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The BORZAGA of Cavareno. Origins, Genealogy, Famous People

The Borzaga of Cavareno

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn discusses the origins, history and expansion of the noble Borzaga of Cavareno, and famous Borzaga of the 20th century.

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Introduction

Cavareno – An Overview

The charming village of Cavareno, highlighted in the map below,[i] lies in the north-eastern part of Val di Non in northern Trentino. Possibly already settled by the late Roman Empire, the dialect spoken in Cavareno is found only in a few other nearby villages, i.e., Sarnonico, Ronzone, Romeno (and its frazione Salter), Don, Amblar, and Malgolo.[ii] Perhaps this is part of the reason why we will often find marriages (and movement) between the families of Cavareno and these places.

This is the setting for the family we will be examining in this report: the BORZAGA.

MAP: Val di Non, with the village of Cavareno highlighted in yellow.

Arriving in Cavareno in the early 1500s, the Borzaga would become one of three noble families associated with that village (the Campi and Zini being the other two).

In this report, we will explore their origins and early generation in Cavareno, their noble titles and their family occupation as notaries. Then, we will look at how some Borzaga lines settled in other parts of the province, all of whom can ultimately be traced back to the original settlers in Cavareno. Lastly, we will look at the lives of a few renowned personalities from more modern times, descended from this ancient family.

Sarnonico: The State of its Parish Records

To construct a genealogy for any family, it is first essential to get a good understanding of the state of surviving birth, marriage and death registers for that parish. Although an independent parish today, Cavareno (along with Malosco, Ruffré, Ronzone and Seio) was a curazia (‘daughter’ parish) of the larger parish of Sarnonico for many centuries. Hence, all baptismal records for Cavareno before 1855, as well as all marriages and deaths before the 20th century, will be found in the parish registers for SARNONICO.

Baptismal records

Although the baptismal records for the parish of Sarnonico begin in 1585, they do not flow in a continuous manner. The records stop abruptly and leap back and forth many times. To summarise what I have encountered:

  • There is a GAP in the baptismal records from July 1609-January 1616.
  • There are two random pages of baptisms from 1628-1629 mixed with the marriages in the 1620s. They are not duplicates, and do not appear in the baptismal register.
  • I am convinced many baptismal records from the 1600s are missing, as I have often found evidence of people whose births ‘should’ be there, but they are not.
  • Volumes 3 (1629-1650) and 4 (1650-1681) of baptismal records are organised in alphabetical order according to FIRST name. As such, they tend to leap around chronologically, and sometimes you will find things entered in the wrong place.

Marriage records

Similarly, although the Sarnonico marriage records begin in 1586, we again encounter many irregularities and gaps. Here is a summary of what you can expect:

  • Volumes 1 and 2 of the marriage records contain indexes, but the priest who made the index for volume 1 has also noted that he was unable to read a great many of names, and hence about a quarter of the records are omitted from the index.
  • Many of the pages referred to in the index are missing. Volume 1 of the marriages contains only pages 41-52 and 61-64 of the original register. Volume 2 starts on page 58; pages 63-64 are missing.
  • Curiously, there is an index in Volume 2 that covers those missing pages, from which we can sometimes learn the surnames of some of the women, but nothing else.
  • In Volume 1, there is ONE record from 1586, then it leaps to 1619, then back to 1587. After 1589, they stop and go to 1601 and forward (so there is about an 11-year gap here). Many records are extremely hard to read, as they tend to run into each other.
  • The dates at the beginning of the volume 2 marriage records also leap around.
  • SUMMARY OF GAPS IN SARNONICO MARRIAGE RECORDS: Dec 1589-Dec 1600; Nov 1612-Feb 1618; Dec 1619-March 1627; Aug 1638-Jan 1655.

Death records

Like most other Trentino parishes, the death records do not begin until the second half of the 1600s (in this case, 1664). The main issue is that the earlier registers do not appear to included infant/child deaths, which can make it more challenging to piece together families. While I have not yet found any significant gaps in the death records, I am convinced some records are missing, as I cannot find certain death records within the time frame they ‘should’ be found.

Origins

Linguistic Origins – Unsatisfactory Theories

Although several historians have offered theories on the linguistic origins of the surname Borzaga, I have not yet found any that are particularly convincing.

Linguistic historian Aldo Bertoluzza suggests that the surname Borzaga was derived from a place called ‘Borzago’ in Val Rendena.[iii] However, although there is a family named Borzaghini in Rendena who are undoubtedly connected to that village, I have found no historical connection between that family or village and the Borzaga of Val di Non.

As to the literal meaning of the surname, historian Ernesto Lorenzi says Borzaga (along with other surnames sharing the root ‘Borz’) may be derived from the antiquated male name ‘Burcio’, which is pronounced ‘Borz’ in Trentino dialect. Alternatively, he suggests it could also be a corruption of the German word/name ‘Swartz’ (having first been ‘Sborz’ and then ‘Borz’).[iv] But again, while these might apply to surnames such as Sborz, Borz, Borzi, etc., we find no such names among the family that start to be known as ‘Borzaga’ in the 1300s. Thus, I cannot accept these suggestions as likely explanations for the linguistic origins of the surname Borzaga.

Outliers – Pellizzano and Condino

For the sake of thoroughness, I should briefly mention that there were a few Borzaga ‘outliers’ appearing in the 1500s and 1600s, for which I currently have no explanation.

In a land sale agreement dated 24 August 1501, we find an Ognibene, son of the late Giacomo called ‘Borzaga’ of Pellizzano, in the southern part of Val di Sole.[v] I have checked the Pellizzano records that begin in 1626, but I have found no mentions of any Borzaga, and I cannot explain who this could have been.[vi]

Later, in a document dated 22 November 1595, we find a Nicolò, son of the late Angelo Borzaga da Condino, confirming he had received the dowry for his wife Flora Mazzola.[vii]  Priest historian P. Remo Stenico also lists a priest named Nicolò Borzaga of Condino whose name appears in a record from 1693.[viii] Condino is in the Val del Chiese area of the Giudicarie Interiore, just north of Storo. Sadly, most of its archives were destroyed during World War 1,[ix] so I currently have no way to follow up this information.

For now, I will set aside these outliers as not being relevant to the topic of the current report, but it is possible that future research might reveal a connection between these and the Borzaga of Cavareno.

Geographic Origins of the Borzaga – Tuenno

There is much convincing evidence suggesting that the Borzaga of Cavareno were descended from the Lords of Tuenno in Val di Non.[x] [xi] [xii] Here, I have highlighted Tuenno on the map of Val di Non that I shared earlier, showing its position in relation to Cavareno. The distance on Google maps is roughly about 18 kilometres (about 11 miles) but bear in mind that this is all mountainous terrain.

MAP: Val di Non with Tuenno and Cavareno highlighted

In a work from 1955, Enrico Leonardi stated that the ultimate progenitor of the noble Borzaga family was ‘Giacomo de Borzaga’ of Tuenno, present at Castel Valer in 1211, who served as an attorney of Prince-Bishop Federico Vanga.[xiii] [xiv] Historian Paolo Odorizzi refers to this man only as ‘Giacomo of Tuenno’,[xv] as he was not truly a ‘Borzaga’, as the surname did not appear until about two centuries later.

Odorizzi explains that, while we have no documentation to definitively show us that Giacomo himself was a direct ancestor of the Borzaga, the Borzaga (along with the Concini and Cazuffo) were surely descended from Signore Bartolomeo I of Tuenno (ca. 1140-1210), as well as a later Bartolomeo II, who was certified as a notary in 1306.[xvi]

Thus, we see the foundations of what would eventually evolve into a legacy of notaries in the Borzaga family, which would endure for many centuries to follow.

First Appearance of the Surname

We first find the surname ‘Borzaga’ in the mid-1300s, in documents drafted by a Tuenno notary referred to as ‘Ser Bartolomeo, son of Benvenuto,[xvii] called Borzaga’. [xviii] [xix]

Paolo Odorizzi also tells us that this Bartolomeo (who was sometimes called ‘Tomeo’), was the grandson Sicherio of Tuenno, one of the Lords of Tuenno, who was also a notary.[xx]

We find Ser Bartolomeo in many high-ranking professional roles, such as the Vicario of Justice in Val Giudicarie (1360), Assessor of Stenico in Val Giudicarie (1375),[xxi] and the Assessor and Vicario of Val di Non and Val di Sole. He was also the notary who documented a truce between Valli di Non and Sole in 1371, [xxii] and was invested as a notary for Prince-Bishop George I von Liechtenstein at Castel Tuenno in 1400 and 1401.[xxiii]  According to research by Odorizzi, Bartolomeo had two sons, Giovanni and Benvenuto Antonio (sometimes just called Antonio), who were also notaries.

It is from this Benvenuto Antonio, he says, that the Borzaga of Cavareno are descended. Below, I have put a screenshot from a tree (in spreadsheet form) constructed by Odorizzi, showing the descending line from Ser Benvenuto to the early Borzaga in Cavareno. [xxiv]

Borzaga ancient lineage as illustrated by historian Paolo Odorizzi

Note, however, that there are several gaps in Odorizzi’s tree (which he indicates by dotted lines, or absence of vertical connecting lines), and this diagram does not show a continuous ancestral line, but rather a chronology of names for which we have evidence.

In fact, as we will examine shortly, there seem to have been multiple Borzaga lines in Cavareno in the late 1500s, which seems to infer more than one family group made the shift from Tuenno to Cavareno around the same time.

The Early Borzaga in Cavareno

Arrival of the Borzaga in Cavareno – When, Why and Who?

Writing in 1899, historian Carl Ausserer says the Borzaga left Tuenno for Cavareno by the year 1530. [xxv] [xxvi] Trusting Ausserer as a source, this date has been repeated in just about every other history I have read on Cavareno despite the fact that Ausserer gives no sources for this claim. He tells us only that the Tuenno notary (Alessandro) Compagnazzi, acting as the attorney for Borzaga family members who were still of minority age (i.e., not yet 25 years old), had arranged to have their Tuenno properties sold around this time.

The fact the attorney was acting on behalf of ‘minors’ seems to indicate their father was deceased. It is also important to bear in mind that the Guerra Rustica (Rustic War, or peasant revolt) had taken place just a few years earlier, in 1525. Perhaps both of these factors contributed to the family’s desire (or need) to make the shift to a new village.

Unfortunately, we do not seem to have any documents containing the names of the family members who made this move. We know there was a ROMEDIO Borzaga, son of the late BALDASSARE Borzaga, who was already living in Cavareno when he purchased some property there in 1560.[xxvii] But having carefully examined the very fragmented early parish registers for Sarnonico (which notionally begin in 1586), I feel fairly certain there had to have been more than one Borzaga household in Cavareno by this time, and that Romedio cannot have been the sole progenitor.

Early Patriarchs: Simone and Giovanni Borzaga

What we do know, via the surviving parish records for the Sarnonico, is that there were two Borzaga men – SIMONE and GIOVANNI – who were alive and having children in Cavareno during the last decades of the 1500s.

The male line of Borzaga descended from Simone (via his son Antonio) still exists today not only in Cavareno, but also in other parts of the province and beyond.

The male line descendants of Giovanni continued in Cavareno until the end of the 1700s, after which they appear to die out.[xxviii] There are still living descendants via some of the females in Giovanni’s line (some of my clients are descended from these female lines), but of course they do not carry the Borzaga surname.

None of the documents I have found record the name of Simone’s and Giovanni’s father(s). Although timing of the family in Cavareno would seem to suggest they would have been related to each other in some way (and also probably related to Romedio, son of Baldassare), I have found no documentation even suggestion what their relationship might have been.

My personal suspicion is that Simone and Giovanni were brothers, but this is based on an admittedly tenuous theory I have formed, as I will explain later in the section on nobility.

Patriarch 1: Simone Borzaga (Senior), Notary

Family group of Simone Borzaga, born ca. 1550
Click on image to see it larger

Most likely born in Cavareno sometime around 1550, Simone followed in the footsteps of his Borzaga predecessors, and took on the profession of a notary.

We find the name ‘Simone Borzaga of Cavareno, imperial notary’ as the author of numerous legal documents between 1594-1603.[xxix] [xxx] Unfortunately, none of the documents I have not found includes name of Simone’s father, but as he is always referred to as ‘of Cavareno’, we can presume he was born there and not in Tuenno.

We know Simone had at least one son – ANTONIO Borzaga – who was also a notary, and who would be the recipient of many noble honours. We will discuss the activities of Antonio in some detail later.

We find the name of Simone’s wife, Chiara, in a document drafted in Cavareno on 18 August 1599. In that document, Simone and Chiara agree to give an annual payment of rye on a meadow which was part of Chiara’s dowry as payment to a Giovanni Giacomo Mazza; in exchange, Simone gives his wife a guarantee for the same value from his own properties.[xxxi]  Looking at the timing of this document, I am fairly certain Chiara would have been Simone’s second wife, and not the mother of his son Antonio.

Patriarch 2: Giovanni Borzaga

The surviving parish registers contain baptismal records for two of Giovanni’s sons – NICOLÒ (1588) and ROMEDIO (1589). Neither of these records mentions the name of their mother. The baptismal record of a daughter named MARINA in 1597 gives her mother’s name as Maria, but the wide gap between her birth and that of Romedio suggests Maria was Giovanni’s second wife.

Family group of Giovanni Borzaga, born ca. 1545
Click on image to see it larger

In addition to the three children whose births are recorded in the parish register, we also know Giovanni had a son named BARTOLOMEO (evidently born before the beginning of the records), who married an Orsola Rosati (daughter of Giacomo Antonio) of Romeno on 7 February 1610:[xxxii]

7 Feb 1610. Marriage record of Bartolomeo Borzaga of Cavareno and Orsola Rosati of Romeno.
Click on image to see it larger

Later, when we discuss a diploma of nobility granted to the Borzaga in 1626, we will learn of a third brother named BALDASSARE, again born sometime before the beginning of the records.

Baldassare, Bartolomeo and Nicolò all grew up to have families of their own. I have no further information about Romedio or Marina.

More Outliers

Aside from Giovanni and Simone, we do find a few instances of the other Borzaga in Cavareno in the early 1600s, but none of these lines appear to have endured.

We find, for example, a MICHELE Borzaga, married to a Lucia, who had twin boys named Pietro and Giacomo on 15 May 1606.[xxxiii] Aside from this baptismal record, I have can find no further mention of Michele or his sons, and I have no idea if or how they are connected to Giovanni and Simone.

A bit later, we find a ‘NICOLÒ Bodessaroli called Borzaga’, married to a Maria, who had a daughter Cattarina (born 27 December 1624)[xxxiv] and a son Baldassare (born 8 May 1628).[xxxv] We find this same Nicolò named as the ‘son of the late Baldassare “Bodessaroli” of Cavareno’ in a payment agreement dated 25 April 1625 in Sarnonico. [xxxvi] In that document, it says a DIFFERENT Nicolò Borzaga of Cavareno was the curator (legal representative) for the other Nicolò ‘Bodessaroli’. After these citations, we see no further mention of the soprannome ‘Bodessaroli’, nor any further mention of Nicolò ‘Bodessaroli’ Borzaga or his children. Thus, we have to assume this line died out.

Still, the records regarding the short-lived ‘Bodessaroli’ may contain clues to the ancestry of the Borzaga lines that did survive:

  • The simple fact that we see a soprannome in use makes it clear that there was more than one Borzaga line present in Cavareno in the early 1600s. We see this clearly in the 1625 document where there are two different men named Nicolò Borzaga – one with the soprannome, and one without. (I am reasonably certain the ‘non-soprannome’ Nicolò was the son of Giovanni).[xxxvii]
  • As none of the descendants of Giovanni and Simone used the soprannome ‘Bodessaroli’, they were clearly NOT from the same branch as the ‘Bodessaroli’ Borzaga.
  • The fact that ‘Nicolò Bodessaroli called Borzaga’ was the son of a Baldassare makes me wonder whether he was a brother of the afore-mentioned Romedio, whose father was also a Baldassare Borzaga (although the document we have for Romedio does not mention a soprannome).
  • If this was the case, knowing that Giovanni and Simone were from a different line, we might then theorise that they were NOT the sons of Romedio, but from a different Borzaga whose name we do not yet know.

For now, we have to set these lines of inquiry aside, holding them in the back of our minds as possible clues that might reveal more information as more documentation comes to light.

The Noble Borzaga

Noble Title and Stemma – 1615

Although the Borzaga had already come from a noble lineage, they attained additional titles of nobility in the 17th century. In the ‘Ausserer Collection 1897’ preserved at the Tiroler Landesmuseen in Innsbruck, there is an illustration of a Borzaga family stemma (coat-of-arms), said to have been granted to one Antonio Borzaga in 1615. The inscription on the card says, ‘Palatine Diploma, 25 November 1615 (granted) by P. Alessandrini to Anton (i.e., Antonio) B (Borzaga):[xxxviii]

1615 Stemma (coat-of-arms) awarded to Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno
Click on image to see it larger

It is somewhat perplexing, however, why Carl Ausserer makes no mention of this award in his 1899 book. I wrote to the Landesmuseen in Innsbruck, and one of their archivists told me via email that they have no further reference to that diploma in their library other than this card. Moreover, neither Leonardi nor Tabarelli de Fatis and Borrelli mention this 1615 title in their books.

Nonetheless, despite the scanty information about this 1615 award, I am confident that the ‘Antonio Borzaga’ in question was Antonio Borzaga, notary, son of Simone (‘Patriarch 1’), as Antonio’s son Simone, and all of Simone’s descendants, are consistently referred to as ‘noble’.

Although Antonio was born before the beginning of the surviving parish registers, we can estimate from dates of the legal documents he drafted that he was most likely born sometime around 1575.

Variants on the Stemma

The main component of the 1615 stemma is a red lion standing upright, holding an uprooted tree, with three gold stars overhead. Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli show a variant of this where the same lion is also in the crest atop the main shield:[xxxix]

Variant on Borzaga stemma
Click on image to see it larger

Endrizzi shows us yet another variant, where the lion is holding a sword instead of a tree, with other elements now depicted on the left side of the shield:[xl]

Variant on Borzaga stemma
Click on image to see it larger

Authentication and Extension of Title – 1626

After a noble title has been granted, the need would often arise for them to be ‘confirmed’ or ‘authenticated’ by a representative of the empire or the principality. Usually, such confirmations would become necessary if the original recipient of the title had passed away, and future generations required proof of their inheritance.

But sometimes, a confirmation would be needed if noble privileges were to be extended to ‘parallel’ members of the family (brothers, cousins, etc.) who had not been named in the original diploma, and who were not direct heirs (children, grandchildren, etc.) of the original recipient. This appears to have been the scenario for the Borzaga in 1626.

Leonardi tells us, ‘On 25 December 1626, the Prince-Bishop, having seen the caesarean privileges previously granted to the family, authenticates the privileges and grants the stemma.’[xli] Thus, he infers there was an earlier title (presumably the one from 1615), but he provides us with no details about it.

Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli give us some additional information, saying that the stemma was granted on 25 December 1626 by Count Palatine P. Alessandrini de Neuenstein of Trento to Antonio, Baldassare, Bartolomeo and Nicolò Borzaga, brothers, of Cavareno.[xlii]

After assessing and comparing these descriptions alongside what we see in the parish records and notary documents, I believe none of these fragmented statements gives the complete picture. Moreover, I think some of the wording in the books is misleading, if not incorrect.

About the title

It is clear that P. Alessandrini de Neuenstein who awarded the title and stemma to the Borzaga was a ‘Count Palatine’. This title was once associated with one of the most illustrious positions of the early Middle Ages in the kingdoms of the Franks. The original job of the Palatine Count was to judge all the cases that had appealed to the sovereign’s tribunal, and then to bring to the King’s knowledge only those judgments that he considered most important. But over the centuries, the title lost its original importance, and by the early 1600s, it was often little more than a token granted by the emperor in exchange for loyalty (or money). Nonetheless, the title still carried a certain amount of social prestige.

By saying ‘caesarean privileges’ Leonardi seems to infer the Borzaga had been granted the title of ‘Count Palatine’, but this was not the case. Such a title would have been granted by the Holy Roman Emperor, not by another Count Palatine. Moreover, while the Borzaga were referred to as ‘noble’ in the parish registers, they are never referred to as ‘Conte Palatino’.

About the recipients

I also believe the reference to ‘Antonio, Baldassare, Bartolomeo and Nicolò Borzaga, brothers’ may be slightly incorrect. Based on what I have been able to ascertain, I am fairly confident that the term ‘brothers’ refers to the last three men, and NOT to the original Antonio:

  • We know from a document from 1616 that the notary Antonio Borzaga was the son of the notary Simone (Patriarch 2).[xliii] However, I have found no evidence that Simone had any other sons, nor have I found evidence of a second Antonio.
  • As discussed earlier, we know from parish records that Giovanni Borzaga (Patriarch 2) had two sons named Bartolomeo and Nicolò. The parish registers also show us a Baldassare Borzaga who had a son named Giovanni on 18 January 1616.[xliv] As this appears to be his only child, it seems logical to assume Baldassare was another son of Giovanni.

Thus, Antonio Borzaga CANNOT be a brother of Baldassare, Bartolomeo and Nicolò, as he was not the son of Giovanni.

Based on this information, I am inclined to re-interpret the wording by Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli as: ‘the stemma was granted to Antonio (Borzaga) [and to] Baldassare, Bartolomeo and Nicolò Borzaga, brothers.’

My theory

My working theory is that the patriarchs Simone and Giovanni were brothers. This means Antonio the notary would have been the first cousin, not the brother, of the other three recipients (Baldassare, Bartolomeo and Nicolò).

One possible reason why this title may have been extended to Antonio’s cousins is the fact that he appears to have had no living siblings. Moreover, he himself had only one surviving son – Simone, born 29 November 1603.[xlv] Simone, who was still a minor when the awards were granted, would have automatically inherited his father’s title and stemma, and thus there was no need to include his name in these diplomas. But were this Simone to die young, the title would go extinct when Antonio died.

Although that didn’t actually end up happening (in fact, Simone’s descendants continue to this day), in 1626 it would have made perfect sense that the family wanted to ensure the continuation of their noble privileges by requesting they be extended to include Antonio’s cousins.

Below is a stripped-down diagram, showing this configuration. To make the chart easier to understand, I have removed the names of all wives and daughters, as they are not relevant to the issue of the noble title. I have also removed Giovanni’s son Romedio[xlvi], who was most likely deceased before 1626 as he was not included in the diploma of nobility.

Descendants of Simone and Giovanni Borzaga of Cavareno
Click on image to see it larger


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Six Generations of Borzaga Notaries

In his 1999 publication, P. Remo Stenico lists four Borzaga notaries from Cavareno; but in constructing a Borzaga genealogy using the parish register, I have identified others Stenico did not include in his study.[xlvii] In fact, when we work through the families methodically, we discover an unbroken chain of notaries from father to son for six generations, as well as another cousin in generation 6:

GENERATION RELATIONSHIP NAME/DATES
1 PATRIARCH Simone (b. about 1550)
2 Son Antonio (b. about 1575)
3 Grandson Simone (b. 29 Nov 1603)
4 Great-grandson Antonio (b. 28 June 1627; d. 24 May 1704)
5 2X great-grandson Giovanni Battista (b. 22 June 1682)
6a 3X great-grandson Carlo Antonio Martino (b. 13 November 1709; d. 4 December 1764)
6b 3X great-grandson Pietro Antonio (b. 14 December 1726; died 21 June 1803). NOTE: he was the 1st cousin (not the brother) of Carlo Antonio Martino.

We have already looked briefly at Simone ‘Senior’, so let us now look at the professional careers of his notary descendants.

Generation 2: Antonio, son of Simone

Most likely born around 1575, Simone’s son Antonio is found actively practicing his profession as a notary at least between December 1602[xlviii] and October 1631[xlix]. As he typically signed his name simply as ‘Antonio Borzaga, notary of Cavareno’, we might never have known who his father was, if it were not the Carta di Regola (Charter of Rules) for the comune of Seio which he drafted on 3 March 1616, in which he signs his name as ‘Antonio, son of egregio domino Simone Borzaga of Cavareno, Val di Non, Diocese of Trento.’[l] While the honourific words ‘egregio domino’ can be loosely translated as ‘the esteemed gentleman,’ the term ‘egregio’ is nearly always an indication the man (in this case, his father) was a notary.

As already mentioned, this is surely the Antonio who had been granted the noble title and stemma in 1615 and again in 1626. We find his descendants referred to as ‘noble’ in the Sarnonico records, especially in the indices.

Generation 3: Simone, son of Antonio (grandson of Simone Senior)

Born 29 November 1603 to Antonio and his wife Margherita,[li] Simone is not listed in Stenico’s book of notaries. However, he is called ‘egregio’ in baptismal record of daughter Margherita (11 September 1630)[lii], and ‘spectabilis’ in marriage record of daughter Barbara (28 April 1667).[liii] These honourifics are used only when referring to notaries.

On the Archivi Storici website, we find several references to a Simone Borzaga, notary, during this era; however, some of the earlier documents (especially one dated 1627) may refer to his grandfather, as I am unsure as to when the elder Simone passed away.[liv] [lv] [lvi] [lvii]

Generation 4: Antonio, son of Simone (great-grandson of Simone Senior)

Born 28 June 1627, the next Borzaga notary was another Antonio, the eldest son of Simone (b. 1603) and his wife Maria.[lviii]

His first marriage took place on 27 November 1664, when he was already 36 years old. His bride was the noble Maria Sofia Zini, who was nearly 14 years his junior.[lix] Their marriage record contains some interesting details. First, we notice that Antonio is referred to as ‘Nobilis Magister Philosophia’, which literally means ‘Noble Master (or teacher) of Philosophy.’ While this could mean he was a teacher, it more likely refers to his educational degree. The record does not say he is a notary, but it does refer to his father Simone as ‘spectabilis’ (indicating he was a notary). We also learn that he and Maria Sofia, who is also referred to as nobility, were granted a dispensation for 3rd grade consanguinity. This means they were 2nd cousins (i.e., they shared great-grandparents). Unfortunately, the records do not go back far enough to help us establish this connection, but it does tell us that there was already early intermarriage between these two noble families of Cavareno.

Soon after his marriage, we find him as the notary who drafted several level documents between the years 1660-1671.[lx] [lxi] [lxii] [lxiii] In the private collection of the noble Thun family (now held at the Archivio Provinciale di Trento), we also find six letters sent from Antonio to Count Cristoforo Riccardo Thun, written between the years of 1659-1667.[lxiv]

A few months after the birth of their fifth child, Maria Sofia passed away at the age of 35.[lxv] Soon after, Antonio remarried Veronica Rosina, with whom he father 6 more children. He died on 24 May 1704, just a month before his 77th birthday.[lxvi]

Generation 5: Giovanni Battista, son of Antonio (2X great-grandson of Simone Senior)

As we would have expected, Antonio and Maria Sofia did have a son named Simone, but he died when he was still in his teens, so he never lived to learn the family profession. Instead, it was Giovanni Battista Borzaga, the eldest son of Antonio and his second wife Veronica Rosina, who would carry on the tradition.

