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The MARTINI Families of Trentino – Origins, Connections, Nobility, and Challenges of Research

The MARTINI Families of Trentino. Origins Connections, Nobility, and Challenges of Research
Stemma of the noble Martini di Valle Aperta of Pieo.

Genealogist Lynn Serafinn discusses the origins of some of the Martini families of Trentino, including those in Val Giudicarie, Val di Sole, Val di Non and Vallagarina.

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Martini is one of many patronymic surnames derived from the male personal name Martino, which Bertoluzza says has the meaning ‘sacred, dedicated to the god Mars’.[1] However, the popularity of the personal name is surely an homage to Saint Martin of Tours, a 4th-century Roman soldier stationed in Gaul (modern-day France), who later became a Catholic Bishop. Amongst Catholics, he is most famous for a legend wherein, having been approached by a scantily-clad beggar, Martin cut his own cloak in half and gave the other half to the destitute man. According to the legend, Martin had a dream that night wherein Jesus came to him, wearing the half of the cloak he had given the beggar.  Thus, among his many patronages today, Martin is first and foremost he is the patron saint against poverty.

Like so many other patronymic surnames, Martini is extremely common, not just in Trentino, but throughout the Italian peninsula. As of this writing, There are reportedly over 9,300 Martini families living in just about every province of Italy, with only 191 of these living in Trentino.[2] In Trentino itself, the surname is widely dispersed; the Nati in Trentino website lists 2,762 Martini births in no fewer than 37 different Trentino parishes between the years 1815-1923, with the heaviest concentration in Revò in Val di Non, and a significant number also in parts of Val Giudicarie and Valsugana.[3] Bertoluzza also points out that there is a frazione called Martini In Vallarsa (Val di Leno), which indicates there was an ancient local concentration of the surname there.[4]

While time prevents me from discussing all the Martini families in Trentino, in this article, we will briefly explore the Martini of Ragoli and Santa Croce del Bleggio (Val Giudicarie), and Riva / Calliano (Vallagarina), and then take a more detailed look at the Martini of Peio (Val di Sole), and Revò (Val di Non), including certain lines that were ennobled.

The Martini of Ragoli in Val Giudicarie

When considering the present-day parish of Ragoli, you have to look also in records associated with the comune of Preore, the villages in the area may be associated with either Preore or Ragoli in earlier centuries. You also have to cross-reference events with the records from the parish of Tione di Trento, as Ragoli records can appear in either parish.

Early documents indicate the presence of the Martini family in Ragoli for at least the past 600 years. Priest-historian don Ivo Leonardi tells us of a ‘Martino of Bulzana (a frazione of Ragoli)’, whose name appears in the tithing records (‘decima’) for Preore in 1388, which is before surnames were widely in use. As the Martini family is later often associated with the frazione of Bulzana, he suggests this is an indication of a possible patriarch of the family later bearing the surname Martini.[5] Author Paolo Scalfi Baito tells us of a ‘Pietro, son of the late Martini’ cited in the Statute of Spinale e Manez (which was part of the comune of Preore) in 1410.[6] He further tells us the surname is found in the fragments of the Tione parish records in 1603.[7] Additionally, the surname Martini is included amongst those compiled by notary Orazio Bertelli of Preore, when he was recording the names of families who survived the plague of 1630, which had decimated much of that part of the province.[8] The surname is still present in Ragoli today.

In the journal Judicaria, author Paolo Gasperi has written a short biography of the multi-talented artisan, woodworker and musician, Domenico Martini, born in Ragoli on 19 September 1915, wherein he includes an excerpt of the family tree of the artist, dating back to the late 1500s.[9]

The Martini of Santa Croce del Bleggio in Val Giudicarie

The Martini of Santa Croce del Bleggio are a branch of the Martini of Ragoli. Their patriarch is one Giuseppe Martini of Vigo (a frazione of Ragoli), who moved to Cavrasto in Santa Croce parish sometime after marrying Maria Bertelli (also of Vigo) on 30 April 1764.[10] The couple had at least three sons. After Maria died, Giuseppe remarried Domenica Santoni of Ceniga (parish of Drò)[11], with whom he had at least one daughter, Cattarina Luigia, in 1773.

Not long after the birth of Cattarina Luigia, the Martini family moved from Cavrasto to settle in an area of the parish then called ‘Spiazzo’ (not to be confused with Spiazzo Rendena), which referred to the area near the parish church of Santa Croce, which is not part of a specific frazione. Most Martini in Bleggio continued to reside in ‘Spiazzo’ well into the 20th century.

The sons of Giuseppe and his first wife Maria grew up to have families of their own,[12] thus propagating the Martini surname in Santa Croce, where their descendants still flourish to this day.[13] From this lineage came the renowned vernacular poet Aldo Martini, who was born in Santa Croce on 11 September 1911, and died in 1979.[14]

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The Martini von Griengarten und Neuhof

This line is an ancient Trentino family, known at least since the mid-1500s, originally from Riva, Calliano (Vallagarina), and Mezzocorona.[15] I have not personally researched this family from a genealogical perspective, but I will share what I have gleaned from other historians about their noble titles.

In Innsbruck on 10 May 1566, Archduke and Emperor Ferdinando I conferred noble privileges on Baldassare, Giovanni Maria and Nicolò Martini of Calliano.[16] Later, the Prince-Bishop Domenico Antonio of the Counts of Thun extended these same privileges to the Martini of Riva.[17]

On 13 June 1559, Emperor Ferdinando granted a stemma (coat-of-arms) to a Pietro Martini of Calliano, who was serving as a chaplain in the court in Innsbruck, and extended this privilege also to Pietro’s brothers Cristiano, Melchiore, Giovanni Cristoforo, Valentino and Nicolò, all of Calliano.[18]

Original STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the Martini von Griengarten und Neuhof of Calliano
Original STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the Martini von Griengarten und Neuhof of Calliano

On 5 February 1746, Prince-Bishop Domenico Antonio Thun granted Giovanni Maria and Nicolò Martini permission to add the stemma of the extinct Zanardi family to their own.[19]

1746 STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the Martini von Griengarten und Neuhof, combining their original stemma with that of the extinct Zanardi family.
1746 STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the Martini von Griengarten und Neuhof, combining their original stemma with that of the extinct Zanardi family.

