was living in Caldes, and who owned land in Cassana. Given the recurrence of the name ‘Baldassare’ (as men tended to name their eldest son after their father) and the connection to the village of Cassana, it is possible these new vicini Michele and Baldassare had an ancestral connection to the family who had previously lived in Caldes. Perhaps their father was the brother or the son of the Bartolomeo in the 1551 document.

If this was the case, it would mean the ancestors of Michele and Baldassare would have owned property in Cassana for at least half a century by 1603. This could explain why they were granted the ‘diritto di vicinia’ without having been born in Cassana. It could also explain why the Comini lines we saw in Malé and Caldes seem to have ‘vanished’ around the same time.

However, this document is NOT an indication of the Comini’s arrival in Cassana, as some historians suggest. There was, in fact, an earlier branch of the Comini already in Cassana nearly a century earlier. And, just as some historians have muddled Comina and Comini, some have also overlooked the distinction between these two Comini lines.

The key to unlocking the distinction between these Comini lines is to be found in the use of the soprannome ‘de Sera’, as we will explore next.

Fresco of San Salvatore in the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana.
Fresco of San Salvatore in the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana. Photo from the Trentino Cultura website at https://www.cultura.trentino.it/Rubriche/Restauri-in-evidenza-fra-pubblico-e-privato/Gli-affreschi-ritrovati-nella-chiesa-di-S.-Tommaso-a-Cassana

The Soprannome ‘de Sera’/ ‘a Sera’

Further down the page of the very same document in which Michele and Baldassare Comini receive their title of ‘vicini’ of Cassana in 1603, we find amongst the jurists one ‘Giacomo, son of Baldassare a Serra’. What would not be obvious to the casual reader is that ‘Giacomo a Serra’ is ALSO a Comini, a fact that only becomes evident when you construct a Comini family history using the parish records. But before we look at that, let’s see how ‘a Serra’ appears in documents that predate the surviving San Giacomo registers.

‘A Serra’ (more commonly seen written ‘de Sera’ or ‘a Sera’) is a soprannome. A soprannome is a kind of ‘bolt on’ name used in conjunction with (or, sometimes, instead of) the surname to distinguish one family line from others who share the surname. If you are unfamiliar with the use of soprannomi, you might wish to read an earlier article I published on this subject entitled ‘Not Just a Nickname: Understanding Your Family Soprannome’.

MORE READING:   Not Just a Nickname: Understanding Your Family Soprannome

This particular soprannome appears in Cassana as early as 25 February 1517, with a ‘Pietro de Sera’, who is listed in a legal document as one of several ‘giurati’ (jurists) representing the village of Cassana.27 A few years later, on 17 February 1528, we see a ‘Giacomo de Sera’ mentioned as owning some property in Cassana.28

A generation later, in a legal document dated 26 March 1556, we find a ‘Marco Antonio a Sera’ referred to as the sindaco (mayor) of Cassana.29. We find this same Marco Antonio a Sera mentioned in several other documents from that same time period, 30, 31 one of which refers to him as the ‘son of the late Giacomo Dalla Sera of Cassana’, whom we might presume is the same Giacomo mentioned in 1528.32 Moving forward a decade to 3 March 1566, Marco Antonio appears to have passed away, as we find a ‘Battista, son of the late Marcantonio of Cassana’. 33

Based on these documents, we see the family who were known by the soprannome ‘de Sera’ (in whatever spelling variation) were already firmly rooted as property owners and respected vicini in Cassana by the early 1500s. In none of these documents is there any suggestion that the ‘de Sera’ had come from someplace else; moreover, to have attained the roles of giurati and sindaco in the first half of that century, they would surely have already been vicini of Cassana for a generation or more. Thus, I think it not unreasonable to hypothesise that the ‘de Sera’ were living in Cassana no later than the second half of the 1400s.

Possible Origins of the Soprannome

I am always intrigued by soprannomi, as they can often tell us something interesting about the history of a particular family line. As the soprannome ‘de Sera’ is so old, I cannot pinpoint its origins, but I do have a few theories.

My first theory is that ‘a sera’ or ‘de sera’ may be a reference to a farmland of that name in Cassana. In the document from 1566 mentioned above that mentions ‘Battista, son of the late Marcantonio of Cassana’, we see the name of a campo (a field, in this case for growing grain) called ‘a sera’.34 A century later, on 27 September 1664, we find what appears to be the same field (although this time it is called an ‘orto’, which means a vegetable garden), again called ‘a sera’.35 Thus, ‘a sera’ could have been adopted as soprannome by the family who owned and/or lived adjacent to this field.

Another possibility is that ‘Sera’ (or ‘Serra’) may be a reference to Monte Serra in Valtellina in the province of Sondrio, Lombardia. I say this mainly because Valtellina was suggested by Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli as the place of origin of the noble Comini line, whom we will discuss shortly.36 If this is the case, the campo called ‘a sera’ may have been named after their ancestral homeland.

I can think of two other possibilities. ‘Sera’ could refer to ‘Serra’ in Val di Rabbi, or to ‘Val Seriana’ in Bergamo, Lombardia. I feel these explanations are less likely, however, as I have found no suggestion in any of my resources that the Comini had an ancestral connection to either of these places.37

The Comini de Sera of Cassana

So how do we KNOW the family known as ‘de Sera’ were actually Comini?

While the legal documents we have just discussed use the soprannome ‘de Sera’ without a surname, when you consult the births, marriages, and death records in the parish registers, you will nearly always find people in this line referred to as ‘Comini de Sera’.

Although the surviving San Giacomo registers do not begin until 1668, I found a baptismal record dated 15 December 1633 in the parish of CALDES for a Marino, son of Baldassare Comini de Sera, who was living in Samoclevo.38

1633. Baptism of Marino, son of Baldassare Comini de Sera of Cassana, living in Samoclevo.
Click on image to see it larger

Notice that the priest originally wrote ‘de Sera’ without the surname, and either he or another priest wrote ‘Comini’ above it afterwards. All of the subsequent records for Marino’s siblings say ‘Comini’ without the soprannome. From the baptismal record of his brother Bartolomeo (born 21 February 1640), we learn that Baldassare Comini de Sera was originally from Cassana, and Baldassare’s father (who was still alive at the time) was named Giacomo. We also learn that his wife was Domenica Pancheri; she born in Samoclevo on 3 September 1601, the daughter of Bartolomeo Pancheri of Samoclevo:39, 40

Screenshot of family of Baldassare Comini of Cassana, taken from a family tree I have constructed using Family Tree Maker software.
Click on image to see it larger

I am fairly confident the father of this Baldassare is the same ‘‘Giacomo, son of (the living) Baldassare a Serra’ we saw mentioned as a jurist in Cassana in the 1603 document that granted the rights of vicinia to Michele and Baldassare Comini, who were sons of the late Baldassare.

This clearly shows us there were two distinct Comini lines present in Cassana by the year 1603:

  1. The older ‘Comini de Sera’ line, who were present in Cassana at least since the beginning of the 1500s.
  2. The more recently arrived Comini line, who did NOT use or adopt this

Whether these two lines had a common origin BEFORE the early 1500s, I cannot say. But at least from this point forward, we need to consider these as two separate families, who will nearly always be differentiated by being called either ‘Comini de Sera’ or simply ‘Comini’. This soprannome starts to disappear from legal documents around the mid-1600s, but we continue to see it in church records well into the 1700s.

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The Comini de Sonnenberg (Comini von Sonnenberg)

Descended from the ‘Comini de Sera’ are the noble ‘Comini de Sonnenberg’, whose fame extend well beyond the province of Trentino.

We know from several sources that Michele Udalrico Comini, originally from Cassana, who was then serving as the Bishop’s Advisor and medical doctor at Bressanone, was granted imperial nobility on 27 December 1799 by Francesco II, Holy Roman Emperor.41 With this diploma, the Emperor gave Michele Udalrico the right to use the predicate ‘de Sonnenberg’, which is sometimes seen in its German equivalents ‘von Sonnenberg’ or ‘von Comini zu Sonnenberg’. Mosca says this predicate is a nod to their place of origin,42 but it surely refers to the County of Sonnenberg in the present-day state of Vorarlberg in Austria (I assume this is where they were living at the time), and not their ancient ancestral home.

Shown here is an image of the stemma (coat-of-arms) awarded to Michele Udalrico when he was granted his noble title, as found at the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck.43 Guelfi describes stemma thusly: its shield is divided into two halves. In the top half is an eagle. In the bottom, is a dog going over a mountain; the dog is walking to the left, but his head facing to the right [his description seems to be the inverse of what is shown in the image]. This half also contains the trunk of an oak tree, bearing nuts and leaves. The crest above the shield contains two six-pointed stars.44

Stemma (coat-of-arms) of the noble Comini de Sonnenberg family
Click on image to see it larger

The Comini de Sonnenberg appear in the matriculation of Tirolesi nobility in 1827, but Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli tell us that the line went extinct in 1877.45 I should clarify that when these authors say a line has gone extinct, they generally mean the direct male line; there may still be descendants via daughters, as females can inherit noble titles, but they cannot pass them on to their children.

Possible Discrepancy over Michele Udalrico’s Date of Birth

Just about any resource I have consulted says that Michele Udalrico was born in Cassana on 25 February 1766, the son of Antonio Comini ‘a Sera’ and his wife Maria Domenica Pellegrini of Caldes. Named after both grandfathers (Michele Comini ‘a Sera’ and Udalrico Pellegrini), Michele Udalrico was the third of at least 7 children born to his parents, who married in Caldes on 05 June 1758. Here is that baptismal record from the parish register of San Giacomo:46

1766. Baptism of Michele Udalrico Comini ‘a Sera’ of Cassana.
Click on image to see it larger

I would have had no issue with this information had I not stumbled across this baffling document:

1783. Death record of Michele Udalrico Comini a Serra, who drowned at age 17.
Click on image to see it larger

Dated 28 November 1783, this is a death record for what appears to be the same Michele Udalrico Comini a Serra, son of Antonio.47 Said to be about 17 years old (which puts his year of birth in 1766), the record says he fell off a bridge crossing a river and drowned in the river below. The boy’s body was retrieved, and he was buried in the parish cemetery. Sadly, it seems his father Antonio (actually born Giovanni Antonio) died less than a year later, on 12 August 1784, at the age of 52.48

So, now we have a problem. How could the Michele Udalrico who was born in 1766 be the man who received the noble title in 1799 if he died in 1783 when he was still in his teens? As there ARE no other boys named Michele Udalrico Comini born in this timeframe, I can only think of two explanations:

  • We know Michele Udalrico had a younger brother named Udalrico who was born 18 October 1769. Perhaps the priest got the two boys mixed up in the death record, and the boy who died was actually Udalrico (who would have been only 14, not 17). There is a cross next to his name in his baptismal record, but no death record for him in infancy, so this could feasibly be the case.
  • Alternatively, perhaps Michele Udalrico born in 1766 did die in 1783, and after his father died the following year, his younger brother Udalrico ‘adopted’ the name ‘Michele Udalrico’. This is a bit more far-fetched, but not impossible.

Whatever the explanation, somebody has made a mistake somewhere.

Michele Udalrico Comini de Sonnenberg

Setting aside this possible discrepancy about his date of birth, we have many documented facts about Michele Udalrico’s admirable achievements.

In his book on Caldes, historian Alberto Mosca tells us that, after completing his secondary school studies in Merano (South Tyrol), Michele Udalrico Comini first studied philosophy at Innsbruck, and then medicine at the University of Padova in Pavia, where he earned his degree in 1789. After a brief sojourn in Milan, he transferred first to Predazzo (Val di Fiemme) and then, from 1797, he was in Bressanone in the capacity of a medical doctor to the Bishop, and a student of natural philosophy. During his stay in Val di Fiemme, he published two writings, which are now conserved at the ‘Muratori’ library (library of masons) in Cavalese, on the topics of medical surgeries (1795) and on bovine epidemics in Val di Fiemme (1796).49 It was in recognition for this work that he received his noble title.

Mosca eloquently continues (my English translation from the Italian):

‘In the first years of the 19th century, Dr Michele carried out his professional activities in various parts of South Tyrol, and he published two texts in Latin on infectious diseases. He distinguished himself for the fight against epidemic illnesses; his principal merit is that of having first reported and masterfully described the disease pellagra50 in Trentino.

Before 1811, he became the Provincial Advisor of Health in Innsbruck, where he was distinguished for his administration of the hospital during the period of the Napoleonic Wars (1812-1813). In those years, in fact, the city was continually being occupied by troops, and a great many were wounded and exhausted soldiers in need of healing.

Dr Comini died in Innsbruck on 12 March 1842, after having left – in a Will drafted just one week earlier – a legacy of 200 Florins to the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana.

His ancestral house still exists, pointed out also by don Giuseppe Arvedi in 1888, in his book Illustrazione della Val di Sole, where he says, ‘In the little village of Cassana you find the lovely palazzo of the noble and celebrated Comini family’.

The Tirolrer Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck has conserved a drawing that depicts Michele on his death bed.

In 2000, on the occasion of the drafting of the new road map, the administration of the comune of Caldes decided to name a street after the medico Comini in his birth village (of Cassana).’ 51

Ludwig Comini de Sonnenberg

ca. 1860. Photo of Ludwig Comini de Sonnenberg
ca. 1860. Photo of Ludwig Comini de Sonnenberg

In 1799, the same year in which he was ennobled, Michele Udalrico married the noble lady Maria Teresa Prev (I’ve also see it written ‘Prey’). Among their seven children is the celebrated scientist, Ludwig Comini de Sonnenberg.

Ludwig born in Innsbruck. Mosca says he was born in 1814, but another researcher gives us a date of 19 June 1812. 52, 53

In 1851, a blight of powdery mildew had attacked crops in South Tyrol, creating serious problems in food and wine production. Ludwig, then a pharmacist and landowner, began experimenting with sulphur, and found it to be effective in combatting this mould. After publishing his findings first in German, and then in Italian, he earned the nickname ‘Schefelapostel’, which means ‘Sulphur Apostle’.54 Many of his strategies are still widely used in farming today.

Ludwig is said to have died in Bolzano on 18 January 1869, at the age of 56.55 This photo of him was taken by an unknown photographer around 1860.56

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW…

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Two Uncles and an Aunt: People of Interest in Michele Udalrico’s Family

In doing research for this article, I discovered many interesting facts about some of the siblings of Giovanni Antonio Comini de Sera (aka ‘Antonio’), the father of Michele Udalrico Comini de Sonnenberg.

Of these, I would like to share the stories of three of Antonio’s siblings, namely:

  • Giovanni Michele Comini: born 16 November 1723, died 1753.
  • Maria Cattarina Comini: born 15 December 1734, died 17 October 1799.
  • Giovanni Andrea Comini: born 18 February 1741, died 29 July 1822.

Rev. Michele Comini – Priest and Artist

Born Giovanni Michele on 16 November 1723, ‘Michele’ was the eldest child of Michele Comini de Sera and Maria Cattarina Sparapani, and thus the paternal uncle of Michele Udalrico Comini de Sonnenberg.