Born 22 June 1682[lxvii], we first find an indication of Giovanni Battista’s profession when he is referred to as ‘spectabilis’ in the baptismal record of his daughter Maddalena Veronica, who was born 4 May 1726.[lxviii] Stenico cites ‘Giovanni Battista Borzaga, son of Antonio’ as being active between the years 1731-1734,[lxix] but I have also found a document drafted by him in 1745.[lxx]

In 1732, Giovanni Battista held the office of general sindaco of Valli di Non and Sole together with the noble Giovanni Nicolò Bevilacqua and Giuseppe Maffei.[lxxi]

Although not specifically related to his practice as a notary, there is also a record held at the Municipal Library in Trento, in their Archivi di famiglie (Archives of families), dated 26 August 1721, which is an agreement stipulated between the prelate of the Provost of San Michele all’Adige and Giovanni Battista Borzaga, along with his two younger brothers, Tommaso (i.e., Tommaso Romedio) and Antonio. [lxxii]

Although not listed in Stenico’s book, we have some news of another brother, Pietro Antonio (born 19 October 1687)[lxxiii], who became a priest. Described as the ‘noble Rev. Pietro Antonio Borzaga’, he was the godfather of his niece Veronica Teresa Margherita Borzaga (eldest child of his youngest brother, Antonio) on 11 October 1716.[lxxiv]

Generation 6: Carlo Antonio Martino and Pietro Antonio (3X great-grandsons of Simone Senior)

At this point, we now find two Borzaga notaries, both the 3X great-grandsons of Simone Senior.

Both grandsons of Antonio Borzaga and Veronica Rosina, the first of these – Carlo Antonio Martino Borzaga – was actually 17 years senior to first cousin and professional colleague, Pietro Antonio Borzaga.

Relationship of Carlo Antonio Martino Borzaga to Pietro Antonio Borzaga
Click on image to see it larger

Although baptised Carlo Antonio Martino on 13 November 1709,[lxxv] the elder cousin was generally known only as Carlo or Carlo Antonio. Stenico cites him as being active as a notary between the years 1740-1749,[lxxvi] but he is referred to as a notary in the baptismal records of his children as early as August 1731.[lxxvii] We also find him as the notary who recorded a criminal trial in Cles between the years 1750-1759.[lxxviii] He fathered at least eight children with his wife Lucrezia Cattarina, none of whom appear to have been notaries. He passed away on 4 December 1764.[lxxix]

Baptised 14 December 1726, Pietro Antonio (sometimes known simply as Pietro) was the son of Carlo Antonio’s paternal uncle Antonio.[lxxx] Sometime before 1751, he married the noble Maria Veronica Antonia Bartoli of Cornaiano in South Tyrol, with whom he fathered at least 11 children. Stenico cites his professional career as a notary as spanning nearly half a century, from 1749-1797.[lxxxi]  He is consistently referred to as a notary in the baptismal records of his children, beginning in 1751.

As with Carlo Antonio, I can find no notaries amongst Pietro Antonio’s sons, and the impressive legacy of Borzaga notaries appears to end with his death at the age of 76, on 21 June 1803.[lxxxii]

Expansion: Beyond Cavareno

Over the centuries, some branches of the Borzaga would eventually expand and settle in other places, both near and far from their home in Cavareno.

With the exception of one case where records appear to be missing, I have managed to trace every one of these lines back to ‘Patriarch 1’, i.e., Simone Borzaga, Senior, notary. The descendants of ‘Patriarch 2’ (Giovanni Borzaga) appear to have stayed in Cavareno until they died out around the end of 1700s.

Below is an overview of each of these lines, including a look at their ‘founding parents’.

Borzaga in Ronzone

One of the most prominent sub-branches of the Borzaga are those in Ronzone, another curate of the parish of Sarnonico. This branch began when Tommaso Romedio Borzaga (born 21 December 1685)[lxxxiii] and his wife Maria Elisabetta moved from Cavareno to Ronzone sometime between 1709-1711.

Tommaso Romedio was the son of the notary Antonio Borzaga (1627-1704), and younger brother of the notary Giovanni Battista Borzaga (b. 1682). Thus, he was the 2X great-grandson of the notary Simone Borzaga ‘senior’.

I mentioned Tommaso earlier, in the section on his brother Giovanni Battista, when I referenced a document from the Trento Municipal Library.

Parents of at least 12 children (all but the first was born in Ronzone), they are the ancestral parents of the all the Borzaga of Ronzone, a line which continues to this day.

Family group of Tommaso Romedio Borzaga, patriarch of the Ronzone line
Click on image to see it larger

Borzaga in Brez

Situated just to the west of Sarnonico, the nearby parish of Brez was home to many Borzaga over the centuries.

The earliest Borzaga I have found in Brez was not a family, but the priest Antonio Borzaga from Cavareno, who served as the parroco (pastor) of the parish of San Floriano in Brez from 1634 until 1651.[lxxxiv] Unfortunately, I don’t know who his parents were, and he was either born before the beginning of the Sarnonico records, or his baptismal record is missing.

Later, Brez became the home of two different ‘waves’ of Borzaga families, arriving there at different periods of time, one from Cavareno, and the other from Ronzone.

Wave 1: Family of Andrea Borzaga and Maria Cattarina Bertoldi

The first ‘wave’ began when an Andrea Borzaga of Cavareno married a Maria Cattarina Bertoldi of Brez in 1695.[lxxxv]  Sadly, Andrea’s father’s name is not mentioned in the marriage record, nor in the baptismal records of any of his children, nor in his 1745 death record, when he is said to be about 80 years old.[lxxxvi] I have also looked exhaustively in the Sarnonico records for an Andrea or Giovanni Andrea who would have been born around the right time, but I was unsuccessful. Although the couple had at least six children, only one son (Baldassare) grew up to have a family, while a younger son (Giovanni Andrea) became a priest.

Andrea and Maria Cattarina’s younger son Giovanni Andrea was born in Brez on 15 May 1706.[lxxxvii] Rather than marrying, Giovanni Andrea became a Catholic priest.[lxxxviii] At the age of 33, he became the curate (equivalent of a pastor) of Proves in South Tyrol, where he served for 27 years.[lxxxix] [xc] He died 25 Feb 1781, when he was nearly 75 years old.[xci] In addition to mentioning his former role as the curate of Proves, his death record also says he a beneficato for a member of the Ruffini family[xcii], and the founder of the ‘Benefici Borzaga’ apparently another legacy of funding for local priests.

Their elder son Baldassare was born in Brez on 24 December 1698.[xciii] He married Maria Maddalena Betta of Cagnò (parish of Revò) on 26 April 1729.[xciv] After suffering a massive stroke, he died at the age of 45 on 13 November 1744,[xcv] four months before the birth of his last child (who was named Baldassare in his memory).

The couple had at least 6 children together, including three sons. Of these, the only one who appears to have lived to adulthood is their son Giovanni Luigi, who was born 1 February 1736.[xcvi] Although he married twice, he does not appear to have had any children of his own, as the marriages were

Giovanni’s first wife, Domenica, who died 26 January 1791 at the age of 64, was apparently nearly a decade older than he was.[xcvii] I haven’t found a marriage record for them, but it is possible it took place when she was already widowed and beyond childbearing age. A few months later, on 29 April 1791, he married his second wife, Maria Antonia Zuech, widow of Romedio Gilli.[xcviii] Again, the marriage produced no children (she was already 38 and he was 56), but the couple lived out their days together.

With the death of Giovanni on 6 March 1809[xcix], this first ‘wave’ of the Borzaga in Brez died out.

Wave 2: Family of Tommaso Antonio Cirillo Borzaga and Maria Flor

A few years before the death of the last Borzaga from the ‘first wave’, another Borzaga line established itself in Brez, this time coming from the Ronzone line. The founding father of this second wave was Tommaso Antonio Cirillo Borzaga, who was born in Ronzone on 30 March 1778, the son of Tommaso Romedio Borzaga and Maria Domenica Gius.[c] He was the 5X great-grandson of the notary Simone Borzaga ‘senior’.

This younger Tommaso married Maria Flor of Brez on 25 September 1800,[ci] and opted to settle in his wife’s home village to raise their family. However, after his wife Maria Flor died Brez on 25 March 1848,[cii] Tommaso moved back to his native village of Ronzone, where he passed away from respiratory issues on 3 March 1853, just a few weeks before his 75th birthday.[ciii]

Of the couple’s nine children, three were sons; the youngest (Nicolò) died in infancy, but the other two sons (Baldassare and Giovanni), went on to have many children of their own, all born in Brez. Baldassare’s line does not seem to have endured, as five of his six sons died as children or young adults.[civ] Giovanni’s descendants continued well into the 20th century, and we find references to 10 of his great-grandchildren cited in the indices of the Brez register, who were born between 1935-1952, although all but one of the males died in their teens. [cv]

One other great-grandson and many great-granddaughters were still alive as of 1965; some of these may still be alive today, so I cannot share specific information about them, although the Cognomix website does not show any Borzaga families living in Brez today.[cvi] Writing in 2005, however, author Bruno Ruffini alludes to this Borzaga line in his book L’Onoranda Comunità di Brez, saying that they arrived in Brez the second half of the 1700s, and have since gone extinct.[cvii] If this is indeed the case, the Borzaga surname would have gone extinct in Brez sometime within the past generation.

Borzaga in Amblar

On the Nati in Trentino website, you will find a line of Borzaga living in Amblar beginning in 1858. As Amblar is a curate of the ‘mother’ parish of Romeno, you will find these births register in both Amblar and Romeno.

The founding parents of the Amblar line are Gaspare Melchiore Borzaga of Cavareno and Barbara Pellegrini of Amblar, who married on 24 January 1857[cviii]. Born in Cavareno on 15 January 1828, Gaspare was the 6X great-grandson of the notary Simone Borzaga ‘senior’.[cix]

Gaspare and Barbara had only 6 children, as Gaspare died from pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 40.[cx] Although at least two of their four sons died in infancy, their son Luigi Lorenzo had at least 12 children with his wife, Cattarina Francesca Malench (also of Amblar).

Family group of Luigi Lorenzo Borzaga, patriarch of Amblar line
Click on image to see it larger

Of their five daughters, two died in infancy (Maria Giuseppina and Maria Cattarina). The baptismal records of the other three daughters tell us they all married,[cxi] but of course they did not pass on the Borzaga surname.

Of their seven sons, one died in infancy, and two (Lino and Enrico) perished on the Eastern front during World War 1, when they were still young, unmarried men.[cxii] The baptismal records for three of the other sons (Ernesto Augustino, Silvio Giuseppe, Emilio Giuseppe) tell us they all married.[cxiii] The Cognomix website says there are presently for Borzaga families currently living in Amblar, and another in Don (also part of the parish of Romeno),[cxiv] so I presume these are the descendants of these sons.

Borzaga ‘On the Road’: Alta Garda, Rendena, Giudicarie, Trento

Towards the end of the 19th century, we find a Borzaga who not only appears to have had an interesting life travelling throughout the province, but he was also the father and grandfather of two widely renowned Trentino personalities. Here is a map showing all the ‘stops’ this family made over a 20-year period:

MAP: from Ronzone through Arco, Strembo, Carisolo, Preore and Tione
Click on image to see it larger

The man in question is BASILIO GIAMBATTISTA BORZAGA. Born in Ronzone on 29 November 1856, Basilio was the second son of Giovanni Battista Antonio Borzaga and Marcellina Maria Gius.[cxv] He never really knew his father, however, as Giovanni Battista died tragically from a serious fall when Basilio was only 3 years old.[cxvi]

Basilio married Cattarina Thaler of Bronzolo (South Tyrol) on 7 November 1883.[cxvii] Although the marriage took place in Ronzone, the record tells us that Basilio was then living in Arco, which is about 90 km to the south (56 miles) in Alta Garda, just above Lake Garda, in the southernmost part of the province of Trento (see map above).

Cattarina was obviously pregnant at the time, as only three months later, she gave birth to their first child, Augusto Basilio Borzaga, who was born in Arco on 3 February 1884.[cxviii] Augusto, who was better known as GUSTAVO BORZAGA grew up to become a famous painter. We will look at his life and work a bit later in this report.

The following year, we find the family has travelled north to Strembo, in Val Rendena in the northern part of Val Giudicarie Interiore, where their daughter Giuseppina Marcellina is born.[cxix] The record also has a margin note telling us she died on 29 August 1940, but it does not give a place of death or whether she had been married.

At first, I was unsure whether Giuseppina Marcellina was the daughter of Basilio or his brother Giuseppe Giambattista, because the record says the child’s father was ‘Giambattista Borzaga, son of the late Giambattista and the living Marcella’. It also says the mother’s name is Cattarina Furletti (which is similar to Cattarina Toller’s mother’s surname of Furtarelli). It specifies that the family came from ‘Ronzone in Val di Non’. Although Furletti is a surname in nearby Preore, my colleague James Caola, who has done extensive research with the Rendena parish records, has found no such marriage between a Borzaga and a Furletti either in Preore or in the Rendena parishes. Additionally, the record says the godparents were Giuseppe Borzaga and Marcellina Borzaga, ‘uncle and aunt of the child’. Surely the ‘uncle’ godfather must be Giuseppe Giambattista Borzaga, the elder brother of Basilio, which confirms to me the parents must be Basilio Borzaga and Cattarina Toller. Moreover, the ‘aunt’ named Marcella is surely referring to the child’s grandmother, as we know she was still alive (I will explain more about this shortly).[cxx] Thus, I presume the record is simply full of errors due to the priest being unfamiliar with this family, as they apparently were there only for a brief time.

A year and a half later, we find the family in Carisolo, also in Val Rendena, a bit north of Strembo and not far from Pinzolo. There, another son was born, Urbano Cornelio Pietro, on 25 February 1887. [cxxi] Known alternatively as Urbano Cornelio and Cornelio, he served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War 1.[cxxii] His baptismal record tells us that married a Carlotta Bertotti at the Duomo of San Vigilio in the city of Trento on 13 Jul 1914. The Nati in Trentino database tells us the couple had two children, both born in Trento, in 1914 and 1920, respectively. He passed away at the age of 77 on 30 September 1964.

After the birth of Urbano, Basilio and Cattarina moved again. This time, they went south to Preore in Val Giudicarie, where two more two daughters were born – Marcellina Pierina Maria Elisabetta (30 June 1888) and Elvira Daria Maria (29 December 1889). In the baptismal record for Marcellina, we see the godmother is ‘Teresa Borzaga, aunt’.[cxxiii] This surely refers to Basilio’s younger sister, Domenica Teresa Borzaga, who was born in Ronzone on 18 June 1859, and was apparently still unmarried although in her late 20s. The following year, in Elvira’s baptismal record, we see her godmother is ‘Marcellina Borzaga’, again surely referring to Basilio’s widowed mother.[cxxiv]

After Preore, the family makes one more shift to Tione di Trento, which is only a short distance from Preore, still in Giudicarie Interiore. Here, Basilio and Cattarina had four more children: two daughters and two sons. The only one of these for whom I currently have any information is their son and youngest child, Eduino Borzaga. Born in Tione on 29 August 1899, Eduino became a Trento-based lawyer, who was active in his profession at least through the end of 1958.[cxxv] Eduino’s daughter was the prolific author and poetess GIOVANNA BORZAGA (1931-1998). Again, we will look at her life and achievements in the next section of this report.

To sum up the movements of Basilio and Cattarina’s family, here is a screenshot showing the births of their children in the various villages, as well as their death dates/estimates, where known:

Family group of Basilio Borzaga and Cattarina Thaler
Click on image to see it larger

We know the family stayed in Tione at least until 1902, because this is where we are told Basilio’s widowed mother Marcellina passed away on 26 May 1902.[cxxvi] When I first saw this notation in her records, I was bewildered as to why she would have died in Tione, but it now is clear that Marcellina and her other two (adult) children accompanied Basilio and his family throughout their travels.

Sometime after his mother’s death, Basilio returned to his native village of Ronzone, where he passed away on 12 September 1915. Only from his death record do learn he was a retired travelling schoolteacher.[cxxvii] Thus, we finally have an explanation for Basilio’s interesting and unconventional lifestyle.

I feel it also gives us some insight as to how so many skilled and educated children and grandchildren came from one family, and why at least three children from this family left rural life forever, settling in the city of Trento.

Five Distinguished Borzaga from the 20th Century

Gustavo Borzaga – Painter

Born in Arco on 3 February 1884,[cxxviii] the renowned painter GUSTAVO BORZAGA (born Augusto Basilio Borzaga) was the eldest son of Basilio Borzaga and Cattarina Thaler.

Although Gustavo’s family left Arco when he was only a few months old, he was nonetheless hailed as being a ‘native’ of that comune in an exhibition held in 2004 at the Palazzo dei Panni, the seventeenth-century residence of Count Emanuele d’Arco.[cxxix] In the promotional material for that exhibit, we are told that Gustavo’s talent was discovered when he was a mere 14 years old, when the artist Angelo Comolli, a professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milano, came to Tione in 1898 to paint some frescoes at the church there. Comolli took the young Gustavo back to Milano with him as his student. By the time Gustavo was 22, we find him living in the city of Trento, working on numerous commissioned frescoes in many palazzi and public buildings.

His major projects in the city of Trento included Fozzer house in Via Cervara, the frescoes of the Brunner house in Via Grazioli (now disappeared), the friezes that adorn the Palazzo delle Scuole Civiche on via Verdi, now the seat of the University of Sociology. In 1910 he decorated the walls of the art deco Eden cinema, located in Piazza Silvio Pellico, which has since been demolished. [cxxx] [cxxxi]

His activities during World War I appear to have been recorded incorrectly in some sources. Although Nicoletti and Weber both say he was drafted in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I, I believe this is an error, as his name does not appear in the online database of men enlisted in the military.[cxxxii] Moreover, Nicoletti tells us that he was held at Katzenau (near Linz) in 1915,[cxxxiii] which was not a POW camp but, rather, an internment camp for civilians suspected as ‘irredentists’ (i.e., pro-Italy), and thus considered enemies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[cxxxiv] During his internment, Gustavo decorated the church at the camp.[cxxxv] Later, from 1916-1918, he was moved to Benešov (today part of Czechia), and was held at the Company of Political Suspects, [cxxxvi] where he again kept himself busy by painting the meeting room for officers.

With the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Gustavo was no longer a political prisoner. He returned to the city of Trento, where he continued to work on commissioned projects. During this period, he painted a Madonna on the door of Casa Cappelleti on Via Grazioli, and frescoes at the halls of the regional governor on Via Grazioli.

On 12 July 1920, he passed away in Trento at the young age of 36. He had never married.

Giovanna Borzaga – Storyteller and Poetess

Born in Trento in 1931, we meet the prolific author, storyteller and poetess Giovanna Borzaga.[cxxxvii]

From the beginning, Giovanna was immersed in an environment full of educated, articulate, and artistic people. Her father was the Trento-based lawyer, Eduino Borzaga, the youngest brother of painter Gustavo Borzaga. Her mother, Francesca Zanini, was the elder sister of the renowned painter and architect, Gigiotti Zanini (1949-1967).[cxxxviii]  Giovanna even wrote a biography of her uncle Gigiotti’s life.[cxxxix]

About her life and work, we read this on the back cover of a republication of her 1971 book Leggende del Trentino:

‘Giovanna Borzaga (1931-1998), journalist, collaborator at RAI [Radiotelevisione italiana], poetess, author of books for children and adults, as well as theatrical texts, passionate scholar of local culture and traditions, represented for years the ‘critical conscience and regret’ of a Trentino which exists no more, but remained in the consciousness and memory of many.’[cxl]

Her passion for a ‘Trentino which exists no more’ refers to her commitment to the preservation and retelling of Trentino folk tales and legends, drawn from the rich ‘pagan’ culture of rural Trentino[cxli], in which the natural world and the mystical are inextricably intertwined. Alongside ‘fairy tale’ characters like kings, princesses and knights, these tales contain ‘magical characters of the valleys and forests,’ including dragons, witches, wood elves and gnomes. Her writing also illustrates her clearly defined ecological perspective. Her book 3-volume series Clausilia e Moscardino is even subtitled fiaba ecologica (an ecological fable).

Below is a partial bibliography of her published works:

  • Leggende del Trentino. Magici personaggi di valli e boschi
  • Come vivevamo noi trentini
  • Leggende dei castelli del Trentino
  • Clausilia e Moscardino: fiaba ecologica (3 volumes)
  • La civiltà dei minatori tirolesi
  • Nel bosco verde
  • Nano Pen
  • Nella valle di Genova: romanzo
  • I teschi d’avorio ed altri racconti trentini
  • Noi Fantasmi
  • La ferrovia della Valsugana: da spazzacamini ad Eisenbahner

In addition to writing of fables, Giovanna was one of a handful of poets and playwrights who published works in vernacular (i.e., local dialect), as seen her Sta nossa tera: dramma in tre atti in dialetto Trentino, as well as El Filò: Terza Raccolta Di Poesie Dialettali Trentine, and other works in which she was a contributing author.

Giovanna passed away in Trento in 1998, at the age of 67.

Francesco Borzaga – Environmentalist

Born in the city of Trento on 15 September 1934 (and still alive as of this writing), Francesco Borzaga is the younger brother of author Giovanna Borzaga, whom we just discussed. Like his sister, Francesco also developed a profound respect for the natural world at an early age. But where his sister used the medium of fiction to express this respect, Francesco became one of Trentino’s most distinguished environmentalists.Francesco Borzaga, environmentalist in 2018

After graduating in Law in Bologna in 1958, Francesco working briefly at his father Eduino’s law firm, but soon found himself entering public debates on the issues of the protection of nature, and the heritage of Trentino’s historical-artistic-landscape.[cxlii] Soon, the young Francesco choose to shift his direction so he could devote his energy to the protection of the natural environment – a service which has continued to embrace for more than 60 years.[cxliii]

Early in his career, he collaborated with the Movimento Italiano Protezione della Natura (Italian Nature Protection Movement), and with the Pro Cultura and Italia Nostra association, where he served as Secretary of the Trento section until 1970. In 1968 he founded the Trentino-Alto Adige Delegation of the WWF-World Nature Fund – with the main purpose of supporting bear protection initiatives– where he served as President until 2010. [cxliv]

In 1968, he met environmental activist Donatella Lenzi, whom he would later marry in 1977. Throughout the decades, Donatella has participated in and supported her husband’s environmental activities. Since retiring, she has also become a painter. [cxlv]

In 2018, his extensive collection of writings on environmentalism and urban planning, spanning six decades from the 1950s to the present era, along with hundreds of letters, press releases and press reviews, were compiled into an archive for the benefit, education and inspiration of future environmentalists. A full inventory of the archives can be found online in the publication Francesco Borzaga. Inventario dell’archivio (1942 – 2017).[cxlvi]

Fr. Mario Borzaga – Martyr of Laos

Born in the suburbs of the city of Trento on 27 August 1932, Mario Borzaga was the third of four children of Costante Borzaga of Cavareno and Ida Conci (I believe she was from Cogolo, Trento).

1935: Emilio, Fabio and Mario Borzaga, brothers
1935: Emilio, Fabio and Mario Borzaga, brothers

Drawn to the priesthood from an early age, he began his studies at the seminar in 1948.[cxlvii] Responding to a powerful an inner calling to become a missionary, he departed his homeland become a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate on 7 November 1952.[cxlviii] [cxlix] He was ordained on the 24 February 1957, performing his first Mass as a priest the following day.[cl] On 28 April 1957 he celebrated High Mass in at the Duomo di San Vigilio in Trento, while contemplating what his next mission should be. Soon after, he volunteered to be sent to Laos, where he felt he could be a better missionary ‘to the nations.’[cli] He departed for Laos in the autumn of that year with five other Oblates.[clii]

In the autumn of 1956 Fr. Mario began a diary, which he entitled Diario di un Uomo Felice (Diary of a Happy Man). The part of this diary that dealt primarily with his missionary experiences in Laos was published under that title (in Italian) in 1985. Other sections, which covered his seminary years and his decision to become a missionary priest, were later published under the title Verso la Felicità (Towards Happiness) in 1986.[cliii]

1957. Fr. Mario Borzaga, at ordination
1957. Fr. Mario Borzaga, at ordination

In his diary, Fr. Mario writes of his difficulties with learning basic survival skills, like fishing, recognising the sounds and tracks of animals, working with wood, fixing engines.[cliv] The threat of serious and unfamiliar illnesses was also every-present.[clv]  But perhaps the most persistent challenges he writes about is feelings of loneliness and isolation due his difficulty in learning the language well enough to communicate well with the local people. It seems his fluency did improve over time, however, as he eventually became brave enough to try to learn Hmong as well as Laotian.[clvi]

In 1992, his younger sister Lucia, herself a member of the Secular Institute of Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, published a personal and emotive biography (in English) of her brother’s life, in which she sharers her own observations about her brother’s memoires:

His diary was written closely, without correction or afterthought, in the certainty that no-one would ever read it. He wrote rapidly, about what happened during the day. Between the lines there emerges his whole personality. The shyness disappears and what bursts through the quickness of his pen is his romantic soul, ecstatic before the beauty of creation, without hiding his aversion for manual labour, his pain and suffering, his moods, his preferences. And, intimately part of the community as he was, he sculpts in a few words the figure of his companions and friends, of the professors and superiors, without ever permitting himself superfluous observations and rash judgements.[clvii]

Biographer Gianpiero Petteti adds:

The days of the mission [in Laos] are meticulously recounted in his “Diary of a Happy Man”, which expresses in the title all his joy of being where he believes the Lord has called him, but between the lines he hides all the fatigue of his immersion in the new culture, of learning its language and customs, of adapting to the climate, of doing everything for everyone.

But all of these challenges were far less of a threat to his survival than the intense political turmoil that was shaking the entire nation of Laos during this period. In 1959, North Vietnam communists had occupied areas of eastern Laos. They found sympathetic supporters in the form of the Pathet Lao (AKA Lao People’s Liberation Army), which was a communist organisation in Laos, which would ultimately assume political power of the country in 1975.[clviii]

In the years that Fr. Mario was in Laos, ‘there was the ever-present threat of the Pathet-Lao; the danger of ambush lay in every mountain track.’[clix] Outbreaks of massacres to Christians and spiralling guerrilla warfare would frequently force him to go into hiding.[clx]

The details of his death is subject to some uncertainty, if not a bit of local legend.

We do know that, on 25 April 1960, Fr. Mario set out on a missionary visit to the village of Pha Xoua, accompanied by a 19-year-old catechist Thoj Xyooj Paj Lug (who also used the Christianised name Paolo Thao Shiong). The journey took them near the border of China. Sworn testimonies say the two were ambushed by guerrillas of Pathet Lao.[clxi] Some say this happened because they had lost their way to their destination, but Fr. Mario’s sister says the pair had reached their destination, administered the sick and ministered the sacraments, and then vanished on their return journey. [clxii]

Accounts by locals say the attack was initially aimed a Fr. Mario only, as he was a priest and a foreigner, and that his young Laotian companion was offered the chance to flee. However, Thoj Xyooj Paj Lug reportedly replied, ‘If you kill him, you kill me too. If he dies, I will die’ and he was indeed killed along with his mentor. [clxiii] [clxiv] Some sources say their remains were tossed into a pit, but they were never officially identified.