On 24 September 1790, brothers Carlo and Giovanni Martini were elevated to the rank of Counts of the Holy Roman Empire, with the predicate ‘von Griengarten und Neuhof’ (sometimes Italianised to ‘de Griengarten e Neuhof’) by the Imperial Vicar, Carol Teodoro. The family were again elevated to the rank of Counts as late as 18 January 1844, by Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef. [20]

The Martini di Valle Aperta of Peio (Val di Sole)

The Martini of Peio in Val di Sole have a long and well-documented history. Tabarelli de Fatis and Borelli tell us that the founding father was one Martino, who came to Peio in the late 1400s, probably from Valtellina in Lombardia, where there was a family of notaries of the same name.[21] Among his sons, we find the notary Giovanni Antonio Martini (cited in records as early as 1545), another notary Giovanni Battista Martini (cited as early as 1550), and the priest Fabiano Martini, who was curate of Peio until his death in 1564.[22], [23]

One of Martino’s later descendants, another Martino Martini (1614-1661),[24] was a Jesuit priest, who, in the 1500s, became the first missionary to go to China. During his extensive travels, he did a detailed study of the geography of the country, which he later published in a work entitled Atlas Cinensis.[25]

In 1559, the family were granted the right to use a stemma by Emperor Ferdinando I (via one Pietro Martini). They were later granted nobility of the Holy Roman Empire in 1566. [26]

The stemma contains a black eagle sitting on a five-peaked mountain in the upper half, and a silver lily (fleur-de-lis) on a blue background in the lower half.[27]

STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the noble Martini di Valle Aperta family of Peio in Val di Sole, Trentino
STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the noble Martini di Valle Aperta family of Peio in Val di Sole, Trentino

On 7 January 1580, Prince-Bishop Lodovico Madruzzo granted the use of a stemma to Giuseppe Martini, who was originally of Peio, but was living as a citizen of the city of Trento, where he served as a spice dealer for the principality. Two generations later, the family was granted the imperial predicate ‘di Valle Aperta’ by Maximilian, Prince of Dietrichstein (on the authority of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III) on 27 November 1641.[28]

The priest, Antonio Martini di Valle Aperta (sometimes abbreviated V. A. in documents) of Peio, was parroco (pastor) of the parish of Revò in Val di Non from 17 December 1647[29] until his death on 5 April 1666.[30]

The notary Gerolamo Martini di Valle Aperta of Peio spent most of his long life in the city of Trento, where he served as the secretary to at least five Prince-Bishops until at least 1680. [31], [32]

A branch of the Martini di Valle Aperta of Peio moved to Salorno in South Tyrol. From this line, one Giovanni Antonio, a merchant, later transferred to the city Trento, where he was elevated to the rank of Knight of the Holy Roman Empire (Cavaliere del S.R.I.) on 30 September 1790 by Carlo Teodoro (Charles Theodore), Elector of Bavaria.[33]

At least until the late 20th century, a tomb of the Martini di Valle Aperta family, engraved with their stemma and dated 1652, was still visible facing the main altar in the parish church of Peio.

The Martini of Revò (Val di Non)

Nearly every historian I have consulted says the branch of Martini of Revò who later became the noble Martini de Wasserperg (also seen spelled ‘Wasserberg’) were originally a branch of the Martini di Valle Aperta of Peio, who settled in Val di Non at least by the late 1400s.[34] However, in none of these histories have I found any reference to documentative evidence specifying the name of the man who migrated to Revò from Peio, nor precisely when he did so.

The surname Martini has been part of the Revò landscape for as long as surviving records narrate. We surely find it in the earliest baptismal records of the parish register, which starts in 1619. Other records, such as the Revò tax register from 1620[35], and the census of 1624[36], tell us that there were four Martini households present in the first decades of the 17th century, with no indication that they (nor any of the elders who were born in the mid-1500s) were newcomers to the parish. Thus, if the Martini of Revò had indeed migrated from Peio, we might safely assume that they arrived by the beginning of the 1500s, which does fit with most historical estimates.

However, what is more difficult to ascertain is whether ALL of the Martini families living in Revò at the beginning of the 1600s were descendants of the said immigrants from Peio, or if there were pre-existing Martini families already living in Revò before their arrival.

Thus far, I have not found any evidence that can conclusively answer these questions. However, there may be some possible clues when we look closely at two particular households the 1624 census and the 1620 tax census:

  • The household of Margherita (age 52), the widow of the late dominus Domenico Martini. The record indicates the house once belonged to Domenico and Margherita’s son, Francesco, who is also deceased. Living with her is her daughter, also named Margherita, who is 25 years old, and also widowed. With them are the younger Margherita’s two children: Domenica (born 1622) and Antonio (born 1623). Her late husband, Antonio Vielmetti was a notary from Preghena in the parish of Livo. He died before the birth of their son Antonio, after which she returned to Revò to live with her mother.
  • The household of Giovanni de Martini, who was widowed shortly before the 1624 census, and is now living with 7 of his children (who range in age from 4 to 29), including his 29-year-old son Giovanni Francesco, who was a priest. Believe it or not, I have found more than one young priest living at home with his parents rather than at the church rectory.

There are two reasons why these stand out to me.

One is the use of honourifics when referring to members of these two households. The 1624 census refers to these families (along with one other) as ‘de Martini’. The prefix ‘de’ is generally reserved for noble lines. Also, Giovanni Martini as well as Margherita’s late husband Domenico are referred to as ‘dominus’ (but abbreviated), which is a general honourific used for a man of some social status. While this honourific alone does not always indicate nobility, it can sometimes infer it. Similarly, when his daughter Margherita Martini is a godmother in 1619, she is referred to as ‘Madonna’ (My Lady), which is generally only used in cases of nobility. [37]

The other reason is the apparent wealth of these two households, as per the tax census. Where the majority of households in the parish are reported to have perhaps around 10 bushels of grain (and many with none), the widowed Margherita is reported to have 150, and ‘dominus‘ Giovanni de Martini has 100.