Weber and Rasmo tell us that don Michele was a ‘very erudite man’ who studied theology in Innsbruck and became a ‘learned and pious priest’.57 During his studies, he first learned the art of making miniatures, and then he studied oil painting from Giuseppe Giorgio Grassmayr. One of Michele’s oil landscapes is in the Museum of Innsbruck. Author Quirino Bezzi tells us Michele was also a luthier (lute maker).58

A prodigy of many skills, Michele certainly accomplished a great deal within a very short time; he died in 1753, when he was not quite 30 years old. As I cannot find his death record in San Giacomo, I assume he died in Austria (most likely in Innsbruck).

The Murder of Maria Cattarina Comini de Sera

Born 15 October 1734, Antonio’s younger sister (and paternal aunt of Michele Udalrico), Maria Cattarina Comini de Sera was the sixth child of Michele Comini de Sera and Maria Cattarina Sparapani.59 When I read her baptismal record, I was shocked by a note scribbled in the upper left corner that said she was ‘killed by an assassin on 17 October 1799’:

1734. Baptism of Maria Cattarina Comini a Sera, with note about her murder in upper left corner.
Click on image to see it larger

NOTE: the priest erroneously calls her father ‘Giovanni Michele’ (it is actually just Michele) and her mother ‘Anna Cattarina’ (it is actually Maria Cattarina).

After that bombshell, I immediately looked for Maria Cattarina’s death record to see if I had read that note correctly, and also to see if it contained more details. Sadly, it was no mistake. Her death record60 explained that Maria Cattarina, age 65 and unmarried, was STRANGLED by an attacker in her own home on the night of the 17th, and then buried on the 20th:

1799. Death record of Maria Cattarina Comini de Sera, who was strangled in her own home.
Click on image to see it larger

I have not yet found any information about a trial regarding this shocking murder. Perhaps the attacker was never identified. It is a horrific thought that someone would enter the home of a 65-year-old woman (presumably alone in her bedroom, as she was unmarried) and fatally strangle her, while the rest of the village slept. What could possibly have been the provocation? Surely, there is a story here.

It is curious (although probably unrelated) that she was killed just two months before her nephew Michele Udalrico would be awarded his noble title. I cannot help but feel the award would have been bittersweet.

Rev. Giovanni Andrea Comini, parroco and deacon of Tione

Yet another uncle of Michele Udalrico Comini de Sonnenberg was Giovanni Andrea (known mainly as Andrea), born 18 February 1741. The ninth child of Michele Comini de Sera and Maria Cattarina Sparapani, he also grew up to become a Catholic priest.

At the age of 40 in 1781, he became parroco (pastor) of the parish of Tione in Val Giudicarie, where he also served as deacon/dean of its sprawling decanato (deanery) until he retired from his post in 1808.

Historian Guido Boni61 tells us that Rev. Parroco Andrea Comini contributed greatly to the local history of the parish of Tione by keeping personal manuscripts of local events, fragments of which are still held in the parish archives today. These precious manuscripts also help us learn a great deal about who Andrea was as a priest and a person. By all accounts, he seems to have been a true representative of the so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ into which he was born. Rational, free-thinking, progressive, and perhaps a bit of a social activist.

The Kiss of Judas. One of 14 stations of the cross in the parish church of Tione di Trento, commissioned by Rev. Andrea Comini de Sera.
The Kiss of Judas. One of 14 stations of the cross in the parish church of Tione di Trento, commissioned by Rev. Andrea Comini de Sera.

Rev. Parroco Andrea commissioned the 14 paintings of the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) which still adorn the parish church at Tione. Not satisfied with the prospect of these paintings depicting the traditional scenes with which most worshippers are familiar, don Andrea wanted them to illustrate the ‘painful’ moments before Jesus’s ascent up Calvary. His vision helped direct a set of paintings (the first seven of which are attributed to Prospero Schiavi of Verona) that are renowned for their uniqueness and uncommon ‘take’ on the subject of the Crucifixion.62 Boni tells us that don Andrea also wrote a booklet of prayers to be said at each of these stations, but he did not obtain the approval of the Curia to publish them.63 Perhaps they were considered too progressive or emotive, rather than humble and reverential?

Early in his time as parroco, Andrea Comini was involved in a ‘clamorous incident’ with a spinster named Domenica Benvenuti, who claimed to live without eating, and who had managed to gather a large following of people who venerated her as saint. And if that were not bad enough, her devotees would also give her money. Boni tells us that don Andrea ‘bravely faced the popular fanaticism that had taken possession of even the men of science’ and unmasked the woman as a fraud. Furious at her defeat and disgraced in the public eye, the woman withdrew to a hospital in the city of Trento, where she died in 1785. 64

His service to his community extended beyond the boundaries of theology, however. Boni tells us that don Andrea had a waterwheel built, and also had a well dug (but they failed to find any water due to the local terrain). He surrounded the rectory with walls and built a ‘roccolo’, which is a kind of structure once used in the mountains for catching birds (the practice is no longer permitted). The locality where it stood, at least during Boni’s time in the 1930s, was still called ‘The rocol of the Archpriest’ by locals.

During the Festival of the Rosary in 1787, don Andrea had a nasty surprise when the beautifully crafted silver lamp from the altar was stolen, along with some other objects. The thieves had used tools to break into the northern door of the church, which faced the countryside, making it possible for them to rob the church without anyone seeing them in the act. In his manuscript, Rev. Comini advises his successors not to spare the expense of getting maintaining a good watchdog!

In the autumn of 1808, when he was 66 years of age, don Andrea gave up his job as parroco and deacon, presumably to retire and live a more peaceful life. At some point, he returned to his native parish of San Giacomo, where he died on 29 July 1822, at the age of 81. The cause of death is said to be ‘marasmo senile’, which was, in those days, a catch-all term for ‘old age’, rather than any specific illness. In the record, he is still referred to as ‘the Parroco of Tione’, despite having retired some 14 years earlier.65

1822. Death of Rev Giovanni Andrea Comini, former parroco of Tione.
Click on image to see it larger

Conclusions and Closing Thoughts

I began this article with a discussion of the linguistic and geographical origins of the surname Comini, and the similar surname Comina. Although I have found no documented evidence that the Comini of Cassana came from Lombardia as some have suggested, we do see the surname being most prominent in the region of Lombardia today. And, although I have found no patriarch bearing the name ‘Giacomino’ as Bertoluzza suggests, we did see that the personal name ‘Comino’ was apparently in use, at least in Lombardia, in the 1400s. As an historian, I can only conclude at this point that it is ‘feasible’ the Comini may have from Lombardia at some point, and that the identity of the specific patriarch from whom their surname was originally derived has been lost in antiquity.

Using early legal documents and some available parish records, I then demonstrated that the Comina and Comini are not the same surname, and that these families are unrelated (or at least not within traceable history). We also looked at some earlier appearances of the surname in the parishes of Malé and Caldes.

Next, we moved on to discuss the Comini of Cassana, noting how there were actually two separate Comini families:

  • the older line (in Cassana from at least the 1400s), known by the soprannome ‘de Sera’ / ‘a Sera’, from which arose the famed ‘Comini de Sonnenberg’ family, and
  • the Comini who were granted the right of vicinia in 1603, who did not use this

While it is certainly possible these two lines had an ancient familial connection before the arrival of the ‘de Sera’ line in Cassana, as family historians, we must take care not to confound these two lines in our research.

After discussing the noble title of Michel Udalrico Comini de Sonnenberg, I shared a few short biographies of members of the ‘de Sera’ and ‘de Sonnenberg’ lines, which I felt were either historically significant or simply interesting. Genealogy becomes merely an academic exercise without at least a few personal stories from the past.

Like any other family, branches of the Comini migrated beyond their ‘home base’ over the centuries. If you search for the surname ‘Comini’ on the Nati in Trentino website, which shows births in Trentino between 1815-1923, you will find Comini living in other parishes besides San Giacomo. But when you dig more deeply, you will find many (if not most) of these lines will eventually lead back to the Comini of Cassana.66 Thus, becoming well-acquainted with the available records, surnames and soprannomi of the parish of San Giacomo are paramount when researching this family.

Lack of early parish records (including a lost register from the early 1600s), and the patchiness of available legal documents, are two of the unavoidable handicaps that genealogists and local historians must work around when researching the Comini. In light of these handicaps, I wish to stress that I am prepared to say ‘I don’t know the answer’ to some of the questions presented in this article. Too many mistakes persist when historians simply accept ‘facts’ from past research as ‘true’ without cross-checking the evidence. I believe it is the responsibility of any good historian to accept ambiguity as part of the picture, rather than try to make things ‘fit’ because we are uncomfortable with the unknown.

No history, including family history, is ever completely and indisputably ‘true’. While some things may be provable enough to accept them as ‘probably true’, most will be open to some degree of interpretation. Thus, all we can do is keep looking, learning, and trying to understand the distant echoes of the past, through whatever fragments of evidence our ancestors may have left behind.

======

This research is part of a book in progress entitled Guide to Trentino Surnames for Genealogists and Family Historians. I hope you follow me on the journey as I research and write this book; it will probably be a few years before it comes out, and it is likely to end up being a multi-volume set.

If you liked this article and would like to receive future articles from Trentino Genealogy, be sure to subscribe to this blog using the form below.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
30 October 2021

P.S. I have finally booked a trip to Trento for February-March 2022, but my client roster filled up for that trip in less than 8 hours! 

THE GOOD NEWS IS: I have MANY resources for research here in my home library, and I am able to do research for many clients without having to travel to Trento. My client roster is fully booked through the January 2022, but I am now taking bookings for spring 2022.

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.

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REFERENCES

    1. BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino. Trento: Società Iniziative Editoriali (S.R.L.)., page 95.
    2. GUELFI, Adriano Camaiani. 1964. Famiglie nobili del Trentino. Genova: Studio Araldico di Genova, page 39.
    3. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine. Trento: Società di Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche, page 93.
    4. Comini. Accessed 21 October 2021 from https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/COMINI.
    5. Comina. Accessed 21 October 2021 from https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/COMINA.
    6. CITY POPULATION. Population for regions of Lombardia and Trentino-Alto Adige. Accessed 29 October 2021 from https://www.citypopulation.de/en/italy/admin/03__lombardia/ and https://www.citypopulation.de/en/italy/trentinoaltoadige/
    7. ‘Province of Brescia’. Reported population of the province of Brescia was 1,265,964 as of January 2019. ‘Trentino’. Reported population of province of Trentino of 541,098 in 2019. Accessed 26 October 2021 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Province_of_Brescia and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trentino.
    8. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1935. ‘Immigrati lombardi in Val di Sole nei secoli XIV, XV e XVI’. Archivio Storico Lombardo: Giornale della società storica lombarda (1935 dic, Serie 7, Fascicolo 2- 3 e 4), pages 376-432. Accessed 20 October 2021 from http://emeroteca.braidense.it/eva/sfoglia_articolo.php?IDTestata=26&CodScheda=113&CodVolume=801&CodFascicolo=2148&CodArticolo=61692 .
    9. CICCOLINI, Giovanni, ‘Immigrati’, page 428. ‘Precasai’ refers to Precasaglio, which is a frazione in the comune of Ponte di Legno, in upper Val Camonica, in the province of Brescia.
    10. BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998, page 95.
    11. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005, page 93.
    12. CASETTI, Albino. 1951. Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento. Trento: Tipografia Editrice Temi (S.R.L.). page 524.
    13. CASETTI, Albino. 1951, page 200.
    14. COOPERATIVA KOINÈ. 2004. Parrocchia di San Giorgio in Peio. Inventario dell’archivio storico (1409 – 1953) e degli archivi aggregati (1458 – 1973). Provincia autonoma di Trento. Soprintendenza per i Beni librari e archivistici. Page 6, 34.
    15. TURRINI, Fortunato. 1996. Carte di Peio. Centro Studi per la Val di Sole. Pergamena number 646 dated 30 September 1516, cited on page 153.
    16. TURRINI, Fortunato, pages 157-162. In the Section on the Carta di Regola of 1522.
    17. TURRINI, Fortunato, page 155. Pergamena n. 199 in Peio on 9 January 1580.
    18. TURRINI, Fortunato, page 157. Pergamena n. 209 in Peio on 10 September 1597.
    19. Malé parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 10. 13 April 1595: Baptism of Antonio, son of Pietro Comina of Peio in the parish of Ossana, living in Malé.
    20. Malé parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 15. 4 August 1554: Baptism of Barbara, daughter of Bartolomeo Comin of Malé.
    21. Malé parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 115. 11 February 1571: Baptism of Cristoforo, son Bartolomeo, son of Giovanni Comin of Malé.
    22. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1939. Inventari e Regesti degli Archivi Parrocchiali della Val di Sole. Volume 2: La pieve di Malé. Trento: Temi-Tipografia Editrice. Page 185, regesto: n. 180.
    23. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1939. Volume 2, Malé, page 186, regesto: n. 181.
    24. Malé parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 132. 2 June 1616: Baptism of Domenica, daughter of Bartolomeo, son of Simone Comini of Malé.
    25. PROVINCIA AUTONOMA DI TRENTO. ‘Costituzione di senso, 6 December 1551, Terzolas’. Bartolomeo, son of the late Baldassare “Comin” of Caldes’ grants the use of some grazing and farming land he owns in Cassana to a Domenico Claser of Almazzago. Archivi Storici del Trentino. Accessed 9 October 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/50274.
    26. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965 (reprint). Inventari e Regesti degli Archivi Parrocchiali della Val di Sole. Volume 3: La Pieve di Livo. Page 92, pergamena 184.
    27. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 75, pergamena 134.
    28. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 76-77, pergamena 140. The document does not directly deal with Giacomo, but it mentions his property as being adjacent to another under discussion.
    29. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 81, pergamena 151.
    30. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 81, pergamena 152. Cites Marco Antonio a Sera when he provides an estimate for a piece of land in Cassana, 5 December 1557.
    31. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 82-83, pergamena 156. Marco Antonio a Sera mentioned as owning property adjacent to another being sold on 29 January 1559.
    32. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 82, pergamena 154. Marco Antonio, son of the late Giacomo Dalla Sera of Cassana shown as paying a debt on 18 April 1558.
    33. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 84, pergamena 161.
    34. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 84, pergamena 161.
    35. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965. Volume 3, Livo, page 95, pergamena 193.
    36. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005, page 93.
    37. PROVINCIA AUTONOMA DI TRENTO. ‘Cessione a soluzione di debito, 16 October 1542, Castel Caldes’. In this document, there is a blacksmith Mag. Giovanni Antonio, son of the late Giacomo, originally from Val Seriana in the bishopric of Bergamo, living in Cassana, selling a house. One could go out on a limb and conjecture that said ‘Giacomo’ becomes ‘Giacomini’ and then ‘Comini’, but the timing is off, as the ‘a Sera’ line was already in Cassana for at least 40 years by this point. Archivi Storici del Trentino. Accessed 22 October 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/49984 .
    38. Caldes parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 80-81. 15 December 1633. Baptism of Marino, son of Baldassare Comini de Sera (living in) Samoclevo.
    39. Malé parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 54. 3 September 1601, baptism of Domenica Pancheri of Samoclevo, daughter of Bartolomeo and Cattarina.
    40. This is a screenshot from a family tree I have constructed using Family Tree Maker software.
    41. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005, page 93. Tabarelli de Fatis, page 93] Note that the initials ‘S.R.I.’ are often used to indicate imperial nobility. The initials stand for ‘Sacro Romano Impero’, i.e., Holy Roman Empire.
    42. MOSCA, Alberto. 2015. Caldes: Storia di Una Nobile Comunità. Pergine Valsugana (Trentino, Italy): Nitida Immagine Editrice. Page 271.
    43. TYROLEAN COAT OF ARMS. The Fischnal coat of arms index. ‘Comini.’  Innsbruck: Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum. Accessed 24 October 2021 at https://wappen.tiroler-landesmuseen.at/index34a.php?id=&do=&wappen_id=7185
    44. GUELFI, Adriano Camaiani. 1964, page 39.
    45. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005, page 93.
    46. San Giacomo parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 106. 25 February 1766. Baptism of Michele Udalrico Comini ‘a Sera’ of Cassana.
    47. San Giacomo parish records, deaths, volume 1, no page number. 28 Nov 1783. Death record of Michele Udalrico Comini a Serra, who drowned at age 17.
    48. San Giacomo parish records, deaths, volume 1, no page number. 12 Aug 1784, death record of Antonio Comini de Serra.
    49. MOSCA, Alberto. 2015, page 271-272.
    50. Pellagra was an often-fatal disease running rampant in Trentino in the 18th and 19th Arising from a severe niacin deficiency, it was typically caused by a diet lacking in diversity, which was too dependent upon corn (corn that is not first cut with lime can leach niacin from the body). For more information on this disease, I recommend the book A Plague of Corn by Daphne Roe.
    51. MOSCA, Alberto. 2015, page 271-272.
    52. MOSCA, Alberto. 2015, page 271-272.
    53. CASSIGOLI, Andrea. ‘Ludwig von Comini zu Sonnenberg’. Geni website. Accessed 18 October 2021 from https://www.geni.com/people/Ludwig-von-Comini-zu-Sonnenberg/6000000090531034210.
    54. ‘Ludwig von Comini’. Accessed 18 October 2021 from https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_von_Comini
    55. CASSIGOLI, Andrea. ‘Ludwig von Comini zu Sonnenberg’.
    56. Photo of Ludwig Comini von Sonnenberg taken around 1860 by an unknown photographer. Public domain. Accessed 18 October 2021 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30588371
    57. WEBER, Simone; RASMO, Nicolò. 1977. Artisti Trentini e Artisti Che Operarono Nel Trentino. Trento: Monauni. Originally published in 1933, this is the 2nd edition. Page 104.
    58. BEZZI, Quirino. 1975. La Val di Sole. Malè (Trentino): Centro Studi per la Val di Sole. Page 271.
    59. San Giacomo parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 82. 15 October 1734. Baptismal record of Maria Cattarina Comini de Sera. Note that the record erroneously calls her father ‘Giovanni Michele’ and her mother ‘Anna Cattarina’. The note about her murder is written in the upper left corner.
    60. San Giacomo parish records, deaths, volume 1, no page number. 20 October 1799. Death record of Maria Cattarina Comini de Sera, who was strangled in her own home.
    61. BONI, Guido. 1937. ‘Origini e memorie della chiesa plebana di Tione’. Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche, 1937-1938. Boni’s paper is spread out across four issues of the magazine. Part 3 accessed 20 October 2021 from http://pressviewpat.immanens.com/it/pvPageH5B.asp?skin=pvw&puc=002017&pa=306&nu=1938#292 and Part 4 from http://pressviewpat.immanens.com/it/pvPageH5B.asp?skin=pvw&puc=002017&pa=306&nu=1938#292
    62. PARROCCHIA TIONE DI TRENTO. ‘La Nostra Storia e del Nostro Paese’. Accessed 25 October 2021 from http://www.parrocchiationeditrento.it/2013/12/la-nostra-storia-e-del-nostro-paese.html
    63. BONI, Guido. 1937. Part 3, page 193.
    64. BONI, Guido. 1937. Part 4, page 263-264. All of the following anecdotes are from these pages.
    65. San Giacomo parish records, deaths, volume 2, no page number. 29 July 1822. Death of Rev Giovanni Andrea Comini, former parroco of Tione.
    66. For example, Vigilio Antonio Comini, who was born in Cis on 26 July 1841 was the son of Antonio Comini from Cassana (Cis parish records, baptisms, volume 3, page 39); Grazioso Tommaso Comini born in Livo on 10 December 1907 was the son of Silvio Comini of Cassana (Livo parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 144).