Fr. Mario Borzaga and Thoj Xyooj Paj Lug are among 17 priests and laymen venerated as the ‘Martyrs of Laos’, all of whom were killed between 1954-1970 during a time of anti-Christian sentiment. In 2015, Pope Francis officially approved their ‘beatification’, [clxv]with their beatification ceremony taking place on 11 December 2016. [clxvi]

Mario Borzaga was only 27 years old.

Frank Borzage – Hollywood Film Director

At a global level, perhaps the most famous Borzaga was Hollywood film director Frank Borzage (at some point after immigration, the family changed the spelling of their surname).

Frank Borzage, film director
Frank Borzage, film director

Frank was one of at least 10 children of Francesco Luigi Borzaga (but known as ‘Luigi’) of Ronzone and Maria Ruegg (or possibly Ruigg) of Switzerland.[clxvii] According to one biographer, Luigi Borzaga met his future wife when he was working as a stonemason in Switzerland. Like many other Trentini men, he emigrated to Hazleton, Pennsylvania in the early 1880s to work in the coal mines; Maria joined him later and the couple married in Hazelton sometime between 1882-1883.[clxviii] [clxix] After the birth of their first child, Henry Domenico, in 1885, the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where all their subsequent children were born.

Frank was born in Salt Lake City on 23 April 1894.[clxx] In 1912, when he was still in his teens, he started working in Hollywood as a silent film actor. But his true passion for directing emerged quickly, and he made his directorial debut in 1915 with the film, The Pitch o’ Chance.[clxxi] His directing career continued for nearly 50 years, starting in the silent film era, and continuing until the year before his death in 1962. Wikipedia has attributed a whopping 113 film titles to him (although a few of the earlier ones were actually films he acted in, not directed), of which about 45 were sound pictures.[clxxii]

Having already made a breakthrough success with his silent film Humoresque in 1920,[clxxiii] Frank gained widespread critical acclaim with his 1927 film 7th Heaven (again, a silent film), for which he won the first ever Academy Award for best director of a dramatic film.[clxxiv] Shifting then into the new technology of ‘talkies’, his next major success was the Bad Girl (1931), for which he again won the Oscar for best director.[clxxv]

Film posted: A Farewell to Arms

The following year, in 1932, he made what is probably his most famous film, A Farewell to Arms, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Despite powerful performances from box office favourites Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, it is said that Hemingway was ‘grandly contemptuous’[clxxvi] of Borzage’s treatment of his work when the film came out, and the New York Times critic panned it brutally. And although it was nominated for four Academy Awards – including Best Picture and Best Art Direction (but NOT Best Director) – it won only for its cinematography and sound recording.

Happily, later generations have seen the film through more receptive and appreciative eyes. Dan Callahan of Slant Magazine (2006) says, ‘time has been kind to the film’ adding that it ‘launders out’ Hemingway’s dry pessimism, and replaces it with ‘a testament to the eternal love between a couple.’[clxxvii] Writing in 2014, London critic Tom Huddleston calls it ‘remarkable film’, and adds (with typical British sarcasm):

‘Ernest Hemingway was scornful of this rich, romantic 1932 adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel set in Italy during WWI.
Luckily, he was a better author than he was a movie critic.’[clxxviii]

It would be beyond the parameters of the present article to discuss more about Frank Borzage’s truly impressive catalogue of films. For those interested in reading more about his life and work, you might wish to check out the book Frank Borzage: The life and films of a Hollywood Romantic by Hervé Dumont.[clxxix]

At least three of Frank’s brothers were also active in the Hollywood film industry. His brother Lew[clxxx] worked as Frank’s assistant director for several years/ His brothers William[clxxxi] and Danny[clxxxii] were both actors. He married actress Lorena Rogers in 1916; after their divorce, he married stage manager and script writer Edna Stillwell in 1945.[clxxxiii] [clxxxiv]

Towards the end of his life, Frank received many awards in recognition of his prolific and significant contribution to the film industry. In 1955 and 1957, he received The George Eastman Award, for distinguished contribution to the art of film. On 8 February 1960, he was given motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (located at 6300 Hollywood Blvd).[clxxxv] That same year, he was received the D. W. Griffith Award.[clxxxvi]

Frank Borzage passed away in Los Angeles on 19 June 1962.[clxxxvii]

He was the 8X great-grandson of patriarch Simone Borzaga ‘senior’, notary of Cavareno.

Conclusion

In this report, we discussed the Tuenno origins of the Borzaga family, and their arrival in Cavareno. We looked at the early generations, with specific detail given to the two patriarchs, Giovanni and Simone. We looked at the many generations of Borzaga notaries and their noble titles. We looked at how the Borzaga spread to other parts of Trentino, and how all of these lines could ultimately be traced back to the patriarch Simone Borzaga ‘senior’, sixteenth century notary of Cavareno. And, finally, we looked at the lives and contributions of five distinguished Borzaga of the 20th century.

The Borzaga continue to flourish in the province of Trento today, with the majority still living in and around Cavareno (including Ronzone and Sarnonico), with the next highest numbers in Trento and the Romeno area (Amblar, Don), respectively. Aside from these, we also find a few families in Ton, Roverè della Luna, Baselga di Pinè, Fondo and Rovereto.[clxxxviii] While I have not researched these last few families, it seems probably that they, like the others, are descended from patriarch Simone Borzaga ‘senior’, the Cavareno notary from the late 1500s.

On that same website, we also find there are a dozen Borzaga families currently living in the province of Bolzano (South Tyrol), with the largest numbers appearing in Merano and the city of Bolzano. Cognomix also shows five Borzaga families currently living in in other regions of Italy: two in Vicenza in Veneto, one in Como in Lombardia, one in Siena in Toscana, and one in Rome in Lazio.[clxxxix] It would certainly be interesting to discover if and how all of these non-Trentino families are connected to the Borzaga of Cavareno.

I hope you found this report to be interesting and informative, especially if you have Borzaga ancestors. In researching this family, I have constructed a ‘Borzaga Master Tree’ with nearly 800 people whose births span nearly 500 years, from 1485 to 1952.[cxc]

If you are seeking help researching your Borzaga family, or if you have any additional information about the Borzaga that would make a good addition to my Borzaga Master Tree, please do not hesitate to contact me at https://trentinogenealogy.com/contact.

If you enjoyed this article, you can help support my research by purchasing it as a 37-page downloadable, printable PDF, complete with clickable table of contents, colour images, charts, footnotes and resource list. Price: $3.75 USD.
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This article and others on this blog are ‘working drafts’ of research for my ‘in progress’ books entitled The Birth of Your Surname: The Origins, Evolution and Genealogy of 15 Ancient Trentino Families (although it might end up being more like 20 families), as well as a multi-volume set covering many hundreds of surnames called ‘Guide to Trentino Surnames for Genealogists and Family Historians. It will take me a few more years to complete these book projects, but I am offering these PDF eBooks while they are still in progress.

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
8 August 2022

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ENDNOTES

[i] ANZILOTTI, Giulia Mastrelli. 2003. Toponomastica Trentina: i nomi delle località abitate. Trento: Provincia autonomia di Trento, Servizio Benni librari e archistici, page 321. The original image is greyscale; I have highlighted Cavareno in yellow using Photoshop.

[ii] ENDRIZZI, Cristoforo. 1967. Cavareno: spunti di paesaggio di storia e di vita, page 18.

[iii] BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino. Trento: Società Iniziative Editoriali (S.R.L.), page 53.

[iv] BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino. Trento: Società Iniziative Editoriali (S.R.L.), page 53.

[v] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Compravendita’, 24 August 1501, Pellizzano. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1008967. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[vi] The Pellizzano baptismal records start in 1626, marriages in 1653, and death records in 1664. As of this writing, I was only able to check the indexes for each.

[vii] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Consegna di dote e assicurazione di dote’, 22 November 1595, Condino. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1141567. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[viii] STENICO, P. Remo. 2000. Sacerdoti della Diocesi di Trento dalla sua Esistenza Fino all’Anno 2000. Indice Onomastico, page 69.

[ix]CASETTI, Albino (dottore). 1951. Guida Storico – Archivistica del Trento. Trento: Tipografia Editrice Temi (S.R.L.), page 249-254. Due to this damage, the registers for Condino begin in 1919, although archivist Albino Casetti says there are some copies of 19th century baptismal and marriage records.

[x] LEONARDI, Enrico. 1955. Tuenno nelle sue Memorie. Trento: Arti Grafiche Saturnia, page 39-40.

[xi] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine. Trento: Società di Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche, page 60.

[xii] ODORIZZI, Paolo. ‘Genealogia famiglie di Tuenno (e nobili di Tuenetto)’. Annotated spreadsheet at: http://www.dermulo.it/DermuloStory/PaoloOdorizzi/Genealogia%20famiglie%20di%20Tuenno%20(e%20nobili%20di%20Tuenetto).xlsx. Accessed 12 July 2022 from ‘Dermulo: Storia di un piccolo paese’. http://dermulo.it.

[xiii] LEONARDI, Enrico. 1955. Tuenno nelle sue Memorie. Trento: Arti Grafiche Saturnia, page 39.

[xiv] ENDRIZZI, Cristoforo. 1967. Cavareno: spunti di paesaggio di storia e di vita, page 26.

[xv] ODORIZZI, Paolo. ‘Genealogia famiglie di Tuenno (e nobili di Tuenetto)’.

[xvi] ODORIZZI, Paolo. 2018. La Val Di Non E I Suoi Misteri – Volume I, page 305. PDF version downloaded 20 February 2022 from https://www.academia.edu/38068122/1_LA_VAL_DI_NON_E_I_SUOI_MISTERI_VOLUME_I_Aggiornamento_dicembre_2018. Odorizzi discusses many aspects of the Borzaga genealogy throughout the book, but his chart on ‘Genealogia famiglie di Tuenno (e nobili di Tuenetto)’ provides an easy visual summary of his conclusions.

[xvii] ODORIZZI, Paolo. ‘Genealogia famiglie di Tuenno (e nobili di Tuenetto)’.

[xviii] STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845. Trento: Biblioteca San Bernardino, page 76. Stenico only lists him as ‘Bartolomeo Borzaga of Tuenno’ but he does not say he was the son of Benvenuto. On the same page, he also mentions lists Baldassare Borzaga of Tuenno as the son of Antonio.

[xix] ODORIZZI, Paolo. 2018. La Val Di Non E I Suoi Misteri, Volume I. PDF version downloaded 20 February 2022 from https://www.academia.edu/38068122/1_LA_VAL_DI_NON_E_I_SUOI_MISTERI_VOLUME_I_Aggiornamento_dicembre_2018, page 295.

[xx] ODORIZZI, Paolo. 2018. La Val Di Non E I Suoi Misteri, Volume I, pages 295, 305 and others.

[xxi] ODORIZZI, Paolo. ‘Genealogia famiglie di Tuenno (e nobili di Tuenetto)’.

[xxii] LEONARDI, Enrico. 1955. Tuenno nelle sue Memorie. Trento: Arti Grafiche Saturnia, page 39.

[xxiii] ODORIZZI, Paolo. ‘Genealogia famiglie di Tuenno (e nobili di Tuenetto)’.

[xxiv] ODORIZZI, Paolo. ‘Genealogia famiglie di Tuenno (e nobili di Tuenetto)’.

[xxv] AUSSERER, Carl. 1985. Le Famiglie Nobili Nelle Valli del Noce: Rapporti con i Vescovi e con i Principi Castelli, rocche e residenze nobili Organizzazione, privilegi, diritti; I Nobili rurali. Translated by Giulia Anzilotti Mastrelli from the original German work Der Adel des Nonsberges, published in 1899. Malé: Centro Studi per la Val di Sole, pages 112 and 172.

[xxvi] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine. Trento: Società di Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche, page 60.

[xxvii] Archivio Arsio, n. 155. 18 December 1560, in Cavareno, Giovanni, son of the late Simone Chanarz (?) sells to Romedio, son of the late Baldassare Borzaga, a plot of land in Cavareno and Campaz. This is cited by Odorizzi in his online tree.

[xxviii] The last Borzaga descendant of Giovanni I have found was Giovanni Luigi, born in Cavareno on 16 June 1778. Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 7, page 74-75.

[xxix] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Locazione temporale di decima’, 27 February 1594, Sarnonico. Drafted by Simone Borzaga of Cavareno, notary by imperial authority. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1104675. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[xxx] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Costituzione di censo’, 11 May 1603, Cavareno. Drafted by notary Simone Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/3568069. Accessed 10 July 2022. There are many other documents for him; I have only included the earliest and the latest I have found..

[xxxi] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Costituzione di censo con dichiarazione di obbligo’, 18 August 1599, Cavareno. Cites the name of Simone Borzaga’s wife, Chiara. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1085107. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[xxxii] Romeno parish records, marriages, volume 1, page 6-7.

[xxxiii] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 180-181.

[xxxiv] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 80-81.

[xxxv] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 118-119.

[xxxvi] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Costituzione di censo’, 25 April 1625, Sarnonico. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1089297. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[xxxvii] Nicolò Borzaga, son of Giovanni, was born 28 January 1588. Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 26-27. No mother’s name is mentioned in the record.

[xxxviii] TIROLER LANDESMUSEEN. Tyrolean Coats of Arms. Landing page: http://wappen.tiroler-landesmuseen.at/login.php. Borzaga stemma accessed 10 July 2022 from http://wappen.tiroler-landesmuseen.at/index34a.php?id=&do=&wappen_id=4062&sb=borzaga&sw=&st=&so=&str=&tr=99.

[xxxix] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine, page 331.

[xl] ENDRIZZI, Cristoforo. 1967. Cavareno: spunti di paesaggio di storia e di vita, page 26.

[xli] LEONARDI, Enrico. 1955. Tuenno nelle sue Memorie. Trento: Arti Grafiche Saturnia, page 40.

[xlii] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine, page 60. They specifically say the for men were brothers. They also say it was Count Alessandrini who awarded the stemma in 1626, but Enrico Leonardi (Tuenno nelle sue Memorie, page 40) says it was the Prince-Bishop, who was confirming the earlier award.

[xliii] GIACOMONI, Fabio. 1991. Carte di Regola e Statuti delle Comunità Rurali Trentine. 3 volume set. Milano: Edizioni Universitarie Jaca, volume 2, page 532; 549.

[xliv] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 2-3.

[xlv] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 156-157. Antonio also had at least one daughter, but while females could INHERIT their father’s noble titles and privileges, they could not pass these privileges onto their children.

[xlvi] Romedio was born 7 December 1589. Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 38-39.

[xlvii] STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845. Trento: Biblioteca San Bernardino, page 76. One of these four is an Antonio Borzaga, but I am positive Stenico has combined citations from two different Antonios, one who was the grandfather of the other.

[xlviii] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Costituzione di censo’, 19 December 1602, Castelfondo. Drafted by notary Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/3568044. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[xlix] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Compravendita’, 20 October 1635, Sarnonico. Land sale agreement drafted by notary Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1089455. Accessed 10 July 2022. Again, there are numerous surviving documents written by him in between these dates; I have cited only the earliest and the latest of those on the Provincia Autonoma di Trento website.

[l] GIACOMONI, Fabio. 1991. Carte di Regola e Statuti delle Comunità Rurali Trentine. 3 volume set. Milano: Edizioni Universitarie Jaca, volume 2, page 532; 549.

[li] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 1, page 156-157.

[lii] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 3, page 120-121.

[liii] Sarnonico parish records, marriages, volume 2, page 165-166. 28 April 1667. Adamo, son of the late Michele Zogmaister of Ruffré’ married Barbara Borzaga, daughter of ‘spectabilis’ Simone Borzaga (of Cavareno).

[liv] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Costituzione di censo’, 24 May 1627, Seio. Drafted by notary Simone Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/51172. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lv] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Compravendita’, 7 June 1632, Revò. Drafted by notary Simone Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1396100. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lvi] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Cessione di censo’, 13 May 1646, Castelfondo. Drafted by notary Simone Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/3568375. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lvii] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Compravendita’, 6 November 1649, Cavareno. Drafted by notary Simone Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/3568432.  Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lviii] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 108-109.

[lix] Sarnonico parish records, marriages, volume 2, page 145-146.

[lx] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Compravendita’, 19 April 1660, Castel Thun (Ton). Drafted by notary Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/3565190. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lxi] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Testamento’, 26 February 1666, Ronzone. Will of Giovanni ‘Palma’ of Ronzone drafted by notary Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1091866. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lxii] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Cessione di Censi’, 25 June 1671, Sarnonico. Drafted by notary Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1092125. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lxiii] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Donazione con obbligazione’, 13 September 1671, Sarnonico. Drafted by notary Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1092315. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lxiv] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Cristoforo Riccardo Thun (1604-1668) – Corrispondenza’. 1659-1667. Six letters sent to Count Cristoforo Riccardo Thun by Antonio Borzaga (sent from Cavareno and Trento between 1659-1667). Fascicolo, cc. 12. https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/1721404. Accessed 10 July 2022.

[lxv] Maria Sofia Zini, wife of Antonio Borzaga, died on 22 December 1676. Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 1, page 438-439.

[lxvi] Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 2, page 122-123.

[lxvii] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 16-17.

[lxviii] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 560-561.

[lxix] STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845, page 76.

[lxx] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Rinnovazione di locazione’, 11 January 1745, San Michele all’Adige. Drafted by notary Giovanni Battista, son of Antonio Borzaga of Cavareno. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/995030 . Accessed 24 July 2022.

[lxxi] ENDRIZZI, Cristoforo. 1967. Cavareno: spunti di paesaggio di storia e di vita, page 26.

[lxxii] Biblioteca Comunale di Trento. ‘Contratti, 26 August 1721, Convenzione stipulata tra il prelato della Prepositura di San Michele all’Adige ed i fratelli Giovanni Battista, Tomaso ed Antonio Borzaga. Archivi di famiglio. Collocazione: BCT1-5334/4; Estremi Cronologici:1721; Data di Acquisizione e Provenienza: Campi di Montesanto (famiglia). Note that, as of this writing, this is not viewable online.

[lxxiii] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 82-83.

[lxxiv] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 438-439.

[lxxv] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 348-349.

[lxxvi] STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845, page 76.

[lxxvii] 20 August 1731. ‘Giovanni Battista Vigilio, son of the noble and ‘spectabilis’ Carlo Borzaga, notary of Cavareno’. Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 630-631.

[lxxviii] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Processus criminalis formatus ad instantiam Georgii Gerri Casetii’, etc., 2 November 1750-19 March 1759, Cles. Fascicolo, cc. 122. Notary, Carlo Antonio Borzaga. Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/3375508 . Accessed 24 July 2022.

[lxxix] Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 3, page 21.

[lxxx] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 568-569.

[lxxxi] STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845, page 76.

[lxxxii] Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 3, page 232-233.

[lxxxiii] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 5, page 60-61.

[lxxxiv] WEBER, Simone (Sac.). 1992. Le Chiese delle Val di Non Nella Storia e Nell’Arte. Volume II: I Decanati di Cles e di Fondo. Mori (Trento): La Grafica Anastatica, page 132. Looking at the signatures of the priests in the baptismal register for Arsio e Brez, Pr. Antonio must have either retired or died sometime between June and September 1651.

[lxxxv] The couple married 27 Jun 1695. Sarnonico parish records, marriages, volume 2, page 80-81.

[lxxxvi] Andrea Borzaga died 29 January 1745. Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 3, no page number.

[lxxxvii] Arsio e Brez parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 380-381.

[lxxxviii] STENICO, P. Remo. 2000. Sacerdoti della Diocesi di Trento dalla sua Esistenza Fino all’Anno 2000. Indice Onomastico, page 69.

[lxxxix] WEBER, Simone (Sac.). 1992. Le Chiese delle Val di Non Nella Storia e Nell’Arte. Volume II: I Decanati di Cles e di Fondo. Mori (Trento): La Grafica Anastatica, page 97. Although part of the diocese of Bolzano today, Proves was then considered a curate of the parish of Revò in the diocese of Trento. Weber says Giovanni Andrea served as curate from 1739-1766.

[xc] Provincia Autonoma di Trento. ‘Spese e rendite di don Giovan Andrea Borzaga’, etc. An inventory of his expenses says he left the curate of Proves on 2 April 1766.  Archivi Storici del Trentino, https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/unita/957345. Accessed 24 July 2022.

[xci] Arsio e Brez parish records, deaths, volume 3, no page number.

[xcii] A beneficiato or ‘beneficio’ is a priest who was paid in money or land to celebrate a certain number of Masses. In other words, he was there to perform specific service for the benefit of the parish or a specific patron of that parish. In this case, his patron was a someone from the Ruffino family, who had left the funds to the church as part of his legacy.

[xciii] Arsio e Brez parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 340-341.

[xciv] Revò parish records, marriages, volume 2, page 45.

[xcv] Arsio e Brez parish records, deaths, volume 3, no page number.

[xcvi] Arsio e Brez parish records, baptisms, volume 2, page 652-653.

[xcvii] Arsio e Brez parish records, deaths, volume 3, no page number.

[xcviii] Arsio e Brez parish records, marriages, volume 4, page 17.

[xcix] Arsio e Brez parish records, deaths, volume 4, page 38-39.

[c] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 7, page 72-73.

[ci] Arsio e Brez parish records, marriages, volume 4, page 19. The marriage record has an inserted note that Tommaso came from Cavareno, but the baptismal record of their daughter Maria Antonia says he was actually from Ronzone. The only ‘Tommaso, son of Tommaso’ born in this era was from Ronzone, so I would disregard the note in the marriage record as an error.

[cii] Arsio e Brez parish records, deaths, volume 6, page 68.

[ciii] Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 5, page 122-123.

[civ] There was one son, Tommaso, born 13 Feb 1843, but I cannot find any further information about him.

[cv] The parish records themselves have not been microfilms/digitised past the year 1923, but names and years (not full dates) of births, marriages and deaths in Arsio e Brez appear in the indices of the same register that contains the 1923 records. This is where I have drawn the information about events taking place after 1923. Note that not all parish registers will have microfilmed their indices past 1923.

[cvi] COGNOMIX. ‘Borzaga’. Mappe dei Cognomi Italiani. https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/BORZAGA/TRENTINO-ALTO-ADIGE/TRENTO. Accessed 22 July 2022.

[cvii] RUFFINI, Bruno. 2005. L’Onoranda Comunità di Brez. Fondo: Litotipo Anaune, page 241 FF.

[cviii] Romeno parish records, marriages, volume 5, page 70.

[cix] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 8, page 129. Gaspare’s parents were Pietro Antonio Mattia Borzaga of Cavareno and Cattarina Covi of Seio.

[cx] Gaspare died 27 April 1868. Amblar parish records, deaths, volume 2, page 27-28.

[cxi] Amblar parish records, baptisms, volume, 3, pages 30, 42 and 52.

[cxii] This info is in their baptismal records, and they are also listed on the ‘caduti trentini della I guerra mondiale’ (Fallen Trentini of the First World War) database on the Trentina Cultura website at https://www.cultura.trentino.it/portal/server.pt/community/caduti_in_guerra_-_cerca/309/cerca_nella_banca_data/19671

[cxiii] Amblar parish records, baptisms, volume, 3, pages 37, 39 and 44. The baptismal record of the youngest son (Antonio Luigi, born 13 June 1906, page 49) tells us he died in Cles, but it does not say whether he had married. I believe the date of death is 3 February 1976, but it is difficult to read. I did find him in the military registry on the Archivio di Stato database. Both his baptismal record and the military entry indicate he was known by his middle name, ‘Luigi’.

[cxiv] COGNOMIX. ‘Borzaga’. Mappe dei Cognomi Italiani. https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/BORZAGA/TRENTINO-ALTO-ADIGE/TRENTO. Accessed 22 July 2022.

[cxv] Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 9, page 243.

[cxvi] Giovanni Battista died 13 July 1860. Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 5, page 172.

[cxvii] Sarnonico parish records, marriages, volume 7, page 158. I have written Cattarina’s surname as ‘Thaler’ here, as that is how it appears in all the Trentino records, but it is spelled ‘Toller’ in her Bronzolo baptismal record (02 July 1861). Bronzolo parish records, baptisms, 1861-1913, page 3.

[cxviii] 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 66. Date also on Nati in Trentino website.

[cxix] Strembo parish records, baptisms (May 1888), page 131.

[cxx] Marcellina’s baptismal record has a note saying she died in Tione on 26 May 1902: Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 8, page 93-94. This same info is recorded in a note in her 1853 marriage record to Giovanni Battista Borzaga: Sarnonico parish records, marriages, volume 6, page 146.

[cxxi] Urbano’s marriage information and his date of death are in his baptismal record in the Carisolo parish register (sorry, my copy does not have the volume and page number). It does not say where he died.

[cxxii] Urbano Borzaga of Carisolo, born 1887, is listed in the Ruoli Matriculari database on the Archivio di Stato website at http://www.archiviodistatotrento.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/222/ruoli-matricolari-1867-1911.

[cxxiii] Preore parish records, baptisms, June 1888, page 10.

[cxxiv] Preore parish records, baptisms, July 1889, page 13.

[cxxv] He is one of several lawyers mentioned in a lawsuit described at https://www.consiglio.provincia.tn.it/leggi-e-archivi/giurisprudenza-costituzionale/Pages/giurisprudenza.aspx?uid=22266 . Accessed 29 July 2022.

[cxxvi] Marcellina’s baptismal record has a note saying she died in Tione on 26 May 1902: Sarnonico parish records, baptisms, volume 8, page 93-94. This same info is recorded in a note in her 1853 marriage record to Giovanni Battista Borzaga: Sarnonico parish records, marriages, volume 6, page 146.

[cxxvii] Sarnonico parish records, deaths, volume 6, page 269-270. It is difficult to make out one of the words, but a Trentino historian and I both believe it indicates he was some sort of peripatetic teacher, rather than a local schoolteacher.

[cxxviii] 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 66. Date also on Nati in Trentino website.

[cxxix] Cultura Trentino. 2004. ‘Gustavo Borzaga. Mostra a cura di Giovanna Nicoletti’. Description of exhibition of the works of Gustavo Borzaga, which was held at the Atelier Segantini in Arco, June-August 2004.

https://www.cultura.trentino.it/eng/layout/set/print/Events/Gustavo-Borzaga. Accessed 28 July 2022.

[cxxx] WEBER, Simone; RASMO, Nicolò. 1977. Artisti Trentini e Artisti Che Operarono Nel Trentino, page 66.

[cxxxi] Cultura Trentino. 2004. ‘Gustavo Borzaga. Mostra a cura di Giovanna Nicoletti’.

[cxxxii] Ministero della Cultura. ‘Ruoli matricolari 1867-1913’. Database of Trentino soldiers born between 1867-1913, who were enlisted in the military. http://www.archiviodistatotrento.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/222/ruoli-matricolari-1867-1911. We do, however, find the name of his younger brother Urbano among those enlisted. Urbano was surely active during the war, as there is a 6-year gap between the births of his children (1914-1920). It would be interesting to know whether or not he shared any of his brother’s political views.