This combination of honourifics and wealth makes me inclined to suspect these two families may have been nobility, and may also have been related. Perhaps Giovanni was the brother of Margherita’s late husband, for example. Perhaps, as they both had sons with the name Francesco, they were the sons of another Francesco. Of course, this is all speculation.

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Carlo Ferdinando Martini de Wasserperg

Aside from these questions of origins, one thing we can definitely prove through documentation is that the noble line known as ‘Martini de Wasserperg’ are descended from the wealthy Giovanni de Martini mentioned above.

Of his 7 children, 6 were male (albeit one was a priest). While I have not researched all of these children, his son Federico, born around 1616, had at least 7 sons, and Federico’s son Pietro had at least 6. In this way, the Martini surname flourish in Revò throughout the 17th century.

Pietro’s son, Carlo Ferdinando Martini, was born 20 May 1669. In his baptismal record we see that his godfather Carlo Ferdinando, one of the Counts of Thun. As this is the first time that we see this name ‘Carlo Ferdinando’ appear in the Martini lineage, I can only assume he was named after his noble and influential godfather. By age 26, when he marries Margherita Graiff of Romeno on 09 February 1695, Carlo Ferdinando is working as a notary.[38] By 1708, we begin to see him referred to as ‘noble’ in the parish records. [39]

IMPORTANT: I would like to stress that this is the FIRST time any Martini family is referred to as nobility in the Revò records, and this is the ONLY Martini family group consistently referred to as nobility, even amongst those who may also be descended from the wealthy dominus Giovanni de Martini we met in 1620. So, even if the entire line had an ancient noble origin (possibly via a connection to the Peio Martini), that connection was no longer recognised ‘across the board’ by the year 1700.

Carlo Ferdinando and Margherita Graiff had a son who was ALSO named Carlo Ferdinando. it is this younger Carlo Ferdinando who became the founding father of the Martini de Wasserperg line.

This younger Carlo Ferdinando was born in Revò on 09 December 1704. Most likely born ennobled, he followed his father’s profession as a notary.[40] At age twenty, he married Margherita de Pretis of Cagnò on 30 April 1724, who was herself descended from two different noble de Pretis lines.[41] Again, this couple had a large family, producing at least 5 sons and 6 daughters.

On 25 June 1765, Carlo Ferdinando and his eldest son, Carlo Antonio Martini, who was then a Professor and Director at the University of Vienna, were both elevated to the rank of Knights of the Holy Roman Empire (‘Cavalieri di S.R.I.’), when they were also granted the use of the predicate ‘de Wasserperg’ (also seen ‘von Wasserberg’).[42] Aside from the use of the fleur-de-lis, their stemma bears no resemblance to that of the Martini di Valle Aperta in Peio.

STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the noble Martini de Wasserperg (von Wasserberg) of Revò in Val di Non, Trentino
STEMMA (coat-of-arms) of the noble Martini de Wasserperg (von Wasserberg) of Revò in Val di Non, Trentino

On 14 March 1771, Carlo Ferdinando also obtained ecclesiastical nobility from Prince-Bishop Cristoforo Sizzo de Noris.

Not long afterwards, he died from a sudden illness on 10 January 1774, shortly before his 70th birthday. He was buried in a family tomb inside the parish church of San Stefano. [43]

Carlo Antonio Martini de Wasserperg

Without a doubt, the most famous of all Trentino Martini is Carlo Ferdinando’s son, Carlo Antonio Martini de Wasserperg. 

Carlo Antonio Martini de Wasserperg (1726-1800)
Carlo Antonio Martini de Wasserperg (1726-1800)

Carlo Antonio Martini was born in Revò on 15 August 1726.[44] Historian Roberto Pancheri tells us that Carlo Antonio first embarked on an ecclesiastical career, attending the Jesuit College in Trento, and also studied theology and law in Innsbruck. As per his father’s wish, he took on the Capuchin robe, but later abandoned the order. [45], [46]

Pancheri further explains that, in 1747, against the wishes of his family, Carlo Antonio transferred to Vienna to dedicate himself to the study of philosophy and law, eventually obtaining a doctorate. Becoming the secretary of the court adviser of Count Friedrich von Haugwitz, and subsequently Chancellor of the State, he began his long career in the inner administration of the Hapsburgs.

In 1752, he went to Madrid, following the Ambassador of Austria, the future Cardinal Cristoforo Migazzi, who was also from Trentino. Upon returning from this important mission, he was assigned the desk of natural Law and Institutions at the University of Vienna.

Among his many high-ranking roles, he was President of the Supreme Court of Justice in Vienna, and was in charge of compiling the ‘Codex Theresianus’ for the Empress Maria Teresa.[47] Written in German, the Codex was an expression of the Empress’s personal mission to reform the legal system, specifically the Law of persons, the Law of property, and the Law of obligations. Although never officially put into place, many historians laud it as a major ideological step forward compared to other European legal systems of its time.[48]

In addition, the Empress also engaged Carlo Antonio to instruct her children, and especially her son, the Archduke Leopoldo, who later became Emperor in 1790, after having been Grand Duke in Tuscany. He also prepared the first projects of mass education for the subjects of the Empire, reorganising the elementary schools and the universities. Alongside, this, he also deepened the legal and penal system, and became a member of the court commissions for Censorship, for Studies, and for Ecclesiastical Affairs.[49]

On 1 December 1780, he was elevated to the rank of Baron of the Holy Roman Empire, with an elaboration of the stemma, by Emperor Giuseppe (Josef) II. The family was entered into the matriculation of noble Tirolesi in 1783. [50]

In 1792, he was put in charge of presiding over the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the highest judiciary rank in the Empire. He improved the justice system in Lombardia, during the time of Hapsburg rule, and prepared the civil code of Galizia and modernised the penal codes of Austria. In 1797, three years before his death, for reasons of health, he resigned from the Court Commission on Legislation. [51]

He died in Vienna on 8 August 1800.[52] Although he had two sons, Massimiliano and Paolo, both died without offspring, which brought an end to the noble Martini de Wasserperg line. [53]

In the year 2000, the parish of Revò erected a memorial stone commemorating the bicentenary of his death.