RESOURCES

NOTE: In addition to the resources listed below, I also utilised the parish registers for San Giacomo, Malé, Caldes, Livo, and Cis.

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

BEZZI, Quirino. 1975. La Val di Sole. Malè (Trentino): Centro Studi per la Val di Sole.

BONI, Guido. 1937. ‘Origini e memorie della chiesa plebana di Tione’. Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche, 1937-1938. Boni’s paper is spread out across four issues of the magazine. Part 3 accessed 20 October 2021 from http://pressviewpat.immanens.com/it/pvPageH5B.asp?skin=pvw&puc=002017&pa=306&nu=1938#292 and Part 4 from http://pressviewpat.immanens.com/it/pvPageH5B.asp?skin=pvw&puc=002017&pa=306&nu=1938#292

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

CASSIGOLI, Andrea. ‘Ludwig von Comini zu Sonnenberg’. Geni website. Accessed 18 October 2021 from https://www.geni.com/people/Ludwig-von-Comini-zu-Sonnenberg/6000000090531034210.

COGNOMIX. Comina. Accessed 21 October 2021 from https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/COMINA.

COGNOMIX. Comini. Accessed 21 October 2021 from https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/COMINI.

CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1935. ‘Immigrati lombardi in Val di Sole nei secoli XIV, XV e XVI’. Archivio Storico Lombardo: Giornale della società storica lombarda (1935 dic, Serie 7, Fascicolo 2- 3 e 4), pages 378-432. Accessed 20 October 2021 from http://emeroteca.braidense.it/eva/sfoglia_articolo.php?IDTestata=26&CodScheda=113&CodVolume=801&CodFascicolo=2148&CodArticolo=61692 .

CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1939. Inventari e Regesti degli Archivi Parrocchiali della Val di Sole. Volume 2: La pieve di Malé. Trento: Temi-Tipografia Editrice.

CICCOLINI, Giovanni. 1965 (reprint). Inventari e Regesti degli Archivi Parrocchiali della Val di Sole. Volume 3: La Pieve di Livo. Trento: Temi-Tipografia Editrice.

COOPERATIVA KOINÈ. 2004. Parrocchia di San Giorgio in Peio. Inventario dell’archivio storico (1409 – 1953) e degli archivi aggregati (1458 – 1973). Provincia autonoma di Trento. Soprintendenza per i Beni librari e archivistici.

CULTURA TRENTINO. ‘Gli affreschi ritrovati nella chiesa di S. Tommaso a Cassana.’ Photos of restored frescos in the Church of San Tommaso in Cassana. Accessed 20 October 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/Rubriche/Restauri-in-evidenza-fra-pubblico-e-privato/Gli-affreschi-ritrovati-nella-chiesa-di-S.-Tommaso-a-Cassana

GUELFI, Adriano Camaiani. 1964. Famiglie nobili del Trentino. Genova: Studio Araldico di Genova.

MOSCA, Alberto. 2015. Caldes: Storia di Una Nobile Comunità. Pergine Valsugana (Trentino, Italy): Nitida Immagine Editrice.

PARROCCHIA TIONE DI TRENTO. ‘La Nostra Storia e del Nostro Paese’. Accessed 25 October 2021 from http://www.parrocchiationeditrento.it/2013/12/la-nostra-storia-e-del-nostro-paese.html

PROVINCIA AUTONOMA DI TRENTO. ‘Cessione a soluzione di debito, 16 October 1542, Castel Caldes’. Accessed 22 October 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/49984 .

PROVINCIA AUTONOMA DI TRENTO. ‘Costituzione di senso, 6 December 1551, Terzolas’. Archivi Storici del Trentino. Accessed 9 October 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/50274.

PROVINCIA AUTONOMA DI TRENTO. ‘Nati in Trentino’. Online database of Trentino births between 1815-1923. Accessed from https://www.natitrentino.mondotrentino.net/

STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845. Trento: Biblioteca San Bernardino.

STENICO, P. Remo. 2000. Sacerdoti della Diocesi di Trento dalla sua Esistenza Fino all’Anno 2000.

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

TRENTINO CULTURA. ‘Gli affreschi ritrovati nella chiesa di S. Tommaso a Cassana’. Accessed 12 October 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/Rubriche/Restauri-in-evidenza-fra-pubblico-e-privato/Gli-affreschi-ritrovati-nella-chiesa-di-S.-Tommaso-a-Cassana

TURRINI, Fortunato. 1996. Carte di Peio. Centro Studi per la Val di Sole.

TYROLEAN COAT OF ARMS. The Fischnal coat of arms index. ‘Comini.’  Innsbruck: Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum. Accessed 24 October 2021 at https://wappen.tiroler-landesmuseen.at/index34a.php?id=&do=&wappen_id=7185

WEBER, Simone; RASMO, Nicolò. 1977. Artisti Trentini e Artisti Che Operarono Nel Trentino. Trento: Monauni. Originally published in 1933, this is the 2nd edition.

WIKIMEDIA. Photo of Ludwig Comini von Sonnenberg taken around 1860 by an unknown photographer. Public domain. Accessed 18 October 2021 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30588371

WIKIPEDIA. ‘Province of Brescia’. Accessed 26 October 2021 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Province_of_Brescia.

WIKIPEDIA. ‘Trentino’. Accessed 26 October 2021 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trentino.

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Origins of the Many MAFFEI Families of Trentino – Theories and Evidence

Origins of the Many MAFFEI Families of TrentinoGenealogist Lynn Serafinn explores the fascinating and diverse origins theories of the Maffei families of Trentino, balancing documented evidence against family lore.

I am endlessly fascinated with Trentino surnames and their intricate histories. I see them as windows into the past, and into the lives our ancestors many centuries ago. Some Trentino surnames have a unique point of origin, in that we can identify clearly when and where they first appeared in the province, either within a family already living in Trentino, or when a specific family migrated into a parish or the province from elsewhere. But some Trentino surnames have multiple histories, in that they appear in our province in different places, at different times, and from different ancestral lines. One of those surnames is Maffei, which is the subject of today’s article.

The history of the Maffei surname is difficult to pin down, as it appears in so many parts of the province, and indeed in other parts of the Italian peninsula. In fact, it is far more commonly found outside Trentino, especially in Toscana (Tuscany), Lombardia (Lombardy), and even to the south in Campagna. Trying to form a ‘unified theory’ linking all these Maffei families together is not only an exercise in futility, but pointless (as there is no single history), as I aim to illustrate in this article.

Moreover, so many of these lines have their own ‘family lore’, rendering their own versions of their histories, which often conflict with the lore of other families and/or documented evidence. Sifting through all these conflicting ‘histories’ isn’t easy, especially if you are dealing with Latin or Italian sources that may be many hundreds of years old.

In this article, we will explore a range of ‘origin stories’ for many of the Maffei families of Trentino, with particular focus on the families of Val di Sole, Val Rendena, Val Giudicarie, Val D’Adige, Val di Cembra, and finally, Val di Non. In all cases, I have drawn upon the writings of various authors, the pergamene (legal parchments) held in the archives of various towns and parishes in Trentino, and my own research using the parish registers of the parishes I will discuss. Please bear in mind that NONE the sources I have consulted are in English, and I have translated and paraphrased them for this article, without citing the original text, for the sake of making the text flow more naturally to my readers. I have listed the sources at the end of this article, and I have linked to them as I have cited them throughout.

Linguistic Origins of the Surname Maffei

In his Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino1, linguistic historian Aldo Bertoluzza tells us that the surname Maffei is a patronymic (i.e., a surname based on the personal name of the family’s patriarch), derived from the man’s name ‘Maffeo’, a variant of ‘Matteo’, and the equivalent of the name ‘Matthew’ in English.

While many other surnames share this linguistic root (such as Mafezzoli, Meffezzoni, Maffi, Maffini, Maffioletti, Maffioli, et. al.), they are not historically/ancestrally connected to Maffei, nor to each other.

Patronymics are typically based upon the Latin root of the personal name. In this case, the Latin version of ‘Maffeo’ is ‘Mapheus’, which is a ‘2nd declension’ masculine noun. In early documents, you are likely to see the surname written in its Latin form, i.e., ‘Maphea’, ‘Maphei’, ‘Maphé, ‘Mapheus’, or another variant. Later, the root evolved into its Italian form ‘Maffe-‘, as the consonant blend ‘ph’ is not used in Italian.

The root of Mapheus is Maphe- (or Maffe- in Italian), i.e., without the final ‘-us’. If you then add the letter ‘i’ to the end of this root, it becomes the genitive form of the noun, taking on the meaning ‘of Maffeo’ or ‘belonging to Maffeo’ or, more simply, ‘Maffeo’s’. This is one reason why you see so many Italian surnames ending in the letter ‘i’.

Thus, the surname Maffei essentially means ‘[the family] belonging to [a man named] Maffeo’.

Dispersion of the Surname in Trentino

Because patronymic surnames are based upon personal names, it is not uncommon to see identical patronymics appear in different parts of the province (and indeed in other parts of Italy), and the surname Maffei is no exception.

Over the past half-millennium, the Maffei surname has appeared in numerous places in Trentino including Aldeno, Arco, Brez, Calliano, Cembra, Cles, Cloz, Denno, Fondo, Garniga, Isera, Lavis, Molina di Ledro, Mori, Nomi, Peio, Pinzolo, Pomarolo, Revò, Romallo, Rovereto, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Stenico, Tassullo, Termenago, Villa Lagarina, and the city of Trento.

In the book on Trentino nobility entitled Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine2, historians Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli state, ‘it is not easy to establish whether [the Maffei families of Trentino] all come from the same origins.’ Based on my own research, I can state definitively that, while some Maffei lines are ancestrally connected, many others appear to be independent of the others, with possibly only remote historical connection, if any.

Family Origins – Many Tales, Many Theories

It is generally accepted that all Maffei families of Trentino were not originally from that province, but they had migrated there from someplace else on the Italian peninsula. Beyond this general idea, however, many different ‘origin myths’ have been passed down via family stories throughout the centuries. And once a family has ‘adopted’ a specific version of their ancestry, it is difficult for them to accept a different story, even if it is provable through documentation.