[cxxxiii] Cultura Trentino. 2004. ‘Gustavo Borzaga. Mostra a cura di Giovanna Nicoletti’.

[cxxxiv] ‘Katzenau internment camp – Internierungslager Katzenau’. 2020. Second Wiki website. https://second.wiki/wiki/internierungslager_katzenau. Accessed 30 July 2022.

[cxxxv] Cultura Trentino. 2004. ‘Gustavo Borzaga. Mostra a cura di Giovanna Nicoletti’.

[cxxxvi] Weber and Rasmo (page 66) say Gustavo painted the frescoes for municipal hall in Beseno (in Trentino), where he was stationed as a soldier during the war. I believe this is surely an error, and that they confused the name ‘Benešov’ with Beseno. Besides, I cannot imagine a soldier on active duty during such a major war would be allowed to spend all his time painting.

[cxxxvii] Giovanna’s birth year is published in numerous books, but I have yet to find her precise date of birth.

[cxxxviii] Gigiotti’s name at baptism was Luigi Francesco Antonio Zanini. He was born in Val di Fassa on 10 March 1893. ‘Zanini Gigiotti’. Recta Galleria d’Arte website. Biography of the artist at https://www.galleriarecta.it/autore/zanini-gigiotti/. Accessed 30 July 2022. Date confirmed on Nati in Trentino website.

[cxxxix] Archivio di Riccardo Maroni. ‘Note biografiche’, 1964. Text by Giovanna Borzaga with the biography of her uncle, Gigiotti Zanini. http://cim.mart.tn.it/cim/pages/documenti_c.jsp?sid=&method=ric&lang=it&expand=375142&fromp=ris_ricerca.jsp. Accessed 30 July 2022.

[cxl] BORZANA, Giovanna. 2011. Leggende del Trentino. Magici personaggi di valli e boschi. Trento: Reverdito. Reprint of original 1971 edition. The quote is my translation from the Italian.

[cxli] In Leggende del Trentino, she narrates tales from Valle dell’Adige, Valle dei Mocheni, Valsugana, Valle di Primiero, Val di Fiemme, Valle di Cembra, Val di Sole, Val di Genova, Valle di Chiese, Val Giudicarie, as well as Terlago, Lago del Garda and Vallarsa.

[cxlii] Various Authors. 2019. Francesco Borzaga: 60 Anni Per La Difesa Della Natura E Dell’ambiente Del Trentino. Trento: Accademia degli Accesi, Sezione trentina di Italia Nostra, page 91. PDF version downloaded from http://www.uomoenatura.it/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Francesco-Borzaga.pdf. Accessed 30 July 2022.

[cxliii] Alongside his environmental work, Francesco also worked for many years as a German language teacher. I know one of his former students who studied with him at the middle school in Vigolo Vattaro.

[cxliv] Studio associato Virginia (cura). 2018. Francesco Borzaga. Inventario dell’archivio (1942 – 2017). Trento: Soprintendenza per i beni culturali. Ufficio beni archivistici, librari e Archivio provinciale, page 107. Trento: Soprintendenza per i beni culturali. Ufficio beni archivistici, librari e Archivio provinciale, page 7. PDF downloaded from https://www.cultura.trentino.it/archivistorici/inventari/esporta/5753270. Accessed 31 July 2022.

[cxlv] Studio associato Virginia (cura). 2018. Francesco Borzaga. Inventario dell’archivio (1942 – 2017), page 17 and 107.

[cxlvi] Studio associato Virginia (cura). 2018. Francesco Borzaga. Inventario dell’archivio (1942 – 2017).

[cxlvii] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960. Rome, Italy: Oblate Heritage Series, number 4, page 7. Downloaded 22 July 2022 from https://www.omiworld.org/wp-content/uploads/04-Mario-Borzaga.pdf

[cxlviii] For definitions of the term ‘oblate’ see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblate

[cxlix] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 9.

[cl] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 13.

[cli] PETTITI, Gianpiero. 2017. ‘Beato Mario Borzaga, sacerdote e martire’. Santi Beati e Testimoni. http://www.santiebeati.it/dettaglio/91548.  Accessed 20 July 2022.

[clii] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 14.

[cliii] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 10 (footnote).

[cliv] PETTITI, Gianpiero. 2017. ‘Beato Mario Borzaga, sacerdote e martire’.

[clv] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 16.

[clvi] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 16.

[clvii] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 10-11.

[clviii] Wikipedia. ‘Pathet Lao’. Accessed 31 July 2022 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathet_Lao

[clix] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 18.

[clx] PETTITI, Gianpiero. 2017. ‘Beato Mario Borzaga, sacerdote e martire’. Also in Lucia Borzaga, page18.

[clxi] PETTITI, Gianpiero. 2017. ‘Beato Mario Borzaga, sacerdote e martire’.

[clxii] BORZAGA, Lucia. 1992. To Be a Happy Man. Mario Borzaga, O.M.I., 1932-1960, page 19.

[clxiii] PETTITI, Gianpiero. 2017. ‘Beato Mario Borzaga, sacerdote e martire’.

[clxiv] WIKIPEDIA. ‘Martyrs of Laos’. Accessed 22 July 2022 from https://wiki.beparanoid.de/wiki/Martyrs_of_Laos?lang=en

[clxv] ‘Beatification’ is the term used when a person is acknowledged as a saint at a local level, as opposed to ‘canonisation’, which means that person’s sainthood is recognised throughout the Catholic Church.

[clxvi] WIKIPEDIA. ‘Martyrs of Laos’. Accessed 22 July 2022 from https://wiki.beparanoid.de/wiki/Martyrs_of_Laos?lang=en

[clxvii] I have found memorials for 10 of their children Find-A-Grave, but there may have been one or more not listed on that site. Frank’s entry on Wikipedia says there were actually 14 children, only 8 of whom survived childhood; however, they provide no sources for this information, so I cannot say where this is correct.

[clxviii] WIKIPEDIA. ‘Frank Borzage’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Borzage/ Accessed 20 July 2022.

[clxix] The Wikipedia article gives a date of 1883 for the marriage, but the 1900 US census says the couple had been married 18 years, which would infer they married in 1882.

[clxx] FIND-A-GRAVE. ‘Frank L. Borzaga’. Memorial page at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/4379/frank-l-borzage. Accessed 2 August 2022. Info also on Frank’s Wikipedia page.

[clxxi] WIKIPEDIA. ‘Frank Borzage’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Borzage/ Accessed 20 July 2022.

[clxxii] LA TIMES. ‘Frank Borzage’. 1962 (20 June). https://projects.latimes.com/hollywood/star-walk/frank-borzage/. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxiii] WIKIPEDIA. ‘Humoresque (1920 film)’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humoresque_(1920_film). Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxiv] IMDB. ‘Frank Borzage’. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0097648/. Accessed 2 August 2022. Also on Frank’s Wikipedia page.

[clxxv] IMDB and Wikipedia, as above.

[clxxvi] CALLAHAN, Dan. 2006 (27 July). ‘A Farewell to Arms’. Slant Magazine. https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/a-farewell-to-arms-2311. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxvii] CALLAHAN, Dan. 2006 (27 July). ‘A Farewell to Arms’. Slant Magazine. https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/a-farewell-to-arms-2311. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxviii] HUDDLESTON, Tom. 2014 (28 May). ‘A Farewell to Arms’. Time Out London. https://www.timeout.com/movies/a-farewell-to-arms-2.  Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxix] DUMONT, Hervé. 2015. Frank Borzage: The life and films of a Hollywood Romantic. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. Reprint of 2006 publication. Translation from the 1993 French publication, Frank Borzage: Sarastro à Hollywood. Limited preview of this book is available on Google Books at https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Frank_Borzage/FL3wCQAAQBAJ?gbpv=1

[clxxx] FIND-A-GRAVE. ‘Louis Borzage’. Lew’s birth name was ‘Louis;’ he was born in Salt Lake City on 30 January 1898. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/201915183/louis-borzage. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxxi] FIND-A-GRAVE. ‘William Borzage’. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/12751/william-borzage. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxxii] FIND-A-GRAVE. ‘Danny Borzage’. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/18328/danny-borzage. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxxiii] WIKIPEDIA. WIKIPEDIA. ‘Frank Borzage’. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Borzage/ Accessed 20 July 2022.

[clxxxiv] Some sources say he had a third wife named Juanita, but I have found no mention of her in any obituaries of vital records. One website, made by an independent researcher, says he had her name was Juanita Scott, but they have offered no sources to support this. Another site mentions this same Juanita Scott, makes no mention of her being the widow of Frank Borzage.

[clxxxv] HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME. ‘Frank Borzage’. https://walkoffame.com/frank-borzage/. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxxvi] WIKIPEDIA. ‘Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award – Feature Film’.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directors_Guild_of_America_Lifetime_Achievement_Award_%E2%80%93_Feature_Film. Accessed 2 August 2022.

[clxxxvii] FIND-A-GRAVE. ‘Frank L. Borzaga’. Memorial page at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/4379/frank-l-borzage. Accessed 2 August 2022. Info also on Frank’s Wikipedia page. Several sites say he died of cancer, but I have not confirmed this via a death record of obituary.

[clxxxviii] COGNOMIX. ‘Borzaga’. Mappe dei Cognomi Italiani. https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/BORZAGA/TRENTINO-ALTO-ADIGE/TRENTO. Accessed 22 July 2022.

[clxxxix] COGNOMIX. ‘Borzaga’. Mappe dei Cognomi Italiani. https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/BORZAGA. Accessed 22 July 2022.

[cxc] I have entered most (if not all) of the Borzaga births from Cavareno, Ronzone, Sarnonico, Brez, Amblar, Romeno and the city of Trento, with the additional births in Arco, Rendena and the Giudicarie.

 

 

 

 

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Genealogical Breadcrumbs: Notes, Sources & Reviewing Research

Genealogical Breadcrumbs: Notes, Sources & Reviewing ResearchGenealogist Lynn Serafinn explains how and why to cite genealogy sources, and how good research habits can help you fill in the gaps when records do not exist.

In my last article, I talked about the many ways we can make mistakes in genealogy and put the wrong information in our family tree. I also said the two most important habits of GOOD genealogists are:

  1. They always CITE their sources.
  2. They regularly REVIEW their work.

In writing today’s article, I realised I needed to add a third habit to the list:

  1. They KEEP NOTES of their research.

In fact, keeping good notes is so fundamental to research, I’m going to bump it up to #1 on the list of essential habits of a good genealogist: 3 Essential Habits of a Good GenealogistClick on image to see it larger.

Please SHARE this meme with your family history friends on social media.

Today, I want to talk about how these three habits work together in genealogy, and how they can help you create a trail of clues I like to call ‘genealogical breadcrumbs’, which can help lead you to the truth about your ancestors’ lives.

As always, while some elements of this article will be specific to Trentini genealogy, most of the concepts are equally applicable to ANY family history research, regardless of origin.

Keeping Notes of Your Research – Even When You’ve Found NOTHING

You might think ‘keeping notes’ means keeping track of what you discovered. However, I find it is just as important to keep a record of what I DID NOT find, and where/why I didn’t find it. For example, say you tried to find the marriage record of your great-great-grandparents in the parish records where your great-great-grandfather lived, but your search was unsuccessful. In such a case, you should write a NOTE in the description field for the marriage (Ancestry, Family Tree Maker, etc. will all have a description field) to the effect of:

‘I checked the marriage records for X parish between 1800 and 1820, but could not find it.’

I also find it useful to make a note of how thoroughly you’ve checked; after all, there is a big difference between doing a ‘quick check’ or scouring through the records three times. Make notes of ANYTHING of which you are uncertain, as well as any possible conflicts of information you might have found (e.g. two children for a couple appear to have been born too closely together).

What do you do if the original records for a parish/era no longer exist? Make a note saying something like:

‘There are no surviving marriage records for X parish between 1800 and 1820.’

Keeping such notes saves you time, as it helps ensure you don’t keep looking for the same records over and over (trust me, I’ve been there!).

What Are ‘Sources’?

A ‘source’ is a document (vital record, census, etc.), publication (book, website, blog article, etc.) or person (dictated verbally, in a letter, in an email, etc.) from which/whom you obtained your information. For example:

  • If you find a birth date of your ancestor Giuseppe in an official birth certificate, the birth certificate is the source.
  • If you find an estimated birth year for Giuseppe via a census record, the census record is the source.
  • If your Aunt Matilda told you Giuseppe’s birth date, Aunt Matilda is the source.
  • If you have obtained Giuseppe’s birth date from all three of the above, then ALL THREE are your sources – even if they give you conflicting information.

There are two types of sources:

  • Primary sources are original documents of an event or person, such as a birth/baptismal record, marriage record, death record or military record.
  • Secondary sources are quotes, opinions or other third-party accounts of an event or person, such as a book, article, letter or personal discussion.

In my opinion, certain records – such as census records – can be both primary and secondary sources. For example, it is a primary source for a person’s address on a specific date, but a secondary source of a person’s name or estimated year of birth (and they are often WRONG).

What Are ‘Source Citations’ and What Do You Put in Them?

A ‘source citation’ is a notation in your family tree of where you obtained your information. Most family tree programmes (Ancestry, Family Tree Maker, etc.) enable you to add and attach source citations to specific facts. A good source citation provides information about the source, such as the title, author, publisher, volume, year and page number of the source. If you are citing a parish record, for example, don’t just say ‘parish records’; rather, be sure to provide the name of the parish, the volume/book/part in which the record is located, and the page number (if there is one). It is also important to cite where/how the record was accessed, i.e. original record, digital image, microfilm, etc. Here’s an example of how I cite sources when working with digital images of the parish records at the Archives at the Archdiocese of Trento:

Santa Croce del Bleggio Parish Records (Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy).

Repository: Archdiocese of Trento Archives

Trento file 4256260_00985; Santa Croce parish records, marriages, volume 1 (LDS film 1448051, part 5), no page number.

(After the citation, I typically transcribe/translate the document as well, but that’s a whole different topic.)

If that looks like a lot of writing, the first two lines are a template I set up in Family Tree Maker. I set one up for every parish I research. That way, I can pull down the template and insert the information about the specific reference, which you see on line 3. Even that is a ‘template’ I’ve made up, to enable me (or others) to locate the records where I obtained the information. In this case, ‘Trento file’ refers to the number of the digital image I obtained in Trento, and it really is only relevant to people who do research there, as these files are not available outside the archives.

The reference to the ‘LDS microfilm’ is so that people who might be doing research at their local Family History Centre can find the exact page where the record is located. Of course, the FHC are retiring their microfilm service at the end of August 2017, so this information will become less relevant as they move over to digital images in the next few years.

Even if your source is a word-of-mouth account, you can (and should) cite the person’s name, and possibly the year in which he/she provided the information. You might also wish to say whether they gave you the information from memory or if they had any documentation.

Don’t forget to cite YOURSELF as a source if providing information from first-hand knowledge, e.g. your own birth date, the birth dates of your immediate family members, etc.

There is no ‘set in stone’ method for citing sources, and yours don’t need to be as detailed as mine. But once you understand the reasons why it’s important to cite your genealogical sources (which we’ll look at next), you too might wish to be more thorough in your citations.

Why Are Source Citations Essential in Genealogy?

While citing sources might seem like the less exciting side of genealogy, most experienced genealogists will tell you that genealogy without proof, sources and/or documentation is simply MYTHOLOGY (just Google the words ‘genealogy sources and mythology’ and you’ll see how often this topic has been discussed). In ANY kind of research – but especially genealogy – source citations have a threefold purpose:

  1. CREDIBILITY. As I said in my earlier article, ‘The Science of Finding Your Female Ancestors from Trentino’, genealogy is all about formulating hypotheses and then finding evidence to support or dispute it. Without at least one reliable source, our ‘facts’ are meaningless. The more reliable sources you have to back up a claim, the more likely it is that our ‘facts’ are true. Generally, primary sources are considered more ‘reliable’ than secondary sources such as word-of-mouth, books or other people’s family trees (see my additional comments about this below*).
  2. ATTRIBUTION. There isn’t a researcher on the planet who hasn’t found information from someplace else. While sometimes that information is a primary source (like a parish record), other times it has come from someone else’s research. Regardless of whether you are using primary or secondary sources, you MUST give proper attribution. Otherwise, you are plagiarising someone else’s work and/or intellectual property. Proper attribution will also provide evidence of the reliability of the original source.
  3. CROSS-CHECKING. Genealogy is a continually unfolding process. In other words, you (and others) will continually unravel new mysteries, even after you have found evidence for a specific person. Sometimes, the information you have found for one person is crucial in helping solve the mystery of another. OR, sometimes the information you have put on the tree was entered incorrectly or was incomplete. Incorrect/incomplete information is especially common when you are just starting out and you don’t understand how to interpret the records properly. If you have carefully cited your sources, you can return to the original document, reassess it, and fix the incorrect or incomplete information. Citing your sources also enables OTHER researchers – either family members or people you may not even know yet – to cross-check and/or expand upon your information.

* SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER: Ancestry dot com gives you the ability to cite another person’s tree as a source. That’s all well and good, but if that person’s tree has no reliable (preferably primary) sources to back up their information, such a ‘source’ is no proof at all. I know it can be tempting to build your family tree as quickly as possible, but piecing together your ancestry using other people’s unsubstantiated information is likely to lead you WAY off track, and you will end up disappointed when you find out much of your family history is simply untrue.

Creating a Breadcrumb Trail – Recording and Citing ‘Implied’ Information

As suggested at the start of this article, good genealogical practice helps you create a trail of ‘genealogical breadcrumbs’, which can narrow down information, even when documentation for that information does not exist. When you work with original records or images of the same (such as microfilm or digital image libraries), you can find a great deal more information than you would in indexed records or (most) online databases. For example, priests often use the Italian word fu, or the Latin word quondam (often abbreviated as ‘q.’), to indicate someone is deceased. Typically, these designations will appear:

  • IN MARRIAGE RECORDS: Before the name of a deceased father and/or grandfather of the bride or groom. In the latter part of the 19th century, you will also start to see it used to refer to a deceased mother of a bride/groom.
  • IN BAPTISMAL RECORDS: Before the name of a deceased paternal grandfather.
  • IN BAPTISMAL RECORDS: Before the name of a deceased father of an unmarried woman, or the deceased husband of a widowed woman, when she is the godmother of the child being baptised.

While such inferred information isn’t precise, it can help you create an estimated date of death for the person cited as deceased, as you know they died sometime before that event. Thus, you can enter an estimated date of death for that person, putting something like ‘Before March 1692’ in the date field on your tree. Less commonly, the word posthumous may appear before the name of the father in a baptismal record. This means the father died sometime between the date of conception and the birth of the child. This helps you narrow down the date of death to roughly a 9-month window. In this case, you can put something like ‘Between Jan – Aug 1709’ in your date field.

But here’s where good genealogical practice is especially important. When you estimate dates:

Be sure to cite the SOURCE(s) from which you INFERRED the estimate.

Why should you cite your sources when you’re just estimating a date? Two equally important reasons:

  1. Because you are likely to forget why you made that estimate in the first place. This could lead you to CHANGE the estimate to a date that is less precise or altogether incorrect.
  2. Because you may have made a mistake when you interpreted the record. Unless you know how to find your way back to the original record, you won’t be able to locate the source of the error. Without being able to check the original record, you might continue to conduct your research based on incorrect assumptions.

How do you cite a source when you are making an estimate? The SAME WAY you would cite your source for a baptism, marriage, etc. However, in this case, you would include NOTES about how you arrived at the estimate. For example, here is how I created a note for an ancestor of mine named Gaspare Genetti (later spelled Zanetti):

Estmated date of death for Gaspare Genetti of Castelfondo
Estmated date of death for Gaspare Genetti of Castelfondo

Click on image to see it larger.

The problem in finding the exact date of death for Gaspare is that, apart from a few death records for some of the parish priests, there are no death records for the parish of Bleggio before the mid-1660s. As I know Gaspare died before 1660, all I can do is formulate an estimate, based on available evidence. However, by carefully examining records of his family members, I managed to get a pretty good idea of when he died:

  • In this case, I have estimated his death as, ‘Between March and July 1637.’
  • Next, I explained how I deduced that estimate, saying that Gaspare was alive when his daughter Cattarina was born in February 1637, and that I ‘think’ he is cited as deceased in marriage record of his older daughter Margarita in July 1637. I say, ‘I think’ in this case, because I didn’t feel the handwriting on Margarita’s marriage record was 100% clear.
  • I go on to say that I KNOW he was deceased by the time his other daughter Vittoria marries in 1657, as it is clearly written in that document.
  • I then refer to five supporting source citations, which I linked to this estimated date. Each citation gives the Trento file, parish, page number, etc. as shown earlier.
  • I also uploaded a couple of images for these sources, which helps the readers assess the evidence themselves. It also enables ME to go back and reread the documents, to see if I made any errors.
  • Later, if I find other documents that give me an earlier or more precise date, I can change it, citing another source.

In this way – even if there are no existing records – it is often possible to formulate a narrow range of dates during which an event took place.

Creating estimates supported by source citations can also help speed up your searches through existing records. Let’s say you want to know the death date of your 5x great-grandfather, Giovanni. If you were to trawl through all the death records for his parish without having a rough idea of when he died, you’d probably end up searching aimlessly through hundreds of records, unsure whether ANY of them referred to your Giovanni. But if you have already formulated an estimate for his death, gleaned from information found in the marriage records of his children, or baptismal records of his grandchildren, you can limit the range of years in which you need to look. This will significantly decrease the amount of time you need to spend searching for a record, and increase the likelihood of finding the correct document.

The Importance of Reviewing Your Work

In genealogy, it is often all too tempting to go for quantity at the expense of quality. We want to go back one more generation, rather than dig more deeply, verify or refine the information already gathered. But I know from experience that, while it might seem like a dull proposition, going back to review your work can often breathe new life into your tree:

  • A cryptic word on a record you looked at ten times in the past might suddenly leap out and you and make sense.
  • Your language skills might have improved since the last time you studied a set of records.
  • You may have become more skilled at deciphering messy handwriting.
  • You might have recently discovered that your family used a soprannome during a certain period, which means you may have missed them in the records when you looked last time.
  • You might look at your tree and suddenly realise two people are the SAME person.
  • You might suddenly realise someone you thought was related only by marriage is actually the father of your 10x great-grandfather.

OR… You might realise an underlined word in a baptismal record is not the person’s surname (as it usually is), but their village. This happened to me JUST last night. I was reviewing some transcriptions made a few months ago, and noticed I had made a note that there was one record where I didn’t understand the surname. I took out the record and within a second I could see that the surname was missing from the record, and the priest had only given the first name and the frazione. Immediately, I realised I had found the 1566 baptismal record of one of my 9x great-grandfathers, Antonio Domenico Frieri (son of Filippo) of Marazzone. It seems so obvious to me now, but I must have looked at this record a dozen times before, without making the connection:

1566 Baptismal record for Antonio Domenico Frieri of Marazzone.
1566 Baptismal record for Antonio Domenico Frieri of Marazzone.

Click on image to see it larger.

There is no way ANY of us get it right – or complete – the first time around. Without regular review of our work, we may feel like we have hit a brick wall, while the information is staring us in the face and we simply haven’t yet noticed it.

Closing Thoughts

I hope you found this article useful and informative, and that it has inspired you to become a ‘master’ in our craft. Most of us who do genealogy are not only driven by a desire to find out about ourselves, but also by the wish to leave a valuable and lasting legacy for our children, grandchildren and extended family. To ensure that happens, we family historians must aspire to maintain the highest standards in every aspect of our research. As I said, while keeping notes, citing sources and reviewing one’s work might seem like the less ‘glamourous’ side of genealogy, they are the activities that will help your visions become reality.

So, be sure to post this reminder over your desk:

3 Essential Habits of a Good GenealogistClick on image to see it larger.

Please SHARE this meme with your family history friends on social media.

I would welcome any comments or questions on this, or any other topic to do with Trentino Genealogy. Please feel free to express yourself by leaving a comment in the box below, or drop me a line using the contact form on this site.

Until next time, enjoy the journey.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

P.S.: I am going back to Trento to do research on August 16th, 2017. If you would like me to try to look for something while I am there, please first read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. I look forward to hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

How the WRONG Information Ends Up in Your Family Tree

How the WRONG Information Ends Up in Your Family Tree
Baptismal record from 1567 where priest has omitted the father’s surname, Onorati.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn discusses 15 common ways we make mistakes in genealogy, and offers tips on how to separate fact from fiction in your family history.

It’s easy to get hooked on the act of discovery when researching our family histories. We love finding new people and adding them to our tree, and can often feel disappointed if our tree hasn’t grown after a hard day of research. But sometimes, our desire for growth can make us careless. Lack of rigour in our research can bring many errors into our precious family trees – from incorrect dates to the wrong people. This is especially the case when we are just starting out and less experienced, both in the subject matter (our ancestors) and the process of research itself.

Even when we are experienced, genealogy can be an informational nightmare. It’s bad enough trying to make sense of foreign, inaccurate or missing primary sources, but we must also contend with imperfect personal memories and simple human error. Then – with our trees and the trees of millions of others being freely available online – one mistake can become multiplied thousands of times over.

That’s why I wanted to write an article about how we family historians can get it very WRONG, if we’re not as meticulous as possible in our work. While some of this article will cover things specific to Trentini genealogy, most of the concepts I will share are applicable to ANY family history research, regardless of origin.

15 Ways We Make Mistakes in Genealogy

Mistakes are inevitable in genealogy, but they DO need to be addressed. The first step in dealing with them is to know where and how they most commonly happen. Here are some of the most common ways mistakes enter our family trees:

1.      Relying solely upon people’s memories or family hearsay.

When we first start doing our family history, we typically begin with what we (and other family members) already know. The problem is, what we THINK we know may not actually be true, especially if we are talking about the past. Some examples:

  • One of my father’s sisters wrote a very sweet love story about her parents’ early marital life (many years before she was born). In the story, she said they lived in Merano. The problem is, this is pure fiction. My grandparents never lived anywhere near Merano. My aunt made it up (probably because she had been born in the US, and had never actually visited Trentino). This colourful myth is still in circulation within the family, and it’s really difficult to get people to ‘unbelieve’ something after they’ve believed it so long.
  • One of my clients gave me a death date for her great-granduncle. But the more I researched him, I could find no evidence to back up this date. When I asked where she had gotten this date, she told me someone in her family had given it to her, but she had no documentation for it. So, assuming this date was incorrect, I started my search from scratch. Eventually, I found the correct record – a good 20 years earlier than the date her relative had told her! To this day, we have no idea how the fictitious date was even conjured.

2.      Copying or merging information from someone else’s tree.

Websites like Ancestry and MyHeritage are very enthusiastic about giving you ‘hints’ for your ancestors. Often these hints come from information in other members’ trees. The problem is, unless you know the person who made the tree, and have complete faith in their competence as a researcher, it’s a REALLY (really, really!) bad idea to copy that information onto your tree – especially if they have not cited any sources or provided any images of original documents. Furthermore, even if the information they have is 100% correct for THEIR ancestor, it doesn’t necessarily mean the ‘hint’ you’ve received is for YOUR ancestor. Merging people into your tree via these online hints is one of the fastest ways to compromise the quality of your work and turn your tree into a complete fiction. If you believe you’ve found the right person, manually copy the information into your tree, with accurate notes about who you got the information from, so you can verify it later.

