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Southern Italian Ancestors | Our Prairie Nest
Southern Italian Ancestors

Once upon a time, my father joked, “Why do you talk with your hands so much? What are you – Italian?” Being about 16 and not know any better, I shot back, “Maybe I am!”

Two years later, when I delved into genealogy in earnest, I learned the truth. Or half of it.

My mother’s mother’s family is Italian, from the Piedmont and Liguria regions of Italy. I’ve researched them for the past thirty years and learned a great deal about them recently thanks to Family Search and the Antenati website.

What no one knew thirty (and more) years ago was that my mother’s father was also Italian. Looking at him now, it’s pretty obvious that he looks nothing like the redheaded Irish man we were always told was his father. Grandpa’s mother had seven children, and we knew there were three different fathers among them. And then came DNA testing and the surprise that there was a fourth father!

At first, we thought DNA testing would confirm that either the man we’d always been told was grandpa’s father or the man who was my great-grandmother’s first husband was my grandpa’s father. The network of Italian matches connected to me, my mother, and my uncle, but not my nana, proved otherwise.

It was a close family member match that sealed the deal as far as determining my grandfather’s lineage. While close Y-DNA matches haven’t yet popped up yet, we had enough half first cousin matches to confirm my grandfather’s paternity.

The Feola Family

Where my nana’s mother was from northern Italy, my grandpa’s father was from southern Italy. His surname was Feola and his family came from Campora, Salerno, Campania, Italy. I have an enormous number of matches from this family. In fact, I think they are my largest genetic network. Campora suffered a genetic bottleneck in the 1700s, and the centuries of intermarriage are quite apparent as I work on a separate quick and dirty family tree to connect these matches, and then verify the lineages to add them to my tree.

Nearly all the surnames I find – Feola, Tomeo, Carone, Calabria, Perriello, Trotta, Vitale, Veltri, and others – recur frequently. On the one hand, it makes it easier to build and then verify the tree. On the other hand, the pedigree collapse means I can only guess at which ancestral couples passed on the DNA my matches and I share. I list that potential couple in my spreadsheet and notes, but also add “and possibly others.”

As far as my grandfather, it all starts with one of the sons of Antonio Michele Feola (born 8 December 1864 in Campora, and died after 1910, probably in Scituate, Plymouth, Massachusetts) and Alessandrina Beatrice Tomeo (per their marriage record, 18 April 1887 in Campora; she was born May of 1864 in Campora and died 21 May 1909 in Scituate, Plymouth, Massachusetts). I won’t say which son, because he has living grandchildren from his marriage to his wife, and it was certainly a surprise for them to find out they had half first cousins (my mother and her siblings). However, he is named in my family tree.

Antonio, or Anthony, was the son of Giovanni Feola and Teresa Sofia. Alessandrina was the daughter of Nicola Tomeo and Francesca Maria Trotta. I’ve been able to confirm a few generations with vital records, something I’m doing slowly and steadily, since I’m not focused on researching this part of my family at this time.

It’s still taking time to get used to the fact that these are my ancestors. However, there’s no doubt about it. The DNA has spoken! While I’m devoting far more interest and attention to my northern Italian ancestors, I think if I ever visit Italy, a trip to Campora would certainly be part of that.

Ernesta Maddalena Bergamasco
Northern Italian Ancestors

One of the techniques many genealogists use in working on brick walls or research questions is a technique called sideways searching or digging into the FAN Club (friends, associates, and neighbors). This means looking at collateral and other relationships to see if they might answer your questions. In 2021, my research focus is on my maternal Italian ancestors, the Galfré and Bergamasco families.

My Galfré ancestors came from Cuneo and maybe Spinetta before that, and then France another generation or two prior. My Bergamasco ancestors came from Moneglia, Cogoleto, and Cairo Montenotte.

Galfré

My great-great grandfather was Bartolomeo Giovanni Michele Galfré, born 22 January 1869 in Cuneo, Piedmont, Italy according to his Certificato di Nascita. He married Ernesta Maddalena Pedemonte Bergamasco on 24 October 1896 in Sanremo, Imperia, Liguria, Italy.

Bartolomeo had only one sibling, a brother named Giovanni Battista Galfré, born in 1868. Giovanni remained in Italy, while Bartolomeo emigrated to the United States. Bartolomeo died in Lakeville, Plymouth, Massachusetts on 5 October 1952.

Giovanni married Carolina Chialva and they had 8 children. He died 20 March 1948 in Cuneo.

His parents were Michele Galfré and Francesca Manassero. At this time, records for Cuneo and the other places associated with the family aren’t yet digitized, which means I haven’t found anything online. I’m not sure if the places and dates of birth I have for Michele and Francesca are correct, so I have not yet reached out to the Stato Civile to inquire.

I have supposed birthdates of 20 June 1836 for Michele and July 1839 for Francesca Manassero, both in Spinetta, Alessandria, Piedmont, Italy.