The overarching ‘family story’ common to many of the more ancient Maffei of Trentino – and one that is also shared by Aldo Bertoluzza3  – is that they were forced to flee their native homeland someplace in Toscana (Tuscany), during the conflicts between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, sometime between 1075-1122.

As to the point of origin in Toscana, historian Roberto Pancheri (I Maffei: Una Storia Ritrovata4 ) says many believe it to be Pistoia, which is about 25 miles northwest of Firenze (Florence) in Toscana. However, in his Dizionario Storico-Blasonico delle Famiglie Nobili E Notabili Italiane Estinte E Fiorenti5 , nineteenth-century historian G.B. Crollalanza tells us of a noble Maffei family of Volterra (an ancient walled town about 53 miles southwest of Firenze), who fled their homeland during the conflicts of the Guelphs and Ghibellines (although does not say where they are supposed to have gone). He does not mention this flight in any of his other entries for Maffei.

Regarding where they fled, the majority of these stories say the ultimate destination was in or near Valtellina, in the present-day region of Lombardia, but there are varying accounts of how they got there. While some say they fled directly to Lombardia, Bertoluzza and others say the Maffei first took refuge in Verona. After a few centuries, they reportedly participated in the battle of Agnadello in 1509 under the flag of the Republic of Venice, only to be forced to emigrate once again to the provinces of Como and Valtellina in Lombardia, after the Venetians fell in that battle. Other lines claim they either left Toscana to, or originated from, various points in Emilia-Romagna, including Bologna and Ferrara, before emigrating to Lombardia.

I personally believe that the presence of so many conflicting ‘origin stories’ comes down to one simple fact: there is no single history for all the Maffei families in Trentino, for the simple reason that they are not all ancestrally connected. Or, if they do share a common history, that connection is so remote, we would be hard-pressed to find documented evidence to prove it.

‘Maffeus of ‘Milan’– Early Indications of Maffei in Northwest Trentino

In Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845, which is a list of notaries who worked in Trentino throughout the centuries, historian and priest P. Remo Stenico cites a document from 1364 that mentions a ‘Maffeus quondam Georgii de Mediolano notarius’, i.e., ‘Maffeo, son of the late Giorgio of Milano, notary’.6 Surely Stenico is referring to the same man mentioned a document from Villa Rendena, dated 4 December 1364, which describes a ‘Maffeo, son of Giorgio of Bernareggio (Milano)’.7 Although the name ‘Maffeo’ here is not used as a surname, it may be a reference to a member (and possibly the original patriarch) of the family who would later be known as ‘Maffei’.

The word ‘Mediolano’ (also ‘Mediolanensis’) refers to Milano (Milan) in the region of Lombardia. These days, Bernareggio is a comune in the Province of Monza e Brianza in Lombardia; but here, we see it was considered part of ‘Milano’ during this era. It is essential to understand that ‘Milano’ in the past would not necessarily have referred to the city of Milan, nor to the present-city province of Milan, but to what was then an official ‘district’ known by that name, or perhaps even to the wider Duchy of Milan, which covered a massive geographical area during the medieval era. Alternatively, in church documents, the word might sometimes refer to the diocese of Milan, rather than the civil state.

Half a century or so later, in a document dated 21 March 1404 in the Celledizzo in Peio in Val di Sole, a man referred to as ‘Romedio, son of the late Maffei called ‘Targe’ of Valtellina from the district of ‘Mediolanensis’ is cited as a witness to the drafting of a legal document.8 Today, Valtellina is in the province of Sondrio in Lombardia, be we can see clearly from this document that Valtellina was also considered part of the greater district of Milano during this era.

The next witness in the document is a blacksmith named Martino, from ‘the said valley’ (i.e., Valtellina), ‘now living in the village of Cogolo, a frazione (hamlet) in the comune (municipality or town) of Peio’. The words are abbreviated, but it seems to suggest that Romedio also lived in Cogolo.

Admittedly, the wording of this document makes it unclear as to whether ‘Maffei’ is Romedio’s surname and ‘Targe’ is his soprannome (family clan nickname), or his father’s name was Maffeo, and the surname was Targe. But given the fact that it is widely believed that so many Maffei families have their origins from somewhere in Lombardia, and given the fact that we find families using the surname Maffei established in both Val Rendena and nearby Termenago in Val di Sole a century or so later (as we will discuss presently), I feel these documents suggest that some of the founding fathers of the Maffei lines in this part of Trentino were already present in the province by the late 1300s.

Maffei of Termenago

Termenago is in Val di Sole (highlighted in yellow below), the northwestern-most valley the province of Trentino. The western borders of Val di Sole and Giudicarie Interiore (which includes Val Rendena), as well as part of Alto Gardo with Valle di Ledro, touch the eastern border of the region of Lombardia.

MAP - Val di Sol in the province of Trentino

click on image to see it larger

NOTE: All maps in this article were taken from the book Toponomastica Trentina: I Nomi delle Località Abitate by Giulia Mastrelli Anzilotti (2003),9 with my highlighting added.

Termenago is both the name of a frazione and a curazia.

A frazione is a ‘hamlet’, which is part of a comune (town or municipality). Today, Termenago is a frazione of the comune of Pellizzano. The map belong shows the position of the comune of Pellizzano (highlighted in yellow) within Val di Sole. I have also highlighted Peio (in pink), which I mentioned in the previous section of this article:

MAP: Val di Sole in Trentino, with Pellizzano and Peio highlighted

click on image to see it larger

A curate church/parish (curazia) is a kind of ‘satellite’ parish, subordinate to the primary ‘mother’ parish church. In this case, Termenago is the curazia of the parish of Ossana, which you can see just to the west of the comune of Pellizzano on this map.

Although the surviving birth and marriage registers for the curate of Termenago do not go beyond the year 1609, we know from other archived materials that the Maffei were well established as citizens of Termenago by the late 1500s.

The earliest reference to the Maffei amongst the archives for that parish is for a Zanino Maffei of Termenago in a parchment dated 11 December 1600, in which he is referred to as a ‘giurato’ (juror),10 indicating he was on the panel of men who collectively formed and approved the local laws for the community. Later, a parchment dated 9 June 1675, we see reference to a Salvatore Maffei, who is referred to as a ‘regolano’ (a higher rank than giurato)11, indicating he was on the panel of men who drafted and enforced the local rules. This level of prestige continued into the 18th century, with a Fabiano Maffei also cited as a regolano of Termenago in a parchment from 10 July 1759.12

So far, the only time I have seen reference to nobility for the Maffei of Termenago is in a document dated 19 November 1705, which mentions ‘the noble Giovanni Maffei’13, who practised as a notary at least between the years 1695-170514.

We see the Maffei in Termenago at least through the end of the 1800s, but it appears the name died out there sometime towards the beginning of the 20th century.

Fabiano Maffei – Curate of Termenago

In the archives for Termenago, the name of one particular Maffei recurs repeatedly in documents from the latter half of the 1600s: the Reverend Fabiano Maffei, who served as the curate (equivalent of a pastor) of Pellizzano (ca. 1667), and then of Termenago from 1673 until his death on 3 April 1705.15

During his more than three decades of service, he compiled a book of legacies (gifts of some kind) that had been granted to the curate of Termenago in people’s Wills, which his successors continued after his death.16

Upon his passing, the Noble Giovanni Maffei, notary, who was the paternal nephew of Rev. Fabiano, set up a legacy in the name of his late uncle that would provide marriage dowries for girls in the curate whose families were too poor to provide them with one.17

Maffei of Pinzolo

Pinzolo is at the northernmost tip of Val Rendena (often considered part of Val Giudicarie Interiore), just on the border of Val di Sole, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Termenago. In the map below, I have highlighted Pinzolo in yellow, with its southern neighbour of Caderzone (which I will discuss shortly) highlighted in pink:

MAP: Val Giudicarie Interiore, with Pinzolo and Caderzone highlighted

click on image to see it larger

The parish records for Pinzolo date back to the year 1630, and earlier records (back to 1562) can be found in those for Spiazzo Rendena. While I have not worked much with those records, we know from parchments in that parish that families with the surname Maffei were well established there at least by the early 1500s, as evidenced by a document dated 25 June 1556, which refers to a Bartolomeo, son of the late Giovanni Maffei, sindaco (mayor) of the villages of Pinzolo and Baldino.18 To have attained enough local status to have be chosen as sindaco, the family surely would have been in Pinzolo by the beginning of that century.

My colleague James Caola, who has done extensive research of the families of Pinzolo, sent me this baptismal record for a Cattarina Maffei19, born in the frazione of Baldino in the parish of Pinzolo, and baptised on 21 March 1635, whose father Pietro used the soprannome ‘Bergamasco’ (alternatively ‘Bergamaschi’):

21 March 1635. Baptismal record of Cattarina, daughter of Pietro Maffei of Baldino di Pinzolo, called ‘Bergamaschi’, and his legitimate wife, Rosa.click on image to see it larger

Interestingly, Crollalanza tells us there was a noble family in Verona called ‘Mafei-Bergamascha’20, but the only information he provides is a description of their stemma, and any online research I have done on this family has only resulted in references to this same sparse entry in Crollalanza’s Dizionario. In his book on nobility from the provinces of Veneto published in 1803, author Francesco Schröder discusses three different Maffei lines of Verona – one of which were already ennobled before 1405 and had attained the rank of Marquis in the year 1650. He mentions two other noble Maffei families of Verona, one of which was awarded the title of Count in 1423, and the other in 1618. 21 In none of these cases does he mention the predicate ‘Bergamascha’.

Surely, this same combination of names in Pinzolo makes it tempting to draw the conclusion that the family had a connection to this noble family of Verona. But, without any indication of nobility or place of origin in the Pinzolo records, it could just as easily be a ‘red herring’, and ‘Bergamaschi’ could be a soprannome indicating some sort of connection to Bergamo, which is both a province and a city in the region of Lombardia. James Caola further points out this could be an indirect link, rather than an indication of place of origin. He suggests, ‘It might mean someone in the family had married [a woman] from Bergamo, or had business there, or did seasonal emigration for work there’. Hopefully, further research can tell us more.

James also tells me that even by this time, there were at least four other major groups of Maffei families in Pinzolo and Carisolo, the largest being the ‘Bagionel’ line, from which a great many of today’s branches in Pinzolo descend.

In his list of Maffei personages of note, Aldo Bertoluzza mentions an Angelo Francesco Maffei of Pinzolo (1844-1899), who was a Jesuit missionary in India and Albania, and the author of a dictionary and a grammar of the Albanian language.22

Stenico list two Pinzolo Maffei notaries, both of Baldino, the elder being Giacomo Maffei, son of Giovanni, who was active in his trade at least between 1687-1730.23

Maffei of Caderzone

Southwest of and adjacent to Pinzolo lies the comune of Caderzone (see pink highlighted section in map above).

In the archives for this comune, we find a parchment dated 17 May 1492 that mentions a ‘Pasotto, son of the late Martino Maffei of Caderzone, mayor (sindaco) of the community of Caderzone’.24

Again, Pasotto or his late father Martino been new arrivals in Caderzone, the record would say ‘of such-and-such place, living in Caderzone’. The fact that this does not say this, and the fact that Pasotto is the sindaco of the community, would surely indicate this Maffei line were present in Caderzone at least by the middle of the 1400s.

SPECULATION: Given the dates of these documents, and the proximity of these locations, I would be tempted to guess that there is some sort of historical connection between the Maffei families of Termenago, Caderzone and Pinzolo, which would then possibly also link them to ‘Romedio, son of Maffei’ who was in Peio in 1404, but I need to stress that this is just my personal speculation at this point.

Maffei of Santa Croce del Bleggio

The parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio is in Val Giudicarie, but in the half of that valley known as ‘Giudicarie Esteriore’ (exterior) and is quite a way south (and on the other side of a mountain) from Caderzone and Pinzolo.

The parish is comprised of frazioni contained within the comune of Bleggio Superiore (Bivedo, Larido, Marazzone, Balbido, Rango, Cavrasto, Madice, Cavaione, Gallio, and Marcè), highlighted in pink in the map below, and the lower part of the former comune of Bleggio Inferiore (Santa Croce, Duvredo, Vergonzo, Tignerone, Cillà, Villa, Sesto, Biè, Comighello, Bono, Cares, and Ponte Arche), highlighted in yellow:

Map: Val Giudicarie Esteriore, with Bleggio highlighted (made in 2003, so it is slightly different today)Click on image to see it larger

On January 1, 2010, Bleggio Inferiore was merged with Lomaso to create a new municipality of Comano Terme, which is not shown on this map, as Anzilotti’s book (from which I have scanned these images) was published in 2003. The area which the parish serves, however, has not changed. In fact, with the exception of the fact that a small frazione called Saone was included as part of the parish up to the 1600s (but has since been an independent curate), the parish has remained the same for at least the past 600 years.

I am most familiar with Santa Croce, as this is where my father’s family came from, and I have been indexing those parish records now for many years.

The history of the Maffei in Santa Croce is much less ancient than, and completely separate from, the Maffei in the other parts of the province.

The surname does not appear at all in that parish until the latter decades of the 1700s.

We see a couple of random marriages in the late 1700s of Maffei from Pinzolo. One of these is Giuseppe Maffei of Pinzolo, who married Maria Baroni of the frazione of Balbido in Bleggio on 14 September 1779, and then settled in his wife’s village. A generation later, another Maffei from Pinzolo, a Giovanni Battista, married a Margherita Bombarda on 4 May 1791, and settled in Margherita’s frazione of Cares in that parish. Both couples had at least one son to carry on the family surname, but neither of these branches appears to have lasted long, as I have not been able to find any Maffei born in Santa Croce to these families in the 19th century.

from a Vincenzo Maffei, (son of Domenico), who born around 1755 in Armo in Valvestino, who married Cattarina Brocchetti from Cavrasto (daughter of Giuseppe) on 11 September 178225:

1782 marriage record of Vincenzo Maffei of Armo and Cattarina Brocchetti of Cavrasto.

Click on image to see it larger

Today, the beautiful and rugged Valvestino, which lies west of Lago di Garda, is part of the province of Brescia in Lombardia, but during this era it was considered part of the province (and diocese) of Trento. Raising their family in Cattarina’s home village, the couple had at least two sons, Giovanni Domenico (born 13 September 1784) and Giacomo Antonio (born 28 April 1787), both of whom had many children. Everyone Maffei birth in Bleggio from 1815 onwards can be traced back to this family. Some of their descendants also migrated to the coal mines of Pennsylvania in the United States in the early 20th century. I have met a few American descendants of those Maffei, and discovered they are distant cousins of mine.