Memorial stone placed by the comune of Revò in 2000, to honour their native son, the noble Carlo Antonio Martini de Wasserperg, on the bicentenary of his death in 1800. Photo courtesy of Chris Martin.
Memorial stone placed by the comune of Revò in 2000, to honour their native son, the noble Carlo Antonio Martini de Wasserperg, on the bicentenary of his death in 1800. Photo courtesy of Chris Martin.

Soprannomi, and the Many Martini in Revò

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Revò is where you will still find the greatest number of Martini in Trentino today. And, from experience, I will tell you that wading through all those Martini lines can be a real challenge when you are doing genealogical research, especially if the priests are inconsistent (e.g., alternately calling a man Giovanni Antonio, Giovanni or Antonio), or incomplete (e.g., not including the names of fathers in marriage records, or the surnames of mothers in baptismal records, etc.).

One device the Martini themselves have implemented in an effort to keep all these lines straight are soprannomi, which I describe as ‘bolt on’ names, which Italian families use to distinguish one line from another with the same surname. If you are unfamiliar with soprannomi, you might wish to read my article on this subject entitled ‘Not Just a Nickname: Understanding Your Family Soprannome’. 

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

With regards to the Martini, a group of Revò Martini descendants recently gave me a list of no fewer than 17 different Martini soprannomi, which of course, represent 17 different Martini lines. But sadly, while there are some Trentino parishes (Tione di Trento comes to mind) where soprannomi are meticulously recorded in nearly every record, Revò is just not one of those parishes, and soprannomi are recorded somewhat erratically. I have found many early soprannomi for other Revò families in the records (Rigatti, Geronimi, Magagna are three examples), but I have found hardly any soprannomi for the Martini prior to the 19th century.

Moreover, soprannomi are not as stable as surnames; they change with the times, and new soprannomi will crop up whenever the lines get too tangled again. Thus, soprannomi that may have been in use for the past century (or even two), may not have existed more than a handful of generations, and thus may not lead us very far back in tracing our ancestry.

Thus, there really is no other choice but to trawl meticulously through the parish records and, if necessary, to construct parallel lines of every family with your surname, comparing every tiny detail. Only through such exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) research can you confirm (or at least make informed theories about) who is who.

But, as I pointed out earlier, one thing we DO know is that ALL of these Martini lines will inevitably lead back to one of the four households we ‘met’ in the 1624 census, for the simple reason that there were no other Martini in Revò. So, if you are a Martini of Revò, it is highly probable you are related to other Martinis, even if your lines have different soprannomi. 

And, of course, all four of these Martini lines may or may not take us back to a single Martini from Peio, who came to Revò sometime in the 1400s. If and when that can be proven either through documentation or Y-DNA, we might discover that all Martini from Val di Non and Val di Sole are ultimately cousins.

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

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Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
26 January 2022

P.S. Sadly, due to personal health reasons (not COVID), I have had to cancel my previously arranged trip to Trento for February-March 2022. 

THE GOOD NEWS IS: I have MANY resources for research here in my home library, and I am able to do research for many clients without having to travel to Trento. I am now taking bookings for April 2022 and beyond.

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

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REFERENCES

[1] BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino, page 215.

[2] Cognomix website. ‘Martini’. Accessed 24 January 2022 from https://www.cognomix.it/mappe-dei-cognomi-italiani/MARTINI.

[3] Nati in Trentino website. Accessed 25 January 2022 from https://www.natitrentino.mondotrentino.net/

[4] BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino, page 215.

[5] LEONARDI, Ivo (don). 1989. La Decima di Preore (Ragoli e Montagne). Trento: Grafiche Artigianelli.

[6] BAITO, Paolo Scalfi. 1987. Preore in Giudicarie: Altre Notizie e Toponomastica. Volume 2. Trento: La Grafica, page 156.

[7] BAITO, page 161.

[8] BAITO, page 162-163.

[9] GASPERI, Paolo. 2000. ‘Domenico Martini: Artigiano e artista in una famiglia dedita alla lavorazione del legno. Judicaria, n. 44, August 2000, pages 69-73.

[10] Ragoli parish records, marriages, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1447996, part 4, Trento file 4256253_00233), no page number.

[11] Drò parish records, marriages, volume 2 (LDS microfilm 1448195, part 13), page 37. Trento file 4256291_01963.

[12] Especially prolific was Giuseppe’s son Giovanni Martini, who had at least 10 children with his wife, Maria Cattarina Maijerhof.

[13] This information is based on my own research, using the parish records for Santa Croce and Drò. I have not yet fully researched this family.

[14] BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino, page 215.

[15] GUELFI, Adriano Camaiani. 1964. Famiglie nobili del Trentino, page 80-81.

[16] GUELFI, page 80-81.

[17] GUELFI, page 80-81.

[18] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 189.

[19] Images of both versions of the stemma are taken from TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 359.

[20] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 189.

[21] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano. 2005. Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine. Trento: Società di Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche, page 188.

[22] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 188.

[23] STENICO, P. Remo. 2000. Sacerdoti della Diocesi di Trento dalla sua Esistenza Fino all’Anno 2000, page 269.

[24] BERTOLUZZA, Aldo. 1998. Guida ai Cognomi del Trentino, page 215.

[25] SPRETI, Vittorio. 1928-36. Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana: famiglie nobile e titolate viventi riconosciute del R. Governo d’Italia, compresi: città, comunità, mense vescovile, abazie, parrocchie ed enti nobili e titolati riconosciuti. Milano: Ed., volume IV, page 437. NOTE: the quote was copied and pasted by Pier Carlo Omero Bormida on the ‘I Nostri Avi’ website in 2004, which I accessed on 23 January 2022 at http://www.iagiforum.info/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=493

[26] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 188. I

[27] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, stemma from page 359.

[28] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 188.

[29] Revò parish records, baptisms, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388681, part 6), page 1. There is a fragment of a record at the beginning of the baptismal register that lists the start dates of the parroci. The day and month are clear, but the year has been gleaned from context in other records.

[30] Revò parish records, deaths, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388682, part 3), no page number.

[31] TURRINI, Fortunato. 1996. Carte di Peio. Centro Studi per la Val di Sole, page 23.