3.      Typos.

Research is always a case of taking information from one source and writing it down in another place. For example, if you find a birth date, you have to enter it into your tree. It’s easy for a slip of the finger to result in a misspelled name or incorrect date, so careful proofreading before uploading your information is always the best policy. Reviewing your work regularly (an idea we’ll come back to in the next article) is another good habit to develop, as you’re bound to find typos lurking in places you may not have checked.

4.      Lack of familiarity with the language.

If you’re unfamiliar with the language in which a record is written, it’s easy to get it wrong when you are trying to translate it. In Trentino, virtually all official documents before the mid-19th century (whether church or secular) are written in Latin. Later, they start to shift into Italian. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Latin scholar or be fluent in Italian to make sense of most of the relevant details, but you do need at least some understanding of the language.

5.      Lack of familiarity with the date conventions.

I’m not sure about the rest of Italy, but Trentino priests (especially in the 17th and 18th centuries) had a quirky method of writing dates that can confuse those who are unfamiliar. Have a look at these two baptismal records from 1669 and 1670, respectively, and try to make out the MONTHS in which they occurred:

Baptismal record from 1669, Santa Croce del Bleggio, Trentino
Figure 1: Baptismal record from 1669 – CLICK IMAGE to see it larger.

CLICK IMAGE to see it larger.

1670 baptismal record of Giovanni Parisi of Bono, Santa Croce del Bleggio, diocese of Trento.
Figure 2: 1670 baptismal record of Giovanni Parisi of Bono, Santa Croce del Bleggio, diocese of Trento.

CLICK IMAGE to see it larger.

In Figure 1, you’ll see the priest wrote ‘Xbre’ for the name of the month. If you remember Roman numerals, ‘X’ represents the number 10. So, you MIGHT assume ‘Xbre’ means October, the 10th month, yes? Well, you’d be wrong. ‘Xbre’ stands for DECEMBER, the 12th month. Why? Because the Italian word for ‘10’ is dieci. Although dieci MEANS ‘10’, it SOUNDS like the Italian word for December – dicembre. So, when you see ‘Xbre’ it is shorthand for December.

Figure 2 gives a similar example. The month is written ‘7bre’. This time the priest did not use a Roman numeral, but the regular (Arabic) number ‘7’. Again, you might thing this refers to the 7th month, i.e. July, but it doesn’t. In Italian, ‘7’ is pronounced sette, so ‘7bre’ is shorthand for the month of SEPTEMBER.

The last four months of the year are frequently abbreviated in this way (October is ‘8bre’ and November is ‘9bre’). The reason might have something to do with the fact that these months were originally the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months of the year; but given the fact that the current calendar was introduced much before the 17th century, I think it’s just the way the priests heard the words in their heads. But, if you’re looking at the words as numbers rather than hearing them as sounds, you could easily record the wrong month for your ancestor’s birthday.

6.      Lack of familiarity with toponymy/geography.

Knowing the names of local parishes and villages (frazioni), as well as the names of contingent and more distance places in the region, is also an essential skill if we are to avoid mistakes in our family trees. I once saw a tree in which every child in the family was born in a different village, some of which were hundreds of miles from each other. While we in the 21st century may be accustomed to moving around frequently, this was less common in the past. This error happened because the man who made the tree was unfamiliar with Trentino and had no idea where places were on the map. Using an online database, he entered all the names he believed matched his search, but it was almost entirely incorrect. Good genealogists don’t just look up names and dates; they also take the time to learn about the places they are researching.

7.      Lack of familiarity with the local surnames (and how they evolved over time).

When we start our research, we tend to look for information solely about our own family. This can cause us to develop ‘tunnel-vision’: we might find a record with something that somewhat resembles our family’s surname and assume it is our surname because we don’t know of any other surname like it. Here are some examples from my own research into a branch of my family with the surname ‘Gusmerotti’:

  1. The name ‘Gusmerotti’ was originally derived from the first name ‘Gosmero’ (the suffix ‘-otti’ meaning ‘big’). Thus, some very early records that say ‘Gosmero’ or ‘Gosmeri’ are typically predecessors of those who later called themselves Gusmerotti. When I first started my research, I failed to notice many of my early Gusmerotti ancestors’ records because the surname didn’t have the ‘-otti’ ending.
  2. Several years ago, when I knew little about surnames in my father’s parish, I found a record written in very small, tight handwriting, in which the surname started with a ‘G’, had ‘u’, ‘m’ and ‘t’ in the middle, and ended in a vowel (but I wasn’t sure if it was an ‘i’ or an ‘a’). At the time, the only name I knew that fit these parameters was Gusmerotti, and I thusly assumed it to be so. Later, I realised it actually said ‘Giumenta’ (which means ‘mare’), a surname that became obsolete sometime in 17th century, having evolved into the name ‘Martinelli’, and then ‘Martini’. In fact, Martinelli is more than likely a soprannome that ‘stuck’ over time (we’ll look at soprannomi next).

8.      Not recognising a soprannome when you see it.

I’ve mentioned the use of soprannomi in other articles on this site. Soprannomi (plural of soprannome), are specific to Italian genealogy, including Trentino, and unless you get a handle on them, you can sometimes fail to recognise an entire branch of your family. A soprannome is used as a kind of ‘bolt on’ to a surname, to distinguish one branch of the family from another. Here’s a sample of a few soprannomi from my father’s parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio during the 16th-18th centuries, and the surnames of the families to which I have seen them attached:

SOPRANNOME RELATED SURNAME(S)
Ballina, Balini Fusari
Bella Caresani, Duchi
Bellotti (var. of Bella) Caresani
Berlingoni Duchi
Bertagnini Crosina
Blasiola Farina
Bleggi Duchi
Bondi, Bont Devilli
Cimador Devilli
Ferrari, Fabriferrari, Frerotti Briosi
Jakobi Gusmerotti
Martini, Martinelli Giumenta
Ottolini Panada
Rizza Devilli
Solandri Beltrami
Tosi Crosina
Trentini Devilli

While soprannomi can tell us a lot about who is related to whom, they can also cause many inexperienced researchers to make mistakes. This is because:

  • Rarely do soprannomi bear ANY resemblance to the surnames.
  • Soprannomi change frequently, typically lasting only one to three generations before they morph into something else.
  • A priest will often use a person’s soprannome INSTEAD of the surname, when he records an event.
  • Sometimes a soprannome will permanently replace the surname, which can make it seem like a family has fallen off the face of the earth.
  • Many soprannomi are also surnames – but of OTHER families!

All these idiosyncrasies can cause you to miss one of your ancestors, attach someone to the wrong family, or assume you are looking at completely unrelated families. Unfortunately, the ONLY way to master the changes of soprannomi is to study the images of the original records of your family’s parish METICULOUSLY. There simply is no other way.

9.      Misreading the handwriting.

Trying to understand handwritten documents can be a challenge even for the experienced genealogist, but it is especially difficult when you are new to research. Aside from the unpredictable spelling of names and places, and the frequent use of short-hand, sometimes the handwriting in the document is just plain MESSY! The only way to minimise mistakes caused by misreading handwriting is continual practice with images of original documents.

10.  Overlooking the details.

Parish records often contain a lot of subtle information, which can be easy to miss if you read too quickly or not carefully enough. You might fail to notice ONE word indicating the fact that someone’s father was deceased, or that someone was a widow/widower when they married. A single word might indicate someone was NOT originally from the place they later lived, or that a godfather at a baptism was the brother of the mother of the child. Sometimes that single word is the only piece of information that will save you from months of fruitless – or inaccurate – research. Squeeze every bit of evidence out of your documents, and record every minute detail that tells the story of your family.

11.  Drawing conclusions based on only ONE source.

Major mistakes can creep into our tree if we base our assumptions on information we’ve gathered from only one source (i.e. a baptismal, marriage or death record) without cross-referencing it to anything else. This happened to me when I was just starting out. I stumbled upon the death record for one of my 2X great-grandfathers, Bernardino Luigi Onorati. The record listed his date of marriage to my 2X great-grandmother, Margarita Elisabetta Gusmerotti. I knew from the baptismal record of my great-grandfather (their son) that Margarita’s father’s name was Lorenzo. I looked on the Nati in Trentino website and quickly found a Margarita Elisabetta Gusmerotti, daughter of Lorenzo, born in 1818. Happy I had found the right woman, and knowing the date of their marriage, I proceeded to research my new Gusmerotti line, spending many weeks on microfilm at my local Family History Centre. A few years later, I was in Trento and I suddenly realised I had never actually looked for the original marriage record of my Onorati 2X great-grandparents. As I now had access to digital images and my research abilities were vastly improved, I found the marriage record within minutes, rather than weeks. But when I read the document, my jaw dropped and I got a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach. The name of Margarita’s MOTHER was not what I had on my tree. Evidently, there were TWO different Margarita Elisabetta Gusmerottis, daughters of two different Lorenzos, and two different mothers, born around the same times. I had spent weeks (if not months) researching the WRONG families.

After I stopped kicking myself for not having checked earlier, I went to work. I found my TRUE 2X great-grandmother – Margarita Elisabetta Rosa Gusmerotti, born four years earlier in 1814. Then, I got to work building her lineage – with the new Lorenzo and my newly-found 3X great-grandmother. Happily, however, as I have been researching the entire parish for the past several years, I was able to link her lines to many other people I already had on the tree, and I quickly traced many of her lines back to the early 1600s.

12.  Searching solely for your ancestor, instead of your ancestor’s FAMILY.

Have you ever taken a good look at your family tree, and think something along these lines?

‘Maria got married at 45 and her last child was born when she was 65 years old…hmmm…that doesn’t seem quite right….’

If not, you’re either really GOOD at catching mistakes, or you haven’t been careful ENOUGH in your research. Mistakes like these commonly happen when we find a record we believe to be our ancestor’s, and then STOP looking for anything else. Often, after we dig a little deeper, we might discover that the record we found was actually that of an older sibling who died when he/she was very young, for example. But because we want to feel like we’ve accomplished something after a day of research, it’s often tempting to tick off items on our ‘to do’ lists and move on to something else.

Fastidious researchers don’t just look for their ancestors – they look for their ancestors’ families. I think of it as ‘building families’ – births, marriages and deaths of everyone in the nuclear family of my ancestor. This gives me a much more accurate picture of who everyone is, and the relationships between them. It also minimises the chances that I will connect someone to the wrong spouse at another generational level.

13.  Not recognising when the PRIEST has made a mistake.

It’s natural to want to believe parish records are 100% accurate, but unfortunately that is NOT the case. Parish priests may be dedicated to their spiritual duties, but they are also human. And like any other human being, they are prone to errors. Perhaps they miswrote a name because they heard it incorrectly, or they came from outside the parish and were unfamiliar with the local families. Maybe they didn’t have time to write it down carefully. Or, perhaps they felt it was unnecessary to specify every detail, as they assumed anyone reading the document would know who they were talking about. An example of this can be seen in the image of the baptismal record I used in title of this article, where the priest wrote ‘Matteo of Bono, notary’, omitting the surname ‘Onorati’. To him, it was obvious he was talking about Matteo Onorati; but to someone in the 21st century, it may not be immediately apparent, unless you are intimately acquainted with the records for that era.

Or (and this might surprise you), perhaps they simply couldn’t be bothered. While most priests are fastidious record-keepers, I get the distinct impression that some of them really couldn’t stand the obligation of having to write everything down. That’s when they got messy, took short cuts, left out information – and made mistakes. The only way to evaluate documents you suspect contain errors is to complete the architecture for a family as thoroughly as possible (as discussed in the previous point). That way, you can recognise inconsistencies and anomalies more easily, and make sure one person’s error doesn’t steer you off course.

14.  Depending too much on transcriptions.

While parish priests might make their share of errors, it’s nothing compared to errors made when documents are transcribed by someone completely unfamiliar with the culture of the person whose information they are recording. Some perfect examples are US census records, ship manifests and Ellis Island immigration documents. In these, you have TWO levels of possible transcription error:

  • First, when the government official writes the information into the document
  • Then, when the website transcribes/indexes the document

For example, the Ellis Island immigration documentation for my grandfather lists his village of origin as ‘Dunendo’. One of my cousins put ‘Dunendo’ on his tree, and wrote to me asking where it was because he couldn’t find it on the map. The problem is, ‘Dunendo’ doesn’t exist; the name of the village is Duvredo. The transcriber misread the handwriting, and the mistake then became ‘fact’.

Census records are also notorious for incorrectly spelled names and incorrect ages. If you are depending upon these kinds of ‘official’ documents for information, use them with a pinch of salt, and NEVER assume transcriptions are accurate.

15.  Depending too much on ‘Nati in Trentino’ or other online databases.

In this digital era, we are used to ‘Googling’ everything. We want to do quick searches and find information right away. The problem is, to make things searchable, they must first be transcribed from other sources, and then filtered to respond to specific search parameters.

We’ve already looked at the problems transcriptions can bring with them. Fortunately, the database on the Nati in Trentino website (see my previous article ‘Searching Online for 19th & 20th Century Trentini Ancestors’ about this site) is very WELL transcribed, making it fairly reliable for 19th century searches. However, you still have the limitations of what it DOESN’T show because it’s not included in its search parameters. For example, you cannot see the names of grandparents or godparents. You cannot see if a priest has made a notation that the child died shortly after baptism. Many people use Nati in Trentino when they first get started researching their Trentini ancestors, but it is a mistake to rely upon it as your sole source of information, because it will likely create errors in your tree.

Errors are also likely to occur if you depend too much on the Family Search website. There, many Italian parish records have been transcribed by volunteers. These volunteers can only choose which parishes Family Search happens to be currently working on. Thus, it is highly likely the volunteers will be unfamiliar with the parishes whose records they are transcribing. There are many rules on how Family Search want the documents transcribed, which I found frustrating when I gave it a shot a few years ago. I stopped volunteering because I strongly felt these limitations create problems for the people using the database.

Closing Thoughts

The main difference between a good genealogist and a mediocre one is not how many mistakes they make, but how rigorously they stay on top of them. A good genealogist develops a research routine and standards that help ensure mistakes get FIXED quickly, and that all information can be verified by some form of documentation. To do this, you need to cultivate two essential habits:

  1. CONTINUOUSLY REVIEW YOUR WORK. No matter how long you have been doing genealogy, it’s unwise to take anything for granted. Your earlier work may contain errors you never noticed, or never addressed. Over the years, you may have inadvertently compounded these by assuming one thing to be true that wasn’t. Look for gaps, inconsistencies and conflicting information. Check, check and triple check. Next year, check it all again.
  • ALWAYS CITE YOUR SOURCES. Source citations are like genealogical ‘breadcrumbs’. They enable you to trace back to where you found information and verify whether your conclusions are true. They also give other people confidence that your information is correct. Lastly, they give clues that point you in the right direction to find records or other family members. Even if your only source is a specific titbit is family hearsay, a phone call or a personal letter, always cite who gave you the information, and how/when you received it.

In my next article, we’ll look specifically at citing sources – how to do it, why to do it, and how to use citations to back up HYPOTHESES you can formulate, even when the precise information may be missing. I hope you’ll subscribe to Trentino Genealogy to receive that and all upcoming articles. You can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing the site on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

I hope this article has given you some useful information that can help bring more accuracy into your work, and more confidence as a researcher. I would welcome any comments or questions on this, or any other topic to do with Trentino Genealogy. Please feel free to express yourself by leaving a comment in the box below, or drop me a line using the contact form on this site.

Until next time, enjoy the journey.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

P.S.: I am going back to Trento to do research in August 2017. If you would like me to try to look for something while I am there, please first read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. I look forward to hearing from you!

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

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

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

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

What Our Ancestors’ Deaths Can Teach Us About Their Lives

What Our Ancestors’ Deaths Can Teach Us About Their LivesLynn Serafinn explains the importance and challenges of including death information in your family tree, and discusses 10 causes of death in 19th century.

When I was a child, my Trentino-born father frequently used to say,

‘Never forget, Lynn: our ancestors were survivors. You come from a long line of survivors. We ARE survivors.’

He said this so often, and with such conviction that, now in my 60s, I can still hear his voice and see his face as he is saying it. The idea of our family surviving against all odds was a powerful, driving force for him – one that was fundamental to his identity. He saw his heritage as a part of the choreography of the ‘natural order’ of life, where only those who are strongest will survive and thrive. Certainly, his worldview played a role in shaping my own way of seeing the world – and myself – as I grew up.

While, I admit, there is something seductively romantic about the idea that I have inherited the strength of my ‘survivor’ ancestors, my work in genealogy has caused me to reformulate my ideas on what exactly ‘survival’ means.  We might imagine it means being able to withstand disease, overcome hardships, raise lots of children, and live to a ripe old age amongst our grandchildren or even great-grandchildren. But the reality of ‘survival’ of our Trentini ancestors often meant that they made it to adulthood at all. While it’s natural to imagine our great-great-great-grandparents as being wise, elderly people, the truth is, I am probably older right now than 95% of my ancestors were when they died. In fact, many of them died when they were younger than my 33-year-old daughter.

How does this information reshape the way we see our ancestors – and ourselves? Moreover, what else can death and dying tell us about who we are, as a people? Those are some of the questions I hope to address in this article, where we’ll be taking a short tour of DEATH as part of LIFE in Trentino in the past.

We’ll look at:

  • The importance of including death information in your family tree, and how it brings depth to our understanding.
  • The challenges of using death records for information, and how to glean information from other sources if death records are unavailable or incomplete.
  • Some common causes of death in 19th century parish records, and translations of some of the Italian terminology you might encounter.

The Importance of ‘Killing Off’ Your Ancestors

A couple of years ago, I was reading a book called Tracing Your Ancestors Through Death Records by Celia Heritage (http://amzn.to/2hb1HJm), when a particularly memorable quote leapt out from the page:

‘If you are serious about your family history, then ‘killing off’ your ancestors is mandatory.’

When we research our personal genealogy, it can be all too tempting (if not ‘addictive’) to go for quantity over quality. We love the feeling of discovering one more person to add to our tree. Perhaps we’ve finally found the marriage record revealing the name of our great-great-great-grandmother, or we’ve unexpectedly come face-to-face with our 12x great-grandfather in a 16th century land agreement. It’s exciting – even emotionally stirring – when we make such wonderful discoveries.

But Celia Heritage’s point is this: while birth and marriage information is certainly fundamental to our genealogical research, until we know something about our ancestors’ deaths, we cannot get a truly accurate picture of their lives. If we really want to know where we come from, it is crucial for us to get into the practice of ‘killing off’ our ancestors, by discovering as much as possible about when, where and (hopefully) how they died.

Learning about our ancestors’ deaths can often tell us more about them than anything else. After all, when we are born, we are simply a name and a hope for the future. But when we die, our lives have already happened. All that we have done and experienced precedes us. We have left an imprint upon our families and communities, and they upon us. We have formed relationships, and we have left people behind who are affected by our lives – and by our deaths.

I would also add that it is just as important to research the deaths of ALL the members of your ancestors’ families, not merely those of your direct ancestors. Every death – even that of a new-born infant – has a physical, emotional and sometimes financial impact on a family. A single death can be the trigger that causes people to marry, remarry or even move locations. I doubt, for example, my Serafini ancestors would have moved from the parish of Ragoli to Bleggio in 1658, had not the older brother of my 6x great-grandmother Pasqua died, leaving her the only child to inherit.

The Challenges of Researching Death Information

Many of us from America and Britain are accustomed to looking for death information amongst the civil records. But in Trentino, civil registration only began in 1820. Prior to that, the primary record-keepers were Catholic priests in the local parish churches.

As mentioned in a previous article on this site, while the keeping of parish records was first mandated by Catholic Church at the Council of Trento in 1563, it took a while for it to become regular practice throughout the Church. Moreover, the practice of recording deaths tended to show up significantly later than the keeping of records of births and marriages. In my father’s home parish, for example, birth and marriage records begin in 1565, but death records begin more than 80 years later, in 1638. Some Trentino parishes did not start keeping death records until the middle of the 18th century.

Even when death records are available for a specific parish, the system for recording information is often erratic, until the middle of the 19th century, when it becomes more codified. While some records will tell you the age of people when they died, and some details about their familial lineage (e.g. ‘Giovanni Malacarne, son of Antonio of Sesto’ or ‘Marianna, born Gusmerotti, widow of Valentino Martini’), others will simply list the name and date of death.

Moreover, before it became standard practice to include the deceased date of birth in the record, the cited age at the time of death is often just an estimate. Priests often rounded the number up or down to the nearest decade. Alternatively, a member of the family of the deceased may simply have guessed their loved one’s age when the priest asked them. When such vagaries arise in the absence of any other information, you might be able to go back to the birth or marriage records and confirm you’re matching the right record to the right person. But sometimes, you’re not so lucky, and the scanty and conflicting information on the death record will simply leave you scratching your head.

Gleaning Death Information from Baptismal and Marriage Records

If death records are missing altogether for the ancestor or period you are researching, there are other ways you can at least narrow down the range of dates before/ after/ between which your ancestors died. The best way to do this is to look for clues in baptismal and marriage records.

When a child is born, his parents (especially the father) are typically cited in the baptismal record by referring to the child as ‘Giovanni, son of Paolo’, or ‘Cattarina, daughter of Giuseppe and Maria’ or something along those lines. Thus, in many records prior to the mid-19th century, we will see at least the paternal grandfather’s name in addition to the father’s (and, hopefully, the mother’s). As we progress towards the second half of the 19th century, we will start to see not only both grandfathers, but both grandmothers as well. The same is true for marriage records.

To find clues about a person’s death, we reading any parish record, look carefully and take note of any of these notations before any of the parents’ names, as they are all indications that a person (or persons) is deceased:

  • qm or f.q.
  • gm or f.g.
  • fu
  • furono

The first two are Latin abbreviations. The first is shorthand for ‘figlio (or figlia) quondam’, which means son (or daughter) of the ‘once’ so-and-so (e.g. ‘Antonio, son of the once Giovanni who is no longer with us’). The second is shorthand for ‘figlio/figlia gigantum’, meaning ‘son/daughter of the deceased’ so-and-so. Occasionally you will also see words like obit or defuntus, but these are less common in birth records.

The last two are Italian, and appear more commonly from the 19th century onwards. Fu is the third-person, singular, past tense of the verb essere, which means ‘to be’. Thus, fu means ‘he/she was’ (in other words, this person’s ‘being’ is now in the past). Furono is from the same verb, but in plural form; in other words, it indicates the record referring to more than one deceased person. For example:

  • Giovanni di Antonio e fu Domenica, would mean Giovanni’s father Antonio was still alive, but his mother Domenica had passed away.
  • Giovanni di fu Antonio e Domenica (or ‘vivente Domenica’), would mean his father was deceased, but his mother was still alive.
  • Giovanni di furono Antonio e Domenica, would mean that both of Giovanni’s parents were deceased.

TIP: When reading baptismal and marriage records, don’t forget to check the godparents and witnesses, as these will also often have references to deceased fathers and husbands. If you look diligently enough, you will probably find some unexpected clues about an ancestor’s death date.

The Importance of Keeping Track of Estimated Deaths

I believe it’s important to keep a log of ANY clues you might discover for a person’s death, even if you don’t know precisely when it occurred. For example:

  • If I am looking at a marriage dated 5 May 1742, and the husband is cited as ‘Giovanni di fu Antonio’, I will go to the death date for Antonio, and enter the words ‘Before 5 May 1742’.
  • Then, in the description field or notes for his death (I use Family Tree Maker for this), I put something like: ‘Cited as deceased in the marriage record of his son Giovanni on 5 May 1742’.
  • Finally, I cite the SOURCE of the record. For example: ‘Santa Croce parish records, marriages. LDS film 1448051, part 9, page 108’. As I get many of my digital images directly from the Archdiocese of Trento, I also enter the number of the file in the Trento system.
  • Suppose, a few months later, I happen to stumble across a baptismal record dated 10 April 1737, where Antonio is cited as being the godfather of one of his neighbour’s children. This new information gives me a lower boundary for Antonio’s death (i.e., he had to have died after 10 April 1737). Now, I can go back to my record for him, and alter the estimated death date to ‘Between 10 April 1737 and 5 May 1742’, narrowing it to a 6-year window.

Keeping a careful log of all the clues you stumble upon in your research helps make finding death records easier later, and helps fill in the gaps if the original death records happen to be missing.

The Case of the Posthumous Father

Sometimes, a man will have died shortly before the birth of one of his children. In this case, his name is often prefixed by the word ‘posthumous’ rather than fu in his child’s baptismal record. Here is the birth record (7 May 1750) for my 4x great-grandfather, Giovanni Antonio Caresani, whose father Antonio Felice is cited as ‘posthumous’:

(Click the image to see it larger)

1750 baptismal record for Giovanni Antonio Caresani
1750 baptismal record for Giovanni Antonio Caresani, whose deceased father Antonio is referred to as ‘posthumous’. Santa Croce del Bleggio parish records.

Knowing Antonio had to have died no more than 9 months prior to the birth of his son Giovanni Antonio, I could now narrow down his date of death to somewhere between September 1749 and May 1750. This enabled me locate his death record within a few minutes when I was in Trento. The actual date was 21 Feb 1750:

(Click the image to see it larger)

1750 death record of Antonio Caresani of Madice
1750 death record of Antonio Caresani of Madice, who died at the age of 33. Santa Croce del Bleggio parish records.

Note the death record says Antonio Caresani died at the age of 30. In this case, I already had Antonio’s birth information, but if I hadn’t, this information could have helped me locate his baptismal record. As I mentioned earlier, however, the given age on death records is OFTEN imprecise. In this case, the priest is off by three years, as Antonio was actually 33 years old, not 30, when he passed away.

Sadly, as is often the case with pre-19th century records, the record provides us with no cause of death. We can only wonder why a young man in the prime of his life died, leaving behind a young wife and at least two living children, who would later become my direct ancestors.

Infant Mortality and Early Childhood Deaths

In an earlier article on this blog I wrote about using the Nati in Trentino website for genealogical research. That site contains a searchable database of Trentini births/baptismal by the Catholic church between the years of 1815 and 1923.

While it contains a wealth of information, Nati in Trentino has many significant limitations, as this next example will demonstrate. Here’s a snapshot of the birth dates as they appear on Nati in Trentino for the children of a man named Vincenzo Domenico Maffei, who goes by the name ‘Domenico’. For now, I only want to show you the left side of the screen (you’ll see why in a minute):

(Click the image to see it larger)

Births of the 10 children of Vincenzo Domenico Maffei
Births of the 10 children of Vincenzo Domenico Maffei, between 1861 and 1875.

The first two children are via Domenico’s first wife, Angela, who died from tuberculosis in 1863, less than 3 months after the birth of her daughter, Ernesta. The other 8 children are via Domenico’s second wife, Filomena, whom you’ll meet in a minute.