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Maffei of Lavis

Lavis is a comune just north of the city of Trento in Val d’Adige, at the junction of Val di Cembra, in the central part of the province:

MAP: Comune of Val d'Adige in Trentino, with Lavis highlighted

Click on image to see it larger

Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli tell us that the family tradition of the Maffei of Lavis holds that they originally came from Valmalenco in Lombardia26. However, they also point out that there is a document dated 1613 referring to a Giovanni Maffei in Lavis (son of Antonio, son of the late Giovanni), in which the younger Giovanni is called ‘Zuan de Voltolina’, i.e., Giovanni of Valtellina. Roberto Pancheri infers that Valmalenco was considered part of the greater area of Valtellina during this era27; they are about 25 kilometres (15 miles) away from each other.

The fact Giovanni is referred to as ‘of Valtellina’ tells us he was born there, and not in Lavis. So here we again have a reference to Valtellina, but the date of arrival (early 1600s) would indicate he was not related (or at least not identifiably) to the families of Val di Sole and Val Rendena we looked at earlier.

I have not researched this Maffei line personally, but it seems they may already have been ennobled when they arrived in Lavis, as Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli also report that a Giovanni Giacomo Maffei of Lavis was the chief court physician and intimate adviser of Emperor Ferdinando III from 1648, and that his brother Antonio Maffei, a Doctor of Law, was the intimate adviser of the Archduke Ferdinando Carlo of Austria. These two brothers were later made Knights (Cavalieri) of the Holy Roman Empire and Conti Palatini (Palatine Counts), with the right of transmission (i.e., they could pass the title on to their heirs) on 10 February 1656.28

Maffei of Cembra

The comune of Cembra in Val di Cembra lies northeast of the city of Trento:

MAP: Val di Cembra in Trentino, with the comune of Cembra highlighted

Click on image to see it larger

Cembra really is on the opposite side of the province from the places we have looked at so far, as well as those we will explore shortly. It should come as no surprise, then, when we learn that their ‘family origin story’ says they came from a completely different place from the other Maffei families.

According to Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli, the Maffei of Cembra claim to be descended from the Maffei of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, who, after the battle of Agnadello in 1509, are said to have fled their homeland to take refuges in the comune of Zogno, roughly 50 kilometres northeast of Milano in the province of Bergamo in Lombardia29. A member of this line (identified as a Bartolomeo by historian C. Giuliani30), then transferred to Cembra sometime in 1600s, thus establishing the lineage of the Cembra Maffei.

I do not yet have any additional information on this line, other than the fact that they must have been ennobled, as they are mentioned in Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine. The surname appears to have gone extinct in Cembra towards the end of the 19th century, although it is possible some Cembra Maffei migrated out of the province around that time.

Maffei of Val di Non – Overview

The last group of Maffei families we will explore are those of Val di Non, which lies east of Val di Sole and stretches northward to the border of South Tyrol (province of Bolzano). Specifically, we will be looking at three comuni: Revò (highlighted in yellow), Cles (highlighted in pink), and Fondo (highlighted in blue), as family lore (and at least some of the evidence) suggests they may all be historically connected.

MAP: Val di Non in Trentino, with Revo', Cles, and Fondo highlighted

Click on image to see it larger

Maffei of Revò

Family Origins – A Case of Chinese Whispers

Of all the Maffei family stories I have tried to piece together to date, the one for the Maffei of Revò makes my head spin, as it sometimes contradicts other historical accounts, and it frequently drives me to the limit of my willingness to suspend my disbelief.

In his book I Maffei: Una Storia Ritrovata, Roberto Pancheri tells us about a family tree manuscript held in the Maffei family archives in Revò, which claims their line is descended from an ‘Alphonsus Mediolanensis’, who had settled in Bologna in Emilia-Romagna by the year 103631. This manuscript was made in 1832 – less than 200 years ago, and some 800 years after the reputed arrival of said Alphonsus. The name ‘Alphonsus Mediolanensis’ means ‘Alfonso of Milano’. But as we have already discussed, the term ‘Milano’ in the past could have referred to a broad geographical area in what we now call the region of Lombardia, including places like Valtellina and Valmalenco, and possibly also Bergamo.

I am always naturally sceptical when I read such accounts of lineages stretching back 1,000 years or more, but the Italian Wikipedia entry for the Maffei family is even more of a stretch to credibility. The authors there (who provide a bibliography of four Italian sources dating from 1679 to 1876, but never say where they got what) claim the Maffei were an ancient house of Greece during the time of Emperor Constantine (306-337 AD). 32

Setting aside the ‘ancient Greece’ claim, if we take the Revò manuscript at its word, we are told that some man named Alfonso who lived in the early 11th century, came from somewhere in Lombardia and went to Bologna by 1036. If you have been following the other family tales in this article, you might notice that this direction seems to be against the ‘flow of traffic’ reported by other Maffei origin stories, in which the Maffei are said to have fled from interior parts of the peninsula around the end of the 1,100s, and moving to various points in Lombardia.

Are there other historical accounts that can support the story of Alfonso in the Revò manuscript? Aside from the manuscript, is there any documentation that a man, who would later be the patriarch of the Maffei line, arrived in Bologna from Lombardia sometime around 1038? Sadly, Crollalanza offers no information on any Maffei families in Emilia-Romagna, but the Wiki authors do, albeit in most confusingly. First they say the Maffei, believed to be a branch of Frankish ‘Geremia’ (or ‘Geremei’) family, settled in Bologna in the year 715. Then, a few sentences later, they say the Maffei of Bologna were descended from the ancient Maffei family of Volterra in Toscana, fleeing there around 1274 due to the conflicts between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and then later taking refuge in Verona. But then they also say they were in Bergamo by the 1200s. And never once do they say precisely where they obtained this information.

Is your head starting to spin now, too?

I am not yet sold on the story of Alfonso, but one thing we do know with certainty is that there was at least one Maffei family living in Bologna in the 1500s, as there is documented evidence of an engineer named Francesco Maffei of Bologna, who was paid by Cristoforo Madruzzo, Prince-Bishop of Trento, to level some of the streets in the city of Trento in 155033. He was again commissioned to build a bridge in 1578. But whether his family was connected to the line from which Revò Maffei claim to have come, who knows?

The Maffei manuscript in Revò further states that various illustrious personalities arose from this Bologna line, amongst whom were Antonio de Maffei, governor of the Province of Bologna, and three cardinals of the Catholic Church, namely Bernardino, Marcantonio, and Orazio Maffei, who (Crollalanza tells us) were elevated to the rank of cardinal in 1549, 1570, and 1606, respectively. However, according to Crollalanza, these three eminent cardinals were not from Bologna at all, but from the noble Maffei of Rome – a branch of the Maffei of Volterra. Crollalanza elaborates by explain that the Roman line was founded by one Benedetto Maffei, who had moved from Volterra to Rome around 1488, as evidenced by a document in which they are cited as patricians of that city.34

Setting aside any alleged ‘history’ from more than 700 years or so, I am willing to give the Revò manuscript the benefit of the doubt and accept that it probably contains at least some elements of truth. But, like a game of Chinese whispers, these truths have, over time, become a ‘mishmash’ of names, places, and chronologies.

Nonetheless, when you piece together all these fragmented and often conflicting versions of history, one persistent question seems to emerge (at least in my mind):

Is there an historical connection between the Maffei of Volterra (and/or the Maffei of Rome) and the Maffei of Bologna, and ultimately the Maffei of Val di Non?

We will return to this important question when we discuss the so-called ‘old arma’ of the Maffei of Revò, as it appears in their family archives.

The Six Sons of Maffeo Maffei

Roberto Pancheri also tells us about a detailed Maffei family tree from the 18th century, painted in oil, in the Maffei collection at Casa Campia in Revò. The painting depicts a visual history of the descendants of a ‘Maffeus de Maffeis a Ganda Vallis Malenci, oriundus Bononiae’, i.e., ‘Maffeo Maffei of Ganda in Valmalenco, [but] originally from Bologna’, who was apparently near the end of his life in 1558.35

Again, the chronology here is a bit challenging, especially when combined with the information about ‘Alfonso’ in the manuscript we just discussed. First, we heard that Alfonso came from Lombardia and went to Bologna around 1036; now we are being told a descendant of that same family left Bologna and went to Lombardia sometime before 1558.

But setting that aside, the more significant message in the painting is that, on 21 July 1558, this Maffeo Maffei is said to divided his goods amongst his six sons, who subsequently (presumably after their father’s death) went their separate ways. These sons, and their destinations, were:

  1. ANDREA: Who is said to have stayed in Valmalenco.
  2. GIACOMO: Whose descendants are said to have settled in Fondo in Val di Non.
  3. TOMMASO: Whose descendants are said to have settled in Salorno in Val d’Adige, where they went extinct after two generations.
  4. GIOVANNI: Whose descendants are said to have settled in Maiano in Cles in Val di Non, but also went extinct after two generations.
  5. ANTONIO: Whose descendants are said to have settled in Val di Cembra.
  6. PIETRO: The first born of Maffeo Maffei, who is said to be the founder of the Revò line (which went extinct in the 19th century), as well as the Cles line (which is still flourishing today).

While this is surely very colourful and makes for a great story, it does again verge on the mythic, sounding a bit like the 12 Lost Tribes of Israel to me. But, again, I am willing to accept that it may be at least partially true, at least with regards to the Val di Non families.

Trying to test the validity of this story against the surviving evidence is certainly challenging, with varying degrees of success. I cannot comment on Andrea’s line (the one that remained in Lombardia), nor on those of Tommaso and Giovanni, which are said to have gone extinct after two generations. But Antonio’s line, said to have settled in Val di Cembra, surely does not match the family lore of the Cembra families we discussed earlier (unless they are two unrelated families).

With regards to Revò (we will briefly address Cles and Fondo later), the surviving baptismal records there do not go beyond 1619, although some entries in the death records do help support the story.

One observation: If there indeed was a Maffeo Maffei, and he actually did divide his assets amongst his six sons, who later had the financial wherewithal to emigrate and set up new lives hundreds of miles from their homeland, he certainly must have had a sizeable fortune.

The Descendants of Pietro the Elder in Revò

I cannot say where Pietro’s name came from, as there does not appear to be any evidence of him in the Revò records, presumably because he was deceased before the surviving records begin. The Maffei archives, however, tell us he had a son named Andrea, whose name we do find in the parish records.

Andrea, who (according to Pancheri) was a trade merchant, died in in his own home in Revò on 18 June 1632, when he was believed to be a nonagenarian.36 This means he may have been born sometime around 1542, when his grandfather Maffeo was still alive.

18 June 1632 death record of Andrea Maffei of Revo' (Trentino)

Click image to see it larger

Pancheri tells us that Andrea’s son Jacopo (an antiquated form of ‘Giacomo’) carried on the commercial trade, eventually amassing a veritable fortune, and acquiring many farmlands, especially around Romallo. An example of one of his transactions is in a parchment dated 29 October 1626, in which Jacopo Maffei buys a plot of arable land called ‘al Pozzolino’ from a Simone Salazer (called ‘Santo Lazaro’ in the record).37 Pancheri reflects that this document demonstrates the origins of a ‘patrimonial expansion which, in a little more than two centuries, will lead the Maffei to acquire the best agricultural land in the paese.’ 38

Jacopo’s son Pietro was born in Revò on 28 April 1621. This is the first birth of a Maffei in the Revò register, as the surviving baptismal records do not go past the year 1619. In that record, it refers to Jacopo as ‘living in Revò’, inferring he had been born elsewhere.39

1621 - Baptismal record of Pietro Maffei of Revò, Trentino.

Click image to see it larger

Jacopo, who was later ennobled, died on 26 December 1668, when he was said to be 77 years old, estimating his year of birth around 1591. By this time, he is simply referred to as being ‘of Revò’.40

26 Dec 1668: Death record of the noble Jacopo (Giacomo) Maffei of Revò, Trentino.

Click image to see it larger

Diverging from the family mercantile trade, Jacopo’s son Pietro started his career as a notary by 1649.41 Pancheri tells us that, by 1669, Pietro and his family moved to into a grand house known as ‘Casa Campia’, which is so-named because tradition says it used to belong to the noble Campi family of Cles. 42 Today, this house holds the Maffei family archives, which contains Wills, dowries, division of good, legal documents, family trees, passports, autobiographical memoirs, notes about the weather, and many letters.

Nobility – The Maffei of Revò and Cles

We know with certainty that Ferdinando Maria, Imperial Vicar and Duke of Bavaria, conferred nobility of the Holy Roman Empire on the above-mentioned Jacopo Maffei of Revò, along with Giovanni Andrea and Tommaso Maffei of Cles, on 20 November 1657.43 From this point forward, the word ‘noble’ appears in most of the references to these lines in the parish registers.

Given the fact that these men were all ennobled in the same document, I can only assume they were related, although this is only inferred in Pancheri’s book. As mentioned, family lore holds that these two branches are descended from Pietro, the eldest son of Maffeo of Valtellina, but whether they were brothers, cousins, fathers/sons, or uncles/nephews, I cannot yet say. If conclusive evidence is there, it will definitely not be found in the parish registers alone.

When these Maffei men were ennobled in 1657, they were granted new stemma. It is comprised of a two-part shield. The lower half is blue with three silver roses, buttoned with gold. The upper half is a double-headed eagle, the symbol of the province of Trento, distinguishing them from the Maffei of other provinces. The quirkiest part of this new stemma is the crest at the top, which is an ‘armless gnome’, adorned with the same three silver roses found on the shield.

A painting of the ‘arma nova’, along with the date the title was granted and the names of all relevant parties, is in the Maffei family archives in Revò:

New stemma of the noble Maffei families of Revò and Cles, who were ennobled in 1657, as depicted in the Maffei archives in Revò, Val di Non, Trentino, Italy Click image to see it larger

IMPORTANT NOTE: All the images of the Maffei stemmi in this article are scans from the aforementioned book by Roberto Pancheri. Pancheri says there were three men from Cles, namely Giovanni, Andrea, and Tommaso, but after having looked closely at the punctuation in the stemma and having examined the parish register for Cles during this era, I suspect ‘Giovanni’ and ‘Andrea’ may actually one man named ‘Giovanni Andrea’.

The descendants of these men were entered into the matriculation of Tirolean nobility in 1779, and they were even recognised as nobles by the Kingdom of Italy on 4 August 1927, long after ‘nobility’ had officially been toppled in Trentino during the Napoleonic era a good century earlier.44

The ‘Old Arma’ and the Questions it Raises

In the Maffei family archives in Revò, you will also find this painting of the ‘arma vecchia’ (old coat-of-arms), purportedly the stemma the family used before they were granted imperial nobility in 1657:

Arma vecchia (old coat-of-arms) in the Maffei archives in Revò, Trentino, Italy

Click image to see it larger

The single-headed eagle at the top is the symbol of the Principality of Trento, which was then ruled by the Prince-Bishop; today, the single-headed eagle continues to be used as the emblem of the autonomous province of Trento. In contrast, the double-headed eagle in the ‘new stemma’ is the symbol of the empire, i.e., the Holy Roman Empire, Austrian Empire, or Austro-Hungarian Empire, depending on the era.