[32] STENICO, P. Remo. 1999. Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845. Trento: Biblioteca San Bernardino, page 228.

[33] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 188.

[34] This opinion is shared by Tabarelli de Fatis/Borrelli, Bertoluzza, Spreti, and probably others.

[35] Capsa 9, 169 1620 Tax Census (Revò, Cloz, Dambel, Romeno, Fondo, Livo, Bozzana), page 1-4.

[36] Revò parish archives, anagraphs, pages 73, 74, 76, 84 (Revò, 28 July 1624).

[37] Revò parish records, baptisms, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388681, part 6), page 2-3.

[38] Carlo Ferdinando (the elder) is referred to as ‘spectabilis’ in his marriage 1695 record, and in later records. This is an honourific used specifically for notaries. Revò parish records, marriages, volume 1 (LDS microfilm 1388681, part 16), no page number.

[39] Carlo Ferdinando (the elder) is first referred to as nobility in the baptismal record of his son Giovanni Romedio, on 21 February 1708. Revò parish records, baptisms, volume 3 (LDS microfilm 1388681, part 8), page 6-7.

[40] P. Remo Stenico’s Notai Che Operarono Nel Trentino dall’Anno 845, page 227

[41] Revò parish records, marriages, volume 2 (LDS microfilm 1388681, part 17), page 39.  Marriage of Carlo Ferdinando Martini and Margherita de Pretis (30 April 1724). I have also traced both sides of Margherita’s family.

[42] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 188. Stemma on page 359.

[43] Revò parish records, deaths, volume 3, page 112.

[44] Revò parish records, baptisms, volume 3 (LDS microfilm 1388681, part 8), page 216-217.

[45] PANCHERI, Roberto. 2000. Carlo Antonio Martini. Ritratto di un giurista al servizio dell’Impero. Trento: Edizioni U.C.T.

[46] A similar, if slightly more detailed, biography for Carlo Antonio can be found (in Italian) entitled ‘Carlo Antonio Martini de Wasserperg’ at  https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Antonio_Martini. The public domain portrait above, painted by an unknown artist, was also taken from that website.

[47] SPRETI, Vittorio. 1928-36. Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana: famiglie nobile e titolate viventi riconosciute del R. Governo d’Italia, compresi: città, comunità, mense vescovile, abazie, parrocchie ed enti nobili e titolati riconosciuti. Milano: Ed., volume IV, page 437.

[48] Codex theresianus. Wikipedia (Italy). Accessed 25 January 2022 at https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_theresianus.

[49] PANCHERI, Roberto. 2000. Carlo Antonio Martini. Ritratto di un giurista al servizio dell’Impero.

[50] TABARELLI DE FATIS, Gianmaria; BORRELLI, Luciano, page 188.

[51] PANCHERI, Roberto. 2000. Carlo Antonio Martini. Ritratto di un giurista al servizio dell’Impero.

[52] PANCHERI, Roberto. 2000. Carlo Antonio Martini. Ritratto di un giurista al servizio dell’Impero.

[53] SPRETI, Vittorio. 1928-36. Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana: famiglie nobile e titolate viventi riconosciute del R. Governo d’Italia, compresi: città, comunità, mense vescovile, abazie, parrocchie ed enti nobili e titolati riconosciuti. Milano: Ed., volume IV, page 437.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linguistic Origins of the Surname Maffei

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

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

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

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

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

Dispersion of the Surname in Trentino

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

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

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

Family Origins – Many Tales, Many Theories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maffei of Termenago

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

MAP - Val di Sol in the province of Trentino

click on image to see it larger

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

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

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

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

click on image to see it larger

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

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

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

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

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

Fabiano Maffei – Curate of Termenago

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

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

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

Maffei of Pinzolo

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

MAP: Val Giudicarie Interiore, with Pinzolo and Caderzone highlighted

click on image to see it larger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maffei of Caderzone

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

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

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

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

Maffei of Santa Croce del Bleggio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on image to see it larger

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

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Maffei of Lavis

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

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

Click on image to see it larger

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

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

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

Maffei of Cembra

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

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

Click on image to see it larger

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

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

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

Maffei of Val di Non – Overview

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

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

Click on image to see it larger

Maffei of Revò

Family Origins – A Case of Chinese Whispers

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

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

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

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

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

Is your head starting to spin now, too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Six Sons of Maffeo Maffei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Descendants of Pietro the Elder in Revò

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

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

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

Click image to see it larger

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

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

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

Click image to see it larger

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

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

Click image to see it larger

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

Nobility – The Maffei of Revò and Cles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Old Arma’ and the Questions it Raises

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

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

Click image to see it larger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many questions.

The Maffei of Cles and Fondo – Brief Summary

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

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

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

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

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

The Question of Origins – Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
17 May 2021

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

However, I do have resources to do a fair bit of research for many clients from home, and I now have some openings for a few new client projects starting in July 2021.

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

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REFERENCES

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

Surname Spotlight: BETTA. Ancient Nobles of the Roman Empire?

Surname: BETTA. Ancient Nobles of the Roman Empire?Genealogist Lynn Serafinn explores the history of the noble Betta family of Trentino, including its claims to Spanish origins, and ancient ‘patrician’ nobility from time of the Roman Empire.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I said I would write the next article on the parish of Revò in Val di Non, as part of my continuing series on Trentino Valleys.

Well, I decided to take a short detour. One of my ongoing projects is a book (more likely a multi-volume set) on the surnames of Trentino, which I’ve been working on for a few years, and which I’ve called Guide to Trentino Surnames for Genealogists and Family Historians. With any luck, I’ll have at least the first volume of it out in a few years. In the meantime, I’ve created a ‘surname database’ on this website, with many (but not all) shortened versions of the entries I’ve written for the book.

Anyway, when doing some research for the Revò article this weekend, I started writing up some histories of some of the local surnames. The history for one particular surname – Betta – became so substantial, I thought it deserved to be shared in a blog post, especially as this surname crosses over into many other parts of the province. Also, the family has a unique ‘claim to fame’, which I think many of you might find interesting.