Have a look at the twin girls Neonata1 and Neonata2 born in 1866, and the boy Neonato born in 1875. The terms neonato (for a boy) and neonata (for a girl) are NOT names; they simply mean ‘new-born’, and are used to indicate an unnamed, stillborn child, or one that died before it could be baptised (which was often on the same day). Another frequently appearing term in the parish records is innominato or innominata (‘unnamed male’ or ‘unnamed female’, respectively), which conveys the same meaning.

Based on Nati in Trentino’s information alone, we would be led to believe that three of Vincenzo’s 10 children died, and the other seven survived. But a direct examination of the baptismal records themselves will tell a different story altogether:

(Click the image to see it larger)

Family of Vincenzo Domenico Maffei, including births and deaths of his children
Family of Vincenzo Domenico Maffei, including births and deaths of his children

Have a look at the right-hand column underneath the word ‘death’. I obtained the death dates for ALL these children (except Alfonso’s) from their baptismal records. Many 19th century priests (at least in Santa Croce) would make notations about a persons’ death – and sometimes marriage – into that person’s baptismal record, even if it occurred years after the fact. Although death dates rarely appear in baptismal records before the 19th century, priests will often infer that a child died young, by putting a cross (+) next to the infant’s name in the record. While inconsistently used, you can find evidence of this practice even in very early records.

Shockingly, the notations in the baptismal records reveal that all but one of Domenico’s 10 children died under the age of 4. One little boy, Maradio born in 1867, managed to be baptised, but died later the same day. The only child to survive to adulthood is Alfonso, born 1870 – who ended up becoming the great-grandfather of one of my 9th cousins, who lives in the US.

The REAL story of this family is:

  • Within a span of 14 years, Domenico saw the death of NINE children and a wife.
  • Within the span of a decade Filomena gave birth to 8 children, only one of whom outlived her.
  • Alfonso lost his father Domenico when he is 15 years old, leaving him to care for his widowed mother.

It simply boggles the mind, and changes our perspective of this family completely.

10 Causes of Death in 19th Century Italian Parish Records

Bearing in mind that it was not the standard practice to cite the cause of death until printed columns were introduced into the parish records around 1815, I’d like to round off this article by sharing some of the terminology you might see cited as ’cause of death’ in the mid-to-late 19th century.

I have two reasons for including this topic in this article:

  1. A few of my readers ASKED me to do it. 😉
  2. I believe seeing all these maladies lined up one after the other can really make the weight of our ancestors’ lives sink in. In fact, it kind of hits you like a brick.

It would be impossible to talk about all the possible causes of death in a single blog article. Really, it would take a book (and a LOT of research). So for now, I’m going to limit my discussion to 10 terms that might be more cryptic or less familiar to English speakers in the 21st century. The reason why they may be less familiar is partially because some of these diseases are not as common today as they were in the past, and partially because the terms themselves have changed over the past two centuries.

I’ve broken these 10 common causes into two categories: those that mostly affect infants and young children, and those that mostly affect adults, including the elderly.

I’ll warn you in advance, you may feel like crying.

Infants and Young Children

Tosse, pertosse, canine pertosse

These are all Italian terms for ‘pertussis’, more commonly known today as whooping cough. Whooping cough is a highly contagious, airborne, bacterial disease causing violent coughing fits, often leading to fatal complications. New-borns and babies under the age of one year are most at risk. Although doctors today use vaccines and antibiotics to prevent/treat the disease, it still claims the lives of many infants every year, even in ‘developed’ countries.

In one record, I also saw the term catarro soffocato. As ‘catarrh’ (catarro) refers to thick phlegm in the respiratory tract, this term means the baby suffocated on his/her own phlegm. My guess is that this might also indicate the child had whooping cough.

Grippe

This is the old Italian term for influenza or flu. The same term was used in English in the past, and the word grippe still means influenza in modern French. Historically, flu epidemics have claimed the lives of millions of people over the centuries, as the virus continually mutates as humans adapt to it. While adults often succumb to more virulent forms of influenza, babies and infants are often cited to have died from the more common winter strain of it throughout the 19th century.

For further reading, an interesting book on the so-called ‘Spanish Influenza’ of 1918 is Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata (http://amzn.to/2haAUge). While not about Trentino, it gives terrific insight into the nature of epidemic diseases, and the challenges of protecting ourselves from them.

Disenteria

The literal translation is ‘dysentery’, which, technically, refers to an aggressive attack of parasites in the digestive track. Dysentery can cause high fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. In the case of infants (especially those still being breast-fed), I feel the term disenteria may more likely indicate they were suffering from chronic diarrhoea rather than actual parasites, eventually dying from dehydration.

Today, few of us think of diarrhoea as a lethal threat, but back then many babies and children died from it, all over the world.

Vermazione

Worms! I had never heard this term before working with the Trentini death records, but apparently, the term ‘vermination’ was also used in 19th century English medical texts. Vermination is any kind of worm infestation in the intestinal tract. In babies, vermination can also cause painful convulsions.

Believe it or not, I found a book from 1836 on Google Books with the somewhat catchy title of Medical commentaries on puerperal fever, vermination, and water in the head by a medical doctor named John Alexander. Dr. Alexander confesses that (at least at that time) doctors simply didn’t KNOW what causes babies to get worms.

Incompleto sviluppo

Literally ‘incomplete development’, this refers to a premature baby. Back then, if a baby was born prematurely, there was little hope for survival. We I first started working with death records, I was shocked to see how many infant deaths in the 19th century were actually due to premature births. My only guess for these high numbers is that perhaps a great many pregnancies failed to go full-term due to poor nutrition and lack of pre-natal care.

Adults and Elderly

Pellagra

Called the same in English, pellagra is an insidious lethal disease caused by a chronic deficiency of niacin (vitamin B6) in the diet. It is most commonly seen in populations where their diet consists mainly of corn (as in polenta), with few other sources of nutrition. This is because corn that has not been cured with lime can leech niacin from the body, unless there is ample supply of the nutrient from other food sources. During the 19th century, when many contadini in Trentino suffered economic hardship, diversity of diet was difficult. Although often fatal, pellagra is easily curable in all but the most advanced cases through dietary and nutritional changes. But unfortunately for many of our ancestors, niacin and its role in the disease was not discovered until the 1930s.

If you are interested in reading more about pellagra, I highly recommend the book A Plague Of Corn: A Social History Of Pellagra by Daphne Roe (http://amzn.to/2hk0HW9). Extremely well-written and insightful, she also includes one chapter where she talks about how the ‘polenta eaters’ in places like Trentino were impacted by this horrible disease.

Tisi, tisi polmonare; consunzione polmonare

These are all terms for pulmonary tuberculosis, commonly called ‘consumption’ in the 19th century. Tuberculosis was so endemic in Europe in the 19th century (and even to the early decades of the 20th century), that it forms the backdrop for many novels, plays and operas of those times. Attacking the lungs, it frequently struck down young adults in the prime of their lives. Some pages in the death records will have many tisi deaths, one after the other, all people in their 20s and 30s.

Tifo (tiffo)

Typhus, a bacterial disease often equated with wartime, it can be transmitted by lice, ticks, mites or fleas when people live in cramped quarters, and have insufficient hygienic facilities. Once it takes hold in a community, it can spread virulently. Thus, if you see one case of tifo, you’re bound to see many others within a short time span.

Apoplessia

The literal translation is ‘apoplexy’, an English which today refers to a stroke. However, in the past, the word apoplexy was used to refer to any kind of sudden death (often preceded by unconsciousness), including stroke, heart attack and aneurysms.

Marasma

Literally ‘decay’, this term was used to refer to dying of ‘old age’ rather than any specified disease or condition. You will only see it used with people of advanced age (usually 70 or older), and refers to the decline in bodily functions, muscle mass, bones, etc.  Occasionally, you will see the term marasma senile, which is used where there is extreme wasting/weight-loss. Most of the sources I have read do not necessarily tie it to the word ‘senility’ or dementia, but it is possible these ailments would also fall under this ‘catch-all’ term.

Closing Thoughts

There is so much more we could discuss when it comes to talking about how our ancestors died. We could talk about ‘La Peste’ of 1630, which wiped entire villages off the map. We could talk about the world-wide cholera epidemic of 1855, which took its toll on Trentino. We could talk about the thousands of men and women who died between 1914 and 1918, during the First World War. Throughout history, the Trentini people have experienced it all – famines and floods, plagues and epidemics, war and economic hardships.

And while these things certainly took their toll on individuals and families, we – as a people – have survived. We identify with our culture; we recognise it as fundamental to who we are. Even those of us who are the children (or grandchildren) of those who emigrated to other lands, are still Trentini.

As my father said:

‘We are survivors.’

I hope this article has inspired you to become as curious about learning about your ancestors’ deaths, as you are about their births, marriages, and other life events. I also hope it has given you some useful tips and information to help you in your research. I would welcome any comments or questions on this, or any other topic to do with Trentino Genealogy. Please feel free to express yourself by leaving a comment in the box below, or drop me a line using the contact form on this site.

Until next time, enjoy the journey.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

P.S.: I am going back to Trento to do research in January 2017. If you would like me to try to look for something while I am there, please first read my ‘Genealogy Services’ page, and then drop me a line using the Contact form on this site. I look forward to hearing from you!

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

Guide to Genealogical Research at the Archdiocese of Trento

Guide to Genealogical Research at the Archdiocese of Trento
Image: Title page of 17th-century baptismal record book from the parish of Drò (Trentino, Italy) drawn by the parish priest, Francesco Giuliani.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn tells what you can find at the Church Archives in Trento, Italy, and shares crucial tips for how to prepare BEFORE you make the trip.

For me, one of the most beautiful places on early is the city of Trento, a hidden gem in the Dolomites (part of the Alps) in northern Italy. Apart from Rome, the city of Trento is arguably the most important place in the history of Christianity, especially as the venue of the Concilio di Trento aka Concilio Tridentino (Council of Trent) in the mid-1500s.

But Trento is also a vital place for modern historians, as it is home to a wealth of archival repositories, including the State Archives, the Archives at the Castello di Buonconsiglio, and the Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese of Trento. It is the last of these – the diocesan archives – that we’ll be looking at today.

In this article, we’ll be looking at what you can find in these archives, how to communicate before you make the trip, and how to prepare for your research so you can make the most of your time there. If you are fairly new to Trentino family history research, you might wish to read these previously published articles before reading this one:

SIDE NOTE: ‘Trento’ is sometimes referred to as ‘Tridentino’, and things to do with Trento are sometimes called ‘Tridentine’. In English, you will frequently see it written simply as ‘Trent’, undoubtedly due to the influence of Austria and the Germanic influence of the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled the area for many centuries.

Genealogical Resources at the Archives

The Tridentine Diocesan Archives preserves, stores and makes available to the public many original historical writings of the bishops of Trento and many other individuals and institutions. But what is of most interest to genealogists is that they have an excellent on-site facility for viewing digitised images of all the baptisms, marriages and deaths of ALL the parishes within the Diocese of Trento, starting from the mid-16th century (when parish records began) until 31 December 1923. These digital images are NOT available online or at any other facility in the world.

In the parish record room, there are five viewing stations, with each high-resolution computer screen measuring 70 cm x 40 cm (27.5 inches wide x 15.75 inches high), which is just about as large as you could ask for in a personal workstation. You have instant access to ALL the parishes of Trentino at your fingertips. Each parish is in its own folder, and then further divided into births, marriages and deaths. You’d have to pay a small fortune to have the microfilms of all of these parishes sent to your local Family History Centre.

While the images themselves are identical to the ones you will find on the LDS microfilms, the fact that they are in digital format makes research a radically different experience. For one thing, the viewing facilities at the archives are state of the art, with extra-large computer monitor screens. This gives you many advantages over microfilm viewing:

  • Computer displays are much brighter and crisper than most microfilm readers.
  • You can quickly zoom in and out to enlarge the images.
  • You can simply ‘click’ to the image you want, without the need to scroll through a whole film.
  • As each image has a unique file number, you can quickly find it again later.
  • You can have several windows open at one time, making it easier to compare records, or work on baptisms, marriages and/or deaths, or even different parishes at the same time.

However, to be able to reap the full benefits of these features, it is important to know the ‘house rules’ at the Archives, as well as how to prepare before you make the trip.

House Rules When Working at the Archives

When working at the archdiocese, there are two crucial ‘house rules’ you will need to know and adhere to:

  • You cannot download the digital files yourself.
  • You cannot take photos of the images off the screen using your phone or camera.

However, for a very reasonable fee (30 cents per image, when I was last there), you can ask the VERY helpful archivists who work there to download specific files onto your USB memory stick for you, OR even upload them to your DropBox folder. When you enter the research room, you will find a tray with forms where you can make a list of all the files you’d like to order. Here’s a scan of one of the many dozens of forms I filled in when I was there earlier this year (please excuse my horribly messy handwriting!). To see it larger, just click on the image and it will open in a new window:

Example of order form for digital filesIf you look at the penultimate column on the right of the form, there is a space to write the file number you require. To ensure the archivists get the correct file for you, you will need to enter the parish, the type of record (baptism, marriage or death), the name of the person whose record you’re particularly interested in, the date of that specific record and the file number. Some archivists will give you the entire page, while others will crop the image and give you only the record you list, so be sure to be very clear when filling in the information.

IMPORTANT TIP for Americans: For dates, Europeans put the DAY first, and the MONTH second. In other words:

12.04.1604 = April 12th 1604

(NOT December 4th)

Contact the Archives BEFORE You Book Your Trip

I highly recommend that you contact the archivists BEFORE you book your trip, and make sure:

  • That they will be open the week/days you want to come. The centre is always closed for a couple of weeks in August, and also on national holidays. They might also occasionally need to close if some construction or a conference is taking place.
  • That they can reserve a work station for you on the days you intend to be there.
  • That someone who speaks English will be on site that day, if you do not speak Italian.

The best way to communicate is via email at archivio@diocesitn.it. You can write in English if you need to, but if you can write in Italian (or find someone to write it for you), that would be best. The official website for Archives of the Archdiocese of Trento can be found by clicking here.

Staff at the Archives of the Archdiocese of Trento, Italy
At the Archives of the Archdiocese of Trento. Left to right: Dr. Katia Pizzini (Assistant Director), Lynn Serafinn (genealogist), Dr. Claudio Andreolli (archivist), Dr. Renato Giacomelli (archivist).

ALWAYS Confirm the Opening Hours

So you can plan your research, it’s a good idea to confirm their opening hours before you go, so you don’t end up disappointed. The ‘official’ hours of the centre are:

  • Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: 9 am – 12 pm, and 2 pm – 5 pm (closed between 12 pm and 2 pm)
  • Thursday: 9 am – 5 pm (no closure for lunch, as on the other days)
  • Friday: 9 am – 12 pm only (closed in the afternoon)

Although these are the ‘official’ hours, I still recommend you confirm them before your trip, as sometimes the centre needs to close early, and sometimes you might even get a ‘surprise’ bonus day where they are unexpectedly open when they would otherwise have been closed.

Preparing for Research

Going to Trento can be a major trip for many researchers, especially if they are coming from a great distance. Thus, it is crucial that you make a detailed plan for what you want to achieve while you are there. Otherwise, you are likely to drift around the records (much as people surf the Internet) and go home without much to show for the time you’ve spent there.

STEP 1: Calculate your time

The first thing you should do before you create your plan is to take a look at how many HOURS you will be spending at the Archives. There is a huge difference between what you can accomplish in a single day versus a couple of weeks. Assuming the Archives will be operating according to normal opening hours, you can calculate the maximum number of hours you will have for research:

  • 6 hours a day on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays
  • 8 hours on Thursdays
  • 3 hours on Fridays

Thus, you will have a maximum of 29 hours for research per week (especially if you’re neurotic like me, and your backside stays glued to the chair for the entire day once you’ve sat down).

STEP 2: Make a detailed research plan

The next thing to do is to create a research plan that will keep you on track during your time at the Archives. Before I go on any trip to Trento, I might spend a full week – or even longer – working on my research plan. That might sound like a LOT of time to invest in planning, but doing so has enabled me to make the most of every moment I was there. Here’s the method I use and recommend:

  1. IDENTIFY MISSING DATA: First, I systematically go through all the branches of the tree I am working on, and write down EVERY piece of vital information that is still missing (e.g. unknown marriage dates, incomplete names, etc.). One way to see this clearly is to generate a ‘pedigree chart’ using a genealogy programme like Family Tree Maker. That way, I can quickly see which ancestors are missing or incomplete.
  2. CREATE GROUPS: I then take this list and group all the missing/incomplete people according to parish, then their frazioni (villages) within the parish and then into surnames. The main reason I break them into frazioni is that some parish priest would group the records according to frazione, rather than mix them altogether in chronological order. You may or may not need to be as detailed, if your particular parish does not categorise its records according to frazione.
  3. MAKE A REVERSE CHRONOLOGY: I then organise each group in reverse chronological order, so I can weave my way backwards when I do my research. There is little point in starting from the earliest records until I know how they connect with later generations.
  4. CREATE ‘BATCHES’: The next step is to take these groups, and bundle them into ‘batches’ of about 10 to 15 records etc. Each batch should have something in common. For example, they could be baptismal records of people who all have the same surname or live in the same frazione between a specific set of years (one or two generations). Or, I might chunk together all the marriages within a certain span of years. The reason I suggest 10 to 15 records in each batch is that this is the number you might expect to work through on a half-day session (3 to 4 hours).
  5. ORGANISE YOUR BATCHES IN ORDER OF PRIORITY: Once I’ve made my batches, I then sequence them in order of priority. Of all this information, what are the things I most want to find out on this research trip? Which things would be the most difficult to find at home, if I don’t try to find them in Trento? Which things could I leave to the end of my trip, and look for them only if I end up having extra time?
  6. ASSIGN RESEARCH SESSIONS TO EACH BATCH: Finally, I made a day-by-day plan by assigning each batch to a specific morning/afternoon session on a specific day on the trip. This enables me to pace myself each day, and shift gears if I feel like I’m getting nowhere.
  7. TWEAK AND REFINE: I look through my plan, and tweak it to ensure I have some ‘buffer’ time. Is there some area where I am being overly ambitious and trying to cram too much into one session? How can I lighten the load, in case some things take longer than others to find?
  8. PAGINATE, PRINT AND KEEP IT SAFE: When I am satisfied my plan is doable, I put the plan for each date onto a SEPARATE page in Word. In other words, 10 days of research means I have a 10-page plan. Then, I print it out, staple it together, put it in a plastic sleeve and then store it in a document wallet where I will keep all my notes for the trip. You might prefer not to print your plan, but I find it easier to have it sitting next to me on my workstation. That way I can keep my tablet available with my family tree software open, and not need to switch back and forth between screens.

Here’s an image of my plan for one of my own research days. You can click the image to see it larger:

Sample page of genealogy research plan by Lynn SerafinnIf you prefer, you can download a Word docx of this sample page by clicking here.

Getting Oriented on Day 1

Before you start working through your plan, I strongly recommend that you spend the first session (or perhaps the entire first day) creating a ‘map’ for yourself, showing where different records are located within the parish you are researching. Once you create this map, you won’t need to do it again, unless you start working with records from a different parish.

What I mean by ‘map’ is a spreadsheet (or whatever system you prefer) where you list the range of file numbers that contain specific information. For example, as I said earlier, some parish records are organised according to frazioni. Thus, you might see records for a span of years ALL from a single frazione, and then all of a sudden the records leap back in time to the starting point, showing all the records for that time period for a different frazione. Sometimes (if you’re lucky) the priests will have put indices at the beginning of each book saying where these divisions occur, but this isn’t particularly useful if you’re searching for the records via file number. Thus, I might sit for a morning and go through, say, all the records for the 1600s, and write down the numbers of the first and last file within each sequence.

Here’s an example for how I mapped one frazione called ‘Larido’ in the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio (I did the same for all the frazioni in the parish). Note that there was one file (01111) that contained two out-of-sequence entries for the year 1612, so I made a special note about this in the right-hand column:

Example of how to create a map your genealogy recordsClick on the image to see it larger.

How is this map useful to me? Well, let’s say that later in the week I am trying to find the birth record for a person born around 1660 in the village of Larido. From my map I can see that the records for 1646 – 1686 are spread across 21 files (01516 – 01536). Knowing that, I can probably guess that the file I’m looking for is probably just a bit before the mid-point of this span, say file 01522. I can go directly to that file, and probably locate the document I am looking for in 5 minutes or less. Without such a map, I’d be likely to spend hours – maybe all afternoon – trying to find it.

Having a map like this also enables you to decide quickly whether a particular file is missing or (more likely) that the person was actually from a different frazione. Remember, when it comes to research, NOT finding a file is often just as informative as finding it.

Working with Your Plan

Once you create your map, you should work methodically through your plan, trying to stick to it as best you can. If you get ‘stuck’ trying to find a particular record, or you think you are spending too long on one thing, make some notes about what you already tried, and then move on to the next item in your plan. Maintaining some sort of momentum can help keep you from becoming bogged down and discouraged.

When I go to Trento (or anywhere else), I like to use Family Tree Maker to enter all the new data I find, making sure to include the number of the file where I found the information. Rather than try to transcribe records while I’m researching, I use the order form to request the digital file of the records I want, so I can study them in greater detail later, when I am not under a time limitation.

At the end of my research day, whenever I close Family Tree Maker, I created a ‘change log’ (which you can generate via the ‘sync’ button) and save it as a PDF file, so I can see exactly what I added, deleted or changed throughout the day. Only later do I sync the data to the online version of the tree, if I have one.

To prevent myself from getting side-tracked, if I happen to stumble upon some interesting discoveries that are NOT included in my plan, I write down the file number, and order the digital file from the Archives, so I can look at it in more detail when I get home. This method is especially useful if I happen to find records on someone whose connection to my tree is not immediately apparent, but whom I suspect could turn out to be relevant later.

Setting Goals and Expectations

Something you are probably asking yourself is how you should set your own research goals. How many records can you expect to find every day? Your individual research expectations will depend on four things:

  1. Your preparation, i. e. whether or not you’ve made a plan
  2. Your orientation, i.e. whether or not you’ve made a ‘map’
  3. Your experience, i.e. how much time you have previously spent working with parish records using LDS microfilms at your local Family History Centre
  4. Your familiarity with the parish, i.e. how well you know the frazioni, the local surnames, common soprannomi of certain families, etc.

If you can give yourself high marks on all three of these things, you can comfortably expect to find at least four records per hour. I have often located more than 10 records within a single hour, because I knew exactly what I was looking for, and exactly where to find them.

If you have had NO experience with the microfilms at all and/or you know next to nothing about your family or their parish, it does not mean you should not make the trip to the Archives. However, in this case, I suggest writing to them in advance asking whether someone who speaks English there can help you with your research. Try to bring as much concrete information about your ancestors as you can, such as birth names, birth/marriage years, parish, etc.

OF COURSE, I am also available for hire as a genealogist, specialising in the family history of Trentino. I could mentor you through your research OR you could hire me to do the research for you. As an experienced author, I can also help construct your family history in writing. If you would like to discuss how we might work together, I invite you to write to me via the contact from on this website, and request a (free) 30-minute Skype chat, so we can get to know each other.

The Really Important Work Starts AFTER Your Trip

One thing that can REALLY slow you down in your research is if you try to process all the information mentally while you are in the ‘discovery’ phase. Thus, my best advice to you would be to use your trip simply to FIND the files you need, and not to analyse them or transcribe them (unless you want to do that in the evening). Be sure you keep a good record of what you managed to find, and what you TRIED to find but could not.

Then, assuming that you’ve obtained all the digital files you discovered, when you return home you can sit and spend as much time as you want studying, translating and ‘connecting the dots’ with your discoveries. Remember, hidden within a baptismal record for one of your ancestors could be the names of that child’s grandparents. Or, you might discover that a child’s godfather/godmother, or the witnesses at your ancestors’ wedding are yet OTHER ancestors of yours. You might see clues indicating they originally came from another parish. You might see hand-written notes indicating death dates, marriage dates, occupations or many other gems. There is no way to take it all in when you are on the hunt for the records themselves; what’s more, you shouldn’t try to.

I am STILL working methodically through the 300+ pages of records I located and retrieved during my 5 weeks in Trento earlier this year. I have a special spreadsheet where I write down the number of each file, which village(s) it covers, the earliest and latest date in the file, and how many records it contains. I also make notes if there were some records I couldn’t read or understand in the file. This way, I always know which files I have already analysed, sparing me from accidentally repeating work I have already done. It also helps me identify which files I might still need to locate at a later date.

Using this method, my primary tree has blossomed from about 1,000 people in December 2015 to (as of this writing) over 8,700 people, supported by nearly 1,500 digital images (old photos, civil documents, census records, parish records, and my transcriptions of the same).

UPDATE JUNE 2019: My Santa Croce tree now has nearly 24,000 people on it. 

Don’t Fear the Learning Curve

I am sure some of you are feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point. I’d like to quell your feelings by telling you about the very first time I went to the Trento Archives. Back then, I couldn’t yet speak Italian, and I had a very sparse tree through the 19th century with no actual images of the records. Bringing my Italian friend Vanessa with me as a translator, I went to see an archivist there named Claudio Andreolli (who speaks almost no English). Claudio knew I was coming, and I had given him all the information I had gathered so far. When I arrived, I was thrilled to discover that he had ALREADY traced my father’s Serafini line back to the late 1500s! While this was just the male line – about seven generations of Serafini grandfathers, with the names of some of their wives – this really kick-started my research, and everything I have done since blossomed from that point. Over the next year, I actually found a couple of errors in Claudio’s original research, which I corrected. However, when I did that, I discovered that Claudio himself was actually my 4th cousin. What an exciting discovery!

I tell this story for two reasons. First, please remember that EVERYONE starts out as a beginner in genealogy. Second, don’t worry about MAKING MISTAKES. Every single researcher, no matter how learned or experienced, will make mistakes. The important thing is to check, double-check, and triple-check your work over time, as you gain experience and expertise. Sometimes the answers to things you didn’t know or corrections to mistakes you made in the past just sort of POP out at you, and you can’t figure out why you hadn’t seen them before.

Stay Connected

Coming soon on the Trentino Genealogy blog, we’ll be looking at:

  • Reading and interpreting parish records from Trentino
  • Notaries and noble families
  • Using church parchments to understand more about your ancestors’ daily lives

I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog so you can follow along on this genealogical journey, and read all future articles on this site. Desktop viewers can subscribe using the opt-in form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

We also have a thriving ‘Trentino Genealogy’ Facebook Group, open to ANYONE interested in discussing genealogy, and meeting others who are researching their family history. Who knows? You might meet a long-lost cousin there!

Lastly, if you have any questions or comments about this article, or if you’d like to talk to me about researching your family history, please feel free to drop me a line via the contact form on this site, or leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

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

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

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

Preparing for Research: Using Microfilms for Family History


Preparing for Research: Using Microfilms for Family History
Genealogist Lynn Serafinn explains what to do before working with parish records on microfilm, and shares tips for finding your Trentini ancestors’ parish.

IMPORTANT NOTE (June 2019): Since I originally published this article in June 2016, the LDS Family History Centres have DISCONTINUED their microfilm ordering service, and are working on digitising all their microfilms. However, these digital images will only be viewable at one of their Family History Centres, not online. Nonetheless, the tips below might still be useful if you are lucky enough to have Family History Centre centre near you that can give you access to the old films OR the newly digitised images.