Also in the archives, you will find this painting of two Maffei stemmi, side-by-side, labelled ‘new and old’. Note how the ‘old’ stemma here does not contain the section with the eagle at the top:

Maffei of Revò stemma new and old, as seen in family archives in Revò, Trentino, ItalyClick image to see it larger

The old stemma in this side-by-side rendition is certainly intriguing, as it is identical to the stemma of Maffei of Rome as described by Crollalanza, and nearly identical to that of the ancient Maffei of Volterra, from whom the Roman line had descended. Crollalanza says the Volterra stemma has seven bands of blue and gold instead of six, but otherwise they are exactly the same. 45 This, of course, brings us back to the question we posed earlier as to whether there is an historical connection between the Maffei of Revò and those of medieval Toscana.

As we have learned, the Maffei of Revò say they came from Bologna, making no mention of an earlier connection to Volterra or Rome. Crollalanza, who published his Dizionario in 1886, makes no mention of noble Maffei family in Bologna at all, but we know do there were indeed Maffei in Bologna by the 1500s. But were they nobility, and were they connected in some way to the Toscana line? Could the Bologna line have been an extension of the Roman branch? If so, this could possibly explain why the Revò family claim they are from the same lineage as the three famous Catholic cardinals.

OR… could it all just be ‘family lore’?

Could the Maffei in Revò (or an overly ambitious artist hired by them) simply have ‘adopted’ the Toscana/Roman stemma when the other genealogical materials were created in the 18th century, possibly for the prestige of being descended from ‘ancient’ nobility?

On this issue, Pancheri points out something curious that certainly gives us pause to wonder. In the church of Santa Maria in Revò, there is a Maffei family tomb that was built in 1653, a few years before they were awarded Imperial nobility. Apparently, the tomb has an inscription that explicitly refers to the family’s Valtellina origins. But what the tomb does NOT contain is the family stemma.46 So, if this truly were the ‘vecchia arma’ of the Maffei who arrived in Val di Non only a generation or two earlier, why would they not have had this stemma engraved on their tomb?

So many questions.

The Maffei of Cles and Fondo – Brief Summary

As the Cles baptismal records begin in 1585, and the Fondo records in 1596, I cannot add much to what has already been said about the possible origins of these two lines, drawing mostly upon the traditional history suggested in the Maffei archives in Revò.

The oldest reference to the Maffei in Cles I have found are two parchments from 1599 and 1600 referring to a ‘Ser Cipriano, son of Giovanni Maffei of Valtellina, living in Cles’.47, 48 Tracing the descendants of this Cipriano in the parish registers for Cles, it becomes clear that this is the Maiano line that Roberto Pancheri says died out after two generations.

The earliest Maffei birth in the Cles register is for a girl named Alessandra, the daughter of yet another Giacomo Maffei, born on 25 May 1608. While it makes no mention of a ‘foreign’ origin for her father, others around this same era still say ‘living in Cles’.

I have found references to a Giovanni Andrea and a Tommaso Maffei, but I cannot yet be sure these are the men who were ennobled with Jacopo of Revò.

As to Fondo, the earliest baptismal record for a Maffei I have found in Fondo is for a Nicolò, son of Giovanni Maffei, born on 14 June 1599. No father is mentioned for Giovanni, and there is no inference that he came from anyplace other than Fondo.

The Question of Origins – Closing Thoughts

It seems clear to me that there is no ‘one size fits all’ history of the Maffei in Trentino. There are many different lines, some with ancestral connections to each other, and others whose connection (if there is one) would be so remote it would be next to impossible to identify. Even a large-scale Y-DNA project might not generate all the answers we seek, as there is so much conflicting information about patterns of migration, and about which branches are descended from which.

The proliferation of family lore certainly does not make our task any easier, as these tales can often conflict with other versions of history, and they sometimes even contradict themselves. And, of course, human beings sometimes just make things up, or ‘borrow’ things from other family histories, because they make their own family lore more interesting or prestigious. I have seen this happen many times, both in my own family, and in those of my clients.

But despite all the ‘fuzziness’ that inevitably arise when trying to answer questions about of our origins – whether we are talking about the origins of the Maffei family, of the human race, or of the universe itself – it really all boils down to what we feel most drawn to believe, at an individual level.

History – including family history – is never ‘etched in stone’. Far less concrete than most people imagine, historical research is always a matter of looking at as much available evidence as we can and formulating educated theories by comparing and analysing everything we have managed to find.

That said, there are at least TWO things we can definitively say are common to ALL the Maffei families of Trentino:

  1. They all came from somewhere outside the province.
  2. At some point in the distant past, they all had a patriarch named Maffeo.

This research is part of a book in progress entitled Guide to Trentino Surnames for Genealogists and Family Historians. I hope you follow me on the journey as I research and write this book; it will probably be a few years before it comes out, and it is likely to end up being a multi-volume set.

If you liked this article and would like to receive future articles from Trentino Genealogy, be sure to subscribe to this blog using the form below.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
17 May 2021

P.S. Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, I am still not sure when I will be able to go back in Trento, as the international travel situation keeps changing. Fingers crossed, I will be able to go there by the end of the summer, but there really is no way of knowing for sure at the moment.   

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 July 2021.

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.

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REFERENCES

  1. BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino. Trento: Società Iniziative Editoriali (S.R.L.). Entry for Maffei. Pages 204-205.
  2. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine. Trento: Società di Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche. Entry for Maffei. Pages 177-178.
  3. BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. Pages 204-205.
  4. PANCHERI, Roberto. I Maffei: Una Storia Ritrovata. Guida alla Casa Campia e all’Archivio Maffei di Revò. Comune di Revò e Provincia Autonoma di Trento. Page 4.
  5. DI CROLLALANZA, G.B. Dizionario Storico-Blasonico delle Famiglie Nobili E Notabili Italiane Estinte E Fiorenti. Bologna: Arnaldo Forni Editore. Entries for Maffei families, Volume 2 of 3. Pages 44-45.
  6. STENICO, P. Remo. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845. Trento: Biblioteca San Bernardino. Page 215.
  7. Amministrazione Separata Usi Civici – Asuc Di Fisto. Schedatura delle pergamene (1305 – 1609). 4 December 1364. Villa Rendena. ‘ Copia autentica di Giovanni di Ambrogio da Giustino, Maffeo di Giorgio da Bernareggio (Milano), Domenico di Bontempo da Dasindo, Boninsegna di Frugerio da Comighello, Giovanni di Bartolomeo da Iavrè, di data 1364 dicembre 4, Villa Rendena, atto notarile; latino’. Accessed 15 May 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/5738163.
  8. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. Inventari e Regesti degli Archivi Parrocchiali della Val di Sole. Volume 1: La Pieve di Ossana. Trento: Libreria Moderna Editrice A. Ardesi. Page 468.
  9. ANZILOTTI, Giulia Mastrelli. Toponomastica Trentina: I Nomi delle Località Abitate. Trento: Provincia Autonoma di Trento, Servizio Beni librari e archivistici. PLEASE NOTE: All maps in this article are scans from this book, with my colour highlights added. I have not put reference number for each map.
  10. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. Pages 444-445.
  11. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. Page 485.
  12. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. Page 467.
  13. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. Page 489.
  14. STENICO, P. Remo. Page 215.
  15. Termenago Parish Records. 3 April 1705. Death record of Rev. Fabiano Maffei. Termenago parish records, deaths, volume 2 (LDS microfilm 1388644, part 33), page 14-15. The beginning of that volume of death records has a list of the starting years of all the curate priests of Termenago from 1602-1883.
  16. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. Page 474.
  17. CICCOLINI, Giovanni. Page 489.
  18. Comune Di Fisto. 25 June 1556. Inventario dell’archivio e degli archivi aggregati. 13. Compravendita del piano di Nambino. ‘Bartolomeo fu Giovanni Maffei sindaci di dette ville’ (i.e. Baldino and Pinzolo). Accessed 13 May 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1703871.
  19. Pinzolo parish records. 21 March 1635. Baptismal record of Cattarina, daughter of Pietro Maffei, called ‘Bergamaschi’. Pinzolo parish records, baptisms, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388956, part 17) no page number.
  20. DI CROLLALANZA, G.B., Pages 44-45.
  21. SCHRÖDER, Francesco. Repertorio Genealogico delle Famiglie Confermate Nobili e dei Titolati Nobili Esistenti nelle Provincie Venete. Venezia: Tipografica di Alvisopoli. Entry for Maffei. Pages 458-460.
  22. BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. Pages 204-205.
  23. STENICO, P. Remo. Page 215.
  24. Comune Di Caderzone. Inventario dell’archivio. 17 May 1492. Caderzone. ‘Pasotto fu Martino Maffei’. Accessed 13 May 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1217803.
  25. Santa Croce Parish Records. 11 September 1782. Marriage record of Vincenzo Maffei of Armo (Valvestino) and Cattarina Brocchetti of Cavrasto. Santa Croce parish records, marriages, volume 3 (LDS microfilm 1448051, part 7), no page number. Archivio Diocesano di Trento file 4256260_01103.
  26. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. Pages 177-178.
  27. PANCHERI, Roberto. Page 4.
  28. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. Pages 177-178.
  29. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. Pages 177-178.
  30. GIULIANI, C. I fuorusciti veneziani dalla battaglia di Agnadello al congresso di Bologna (1509-1529), in ‘Archivio Trentino’, a. 14 (1898), pages 65-82.
  31. PANCHERI, Roberto. Page 4.
  32. Maffei (famiglia). Wikipedia entry. Accessed 16 May 2021 from https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maffei_(famiglia).
  33. WEBER, Simone; RASMO, Nicolò. 1977. Artisti Trentini e Artisti Che Operarono Nel Trentino. Trento: Monauni.  Originally published in 1933, this is the 2nd edition. Entry for Francesco Maffei, engineer of Bologna, page 219.
  34. DI CROLLALANZA, G.B., Pages 44-45.
  35. PANCHERI, Roberto. Page 4.
  36. Revò parish records. 18 June 1632. Death of dom. Andrea Mapheus (Maffei) of Revò, about 90 years old. Revò parish records, deaths, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388682, part 3), no page number.
  37. Comune di Revò. Inventario dell’archivio storico. 15, Compravendita. 29 October 1626. Land sale agreement between Giacomo Maffei by Simone Salazer (Santo Lazaro) of Revò. Accessed 13 May 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/2217729 .
  38. PANCHERI, Roberto. Page 6.
  39. Revò parish records. 28 Apr 1621. Baptism of Pietro Maffei of Revò, son of Jacopo and Domenica. Revò parish records, baptisms, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388681, part 6), page 14-15.
  40. Revò parish records. 26 Dec 1668. Death of the noble Giacomo Maffei of Revò, about 77 years old. Revò parish records, deaths, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388682, part 3), no page number.
  41. STENICO, P. Remo. Page 215.
  42. PANCHERI, Roberto. Page 8.
  43. PANCHERI, Roberto. Page 12.
  44. TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. Pages 177-178.
  45. DI CROLLALANZA, G.B., Pages 44-45.
  46. PANCHERI, Roberto. Page 12.
  47. Parrocchia di Santa Maria Assunta in Cles, Inventario dell’archivio storico. 262. 5 March 1599, Castel Cles. ‘Cipriano figlio di Giovanni Maffei dalla Valtellina’. Accessed 14 May 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1620806.
  48. Archivio Storico della Parrocchia di Cles. Dazione in pagamento. 3 January 1600, Cles. Ser Cipriano, son of Giovanni Maffei of Valtellina, living in Cles, gave in payment to dom. Cristoforo Campo… Accessed 14 May 2021 from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1621420.

CALDES in Val di Sole. Family Trees, History of Ancient Surnames

CALDES in Val di Sole. Family Trees and History of Ancient Surnames.

A Treasure Trove of Family Trees of the Ancient Families of Caldes. Part 6 of ‘Trentino Valleys, Parishes & People: Guide for Genealogists’ by Lynn Serafinn.

These past few weeks I was working on a tree for a client whose ancestry in the 1600s took me on a journey through the historic parish of Caldes in Val di Sole. I found this research so interesting, I decided to feature Caldes as the topic for my last ‘Filò Friday’ podcast (5 February 2021). I also decided, while it was fresh in my mind, to make Caldes the feature of the next part in my blog article series on ‘Trentino Valley, Parishes and People’.

WHAT WE’LL EXPLORE TODAY

Called ‘a noble community’ by author and historian Alberto Mosca, many of the families of Caldes are well documented back to the medieval era. But Caldes also has a true ‘genealogical treasure’ in its parish registry: a collection of family trees of the ancient families of Caldes made by Father Tommaso Bottea in the 19th century.

In this article, I will discuss:

  1. Where Caldes is in the province, and its connection with other nearby parishes.
  2. The state of the surviving parish records for Caldes.
  3. Who Father Tommaso Bottea was.
  4. Details of the Caldes family trees made by Father Bottea: what families they cover, what the trees contain (and what they don’t), how they are organised, and how to use them in your research.
  5. Surnames and history of the ancient families of Caldes, including their linguistic and geographical origins, as well as the titles of nobility conferred on some of these families.

So, while some of you might have been expecting another article on Val di Non, I hope you enjoy our excursion today to Val di Sole. Even if you don’t think you have ancestors from Caldes, I am sure you will find this to be a fascinating journey into our Trentino culture and history.

VIDEO PODCAST

If you wish, you can also watch the Filò Friday podcast on Caldes below:

SIDE NOTE: Apologies to those looking for Filò Friday podcasts from Oct 2020 through Jan 2021. I just haven’t had time to edit them for YouTube yet! You can see them ‘on demand’ (but unedited) in our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/TrentinoGenealogy, in ‘Guide 1: Video Podcasts’.

CALDES: Where It Is in the Province

To get oriented, 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 Sole (number 19) in YELLOW. Notice how Val di Non (number 18) lies on its eastern border, and Giudicarie Interiore (number 9) – but more specifically Val Rendena which is included in the Giudicarie on this map – runs along its southern border.

MAP - Val di Sol in the province of Trentino

click on image to see it larger

Now, if we zoom into Val di Sole, we see Caldes (highlighted in yellow) sitting right on the eastern tip of the valley, just on the border of Val di Non:

MAP - Caldes in Val di Sole, province of Trentino, Italy

click on image to see it larger

These maps were taken from the book Toponomastica Trentina: I Nomi delle Località Abitate by Giulia Mastrelli Anzilotti (2003).

The Frazioni of Caldes

One of the limitations with the maps from Anzilotti’s book is that they show the civil comuni (municipalities), which frequently change. Also, they don’t show all the frazioni (villages/hamlets) contained within each comune, although she discusses them in detail in her book.

Within the comune of Caldes are seven frazioni:

  1. Bordiana
  2. Bozzana
  3. Cassana
  4. Molini (i.e. the mills)
  5. Samoclevo
  6. San Giacomo
  7. Tozzaga

Anzilotti tells us that all of these frazioni, with the exception of Samoclevo, are collectively known as ‘le Cappelle’, which was a term used in Val di Sole to refer to inhabited areas that were part of the community that had ‘non-curate’ churches (at least in the past).