Linguistic Origins of the Surname

In his Guida ai Cognome del Trentino, linguistic historian Aldo Bertoluzza says this surname is either derived from the male name ‘Betto’, which is a short form of the name ‘Benedetto’, coming from the Latin word Benedictus, which means a person who is blessed. Alternatively, he says it may also come from the female name ‘Elisabetta’ (although the original form of the name was ‘Elisheba’), which he says means ‘my God is fullness’.

As with most patronymic/matronymic surnames (i.e. based on the name of a patriarch or matriarch), there are many other surnames based on this root ‘Bett-’. But for this article, we will focus solely on the form that appears as ‘Betta’, although occasionally you might also see it spelled with only one ‘t’ (Beta).

Geographic Origins of the Family

While all historians seem to agree the Betta came from outside the province of Trentino, and were most likely of ancient nobility, there is much disagreement regarding their precise origins, the nature of their nobility and their movements prior to the 1400s.

In his 3-volume work, Dizionario Storico-Blasonico delle Famiglie Nobili E Notabili Italiane Estinte E Fiorenti, historian Giovanni Battista di Crollalanza says the Betta of Trentino were originally from Spain, but relocated to Trentino sometime in the last decades of 11th century. The story goes that the Betta were loyal to Prince Garcia, who claimed the title of King of Galicia and Portugal in 1071. Just a year later, two of Garcia’s brothers attacked him, ultimately resulting in Garcia’s imprisonment until his death in 1090. Upon Garcia’s imprisonment, fearing they would be tried as traitors (and probably executed) by the new leaders, the Betta fled their native homeland taking refuge in Trentino.

This tale has been the Betta family lore for many centuries. Colourful as it is, many historians do not believe it is true. Tabarelli de Fatis (Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine) says the link to Spain is not documented (although few things are that far back), and they were more likely to have come from either Lombardia or the province of Verona. Author Gian Maria Rauzi (Araldica Tridentina) cites historian Quintillo Perini (1865-1942), who believes the Betta came to Trentino from Milan (in Lombardia). However, none of these authors cite any documentation or suggest any concrete evidence for these theories either.

Arrival, Migration and Branching Out

Precisely where the Betta entered the province, and the path they took when they settled there is also disputed. Essentially, the only thing historians seem to agree on is that the Betta came from someplace outside the province of Trentino, arriving somewhere in the province no later than the mid-1300s, and then spreading out to diverse places in the province.

Crollalanza says they originally took refuge in Val Lagarina. Although he doesn’t specify, the evidence indicates they were in Tierno, which is a frazione in Mori in that valley. In support of this theory, Bertoluzza cites a record that mentions an Antonio son of Guglielmo Betta in Val Lagarina in 1344 (the earliest mention I’ve seen cited for a Betta).

Tabarelli de Fatis and Rauzi believe the Betta first arrived in Arco, where their surname appears in records from the beginning of the 1400s, and that they expanded to Val Lagarina – specifically Tierno – from there. Bertoluzza cites a record dated 1411 that mentions a Guglielmo Betta of Tierno. From Tierno, they believe, various branches of the family then expanded outwards to other parts of Val Lagarina, such as Brentonico, Chizzola (a frazione of Ala), and Rovereto. Although they don’t mention it, based on notary records, at least one Betta family from this area settled in Riva del Garda (which is near Arco) by the early 1500s.

Regardless of whether the starting point in Trentino was Tierno or Arco, what is less disputed by historians is that, by the late 1400s, one of the Arco branches moved north, to various points in Val di Non, namely Cles and Revò, and eventually to Castel Malgolo. Apparently, there was a Stefano Betta of Cloz (near Revò) whose name appeared in the catalogue of noble gentry of Valli di Non and di Sole in 1529, but haven’t seen any other mention of the Betta living in Cloz.

Based on this, most historians today see the Betta as being split into two primary lines: one in Val di Non and one in Val Lagarina, especially in the area around Rovereto. The Arco line itself continued throughout the centuries, but not as prolifically as in these other places, and seems to have died out by the end of the 19th century. If you look on Nati in Trentino, you will find 1,349 Betta babies born in Trentino between the years 1815-1923, in most of the above-mentioned places as well as in Aldeno, Arco, Baselga, Bresimo, Caldes, Cavalese, Cis, Meano, Mezzocorona, Castello-Molina di Fiemme, Pergine, Preghena, Fondo, Stenico, Storo, Tenno, Tione, Vervò, and the city of Trento. I will briefly mention the Betta of Stenico in Val Giudicarie later in this article. In my own research, I have also found the surname Betta in Vezzano back to the mid-1600s, as well as in Tenno (again, near Arco) in the mid-1700s.

Below is a map where I have highlighted:

  • Alto Garda (number 5) in green, which is where places like Arco, Riva and Tenno are located.
  • Val Lagarina (number 20) in blue, which is where places like Tierno in Mori, Rovereto, Brentonico and Ala are located.
  • Val di Non (number 18) in yellow, which is where places like Revò, Cles and Castel Malgolo are located, as well as Marcena in Val di Rumo, which I will discuss shortly.
MAP: Trentino, with Val di Non, Val Lagarina, and Alta Garda highlighted
Original map (without highlighting) from the book ‘Toponomastica Trentina’ by Giulia Mastrelli Anzilotti.

Click on image to see it larger

Looking at this map, it seems most likely that all the Betta who are in the southern part of the province are from the original Val Lagarina and/or Arco lines, whilst those in the north are probably descended from the branch that shifted to Revò. But I’ve learned over the years that ‘most likely’ isn’t always ‘true’.

Regarding the dispute over whether the Betta started out in Tierno in Val Lagarina or in Arco, I think the documentation seems to lean to the former. Notary documents and names of priests with the Betta surname seem to go back at least a century earlier in Val Lagarina than those in Arco. Of course, that is not ‘proof’ on its own, as it may just be that more records from Tierno have survived than those from Arco.

Betta Notaries

Traditionally, the Betta were a family of notaries. In Trentino (and indeed all of Italy), a notary is kind of like a contract lawyer. He was responsible for writing every legal document for the comune – Last Wills and Testaments, land sale agreements, legal disputes, dowry agreements, court cases, ‘Carte di Regola’ (charters of local laws), etc. They were educated, highly prestigious and essential to the functioning of the community. If you are unfamiliar with this occupation, you might wish to read my article ‘Was One of Your Trentino Ancestors a Notary?’.