If you’re new to genealogy, you’ll notice that family historians talk a lot about parish records (if you’re unfamiliar with parish records and what they can tell you, you might find some useful information in a previous article on this site called ‘Parishes, Parish Records & Genealogy Resources for Trentino’). While parish records are fundamental to nearly every family history, they are old and fragile documents that would not survive being handled by every modern researcher who comes along. The other challenge they present is that the original, handwritten records are kept as archives in their parish of origin, often thousands of miles away from those who would like to access them.

To address both of these problems, back in the 1950s (or so I read somewhere) archivists at the archdiocese of Trento permitted historians at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) to photograph these records and convert them into microfilm. The original films are kept in Salt Lake City, Utah, but copies can be rented (not purchased) by the public for a nominal fee, and viewed at their local Family History Centre (FHC). According to one source, there were more than 4,700 FHCs in 134 countries as of September 2014; it is my guess that this number has probably grown since then. You can find instructions for locating your local FHC by following the above link.

These microfilms are what the majority of English-speaking family historians with roots in Trentino use for their research. However, finding your way around the microfilms is rarely straightforward, and extracting accurate information from them requires an organised approach and regular study. I can remember numerous occasions when I was trawling through microfilms at the National Archives in Kew, London, when a first-time enthusiast came in (probably after having watched a TV show like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’) and turned on a microfilm reader, fully expecting they would be able to trace their family back 200 years in a single sitting. Nine times out of ten, the person gives up after an hour.

Microfilms themselves are extremely unwieldy tools, and the challenges of using them are only compounded by the fact that the parish records themselves are even more unwieldy. If you’re not ready to commit yourself to many days, weeks or months (or even years, if you’re really serious) of study to master both of these challenges, you are unlikely to find much joy in using microfilms to construct your family tree.

In this article, I will be offering my advice for things you need to do before you attempt to research your Trentini roots via LDS microfilms. We’ll be looking at:

  • What your ancestors may have meant when they said they were ‘from Trento’
  • Finding your ancestors’ parish
  • Understanding how your ancestors’ parishes may have changed over time
  • Locating and ordering the film you need
  • Familiarising yourself with the layout of the film

Did your ancestors actually come from Trento?

So many people of Trentino descent say to me, ‘My parents/grandparents came from Trento.’ But what they don’t always understand is that saying ‘Trento’ is kind of like saying ‘New York’. If you say you’re ‘from New York’, most people assume you mean New York City. However, ‘New York’ could also refer to New York State. So, simply saying ‘I’m from New York’ could lead people to misunderstand where you mean.

The same is true for Trento. You’ve got Trento the city, and you’ve got Trento the province (also referred to as Trentino). Furthermore, you’ve got Trentino-Alto Adige – referred to as an autonomous region – which is comprised of the two provinces of Trentino (Italian speaking) and Alto Adige (largely German-speaking). On top of this, there is the Catholic archdiocese of Trento.

SIDE NOTE: For those who may be unfamiliar, a ‘diocese’ or ‘archdiocese’ is a collection of many parishes under the ‘governance’ of an Archbishop – a high-ranking priest within the church.

In my experience, when our parents/grandparents said they came ‘from Trento’ (or ‘Tirol’/‘Tyrol’ as so many of us heard when we were growing up), they were usually referring to the province of Trento (Trentino). The fact is, the majority of those who emigrated from Trentino to the Americas in the late 19th and early 20th century did not come from the city, but from rural villages (frazioni) scattered around the province. Each of these frazioni belongs to a parish and a single parish may be comprised of a dozen or more frazioni. ALL of the parishes of Trentino (over 400 of them) come under the umbrella of the Catholic archdiocese of Trento.

Through your local FHC, you can rent individual microfilms for any of these 400+ parishes from the archdiocese of Trento. Thus, the very first thing you need to know is the name of your ancestors’ parish (or parishes).

But what can you do if you DON’T have this information?

How to find your ancestor’s parish

Even though my father was born in Trentino, he never told me name of his frazione or parish of origin. Whenever I asked him where our family came from, he would say, ‘Near Trento.’ If I pressed him further for the name of the village, he would deflect my question by answering, ‘It’s not even a village. It’s barely even a hamlet. It’s so small it’s not even worth mentioning.’ And that would be the end of the conversation. To be honest, I’m not even sure he knew.

Perhaps you were luckier that I was, and you know the name of the parish and/or frazioni of your Trentini ancestors. But if you don’t, all is not lost! Even if you have only a bit of information about your ancestors, you have a good chance of finding their parish using the Nati in Trentino website, which I mentioned in a previous article. Sometimes, simply having a surname and an approximate year of birth can reveal a definitive parish of origin. This is because many families lived entirely (or almost entirely) within a specific parish over the centuries.

For example, let’s say I was trying to track down my father’s mother, Maria Onorati, and that I had only a rough idea that she was born in the early 1890s. In this case, if I search simply for females with the surname Onorati born between 1890 and 1895, ALL of the returns are from a single parish – Santa Croce del Bleggio (the Onorati lived almost exclusively in the village of Bono in that parish for many hundreds of years). You might discover that your family name is similarly ‘attached’ to a particular parish.

Of course, many surnames will pop up in various parishes throughout the province. The more information you can put in the search form on Nati in Trentino, the more you will be able to narrow down your results (I recommend reading through my search tips in the previous article). If your search ends up giving you too many options, try to think laterally. Is there someone in your ancestor’s family – a sibling, perhaps – with a more unusual first name than your direct ancestor? For example, one of my grandmother’s sisters was named Rustica. This name is so uncommon I have only ever seen it once (i.e. in the baptismal record of my great-aunt). Searching for a ‘Rustica’ is far more likely to give me definitive results than searching for a ‘Maria’, and can therefore lead me to discovering not only the name of the parish, but also the names of the parents and other siblings.

How your ancestors’ parishes may have changed over time

Another matter that might cause some confusion for you is that parishes are not static entities, and they will probably have gone through many changes over the centuries.

  • Some parishes no longer exist today because they were incorporated into another parish at some point in time.
  • Conversely, new parishes may spring up having separated from another parish as populations changed.
  • Sometimes, smaller villages will be ‘passed back and forth’ between two (or more!) parishes over the years. This means you’ll need to cross-check records in both parishes lest you miss something.
  • Some parishes are actually ‘sub’ parishes of a larger parish. In such cases, records for a specific ancestor may appear in the registers of both

If you hit a ‘brick wall’ in your research, it could be due to this fluidity of parish boundaries. More than once I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a record I never thought I would find when I was browsing through a neighbouring parish. Another thing to remember is that, if a husband and wife in your lineage come from different parishes, it is probable their marriage was recorded in the registers of both parishes. This can be very useful if their marriage record in one of the parishes happens to be missing or unreadable.

How to order a microfilm of your ancestors’ parish records

Once you are confident you have found the parish you want to research, you are ready to order a copy of the microfilm from the LDS website. Sometimes finding the correct film can be a bit tricky, if you don’t know your way around (and, in my experience, few people at the FHC centres understand enough Italian to be able to help you).

Here’s a quick, step-by-step way to find the microfilm you need:

  1. In a new tab on your browser, log into your account at http://familysearch.org (if you don’t have an account, you can create one there for free).
  2. Once logged in, click the word ‘Catalogue’ in the top menu on your screen.
  3. When the search window opens, enter ‘Country, Diocese, Parish’ where it says ‘Place’. That is to say, if you are searching for a parish in the archdiocese of Trento, you should enter: Italy, Trento, Name of the Parish.

TIP: I recommend putting only the main word(s) from the name of the parish as it might be spelled slightly differently on the LDS site from how it appears on Nati in Trentino. Here’s a screenshot of what that could look like:

Family Search website - screenshot of search fieldclick on image to see it larger

SIDE NOTE: Even though Trentino was part of Austria prior to 1918, the records are listed under its current country (Italy).

4. When the search results for your parish pop up, CLICK the arrow next to the name to expand it. Then, click the link that says ‘Registri ecclesiastici’, etc. to open more information about it.

Family Search website search results - archdiocese of Trentoclick on image to see it larger

5. Scroll down the page to see the catalogue number of the film for those parish records. Be aware that many records are spread across more than one film. For example, below you can see that the very early baptismal records for the parish of Drò are on a separate film from the other baptismal records (and marriage records), and that the death records after 1828 are on yet another film. This means, depending on the era you are researching, you may need to order more than one film to get all the records you require:

Family Search website - example of microfilm numbersclick on image to see it larger

6. Once you know the NUMBERS of the films you need, you can order them from the Family Search website at https://familysearch.org/films/. Just enter the number of each film and choose either a ‘short term’ or ‘extended’ loan period. While an extended loan costs slightly more, I strongly recommend choosing that option if it is available so you don’t have to worry about rushing through your research. Otherwise, the usual length of short-term loans is about three months. You can renew them, but some centres will only allow you to renew them once. In my experience, every Family History Centre has its own rules about this, so be sure to check with them first before ordering your film.

Before selecting which FHC you want to use to view the films, be sure to check their opening hours as many of the smaller centres are only open a few hours a week. You might find it better to have the films delivered to a centre slightly farther away, if their opening hours are more convenient for you.

SIDE NOTE: SOME (but by no means all) of the actual images of the Trento parish records are viewable online, but you can only view these when using the site AT a Family History Centre or if you are a member of a ‘supporting organisation’. Also, some of the records have been transcribed and can be searched online using the Family Search site. However, this research is still in its very early stages, and the transcriptions do not give nearly as much information as you will find if you consult images of the original records.

Getting familiar with your microfilm

When your film arrives at your Family History Centre, you’re probably going to be tempted to dive right into it to find specific ancestors. My recommendation is that you try to resist this urge, and spend a session or two simply orienting yourself with how the film is organised. This can save you countless hours of research in the long-term. Here’s how I work whenever I want to get acquainted with a new microfilm:

  1. Locate the relevant Items. Every microfilm has been broken into ‘Items’ to make navigation a bit more manageable. Not all the items on your microfilm might be records of your parish. For example, if you look at the screenshot above of microfilm number 1448235, you will see that only Items 1 through 4 (out of 32) pertain to the parish of Drò. In fact, if I go back to my catalogue search and look up the contents of this film number, I can see it contains images of records from seven different parishes:

Family Search website - how different parishes are on a single microfilmclick on image to see it larger

2. Get a feeling for how the records are organised. Prior to the mid-19th century, priests had no ‘standard’ system for recording events in their parish records. In fact, it was all a bit of an experiment, especially in the early days of record-keeping. While most marriage records tend to be chronological for the whole parish, the chronological organisation of earlier baptismal records can be a bit ‘loose’:

  • Organisation by frazione. Many priests chose to organise birth records by frazione. In other words, they would enter all the births for a particular frazione chronologically during a specific time period, and then start the same process all over again for the next one. The ‘specific time period’ could be anything – 5, 20 or even 50 years. This means you can’t just scroll through the film to find a particular record, you’ll need to know which frazione you’re looking for, and where that frazione and time period is located on the film. Otherwise, you’ll have no choice but to scroll through pages and pages of files, just in case the record you’re looking for is hiding there.
  • Organisation by first name. Even more challenging is when a priest chooses to organise his baptismal records by the child’s first name. This means you’ll see dozens of pages of Antonios and Annas followed by dozens of pages of Bartolomeos and Brigidas. Fortunately, this type of record keeping doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it can be a nightmare for research, unless you happen to be looking for one specific person whose name you already know.

3. Create a ‘map’ for yourself. Once you know which items are relevant to your research, and how the priests have organised them within each of these items, I strongly recommend making some sort of ‘map’ or guide that helps you remember where everything is, and how the information is organised. Sometimes the records have page numbers in the corners of the images (although, these numbers can be confusing, as they are numbers of the original books and not of the films themselves). In such cases, you might find it useful to make a table of where the different frazioni are located, where to find certain first names, and where different years/eras start and end in the records. Armed with this ‘map’, you will find your job much easier and less frustrating when you do your research.

Closing thoughts

I mentioned in an earlier article that, when researching parish records, I prefer to work with the digital image library at the Archives at the archdiocese of Trento. Of course, this requires making the trip to Trento (and it also helps if you speak Italian). For many people, however, going to Trento is not always possible. So, even though working with microfilms can be challenging, it is often the more practical option. Hopefully the guidelines I’ve shared in this article will help you approach those challenges with some sort of plan of attack, so you can build your Trentini family tree more easily and with greater confidence.

Coming up soon on the Trentino Genealogy blog, we’ll be looking at what to expect when working with the Archives at the Archdiocese in Trento (if you do decide to make the trip), how to interpret parish records from Trentino, an introduction to notaries and noble families in Trentino, and how to use church parchments to understand more about your ancestors’ daily lives. I do hope you’ll subscribe to this blog so you can follow along on this genealogical journey, and read all future articles on this site. Desktop viewers can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, or if you’d like to talk to me about researching your family history, please feel free to drop me a line via the contact form on this site.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

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

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

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

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

Searching Online for 19th & 20th Century Trentini Ancestors

Searching Online for 19th & 20th Century Trentini Ancestors
Ca. 1923: Serafini and Franceschi families of Vergonzo in Bleggio, Val Giudicarie

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn explains how to find your ancestors using use ‘Nati in Trentino’, a free online database of baptisms from the Archdiocese of Trento.

UPDATE MARCH 2021: Since publishing this article in 2016. the Nati in Trentino website has been UPDATED. You will find the new website at by clicking here: Nati in Trentino (1815 – 1923) (mondotrentino.net).

While most of the information in this article is still relevant, some of it is now out of date. I have created two video tutorial on how to use the NEW website, which you will find on my ‘tutorials’ here: 

MORE READING:   Genealogy Video Tutorials

ORGINAL ARTICLE FROM 2016:

Last time on Trentino Genealogy, we started our discussion on parish records. In that article I spoke about what we can learn from church records, and the role of the parish in Trentini life. I also mentioned that there were three primary ways to access parish records from the archdiocese of Trento:

  1. The Nati in Trentino website
  2. Microfilms made by the Latter Day Saints (LDS)
  3. The archives of the Archdiocese of Trento, in Trento, Italy

If you didn’t catch that article, you can read it by clicking HERE.

In today’s article, I’m going to be talking about the Nati in Trentino website, because I believe it is especially helpful for anyone who is just starting to construct their Trentini family tree. It is also highly useful for experienced researchers who quickly want to flesh out parts of the 19th and early 20th century in their tree.

In this article, I’ll be looking at:

  • What Nati in Trentino is and how to access it
  • Advantages of using it for research
  • What the site CAN and CANNOT tell you (compared to the original parish records)
  • Technical limitations of the site
  • Tips and tricks for getting the most out of it

Nati in Trentino – What it is and how to access it

Nati in Trentino is a free, searchable website located at https://secure.natitrentino.mondotrentino.net. This site contains a database of information taken from ALL baptismal records registered in the Archdiocese of Trento between the years of 1815 and 1923. The project was done by experienced researchers at the Archivio dell’Arcidiocese (the archives of the archdiocese).

When you land on the site, select your preferred language. Assuming you’ve selected ‘English’, after you enter the site, look to the right side of your screen and you will see these options:

Screenshot - Nati in Trentino landing page.Click on the image to see it larger.

If you click “Search Database Birth Index”, it will take you to a log-in page. If you already have an account, you can log-in here. If you haven’t yet created your free account, you register from that page as well.

NOTE to Users of Ancestry.com and similar sites: The Nati in Trentino database is owned by the Archdiocese of Trento, and is NOT accessible via other, commercial sites. The only way to access it is to go directly to the Nati in Trentino website.

Advantages of Using Nati in Trentino

It has been made by EXPERTS

I think this is the primary advantage of using Nati in Trentino. The people who made this database are not random volunteers (as is the case with MANY other online databases) but official researchers who work for the diocese. They are native Trentini who speak Italian AND have studied Latin. They are familiar with the parishes and local surnames of the region. They have been trained to read old handwriting. Furthermore, these people (and I know some of them personally) CARE about preserving this history.

It is extremely accurate

Unlike so many other transcription projects you might find on the Internet, Nati in Trentino is clear and accurate. You’ll especially appreciate this if you’ve ever found yourself pulling your hair out trying to make sense of your Trentini ancestors’ names and villages in US census records or Ellis Island documents.

It has an English language option

If you are an English speaker, you will especially appreciate the Nati in Trentino website as you don’t need to have any knowledge of Italian to use it. Also, if you are less experienced in working with parish records, it takes the guesswork out of trying to read the priests’ handwriting.

It can save you time

Lastly, the most obvious advantage is that it can save you hours of research time. Records that might otherwise take you hours to find via microfilm can often be found within minutes. For speed and ease of use, there really is no other Trentino resource like it (not yet, anyway!). I often use the site to do a ‘first draft’ of certain family groups for the 19th Century. Then, when I next have an opportunity to work directly with the images of the baptismal, marriage and death records, I can start to fill in the missing information.

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What The Site CAN and CANNOT Tell You

It is important to be aware of what the site can and cannot tell you, lest you inadvertently assume the wrong person is your ancestor. One thing to bear in mind is that this site does NOT contain the full transcription of the baptismal records. Nor does it contain the images of them. Thus, many things that are probably IN the baptismal record are NOT included in the search results on Nati in Trentino.

To give you an idea of how a search on Nati in Trentino differs from an original parish record, compare these two images. First, is a screenshot of a search I did on Nati in Trentino for my great-grandmother, Domenica Filomena Europa Parisi (who was known in life only as ‘Europa’):

Search results for Europa Parisi, born 1856, on Nati in TrentinoClick on the image to see it larger.

 As you can see, from this record we now know:

  • Europa’s full name
  • Her gender
  • Her date of birth
  • Her father’s first name
  • Her mother’s first name
  • Her mother’s maiden surname
  • Her parish

VERY IMPORTANT (especially for readers in America): European dates are written with the DAY first, followed by the MONTH (the opposite of what is used in the United States). If you see a date that says 06/12/1850, for example, it means December 6th, NOT June 12th.

About the date of birth

Prior to the introduction of printed forms (about 1810), parish records would only record the date of baptism, rather than the date of birth. For this reason, most researchers will use the baptismal date as a date of birth in a family tree, if no other record of birth is available.  In earlier times, due to the high mortality rate, a child was often baptised within hours of their birth anyway (sometimes by the midwife). But by the 19th Century, there might be a gap of one or two days between the birth and baptism of a child; both of these dates are recorded in most Trentino parish records from about 1810 onwards. Wherever both dates have been recorded, Nati in Trentino will give you the actual date of birth.

About parishes

You don’t need to know the parish from which your ancestors came to search the database, but it can really help narrow down your search, especially if the surname is common to several areas of the Province. Fortunately, the search function includes a drop-down menu of all the parishes (which means you don’t need to know how to spell them!).

You can find a complete list of parishes in the Diocese of Trento on Wikipedia. They are grouped into their respective valleys. I don’t know how accurate this list is, as it isn’t an official site for the diocese, but I cannot find a live link on the dioceses site anymore.

Now let’s compare the information we found out on Nati in Trentino to the information you will find in the original parish record. Europa’s entry is the last one in the image:

Example of 19th Century baptismal record from the parish of Santa Croce del BleggioClick on the image to see it larger.

If you look closely at this image, you will see that, in addition to the information you found on the Nati in Trentino website, you now also know:

  • Europa came from the frazione of Duvredo (written in the left margin).
  • She was born at 10 PM
  • She was baptised the day after she was born.
  • The midwife who delivered her was Margarita Furlini (written under Europa’s name). In fact, if you look closely, you will see that Margarita delivered ALL the babies on this record (that’s four babies in within 20 days).
  • Europa died on 24 Feb 1937 (this was inserted by the parish priest many years later)
  • She was Catholic
  • She was the 44th girl baby to be born in the parish that year
  • She was legitimate (i.e. her parents were married)
  • The names of all four of her grandparents (full names of the grandfathers; first names of the grandmothers)
  • That her maternal grandfather (Luigi Troggio) is deceased (signified by the word ‘fu’ in the record)
  • The name of the priest who baptised her
  • The names of the godparents
  • That the godparents were contadini –

As you can see, there is a lot more to be gleaned from parish records than can be discovered through the Nati in Trentino database. I am not pointing these things out to discourage you from using it, but to ensure you are clear on what to expect when you use it, and also to give you something to look forward to when you progress to the stage where you are ready to study the parish records for yourself.

Technical Limitations of the Site

When you begin a search on the site, you’ll see this input form:

Screenshot of search form on 'Nati in Trentino' websiteClick on the image to see it larger.

There are a few technical limitations of this search, namely:

  • Surname is a required field. Let’s say you are trying to find out more information about your great-grandfather’s sister. To do that, you’d have to be able to search by the mother’s surname. But on Nati in Trentino, you are required to enter the child’s surname (ie. the surname of the father). So unless you know the surname of your great-great-aunt’s husband, you’re stuck.
  • The surname MUST be spelled completely and EXACTLY as it is in the record. While this isn’t immediately apparent from this form, unfortunately, you cannot use ‘wild card’ searches on the Nati in Trentino website. This means you need to know the exact spelling of your ancestors’ surname as it appeared in the record, and you will have to try all the variations of it you can think of. For example, while 9 times out of 10 my paternal surname is spelled ‘Serafini’, some priests spelled it ‘Seraffini’. Because there is no flexibility with regards to surname in their search engine, if I search for ‘Serafini’ on the site, I will NOT see any of the ‘Seraffini’ records.
  • Gender is a required field. This means, if you are working on a family, you’ll have to search for brothers and sisters separately. It’s not unworkable, but it can slow down your research.
  • Each search is restricted to a 10-year range. This can also slow down your research, but it’s not so bad once you get the hang of it (TIP: don’t forget, a range from 1900 – 1910 is actually 11 years).
  • You will NOT see the names of parents if the child was born less than 103 years ago. This is pretty much standard privacy policy on any genealogy site. I’ve got a trick below that can help you work around this in many cases.

Tips and Tricks to Get the Most from Your Searches

I’ve worked enough now with the Nati in Trentino site that I no longer worry about these limitations, as I know (to some degree) how to work around them. Here are some of my personal tips and tricks.

CHILD’S (AND FATHER’S) SURNAME

Because the site has no search flexibility with the primary surname, and because different priests may have spelled your surname differently over the years, you will need to search using all the alternative spellings you can think of for your family’s surnames. So, as you’re searching, write down all the alternative spellings of that surname you can think of, so you can check all of the options.

Some surnames have LOTS of different variations. If you click here, you can see a table I made of some Trentino surnames with some of their spelling variations. Look to see if your surname is on the table and take note of any variations it might have. Please note that this table is FAR from complete, so if you know of any variations I might not have included, please let me know via the contact form on this website.

MOTHER’S SURNAME

The field for the mother’s surname is an OPTIONAL field, which means you don’t have to enter it. However, if you already know her surname OR you are trying to find siblings of your ancestor (which you SHOULD), you can enter this information here.

To get the most out of this, I recommend NOT putting in the full surname, but rather that you should enter only 1-3 letters.

For example, a surname like ‘Caliari’, can also be spelled ‘Cagliari’, so I would just put ‘Ca’ in the mother’s surname field. For ‘Serafini’ I would just put in ‘Ser’. You might even enter a few MIDDLE letters of a surname if they are the least variable.

PERSONAL NAMES

Similarly, I find it the site works best if you use ONLY 1 – 3 letters of the personal names: child’s name, father’s name, mother’s name.  THESE fields have much more flexibility when you do your search. In fact, I normally enter only a few letters of a name (or even ONE letter), in these fields, so that I don’t inadvertently miss a record that might be spelled slightly differently.

For example:

  • if you know the mother’s or child’s name is Domenica, it might be written ‘Dominica’. So, just put ‘Dom’ in the mother’s first name field.
  • For a name like ‘Cattarina’, it is spelled SO many different ways, so just enter ‘Cat’.
  • If the father’s or child’s name is something like ‘Bartolomeo’, it could also be spelled ‘Bortolo’. So, I would put ONLY the letter ‘B’ in the search field for the father’s name.

GETTING AROUND THE 103-YEAR PRIVACY ISSUE

If you cannot see the names of the parents of a child because he/she was born less than 103 years ago, try finding siblings who may have been born earlier. This process can often help you work out who the parents are, by a process of elimination.

Process of Elimination Method
    • First, search for any children born with the child’s surname during the five years preceding that child’s birth (presuming that this will take you before the 103-year threshold). If you know the name of the parish, this can really help narrow it down.
    • Write down the parents’ names of all of those children.
    • Then, perform your search AGAIN for the child you are seeking, but this time enter the first few letters of the name of a father and mother of one of the other children.
    • If you choose the RIGHT couple, the child you’re looking for will appear in the search results, even though the names of the parents won’t be visible. If you haven’t entered the right parents, the child you are looking for won’t appear in the results.
What if that doesn’t work? 

If the parents didn’t HAVE any children before the 103-year threshold, you’ll need to use a more ‘trial and error’ method.  This method takes a bit more time, and requires that you have some experience/knowledge of local names.

First, choose one of the parents’ optional fields to work with, i.e. father’s first name, mother’s first name or mother’s surname. Then, go through each letter of the alphabet ONE letter at a time in that field. For example, if I am trying to figure out the father’s first name, I would enter ‘a’. Then, if the search comes up showing my ancestor, it means the father’s first name has at least one a in it. Write down ‘a’ in your notepad. Then go on to b, c, d, etc. until you’ve tested all the letters in the alphabet. If you ended up with something like ‘e, i, g, p, s, u’, his name is probably ‘Giuseppe’. Try the full name (or a portion of it) in the name field to so if that works.

Continue using this method until you have identified the father’s first name, mother’s first name and mother’s surname individually. Then, test all of them in the fields at the same time and see if they show your ancestor. If they do, then you’ve revealed his/her parents’ names.

Finding SIBLINGS of Your Ancestors on Nati in Trentino

Finding siblings is something I do ALL the time on Nati in Trentino. ‘Building’ a family group is the best way to formulate an estimate for the parents’ marriage date, and it can also help you estimate their ages.

This is especially true with women. If the mother of your ancestor had lots of children for many years, you can often get an upper/lower year of birth for her. For example, if the couple’s oldest child was born in 1826, and the youngest in 1846, the mother would surely have been born between 1800-1808; and within that range, she is more likely to have been born between 1804-1806. This is because most women would have married between the ages of 20-22, and they usually are between 42-44 when their youngest child was born (provided she or her husband didn’t die young).

Finding siblings can also help you ‘guess’ at the names of the grandparents, at least on the paternal side. Traditionally, the first son would have been named after one or both of the grandfathers, and the first daughter would have been named after one or both of the grandmothers. This tradition starts to fall OUT of practice the later you go in the 19th century however, as people started to use more ‘creative’ names, rather than the same ones over and over.

So, once you’ve found your ancestor on Nati in Trentino, start finding his/her siblings by SHIFTING your 10-year search period backwards or forward, using ALL the tips and tricks I’ve discussed in this article. KEEP on shifting this 10-year period in both directions until there are no more children using those search settings.