The Decanato of Malé and its Curate Parishes

As a reminder, back when I started this series, I explained how Catholic parishes are organised in a hierarchical fashion: In English, this hierarchy is:

Diocese (or Archdiocese) –> Deanery –> Parish –> Curate

Or, in Italian:

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

All the parishes I discuss in this series are in the Archdiocese of Trento.

Caldes is a curate parish of the decanato of Malé, which includes the curate parishes of: S. Bernardo (Rabbi), Caldes, Dimaro, Monclassico, Bolentina, Piazzola, Terzolas, Samoclevo, Cavizzana, Magras and Pracorno. I’ve highlighted these on the map below, but remember the map shows comuni, not parishes, and some of the parishes are contained within these comuni:

MAP - Decanato of Male' and curate parishes in Val di Sole, Trentino, Italy

click on image to see it larger

The Parish Registers for Caldes

Below is a summary of the surviving parish registers for Caldes, with some observations I have made in my own research. I include the number of the LDS microfilms, as this is the medium most familiar to many of you. However, 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. 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).

SIDE NOTE: I feel most fortunate to have collected tens of thousands of Trentino parish records over the years, which has enabled me to work from home on many (but not all) projects. This has proved especially valuable for me and my clients during the recent COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions.

PARISH REGISTERLDS MICROFILM NO.MICROFILM ITEMCONTENTS
Baptismal INDEX1388646Part 31Contains index (page numbers) of volume 1 of baptisms for surnames A-F; L, M. These pertain to records that appear on the NEXT microfilm (1388647). There are no Caldes records on this film.
Baptisms vol 1-51388647Parts 1-5Baptisms: 1605-1702; 1703-1784; 1784-1817; 1818-1862; 1863-1922
Marriages vol 1-31388647Parts 6-8Marriages: 1618-1815; 1820-1919; 1874-1923
Deaths vol 1-31388647Parts 9-11Deaths: 1629-1818; 1816-1865; 1866-1923
BOTTEA TREES1388647Part 3These appear at the very END of volume 3 of the baptismal register (part 3 of microfilm)

NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:

  • All of the volumes are indexed, with page numbers. I have no idea why there are a handful of pages from the first baptismal index on a separate microfilm (1388646).
  • GAP in Caldes baptismal records: 1663-1672; there is a note in the book that says where to look for them, but I haven’t found this in any of the photographed volumes.
  • GAPS in marriage records: June 1659-Feb 1663; March 1700-Dec 1705; Dec 1738-April 1743. The dates of the marriage records leap around a lot, especially around the beginning of the 1800s.
  • GAPS in the death records: Dec 1658-Jan 1663. There may be more, but I haven’t worked as much with the death records as with baptisms and marriages.

RESEARCH TIPS:

  • CHECK MALÉ. Knowing that Caldes is part of the deanery of Malé is crucial because early records for Caldes (if they have survived) will most likely be found in Malé. The Malé baptismal records are particularly of importance, as they go back to 1554.
  • CHECK ADJACENT PARISHES, ESPECIALLY FOR MARRIAGE RECORDS. Being familiar with the adjacent parishes is also important, as you might find relevant records for Caldes ancestors there, such as marriage records between a man from Caldes and a woman from a nearby parish.
  • CHECK THE BOTTEA TREES. The Bottea trees (which I will discuss shortly) can be found at the very end of volume 3 of the baptismal register. They contain a wealth of information.

The Curious Case of Samoclevo

Before I move on to the Bottea trees, I’d briefly like to mention Samoclevo, as it can sometimes be a challenging parish to research. As we see above, Samoclevo is a frazione of Caldes, and a curate parish of Malé. While Samoclevo started keeping its own baptismal records in 1733, its marriage records don’t start until towards the end of that century (1771) and its death records start even later (1818).

As a rule of thumb, if you cannot find a record for Samoclevo, or you are looking for a record before these dates, your first resource should be the records for Caldes. If you cannot find it there, look in Malé. There’s actually no ‘straight line’ of logic for where you will find the record, as they often seem to jump around. There are also several small gaps in the Samoclevo records (possibly because of this administrative ambiguity).

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About Father Tommaso Bottea

One of the most wonderful treasures contained in the Caldes parish registers are the family trees of the ancient families of Caldes researched, constructed, and beautifully ILLUSTRATED BY priest, author, historian (and apparently an artist) Rev. Tommaso Vigilio Bottea of Monclassico.

Tommaso Bottea was born in Monclassico on 30 December 1819, and died in Malé on 13 February 1895, where he had served as parroco, as well as the deacon of the deanery of Malé (see above for a list of parishes this included). During the course of his life, he wrote many books, including a history of Val di Sole published in 1890.

But he also left behind two invaluable treasures for genealogists and family historians who are researching the families of Val di Sole: family trees of the historic families of Caldes and Malé.

We’ll look at the Malé trees in a future article, but today we’ll look at the trees he made for Caldes.

Families Included in Father Bottea’s Caldes Trees

In alphabetical order, the families included in Father Bottea’s Caldes trees are:

  • Antonietti
  • Bonomi
  • Cova
  • Fattarsi
  • Lorenzo
  • Malanotti
  • Manfroni
  • Rizzi
  • Rosani
  • Scaramella

Note, these are ONLY the Caldes lines of these families, as some also exist in other parishes.

There are also trees for the Guarnieri and Leita families (as well as an extension of the Rizzi family), but these were made by someone in the 20th century (not signed) and they don’t go back as far.

Content of the Bottea Family Trees

When working with the Bottea trees, it is crucial to understand what they contain – and what they don’t!

Father Bottea drew his information from the records from both Caldes AND Malé. Remember, as he was the head of the decanato, he would have had easy access to all of these registers.

As he made these trees as genealogical studies of the surnames, the trees contain only the MALE lines, i.e., sons of sons with that surname. Moreover, they do not include sons who died young or who had no children. The only exceptions are PRIESTS, and the rare instances of men whose names happened to appear in older documents that pre-date the registers.

The SINGLE exception of a daughter is in the Antonietti tree, where a daughter was the last heir of the family name, and whose husband adopted the surname after it died out via the male lines (more on this later in this article).

He did NOT make trees of families who were recent migrants to the parish, or who died out shortly after the records began (such as the Dalle Caneve, whom we will examine shortly).

Several of the trees contain elaborate illustrations of the stemmi (coats-of-arms) of those families who were nobility, with details about when, to whom and by whom these titles were granted. These beautiful drawings (and the information they contain) make these trees especially wonderful to study.

Be aware that some of the pre-registry information Bottea gives has been gleaned via other kinds of documentation, such as ‘pergamene’ (parchments) of legal documents, etc., which are in the archives for those parishes or comuni.

Organisation of the Bottea Family Trees

When working with the Bottea trees, it is also important to know which information is included, and how he chose to organise it.

He did not put any birth dates in his trees; rather, he recorded the MARRIAGE DATE of each couple, or an estimated YEAR of marriage in cases where it would have occurred before the beginning of the records.

When he knew the surname of the wife, he included it in the tree; if not, then only her first name will be in the tree.

In the case of early marriages where the children were born before the beginning of the surviving registers, you will see only the patriarch’s name, with no wife.

In some cases, he recorded a person’s DEATH DATE (or year of death). You will recognise these by a cross (+) before the date/year.

If a man served in the military, he often includes those details, especially if he was an officer and/or someone who died in battle.

If a branch of the family migrated to another parish and/or outside the province, he also recorded what he knew about them.

Close up of part of Manfroni tree by Tommaso Bottea (Caldes)
Above: close-up of part of the Manfroni tree by Father Bottea. Notice how the first two marriages in the bottom row and the marriage in the top row have surnames of the wives, as well as a specific year of marriage. This tells us he located the marriage records in the register for either Caldes or Malé. In the lower right, we have a surname of the wife, but only an estimated marriage year, while in the middle row, we have only the first name of the wives, and an estimated marriage year. This means these marriages took place outside Caldes or Malé, and Bottea had not been able to identify them.

A few caveats:

  • A few dates have been scribbled over. As I have not seen the original books (and digital images are all in greyscale, so I cannot tell if there are different colour inks), I cannot say which (if any) of these corrections were most likely made by don Bottea himself or by some else, after the fact. This can sometimes result in ambiguity in some of the trees.
  • At least one tree (Manfroni) contains some speculation about early medieval origins (circa 1200), resulting in information that seems to leap over several generations.

How to Use the Bottea Trees in Your Research

If you have these surnames in your family tree, and you’ve been able to identify your nearest male ancestor with the surname in one of the Bottea trees, that’s great. Now, you can use the Bottea tree as a starting point for that surname, and try to find the marriage, birth and possibly death records to support what Bottea has outlined.

But let’s say the first ancestor with that surname you’ve discovered is not male, but female. Well, obviously, you’re not going to see her name on the tree itself, as he only recorded male lines. But you can still use these trees to identify her ancestry by working through the following steps:

  1. FIND OUT HER FATHER’S NAME. The first task would be to find out her father’s name; this is first done via her marriage record. As already mentioned, the marriage records for Caldes go back to 1618 (although there are occasional gaps). Hopefully, you’ve found that record, and you know at least her father’s name (it is rare for marriage records before the 1800s to have a mother’s name). If you cannot find a marriage record, you can estimate the date by finding all the children for that couple, and then estimating the marriage about one year before the birth of the first child.
  2. CREATE AN ESTIMATE FOR DATE OF BIRTH. Once you found a marriage date (or created a marriage estimate) you can estimate the date of birth for that woman either by the date of marriage, or by the date of the youngest known child. Before the 20th century, Trentino women tended to marry between the age of 19 and 22, although you will occasionally see them marry younger or older. Of course, if she (or her husband is widowed), she is likely to be older at the time of marriage. Typically, a healthy woman would continue to have children until she was about 42-44 years old, so finding as many children as you can for her will really help you zero in on a good estimate for her date of birth.
  3. LOCATE BIRTH RECORD (if it exists). Once you know her father’s name and you’ve created a good birth estimate, the next thing to do would be to find her actual birth record, if she was born within the range of the surviving baptismal records for Caldes (1605 and after).
  4. FIND HER SIBLINGS’ BAPTISMAL RECORDS. Spending some time finding the baptismal records of all the siblings of your female ancestor can help you estimate the marriage date of her parents, and thus identify which of the possible couples on the Bottea tree are YOUR ancestors (especially in the case when there is more than one man with the same name). They also may contain information your ancestor’s baptismal record does not have.
  5. LOCATE YOUR ANCESTORS ON BOTTEA’S TREE. Once you’ve gone through all those steps, you should be able to find your ancestors on Bottea’s tree for that surname. From that point, it’s just a matter of plugging in the information he has on his tree, and then looking for the documents to support his dates.

IMPORTANT: If you haven’t personally located the documents for a marriage, birth or death, but are simply inserting Bottea’s information into your tree, be sure to cite HIM as your ‘source’ of information. This way, you can go back to the tree and look it up, and try to follow it up another day. Never, ever enter information without saying WHERE you got it.

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Histories of Eight Ancient Families of Caldes

As promised, I’d now like to share a few short histories of some of the most ancient families of Caldes. All of these families – with the exception of Dalle Caneve – are represented in Father Bottea’s family trees in the Caldes registry.

Dalle Caneve

Originally seen in records as ‘Canipis’ or ‘Canepis’, the Dalle Caneve appear in documents back to the 1300s. Historian Alberto Mosca tells us that the first citing of the name is from 1386, when a Bartolomeo is indicated as a settler in Val di Rabbi. Mosca also tells us that this family were in the service of the Counts of Flavon, and that in that capacity, they start to be seen present in Caldes on feudal properties of their Lords by the end of the 1400s. He also says a Bartolomeo and Bonomo Dalle Caneve participated in the Guerra Rustica (‘Rustic War’) of 1525. Later, in 1559, a ‘Peter da le Caneve’ of Caldes is cited as being in the service of the Counts of Thun.

In my own research, I first stumbled upon this surname in Caldes with the 1635 marriage record of Matteo Malanotti (son of Giovanni) and Margherita Dalle Caneve. Although the record says she is the daughter of Marino/Martino, I suspect this is an error, and that she was actually the daughter of Michele (as per a baptismal record dated 8 Feb 1616).
1635 marriage record of Matteo Malanotti and Margherita Dalle Caneve, both of Caldes, Trentino, Italy

click on image to see it larger

There are a handful of Dalle Caneve baptisms in Caldes in the early years of the 1600s, after which they appear to have ‘daughtered out’ and gone extinct before the middle of the century. A branch of the family who transferred to Val di Rabbi, however, survived there until the end of the 1800s.

Father Bottea didn’t create a tree for the Dalle Caneve, most likely because they had been extinct in Caldes for at least 250 years by the time he did his research. However, they are an important family to remember because, according to historian Alberto Mosca, they may have an ancestral connection to at least two of the other historic families of Caldes: the Bonomi and the Manfroni.

Bonomi

Bonomi is a patronymic from the man’s name ‘Bonomo’, from the Latin ‘bon + homo’, meaning ‘good man’ or ‘good human being’.

Alberto Mosca tells us that the name ‘Bonomo’ was a recurring name in the Dalle Caneve family through the end of the 1500s, which he feels adds weight to the hypothesis of an ancient ancestral connection between the Bonomi and the Dalle Caneve.

Mosca also reports that the first known diploma of nobility for the family was for a ‘Pietro Bonhomo’, who was ennobled in 1370 by Emperor Carlo IV (as per an epigraph from the 1600s).

Stemma (coat-of-arms) of the noble Bonomi family of Caldes, as drawn by Father Tommaso Bottea in 1881.
Stemma (coat-of-arms) of the noble Bonomi family of Caldes, as drawn by Father Tommaso Bottea in 1881.

We know from surviving records that the Caldes Bonomi originated in nearby Cavizzana. For example, the earliest surviving baptismal record for a Bonomi in Caldes is for an Anna Maria, daughter of Francesco Bonomi and Massenza (Manfroni), dated 27 April 1606:

1606 baptismal record from Caldes for Anna Maria Bonomi

click on image to see it larger

Admittedly difficult to read, her father is referred to here as ‘Francesco Buon Homo, now living (nunc incola) in Caldes’, implying that is not where he was originally from.

In this baptismal record from the following year, we find a ‘Blasio (Biagio), son of Stefano Bonhom’ and Marina, born 4 April 1607. Here the priest specifies that Stefano came from Cavizzana:

1607 baptismal record from Caldes for Biagio Bonomi

click on image to see it larger

Thus, it would appear that the Bonomi arrived in Caldes sometime toward the end of the 1500s, and that they are an extension of the original Cavizzana family. Bottea identifies the patriarch of this line as a man named Bonomo (son of Martino, of Cavizzana), who was most likely born in the mid-1400s. Thus, all Caldes Bonomi are ancestrally related to the Cavizzana Bonomi.