Priest and historian P. Remo Stenico has compiled a PDF book of Trentino notaries throughout the centuries. Among them, he lists over 30 Betta notaries, a substantial number for any single family. His research is based on surviving documents, so it is certainly likely there were more notaries before the dates he cites.

The earliest Betta notary he lists is Antonio Betta of Tierno in Val Lagarina, who appears in records as early as 1460, where he is described as ‘Antonio, son of the late Giovanni, son of the late Guglielmo Betta of Tierno’. This would place his grandfather’s birth sometime in the late 1300s. Looking at the family names, I would hazard a guess that they are descended form the ‘Antonio, son of Guglielmo’ cited by Bertoluzza (see above).

Less than a generation later, we find a notary named Giovanni Betta of Arco, whose name appears in records as early as 1475. Giovanni had a son name Bonifacio who followed in his father’s professional footsteps, appearing in notary documents as early as 1504. This Bonifacio is a significant figure, as he is actually the founder of the Betta line in Val di Non.

Brief Mention – Betta of Val di Fiemme

Before we move on to the Betta of Val di Non, I would like to briefly mention that we find Betta notaries present in Val di Fiemme at the beginning of the 1600s. The earliest I have found is the notary named Pietro Betta, son of Giovanni Betta, who was active at least between the years 1604-1625. Originally from Varena but living in Cavalese, Pietro also served as the Vicario of Castello di Fiemme (n.b.: ‘vicario’ refers to a secular role, not a priest). Pietro’s son, Orazio Betta of Cavalese, followed in his father’s footsteps and was active as a notary at least between 1622-1636.

The surname still flourishes in Fiemme today, mainly in Cavalese, Castello and Molina. I do not yet know if or how they may be related to the other lines I will discuss in this article.

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Bonifacio Betta – From Arco to Val di Non

Author Pietro Micheli tells us that the name Bonifacio Betta appears in diploma of nobility in Marcena archives, dated 13 July 1495. Later, in 1525, this same Bonifacio was granted a title of rural nobility for his loyalty to the bishop of Trento, Bernardo Cles, during the Guerra Rustica (although, apparently, he didn’t engage in any of the military action).

This man is the same Bonifacio Betta of Arco who was cited as a notary twenty years earlier. By comparing various documents, it seems that Bonifacio maintained his home base in Arco, but was simultaneously busy acquiring a lot of land in Revò and Val di Rumo. Micheli lists a number of legal disputes over the rights to various resources and land borders, especially with the municipality of Rumo.

Ancient Nobility and ‘Caesarean Privilege’

We see these disputes continued into the next generation, when the comune of Rumo claimed that Signore Giovanni Betta of Revò (not Bonifacio’s son Giovanni) possessed most of the assets/land in municipality of Rumo, but that he was not paying any of the collections for said lands that were due to the Bishop of Trento. Giovanni Betta responded that he was ‘not obligated’ to pay those collections, because he was not ordinary ‘rural nobility’, but rather ‘superior’ or ‘ancient’ nobility, going back to time immemorial. In a document dated 1576 (found in the Marcena archives), he claimed he had ancient privileges from his ancestors, whereby his predecessors, successors and heirs and he himself were – and will always be – exempt from paying collections/taxes.

Half a century later, a similar dispute took place between a Bartolomeo Betta and the community of Revò. But this time, Bartolomeo appealed directly to the Bishop, and on 13 January 1637, he presented the leaders in Revò with a document from the Castello del Buonconsiglio stating that the family were granted the privilege of immunity from payments due to the Bishops of Trento, by virtue of their ‘Caesarean privilege’.

‘Caesarean privilege’ is a term indicating the family were believed to be ‘ancient’ nobility, allegedly (or at least ‘officially’) dating back to the time of the Roman empire.

Just as their claim to Spanish origins cannot be documented, there is also no ‘paper trail’ to confirm the nobility of the Betta family dated back to the time of the Caesars. True or not, they certainly were successful in persuading Bishops and Emperors of their veracity. Indeed, the Betta of Revò acquired the Bishop’s Palazzo – adorned with the stemma of Cardinal Cles – which still stands in the western part of the village, albeit in disrepair.

The Sons of Bonifacio Betta

We know Bonifacio had at least two sons, both of whom are historically important.

Born in Arco in 1499, Bonifacio’s son Giovanni Betta was a medical doctor who went on to become the Bishop of Trieste from 1560, until his death on 15 April 1565.

Another son named Pantaleone became the patriarch of another branch of the family called ‘Betta di Malgolo’, which I will discuss next.

Pantaleone Betta, Founder of the Betta di Malgolo

In 1555, Pantaleone Betta, son of Bonifacio, married Bona Concini of Casez. His new bride was the heiress of Castel Malgolo, and the couple settled there. Built sometime before 1342, and originally owned by the Lords of Coredo, the castle is in the locality of Malgolo, which is part of the municipality of Romeno. Today it is a private home.

From this couple came the ‘Betta di Malgolo’ line, upon whom many noble titles were conferred in the subsequent centuries. On 11 June 1645, Emperor Carlo V granted nobility of the Holy Roman Empire to Giovanni Betta di Castel Malgolo, a medical doctor. Two Prince-Bishops – Carlo Emanuele Madruzzo and Giovanni Michele Spaur – confirmed the family’s noble titles in 1637 and 1697, respectively.

In keeping with the family profession, the line produced many notaries, at least three of which are listed in P. Remo Stenico’s book of notaries.

Here is the stemma (coat-of-arms) for the Betta di Castel Malgolo as it appears in the book Araldica Tridentina by Gian Maria Rauzi:

Stemma (coat of arms) of the Betta di Castel Malgolo
Stemma (coat of arms) of the Betta di Castel Malgolo

ROVERETO – Betta della Beta

Tabarelli de Fatis says this line came to Rovereto (from Tierno, via Brentonico), where their title of ancient ‘patrician’ nobility was recorded in 1517. He tells us this line went extinct with Ferdinando Vincenzo Betta in 1878. Their stemma is found at the University School of Bologna, for Felice Leonardo, laureate in 1653.