Once you feel you’ve exhausted the possibilities, look over the siblings you’ve found. Do you see GAPS of more than 2 years between siblings? If so, there might be a sibling whose surname was entered under a different spelling. So, this time, plug in an ALTERNATIVE spelling for your surname (if there is one) and run the same search process again.

TIP: The exception to the 2-year guideline would be if it were during World War 1, or you know your ancestor(s) had emigrated temporarily out of the province.

Closing Thoughts…

I hope this article has given you some useful information about how to use the Nati in Trentino website, and has inspired you to use it to work on your family tree. If you have any questions or comments about what I’ve discussed, please feel free to reach out to me via the contact form on this website.

As I showed in this article, there is much more that can be learned about your ancestors if you study the original parish records. So over the next few articles, we’ll be looking at how to find and use the microfilms of those records through your local Family History Centre. Then, in later articles, we’ll explore working at the Archives of the Archdiocese in Trento, and different ways you can take your research beyond parish records.

I do hope you’ll subscribe to this blog so you can follow along on this genealogical journey, and read all future articles on this site. Desktop viewers can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

As always, if you’d like to talk to me about researching your family history, you are most welcome to drop me a line via the contact form on this site.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

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

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

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentino SURNAMES.

Parishes, Parish Records & Genealogy Resources for Trentino

Parishes, Parish Records & Genealogy Resources for Trentino
Postcard from 1910, written by parish priest Giovanni Battista Lenzi, with an artist’s rendition of the parish church of Santa Croce del Bleggio. Click image to see it larger.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn tells what you can learn from church records, the role of the parish in Trentini life, and where to look for your ancestors’ records.  

Perhaps the biggest question people have when they want to create their family tree is, ‘How do I START?’ The task of researching your Trentino family history can seem daunting, especially if your Trentini ancestor is more than a generation away from you, i.e. a grandparent or great-grandparent.

In my opinion, the best starting point is to look at parish records. I’ll be talking a lot about the ‘how to’ of parish records in later articles, but today I want to lay the groundwork by explaining what they are, how parishes operated in our ancestors’ lives, and what available resources there are for the parish records of the Catholic Archdiocese of Trento (which covers all of the province of Trentino).

What Are Parish Records and When Did They Start?

Parish records (registri parrocchiali, in Italian) are books kept by the parish priests to record important events that took place in their parish, including (but not limited to) the ‘vital’ records of baptisms, marriages and deaths of all their parishioners. Some church records include confirmations, first communions and church census records, but these are generally only accessible if you go directly to the parish itself and view the original records.

The keeping of parish records was first mandated by the Catholic Church in 1563, at the Council of Trent (Trento), when all Catholic churches were directed to keep records of all baptisms, marriages and deaths within their parish. Some parishes, including Santa Croce del Bleggio where the majority of my Trentini ancestors lived at that time, was one of the early conformists to this new regulation, and you will see baptisms and marriages appearing as early as 1565. Many parishes were late to adopt the practice, although most kept records of births and marriages by 1595. In many parishes, the regular practice of keeping death records appeared slightly later.

Bearing in mind that civil records in Italy began around the time of the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s (and, even more significantly, Trentino has only been part of Italy since the end of the First World War), Catholic parish records are vital to genealogical research in Trentino.

The Role of Parishes in Our Ancestors’ Lives

The more I research my ancestors, the more I come to respect the role of the parish in their everyday lives. A parish was (and still is) more than the place to go to church. This church was a portal of all rites of passage – coming into the world, unifying for the purpose of procreation and, ultimately, leaving the world. It was the place where people came together on a regular basis, and where everyone knew everyone else. It was also where families in need could find support. In fact, a progressive, rural cooperative movement – aimed at helping poor, farming families – was established in 1890 by the priest don Lorenzo Guetti (of Vigo Lomaso), assisted by don Giovanni Battista Lenzi (of Santa Croce).

Church records are not merely repositories of your ancestors’ vital information. Within them, you can also find evidence of friendships and long-standing alliances between families, as well as clues as to the occupations and reputations of various individuals within the community. Digging really deeply into them, you can see the heartache of loss, and both the fragility and the tenacity of human existence. Some parish records can even provide us with a microcosm of contemporary community life, and the concerns of its people. I read some heart-rending accounts penned by don Lenzi during the first decades of the 20th Century, where he shared his feelings on the tragedy of the First World War and his reflections on the trend of mass immigration to the Americas. I even read an account about a devastating fire that took place in 1916 in the house of my great-grandfather.

Parishes and Life Events – Where Did They Take Place?

Marriages normally took place in the parish church of the bride, or sometimes a smaller church in the bride’s frazione (village). As the vast majority of marriages took place between two people from the same parish (and sometimes even from the same frazione), you can often trace many generations of your Trentini ancestors within a single parish. If you cannot locate a marriage record for a couple, it is often an indication that the wife came from a different parish. In such a case, you might have luck looking at marriages that took place in parishes nearby that of the husband.

After a couple married, they normally went to live in the husband’s frazione of origin. This means any baptismal records of children born from that marriage would be born in their father’s parish. The fact that wives tended to move to their husband’s frazione means that over the generations, each frazione came to be associated with specific families. For example, if you say the surnames ‘Crosina’ or ‘Farina’ in the parish of Santa Croce del Bleggio where my ancestors came from, 99% of the time they will have been born in the frazione of Balbido. Knowing these kinds of trends can really expedite your research, especially because some priests organised baptismal records according to the frazione.

Burials, of course, would be registered in the parish in which the person was living at the time of death. Thus, a woman born in one parish will most likely have been buried in her husband’s parish.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are always exceptions to these patterns. Sometimes a bride is the last surviving child from her parents’ marriage, or is the eldest daughter, with no brothers. In such cases (and especially if the groom came from a family where there were many sons), the groom would likely move into the home of the bride and the couple would take ownership of the father’s property upon his demise. Occasionally, if an unmarried man married a widowed woman, he might move into the home in which she had lived with her late husband. Because such exceptions sometimes arise, if you are having difficulty finding the baptismal records for the children of this couple in the village of the father, the most likely place to look would be the village of origin of the wife.

Another exception is when the husband is a person of import – a notary or judge, for example. Such men might be assigned to an official post in another parish. In such cases, the whole family would move to this new parish, which might have no ancestral connection to either the husband or the wife. For example, my grandmother’s line, the Onorati, had several notaries in the family, going back many centuries. Although their ancestral village is in the frazione of Bono (Santa Croce del Bleggio parish), a few Onorati families lived in other parishes for short periods of time, when the heads of the families were posted at castles like Stenico (Tavodo parish) and Castel Campo (Vigo Lomaso parish). Thus, if you want to find the records for children born during those years, they may be in the parish of origin OR in the ‘adopted’ parish. Sometimes, you will find the records in both parishes. On the other hand, if you’re unlucky, they might be missing in both.

SIDE NOTE: All of these habits were the norm in Trentino prior to WW1. While these trends still exist today, the way many people live, marry and work has changed significantly over the past century, as people have become more mobile.

Changes in Parish ‘Boundaries’ Over Time

Parishes are not ‘fixed in stone’ entities. As populations rise and fall, some parishes will merge together, while others will split apart. Some very tiny frazioni have shifted around a lot over the centuries, appearing in one set of parish records for a period of time, and then in another later on. One example is the frazione of Saone, which was originally part of the Bleggio parish, but later became a parish of its own. Another is the frazione of Favrio in the current-day parish of Ragoli, the records of which over the centuries were constantly shifting back and forth between the parish of Ragoli and Thione. As a result, there are significant gaps in the early church records for these villages. Sometimes entire decades are missing.

If you cannot find the records you are looking for, don’t give up until you have exhausted all the most likely possibilities. Look on a map and see which parishes border your ancestors’ usual parish of origin, and check those records before resigning yourself to the fact they may no longer exist (if they ever did). For three years I believed I would never find the marriage record for my 7x Serafini great-grandparents. But a few months ago, I ‘stumbled’ upon the very record (from 1642) when I was searching for something else in a nearby parish.

Click on the image below to see it larger.

1642 marriage record of Antonio Serafini (son of Serafino) and Catharina Floriani, both of Favrio, in Ragoli.
1642 marriage record of Antonio Serafini (son of Serafino) and Catharina Floriani, both of Favrio, in Ragoli. This record was found in the THIONE parish records, although the baptismal records for their children were found in the RAGOLI parish records.

Where Can I Find and Search Trentini Parish Records?

We Trentini are particularly fortunate because we have three excellent resources to access the parish records of our ancestors:

  1. Nati Trentino – a free, searchable website containing basic information from the all baptismal records for the Archdiocese of Trento between 1815 – 1923
  2. Microfilms made by the Latter Day Saints (LDS) – rentable films of all available baptisms, marriages and death records from the Archdiocese of Trento between 1550s – 1923
  3. Archives of Archdiocese of Trento, in Trento, Italy – research facility of digital images of all available baptisms, marriages and death records from the Archdiocese of Trento between 1550s – 1923

While I work regularly with all three of these resources, my favourite is the Archives in Trento. Of course, utilising the Archives of the Archdiocese requires physically going to Trento (as these resources are not available online). This is impractical for many, especially those who live in North America and/or don’t speak Italian. Even if you do make the trip, knowing how to find and understand what you’re looking for is not something easily done if you’re just starting out in your genealogical quest.

That’s why, when someone is just starting out, I normally recommend they use the Nati Trentino website. They have a REALLY long link to get to the English research portal:

http://www.natitrentino.mondotrentino.net/portal/server.pt/community/indice_nati_in_trentino_-_inglese/837/search_database/23738

Coming Up Next Time…

In the next article on Trentino Genealogy, I’ll be giving you a quick tour of Nati Trentino. In that article, I’ll be looking at:

  • What the site can tell you (and what it cannot)
  • Technical limitations of the site and tips for working around them
  • What to do if you don’t know your ancestors’ parish
  • Tips on what to do if you’re not certain of your ancestors’ original name
  • Troubleshooting and strategies to use when you seem to be stuck

After that, I’ll be sharing my tips on finding and using LDS microfilms, working with the Trento Archives, and ways you can take your research beyond parish records.

I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog so you can read all future articles on this site. Desktop viewers can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

Also, if you’d like to talk to me about researching your family history, you are most welcome to drop me a line via the contact form on this site.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

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

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

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

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.

The Science of Finding Your Female Ancestors from Trentino

The Science of Finding Your Female Ancestors from Trentino
Elisa Serafini (b. 1880) of Duvredo, one of many distant cousins. While she died young, her daughter Angelina Painelli lived to be 100 years old.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn discusses the challenges of researching women in parish records, and how to find your great-grandmothers through the centuries.

A note before we begin: Although this article is about finding your female ancestors from Trentino, many of the research strategies discussed can be applied to finding your female (and male) ancestors from anywhere parish records are used to record births, marriages and deaths. If you are not yet familiar with how to find and access parish records from Trentino, be sure to subscribe to this blog, as I will discuss that topic in a later article.

Many of us strongly identify with our surname. Thus, many people will begin their genealogical journey by tracing the lineage of male ancestors with the same last name. However, when constructing a surname lineage, results will be limited. Even if you were to trace your patrilineal surname lineage back to your 11x great-grandparents* (which might take you back to the second half of the 1500s, when parish records in Trentino began), your tree would have a total of only 27 people: you, your two parents, your two paternal grandparents, your two paternal great-grandparents, and so on.

*SIDENOTE: ‘11x great-grandparents’ is shorthand for great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- great-great-grandparents’ (i.e. the word ‘great’ eleven times).

While constructing a surname family tree is a natural part of exploring our identity, genealogically speaking, it is only a tiny fraction of who you really are. The real ‘juice’ of genealogy is when you start to explore the rich and diverse heritage you have received from your many, many great-grandmothers. After all, 50% of your DNA is from the women in your family tree, and each of those women has a mother and a father. If you do some number crunching, if you trace your complete ancestry back to your 11x great-grandparents, you could theoretically have as many as** 8,192 great-grandparents, half of whom (4,096) are women.

Even if you are not 100% Trentini, and you have only one Trentini grandparent, you could still have as many as** 1,024 female Trentini ancestors who are probably listed somewhere in the parish records.

**SIDENOTE: I say ‘as many as’ because that’s the highest number you get if you multiply each successive generation by two. However, the number is most likely to be somewhat smaller, as Trentini families typically intermarried. For example, let’s say your 10x great-grandparents had two sons who married and had children. Then, many years later, the 5x great-grandson of the first son married the 5x great-granddaughter of the second son. Many years later, you became a descendent of that marriage between the 5x great-grandson and the 5x great-granddaughter. That means your 10x great-grandparents are your ancestors via two different branches of the family. This kind of intermarriage will ‘collapse’ your family tree at various points, meaning it will reduce the number of ancestors you actually have. I’ll talk about this in more detail in a future article.

The Challenges of Finding the Names of Women in the Parish Records

The challenge in Trentino, and I imagine in other parts of the world as well, is that women’s names were not always documented as thoroughly as they are today. From my experience, this is generally what you can expect to see in parish records.

Baptismal Records

In ALL cases, the names of the priest and the godparents are given in the baptismal records, but the names of the parents and other family members are variable throughout the centuries:

  • 1500s – The name of the mother of the child is often completely missing. The name of the father is always given, and the name of the father’s father is frequently given. The father’s frazione (village) of origin is always given.
  • 1600s – The first name of the mother is usually given, but not her surname (remember, Trentini women maintain their father’s surname throughout life). As before, the name of the father is always given, the name of the father’s father is usually given, and the father’s frazione of origin is always given.

Click on the image below to see it larger.

1628 - Baptismal Record of Maria Onorati from Santa Croce parish records
6 Aug 1628. Baptismal record of Maria Onorati, daughter of Domenico (a notary) of Bono and his wife Chiara (spelled ‘Clara’ here, last word on the second line). Note that Chiara’s surname (Burratti) is not given in the record. Maria was my 7x great-grandmother.
  • 1700s – It gradually becomes the practice over the century to include the full name of the mother’s father (hence, you know her surname), and also her frazione of origin, especially if it is different from the husband’s. As before, the name of the father, the father’s father, and the father’s frazione of origin are given.
  • Early 1800s – After 1806, printed templates are used for the parish records, with specific columns for the information. This makes the records far more detailed and consistent. From this point, you will normally find the surnames, fathers’ names and frazione of both parents of a child, but not the names of the mothers of the parents. Sometimes you might see a cross next to a child’s name, indicating they died not long after their birth.
  • Late 1800s into 1900s – From about 1880, you will start to see the names of both parents, as well as the full names and village of origin of both sets of grandparents of the child. Some priests will also list the name of the midwives, and make a note if the child is the couple’s firstborn. As you approach the 20th century, some priests will also go BACK to baptismal records many years later, and enter the person’s marriage date and/or death date somewhere on the baptismal record. If the person emigrated abroad (increasingly common), they might make a note of that date as well.

Marriage Records

In all marriage records, you will find the full name and village of origin of the fathers of both the bride and the groom. As in the case with baptismal records, you will start to see the names of the mothers of the bride and groom appear in the records towards the latter part of the 1800s, as well as the ages (and sometimes date of birth) of the bride and groom.

Click on the image below to see it larger.

Detailed marriage record from 1815, Santa Croce del Bleggio parish records
Example of a detailed marriage record from 1815. In all cases, the names of both sets of parents are given, as well as the ages of the bride and groom. The first two entries also include the date of birth of the brides, and whether they are widowed or single. Entry 3 (29 May 1815) is of Vigilio Aloisio Devilli (widowed, age 40) and Domenica Aloisia Caliari (single, age 36). There is a note that says they were given a special dispensation for 3rd degree consanguinity (further investigation gave me the evidence to show they were 3rd cousins).

Death Records

Prior to the late 1800s, the death record for an unmarried woman typically designates her as the daughter of her father, while that of a married woman will designate her as the wife (or widow) of her husband. Sometimes, if the deceased is a young child, you might see the name of the mother as well as the father. Death records for men tend to provide even less information, as they designate the man as the son of his father, and almost never mention the wife. Thus, unless the priest has written down the age of the person at the time of death (and you already have a good idea of when he/she was born), it can be difficult to know whether you’ve found the record you’re looking for. As in the baptismal records, from the latter part of the 19th century, you will start to see more complete details in the records of both men and women, including the names of their parents and spouse, and the dates of birth and marriage. Be aware, also, that some parishes started keeping death records much later than they started recording baptisms and marriages.

The Science of Genealogical Detective Work

Given these factors, finding your female ancestors further back than the middle of the 19th century can be significantly more challenging than finding your male ancestors (which can be challenging enough!). Still, finding your female ancestors can be done if you take a systematic approach in your research.

Good investigative genealogy is a scientific process. Like all science, it all boils down to a 4-step system:

  1. Looking for clues
  2. Use the clues to formulate a hypothesis
  3. Use your hypothesis to find evidence
  4. Use your evidence to draw a conclusion

4 Step Cycle of Genealogical Research

Once you have drawn conclusions, the cycle starts all over again, as you begin to look for clues to answer the next batch of questions that will inevitably arise.

Let’s take a look at how to apply that system to finding your female ancestors.

Lateral Thinking – How to Uncover Crucial Clues

Looking for clues involves lateral thinking. This means you need to expand your scope of research to include not only your direct ancestors, but also their siblings. There are many important reasons for this. First, the very clue you seek may be in the birth or marriage record of a sibling, and not in the record of your direct ancestor. Second, as I discussed in my previous article, ‘How Much Do You Really Know About Your Ancestors’ Names?’, families tended to name their children after other members of the family, including elders and recently deceased siblings. Thus, the only way to make sure you have found the correct person – and not a dead sibling, cousin or someone unrelated – is to construct the whole family as completely as possible. Once you have the family constructed, you can make some hypotheses to help you locate evidence about your female ancestor.

For example, let’s say you know the name of your 5x great-grandfather in the 1700s, and you are trying to find out more about his mother, your 6x great-grandmother. You’ve managed to find the baptismal record of your 5x great-grandfather, which gives the full name of his father, but only the first name of his mother. In this case, you would need to look for all of your 5x great-grandfather’s brothers and sisters. Go backwards and forwards, continuously looking for children of the same father, where the father is married to a woman with the first name. Statistically, MOST of the time, there will be only one couple with that name during those years. Occasionally, you will encounter the genealogist’s nightmare: two men with the same first/last name married to two women with the same first name, but I’ll talk about how to get around scenarios like that in a later article. For now, let’s assume there is only one possible couple who meet the criteria of your 6x great-grandparents.

Typically, children were born continuously anywhere between one and three years apart. Even those who died soon after birth will be listed in the baptismal records, as they were often been baptised within hours of having been delivered. In fact, when you see two children born only about a year apart, it can sometimes be an indication that the first of these children died in early infancy (as, biologically, a woman cannot ordinarily become pregnant again until she has finished nursing the previous child). If you stop seeing children after five or more years in either direction, it is likely that you’ve reached the beginning/end of the childbirths for that couple.

SIDENOTE: The ‘gap’ theory is NOT always applicable to families after the 1880s. From that time, many men were spending extended periods of time working in the coal mines in the United States, coming home to their families every few years. In those cases, you might see big gaps (sometimes as much as eight years) between the births of children. One example is Elisa Serafini in the photo at the top of this article. Her two children, Angelina and Costante Painelli, were born 7 years apart because her husband Ambrogio was working in the mines in Pennsylvania between 1904 – 1909.

Click on the image below to see it larger.

Family Tree - Amrogio Painelli, Elisabetta (Elisa) Serafini
Family of Ambrogio Painelli and Elisabetta (Elisa) Serafini from the early 20th century. The 7-year gap between their children flagged up the probability that Ambrogio had spent some time working in the coal mines of the US. This clue led me to find him in an immigration document in 1904, when he was on the way to Pennsylvania. I have not found any other children for them. I knew Ambrogio lived a long life, I had a photo of him at an advanced age, and a cousin of his later confirmed his date of death as 1961. This led me to assume Elisa died as a young woman. My next step will be to look for evidence of her death in the parish records.

Forming a Hypothesis from These Clues

Constructing a family group like this can give you a lot of very important clues about your 6x great-grandmother, if you know a few things about how your ancestors lived and married. From my experience, following these generalities can be very useful in forming your hypotheses:

  1. ON AVERAGE, most Trentini couples had their first child about a year after they married. So, if you know the birth of the first child was in February 1707, you can form a hypothesis that the couple married sometime around 1705 or 1706.
  2. ON AVERAGE, most Trentini women tended to be about 21 years old at the time of their first marriage, with a more general norm of anywhere between 18 and 24. Younger than 18 was uncommon. Older than 24 was possible if there were a lot of daughters of marriageable age in her family, or she was widowed and in her second marriage. There was no such thing as divorce in the Catholic families during this period. Thus, if you have formed a hypothesis for her marriage year, you can also form an estimate for her year of birth. In the above example, if your 6x great-grandparents were probably married around 1705, your 6x great-grandmother was probably born between 1681 and 1687, with the most likely date around 1684-5.
  3. The birth date of the LAST child can also tell you a lot about the dates of birth and/or death of your 6x great-grandmother. Before the late 19th century, when the rate of infant mortality was heart-wrenchingly high, it was the norm for women to give birth to 10, 12, 14 or even 18 children. If your 6x great-grandparents had such a ‘normal’ sized family, you can narrow down your 6x great-grandmother’s birth date by looking at the date of birth of the last child. Statistically, it is reasonable to hypothesise she was between 43 and 45 years old when that child was born. If you balance this against the estimate you made when you looked at her probable date of marriage, you might be able to narrow down her birth date to within a year or two. For example, here’s a screenshot of my 4x great-grandparents, which I shared in the previous article. Margherita Giuliani gave birth to 14 children, born between July 1805 and May 1827. From this information alone, I can hypothesise that she probably married in 1803 or 1804 (up to 19 months before the birth of her first child), and that she was born around 1783 or 1784 (as she would have been 43 or 44 when her last child was born). The parish records show that she indeed married in September 1803, and was born in August 1784.
  4. The SIZE of the family can also give important clues. Before the middle of the 1800s, if there are fewer than eight children in the family, it could be an indication of the death of either the husband or the wife. If their children were still young, widowed men and women tended to remarry within a couple years of their spouse’s death. So, if you see a small family followed by a gap in the birth records, and then you start seeing a man with the same name having children with a different woman, it could indicate that the man remarried (of course, it could be referring to a different man altogether). If you suspect your 6x great-grandfather remarried, you can estimate the year of death of your 6x great-grandmother by looking at the date of birth of her last child, and the date of birth of her widowed husband’s first child by the new marriage.

Collating Your Clues to Find Evidence

After having constructed the family, you can collate all your clues. Even if you don’t know her surname yet, here’s what you might now know about your 6x great-grandmother that you didn’t know before:

  1. An estimated marriage year
  2. An estimated year birth
  3. Possibly an estimated year of death

At this point, I recommend you enter these estimates into your family tree. I do NOT suggest you put them as fixed dates; rather, use descriptors ‘about’, ‘before’, ‘after’ or (in some cases when I am less sure of the range), ‘between’. That way, you have a guide to know where to start looking to find your evidence.

Once you have these clues, the first thing you need to do is find the MARRIAGE record. Go the marriage records for your ancestors’ parish and look within the estimated time period to find a marriage between a man with your 6x great-grandfather’s name and a woman with the first name of his children’s mother. This is important because the marriage record is the ONLY document where you know for sure you will find the full name of your 6x great-grandmother’s father and, importantly, her surname. Now you can change your estimated marriage year to an exact date.

Here’s something else VERY important to do at this stage: be sure you record the VILLAGE (frazione) of origin of your 6x great-grandmother’s family. Sometimes, knowing the frazione is the only way you can FIND your ancestors, or distinguish them from another family of the same name. For example, in the parish of Bleggio, there are two distinct branches of the now extinct ‘Pellegrinati’ family. One lived in Bivedo and the other lived in Duvredo. Many of them had the same first names. If you inadvertently identify someone as your ancestor from the wrong frazione, you could end up going down entirely the wrong path and waste months of research time.

Armed with all this information, you can then go back to the baptismal records and look for your 6x great-grandmother, daughter of the man you now know is your 7x great-grandfather, born during the estimated time period for her birth in the frazione you found in the marriage record. When you find someone who seems like a likely candidate, go through all the records in the same frazione before/after her for about 10 years. Look for her siblings and keep a record of all of them. If you’re lucky, you’ll also discover their mother’s (your 7x great-grandmother’s) first name. Make sure there isn’t ANOTHER child with the same name from the same couple who might have been born a few years later, lest you enter the wrong information for your 6x great-grandmother.

TIP: Take a moment to review the things we looked at in the previous two articles, regarding soprannome, spelling variations and middle names. Remember: your 6x great-grandmother might be referred to by her middle name in her marriage record, and both her surname and first/middle names might be spelled differently in the baptismal record.

Once you have exhausted all the possibilities using this method, you are (hopefully) ready to draw the conclusion that you have found the woman you are looking for.

Lastly, if your hypotheses include an estimated death date, you can look for the record in the death records. If the record identifies her husband or father, and/or gives her age at the time of death (which is often rounded-off, and rarely precise), you know you have the right woman.

Repeating the Cycle to Grow Your Tree

After you’ve done this for one generation, you’re ready to go back to the beginning of this process and work through it again to locate your 7x great-grandmothers (there are as many as 512 of them!), and continue back as far back as you can go.

What Can You Do When a Mother Isn’t Mentioned at All in a Birth Record?

As I said earlier, in many of the baptismal records from the 1500s, the mother’s first name isn’t mentioned at all. However, if there is more than one man with the same name during the same period, chances are the records will identify one of these men as ‘the son of so-and-so’. In some cases, the priest might notate his soprannome (see my previous article about Trentini surnames). This information can also help you construct family groups of siblings, even if you don’t yet know the names of the mother (or mothers) for these children. If you’re lucky, all the children will be from a single couple. If that’s the case, you can probably find their marriage record fairly easily using the method we’ve already discussed. But sometimes, due to the proximity of births, it becomes obvious you are looking at two different couples. Solving those kinds of riddles can require much closer scrutiny of the records, something I’ll talk about more in future articles.

Coming Up – Finding Parish Records and Thinking Outside the Box

I hope this article has helped give you some ideas about how to start identifying some of the more elusive women who make up your genetic blueprint. If you found it useful, please subscribe to this blog so you can receive future articles. Desktop viewers can subscribe using the form at the right side at the top of your screen. If you are viewing on a mobile device and cannot see the form, you can subscribe by sending a blank email to trentinogenealogy@getresponse.net.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I am aware that some of you reading this might not know much (or anything) about parish records. For starters, WHICH parish records do you need? How do you obtain copies of them, and how can you understand them? We’ll be looking at that in the next article on the Trentino Genealogy blog.

Later, we’ll also be looking at some ways to ‘think outside the box’ to find your ancestors, such as how looking at the godparents of your ancestors, and what you can learn when you see your ancestors showing up as godparents of other people’s children.

Until then, I always welcome your thoughts, comments OR questions, so please feel free to share them in the comments box at the bottom of this article. And if your family are from Bleggio and you’re looking for help with your Trentini family tree, you are most welcome to drop me a line via the contact form on this site.

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn

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

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

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

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

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to view a searchable database of Trentini SURNAMES.