The family’s diploma of nobility, as sculpted on the historic Bonomi house in Caldes, was later confirmed by the Emperor Ferdinando III (reigned 1637-1657) to the Caldes notary, Aurelio Bonomi. Aurelio, who was the son of the same Francesco Bonomi and Maria Malanotti in the above record, married a Lucia Manfroni around the year 1616. These are all noble families of Caldes. Mosca says there are two doors (dated 1608 and 1638) on the present-day street ‘via Manfroni Prati’ in Caldes that depict the Bonomi stemma.

While this surname appears in many other parts of the province, it would be wrong to assume they are all related. You will find it in various parts of the Giudicarie, Arco and especially in Pinzolo in Val Rendena. Tabarelli de Fatis mentions a noble Bonomi family from Pinzolo, who were living in Trento. An Antonio from this family was granted a stemma by Prince-Bishop Carlo Gaudenzio Madruzzo on 25 July 1615.

Manfroni

Manfroni is a patronymic surname, derived from a patriarch named ‘Manfrone’ (or ‘Manfrono’) of Caldes, whose name appears in a record dated 1480. In that document, he is said to be the son of the late Pietro, and grandson of the late Girardino. As with the Bonomi, Alberto Mosca believes the Manfroni were originally a branch of the now extinct the Dalle Caneve family. Like the Dalle Caneve, he has found evidence they were in the service of the Counts of Flavon.

Alberto Mosca tells us that the Manfroni are documented well into the 1400s, and that they are the only family among the ancient nobility of Caldes who are still in existence.

By the 1600s, there were at least six branches of the Manfroni family present in Caldes, all of which are represented in the Manfroni tree by Father Bottea.

Another noble family of Caldes, the first known title and stemma of nobility for them was awarded on 25 April 1554 to captain Giovanni Giacomo Manfroni (captain of the cavalry) of Caldes and his brothers Bernardino and Baldassare ‘and their legitimate descendants’ by Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor.

Stemma (coat-of-arms) from 1554 for Giovanni Giacomo Manfroni of Caldes, as drawn by Rev. Tommaso Bottea (1881)
Stemma (coat-of-arms) from 1554 for Giovanni Giacomo Manfroni of Caldes, as drawn by Rev. Tommaso Bottea (1881)

On 23 May 1726, H.R. Emperor Carlo VI awarded the predicate ‘de Manfort’ (also see Monfort and Montfort), and the rank of Knights (cavalieri) of the Holy Roman Empire to the relatives of Bernardino, Giovanni Giacomo, Giovanni Federico and Giovanni Antonio. On 28 Oct 1766, Antonio Manfroni of Caldes was granted an embellishment of his coat-of-arms by Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinando I.

During his short but tyrannical reign in Trentino at the end of the 1700s, Napoleon managed to dissolve both the Holy Roman Empire and the office of the Prince-Bishop of Trento, as well as nullify all noble titles. However, after he was ousted, and the Austrian empire took his place (which later became the Austro-Hungarian empire), some of the higher-ranking noble families managed to regain their titles and noble privileges.

One of these families was the Manfroni of Caldes. Not only did they regain their noble privilege, they were elevated to the rank of Knights of the Austrian Empire by Francesco Giuseppe on 30 March 1855. Later, Maurizio Manfroni, ship captain, was elevated to the rank of BARON of the Austrian Empire on 23 Jan 1874, and they were added to the list of ‘noble Tirolese’ in 1886.

Antonietti

This family’s surname was originally ‘Dalla Piazza’, also seen ‘de Platea’ or ‘De Plateis’ in Latin sources.

In his Caldes trees, don Bottea shows us a Domenico dalla Piazza, born sometime before 1500, and his son Antonio who appears in records around 1524. This Antonio had the nickname ‘Toniet’. This Antonio ‘Toniet’ had a son named Domenico, and it is from his descendants, that the surname Antonietti starts to appear around the year 1600.

Although it seems the family were already ennobled in some way before the year 1500, this Domenico, who was probably born around 1570, was elevated to the rank of ‘Conte Palatino’ (Palatine Count) in 1645. This title was originally associated with one of the most illustrious positions of the early Middle Ages in the kingdoms of the Franks, but it gradually lost importance over the centuries. They were also granted various titles from the Prince-Bishops in the 1700s.

Stemma of the ancient noble Antonietti family of Caldes, as drawn by a priest-historian Rev. Tommaso Bottea in the parish register in Caldes.
Stemma of the ancient noble Antonietti family of Caldes, as drawn by a priest-historian Rev. Tommaso Bottea in the parish register in Caldes.

A branch of the family, headed by Giovanni Battista Antonietti, settled in Malé around 1655.

Both the Caldes and Malé lines are now extinct. If you look on Nati in Trentino, there are no Antonietti (sometimes entered ‘de Antonietti’) born in Caldes after 1825, and none at all in Malé. Apparently around the middle of the 1700s, a Chiara Antonietti married a Cristoforo Caretta, and because there were no male heirs to the noble title in that line, their son Michele Caretta (who married a Francesca Manfroni in 1777) was granted the right to append the name Antonietti to the surname Caretta, resulting in the new surname ‘Caretta-Antonietti’.

There are a few Antonietti in the city of Trento and in Ledro in the early 20th century, but I currently have no idea where these lines originated.

Malanotti

‘Malanotti’ is a conjunction of the word ‘mala’ for ‘bad’ and ‘notte’ or ‘nocte’ for ‘night’. Thus, it means somebody in the past had a ‘bad night’. Alberto Mosca says the surname is found in numerous Italian places in the medieval era, as well as in the parish of Ossana in 1281.

In the specific case of Caldes, this surname came from a soprannome given sometime in the 1400s to someone whose original surname was ‘Arpolini’. The surname ‘Arpolini’ or ‘de Arpolini’ is a patronymic, derived from the man’s name Arpolino. Alberto Mosca says the name Arpolino (which was recurring name in the noble families of Flavon and Caldes) is probably a variant of a German name, such as Arpo, or Aribo, so, perhaps this family has some Germanic roots.

The family appear to have already been ennobled by the late 1300s, as per the decima (record of tithes) of Terzolas in 1385, where we find cited a Nicolò, son of the late ‘Sir’ Arpolino of Caldes.

While Father Bottea’s tree traces the ‘de Arpolini’ back to the late 1300s, the name ‘Malanotti’ starts to appear as a soprannome – a personal nickname – sometime in the mid-1400s with an Antonio, who was the son of the Nicolò I just mentioned.

The oldest known stemma for the family is in the ceiling of the church of San Rocco in Caldes, painted in 1512, for a ‘Sir’ Bernardino Arpolino, ‘vulgo Malanot’. Apparently, this church was built by Bernardino and other benefactors in thanks for surviving an outbreak of the plague in 1510 (San Rocco is the patron saint for plague victims).

Bernardino Malanotti’s stemma appears above the altar in the church, at the far right. To its left is the stemma of the Emperor Massimiliano, followed by the stemma of Prince-Bishop of Trento Giorgio Neideck. At the far left is an allegorical depiction of Death personified.

Stemmi, dated 1512, above the altar of the Church of San Rocco in Caldes. Photo by Alberto Mosca.
Stemmi, dated 1512, above the altar of the Church of San Rocco in Caldes. Photo by Alberto Mosca.

The stemma depicts two bears grabbing either side of a tree. I’m not sure if the bear on top is still part of the stemma, or just an illustration of the story behind the stemma. Alberto Mosca calls this a ‘talking’ coat of arms, showing us the kind of ‘bad night’ the family member spent: a certain member of the family sheltered in a tree. Although he doesn’t delve any deeper, my friend, client, and colleague, Gene Pancheri, shared a local legend about the origin of this nickname. The story goes that, after having been chased by a brown bear, a man took refuge at the top of a tree, because he knew brown bears cannot climb trees. However, the bear was persistent, and would not leave, causing the man to spend the entire night up in the tree before the bear finally gave up and moved on. From this point on, this man was nicknamed ‘malanot’ or ‘malanotti’, i.e., the man who once had an infamously ‘bad night’.

Close-up of stemma of Bernardino Malanotti, dated 1512, in the church of San Rocco in Caldes, Trentino, Italy
Close-up of stemma of Bernardino Malanotti, dated 1512, in the church of San Rocco in Caldes, Trentino, Italy

Who was this original ‘Malanotti’ who spent his night up a tree? The evidence suggests it was probably Antonio Arpolino, sometime in the mid-1400s.

Mosca gives a wealth of additional information about illustrious Malanotti throughout the centuries. While I don’t have room to mention them all, one that stands out is another Bernardino Malanotti, most likely the grandson of Bernardino whose stemma appears in the little church of San Rocco. This Bernardino is documented in 1598 as being an imperial advisor, and secretary of the Archduchess Anna Cattarina in the Courts at Innsbruck and Vienna. Apparently, he also accompanied the then Princess Cecilia Renata (daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, of the House of Habsburg) to Poland, where she would be crowned Queen of Poland.

At least two Malanotti lines emigrated from Caldes to Ceresé in Val di Rabbi in the 1500s, where the surname mutated to ‘Breton’ and Marinolli. Other lines were in Terzolas, where it went extinct in 1742.

Fattarsi

Fattarsi is a toponymic surname, i.e., a surname derived from the name of a place. It is of Germanic origin, and it took some time before it fully developed into the surname as it appears today.

According to Rev. Tommaso Bottea, the name ‘Fattarsi’ is a contraction of the words ‘Pfarre Tartsch’ (sometimes written Tarschg), meaning ‘(of) the parish of Tartsch’, which is in Val Venosta in South Tyrol (aka province of Bolzano). He estimates the surname was in use in Caldes by around 1590, although I see only very early (and not quite ‘fully baked’) versions of the surname during that era.

The founding father of the Fattarsi family of Caldes was a Federico Fattarsi, who arrived in Caldes from South Tyrol sometime by 1590, after marrying a woman named Brigida from Castelfondo. They had at least five children together. Thus, all of the present-day Fattarsi of Caldes are related, as they are descended from this same couple.

The 1594 baptismal record of their son Giovanni Giacomo refers to Federico as ‘Federico Fortag, a German living in Caldes’. In the baptismal record of their son Michele (4 Aug 1591), the priest refers to Federico as ‘Federico Fortach, teutonico chellero’ (Teutonic/German Keller), employed by the Most Distinguished dom. Filippo Thun of Castel Caldes’.

1591 baptismal record of Michele Fattarsi of Caldes, Trentino, Italy
1591 baptismal record of Michele Fattarsi of Caldes, Trentino, Italy

click on image to see it larger

A ‘Keller’ is the keeper of the wine cellar/cold food cellar. As there is no ‘K’ in the Italian vocabulary, it is often spelled ‘Cheller’. For this reason, some of the early baptismal records are recorded under the surname ‘Cheller/Keller’, and we also see ‘Cheller/Keller’ used as a soprannome for this family some subsequent generations. Don Bottea also mentions this occupation in his research.

The family produced many priests who worked in the curate churches in Caldes and Val di Rabbi, especially during the mid-1700s to early 1800s.

Rosani

Rosani is another patronymic, based on the man’s name ‘Rosano’ or ‘Rochesano’. Father Bottea says this family can be traced back to a ‘Rosano of Caldes’ who allegedly lived sometime in the 1200s. However, in working with the Bottea tree for Rosani, the dates don’t quite work, and they seem to leap over several generations in the very early years. Also, someone (I don’t know if it was Father Bottea or a later researcher) wrote the name ‘Rochesano’ over the name ‘Rosano’ in two places in the tree.

Alberto Mosca’s research might clear up some of the ambiguity of this ‘very ancient’ family. He tells us that a ‘Rochesano, son of the late Michele’ is cited in records dated 1393 and 1399, and another ‘Rochesano, son of the late Michele’ is found two generations later in 1465. This younger Rochesano is cited as being a ‘muln’, i.e., a miller (mugnaio), an occupation which seems to have continued for many generations (note I mentioned earlier there is an area in Caldes known as Molino, which means ‘mill’). We then find a ‘Michel Rosan of Caldes’ at the end of the 1400s and again in the early 1500s, where he is included in a list of people who were obligated to pay for public education to the Count Valentino Spaur.

In comparing these two sources of information, we can interpolate how these men fit into Father Bottea’s tree. Just from naming conventions, I would have presumed the youngest Michele mentioned was the son of Rochesano/Rosano, and Bottea’s tree does show this to be the case. However, from his tree, it seems Michele’s line died out, and the line that survived to carry on the surname was via a different son, named Antonio:

Most ancient generations of the Rosani family of Caldes, as researched by Father Tommaso Bottea (1881)
Most ancient generations of the Rosani family of Caldes, as researched by Father Tommaso Bottea (1881)

click on image to see it larger

Mosca tells us that a Bartolomeo Rosani of Caldes, son of Paolo, was living in Livo in 1541, and that some members of this branch emigrated to Brescia (in Lombardia) in the 1800s, where they set up an award-winning business as engravers.

Scaramella

This family were originally from Valtellina in the region of Lombardia. The patriarch of the Scaramella line was a Domenico who came to Caldes sometime before the beginning of 1600. He had at least two sons (most likely born in Lombardia) Antonio and Giovanni, but according to Father Bottea’s tree Antonio’s line appears to have died out by the end of the 1600s. Thus, all Scaramella of Caldes today are descended from Domenico’s son Giovanni and his wife Cattarina. Alberto Mosca tells us that the family were active in local commerce by the year 1633.

Regarding the linguistic origins of the name, Aldo Bertoluzza says it may be a variant of the word ‘scaramuccia’, which means a ‘skirmish’.

Although the surname is still present in Caldes today, only a handful of Scaramella families remain there. It is much more common in its region of origin, Lombardia, especially in the provinces of Sondrio and Brescia.

Closing Thoughts

For those of you with Caldes ancestors, I hope this article has been informative and useful. And to those of you who do not, I do hope you found it interesting. Speaking for myself, I am always fascinated by the histories of Trentino families.

As mentioned, there are several other ancient surnames of Caldes that were researched by Father Bottea, which I have not covered in this article. There are also many other Caldes families who arrived in the parish later, many of which are covered by Alberto Mosca in his book on Caldes, which you will find in the references below.

All of these surnames (including those I have not mentioned here) will be covered in my book in progress entitled Guide to Trentino Surnames for Genealogists and Family Historians. I hope you follow me on the journey as I research and write this book; it will probably be a few years before it comes out, and it is likely to end up being a multi-volume set.

If you enjoyed this article, and would like to receive future articles from Trentino Genealogy,  be sure to subscribe to this blog using the form below.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
8 February 2021

P.S. As you probably know, all my 2020 trips to Trento were cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns. I am still not sure when I will be able to go back in Trento, as we are still in lockdown here in the UK, and the government is still advising against making any travel plans.  Fingers crossed, I will be able to go there by the summer, but there really is no way of knowing for sure at the moment.   

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 April 2021.

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 AND RESOURCES

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

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.).

MOSCA, Alberto. 2015. Caldes: Storia di Una Nobile Comunità. Pergine Valsugana (Trentino, Italy): Nitida Immagine Editrice.

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.