ROVERETO – Betta del Toldo

Tabarelli de Fatis says this line may have started in Folgaria (not far from Rovereto). We do know that, in 1537, they were awarded feudal lands by the Prince-Bishop in Rovereto, Lizzan and Lizzanella.

On 18 Jan 1556, their ancient stemma was confirmed by Emperor Ferdinand I to Luigi Betta. This stemma also appears on the façade of the palazzo in Rovereto that bears their name (see title image at the top of this article). Later, the stemma was embellished (see below), but the main part of the stemma remained the same.

On 27 March 1564, this same emperor (Ferdinando I) also awarded Luigi the title of Tyrolean Nobility.  Rauzi says this Betta line was elevated to the rank of Barons of the Holy Roman Empire by the Duke of Bavaria in 1790.

Here is the embellished stemma of the Betta del Toldo family as it appears in the book Stemmi e Notizie di Famiglie Trentine (Tabarelli de Fatis; Borrelli):

Stemma (coat-of-arms) of Betta del Toldo family
Stemma (coat-of-arms) of Betta del Toldo family

VAL GIUDICARIE – Betta of Stenico

In his 1993 article ‘Le famiglie nobili e notabili delle Giudicarie Esteriori’, historian Carlo Alberto Onorati includes the Betta of Stenico in his discussion of noble families. He admits that he didn’t know whether the Betta of Stenico came from the Betta of Rovereto, or one the Nones families. I have yet to find any other author even mention this line.

The clearest evidence we have of this family in Stenico is their presence as notaries. P. Remo Stenico lists five of them, the earliest being a Francesco Betta of Stenico, who appears in documents as far back as 1656.

Onorati offers no information about the specifics of their nobility, but says the Betta of Stenico retained the rank of Lords until the end of the 1800s, whereas most lesser nobility lost their titles and privileges as a result of the Napoleonic invasions.

Betta Artisans

In their book Artisti Trentini e Artisti Che Operarono Nel Trentino, authors Weber and Rasmo mention two Betta artisans:

  • Giovanni Maria Betta of Cavalese (1702-1775). Carver/engraver. In 1758, he gilded four reliquaries for the church of Panchià in Val di Fiemme, and also engraved the sacristy cabinets for the church in Valfloriana (also Val di Fiemme), signing them ‘Giovanni Maria Betta fecit anno 1772’.
  • Giuseppe Betta of Cavalese (died 1773). In 1730, he made a tabernacle in the church of Sanzeno to contain the relics of the Holy Cross. He engraved another tabernacle for the church at Tesero, and a third one for the main altar of the church of the Franciscans in Cavalese.

Betta Priests

Similar to his book on notaries, P. Remo Stenico book Sacerdoti della Diocesi di Trento dalla sua Esistenza Fino all’Anno 2000, is a compilation of names of priests who served in the Diocese of Trento throughout the centuries. In that book, he lists more than 50 priests with the Betta surname.

I’ve already mentioned Bonifacio Betta’s son Giovanni (1499-1565), who served as the Bishop of Trieste. While he was born in Arco, the earliest Betta priests Stenico mentions are all from Tierno, most likely born a century before Giovanni in the late 1300s or early 1400s.

Other Betta of Note

Bertoluzza lists many people (well…actually all men) of note who had the surname Betta. Here are a few he mentions:

  • Lodovico Betta of Arco (1500s). Latin poet.
  • Francesco Betta dal Toldo of Rovereto (1526-1599). Legal consultant, expert.
  • Felice Giuseppe Betta of Rovereto (ca 1701-1765). Historian and scholar.
  • Ferdinando Betta of Brentonico (1700s-1800s). Lawyer and translator.
  • Edoardo Francesco de Betta (1822-1896) of Malgolo, politician, zoologist, natural sciences.
  • Nino Beta of Rovereto (1909-1991). Writer, professor, recipient of gold medal for culture.
  • Bruno Betta of Rovereto (1908-1997). Antifascist, writer, professor.

Closing thoughts

We all like a little bit of ‘glamour’ in our family history. This is why tales of ‘exotic’ Spanish origins, dramatic flights from one’s homeland 1,000 years ago, and ancient nobility dating back to the Roman Empire can be awfully alluring – and enduring – when we construct our family histories. But as a genealogist, I feel it is my responsibility to present these to you as theories for your consideration, but not ironclad facts. Somehow, when reading the accounts of all the legal disputes back in the 1500s, I get the impression those Betta notaries were pretty good ‘talkers’ (not unlike courtroom lawyers today), and they were able to convince people of influence (such as the Prince-Bishops) of their ancestral lineage, which may or may not have been true.

Just because a certain version of a story has been repeated many times over, does not prove its veracity. But equally, a lack of tangible proof does not necessarily make something untrue.

But one thing is absolutely true: The Betta family has a colourful story. And, in truth, the story itself (even if it’s completely made up) is also part of their history, as it has become part of the family identity.

And if it’s part of YOUR family story, it really is up to you to choose the version you wish to own, and pass on to future generations.

Coming Up…

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

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

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

Until then…

Lynn Serafinn, genealogist at Trentino Genealogy

Warm wishes,
Lynn Serafinn
26 October  2020

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

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

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

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REFERENCES

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

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

CROLLALANZA (di), G.B. 1886. Dizionario Storico-Blasonico delle Famiglie Nobili E Notabili Italiane Estinte E Fiorenti. 3 volumes. Bologna: Arnaldo Forni Editore.

MICHELI, Pietro. 1985. Carta della Regola della Magnifica Comunità di Revò. Trento: Grafiche Artigianelli.

ONORATI, Carlo Alberto. 1993. ‘Le famiglie nobili e notabili delle Giudicarie Esteriori’. Judicaria, January-April 1993, n. 22. p 8-46. Tione: Centro Studi Judicaria.

RAUZI, Gian Maria. Araldica Tridentina: stemmi e famiglie del Trentino. 1987. Trento: Grafiche Artigianelli.

SERAFINN, Lynn. 2018. ‘Was One of Your Trentino Ancestors a Notary?’ Published on 26 May 2018 at https://trentinogenealogy.com/2018/05/trentino-ancestor-notary/

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

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

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

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