Michele’s parents were Giovanni Battista Bartolomeo Galfré and Teresa Dematteis. Francesca’s parents were Giovanni Manassero and Teresa Cavallo. I have no other information, except for their son Giovanni’s family in Italy. I am even in touch with Giovanni’s descendants, and what little information I have that isn’t proven by records comes from them through my aunt, who once visited with them.

Bergamasco

Ernesta Maddalena Pedemonte Bergamasco was born 18 May 1871 in Moneglia, Genoa, Liguria, Italy. I’ve had better luck researching her family because records for Moneglia are digitized and browsable via the Family Search catalog.

Though Ernesta’s surname in her birth record is Pedemonte, her surname in her marriage is given as Bergamasco. Her mother, Caterina, was married twice, though the surnames of her children differed.

Caterina Santina Pedemonte was born 18 December 1842 in Cogoleto, Genora, Liguria, Italy. She first married Giacomo Spiazzi, of Verona, around 1864. I will continue searching for their marriage record. Caterina had 3 children with Giacomo:

  1. Bartolomeo Spiazzi, born 13 Jun 1865 in Finale Pia, Savona, Liguria, Italy. He married Anna Teresa Maria Costa on 27 January 1910 in Moneglia, and had at least 2 children.

His sons were Aurelio Spiazzi, who later became known as Raimondo Spiazzi, the Catholic theologian (1918-2004), and Enrico Giacomo Attilio Spiazzi (1920-?), about whom I know nothing more.

2. Emilia Spiazzi, born about 1866. She married Alessandro Zanetti about 1887, and they had at least 4 children. They were:

Alfredo Zanetti (abt 1887-1944), who emigrated to Chile and married Rosa Zúñiga Gonzalez in Santiago in 1919; Ida Luigia Zanetti (1889-1969) who married Bartolomeo Angelo Carlo Bado; Arturo Giovanni Zanetti (1891-?); and Adelina Giulia Maria Zanetti (1895-?) who married Luogo Giovanni Del Pio.

3. Angela Spiazzi, born 24 June 1868 in Cogoleto, Genoa, Liguria, Italy, and died 14 January 1936 in Moneglia. She married Natale Giuseppe Chiapponi and had at least 3 children. They were:

Anna Santina Domenica Chiapponi (1890-1907); Ernesta Pierina Beatrice Chiapponi (1892-1895); and Natale Giuseppe Chiapponi (1922-?). The gap between children is interesting and I wonder if Angela and Natale lived elsewhere for some time between 1907 and 1920, before returning to Moneglia.

Giacomo Spiazzi went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and died of cholera there in February of 1869. Caterina then went on to have many more children, and their birth records name either their mother or their father, but not both. These were probably the children of Giuseppe Bergamasco, who was born about 1837 in Cairo Montenotte, Savona, Liguria, Italy.

These children were as follows:

4. Possibly Theresa Adelaide Bergamasco, born about 1869 and died 8 October 1881 in Moneglia. Her death record names her father as Giuseppe Bergamasco.

5. Giovanni Battista Pedemonte, or Uncle John, took the name of Bergamasco later, born 21 December 1870 in Vado Ligure, Savona, Liguria, Italy. He came to the United States with his half-brother, Bartolomeo Spiazzi, and stayed briefly. The family story is that he returned to Italy to deal with some health problems in his 50s, got married, and died within 6 months of his marriage, before March of 1925. According to family lore, his death was considered suspicious.

6. Ernesta Maddalena Pedemonte, took the name of Bergamasco later, born 18 May 1873 in Moneglia. My great-great grandmother. When she and Bartolomeo emigrated to the United States, she never saw her mother or sisters again, but she did have visits from her brothers.

7. Enrico Dante Alessandro Bergamasco, born 13 February 1881 and died 16 February 1881 in Moneglia.

8. Pietro Bergamasco, born 7 March 1882 in Moneglia and died sometime after 15 December 1925, probably in Chile. Pietro had a clothing manufacturing company located at Casilla 147, Los Andes, Chile, known as: Fabrica Italiana de Fideos “La Estrella Polar” de Moltedo, Bergamasco y Cia.

9. Alessandro Bergamasco, born 7 March 1882 in Moneglia, died 2 June 1882. Twins ran in the family, as Ernesta also had twins for her first pregnancy. Unfortunately, both also died in infancy.

10. Aurelio Archimede Bergamasco, born 9 December 1885 in Moneglia. My Nana and her siblings all referred to him as Uncle Archie. I don’t know any more about him. Also, he has another name from what I can tell from his birth record, but I can’t read it!

11. Adele Bergamasco, born 11 November 1886 in Moneglia. I don’t know any more about her.

Caterina also had a brother, Giovanni Carlo Pedemonte (abt 1837-1887), who married Maria Luigia Porchetto, and had at least 10 children, all of whom I have been able to document to some extent.

Caterina’s parents were Tomaso Pedemonte and Angela Giusto. Angela is my most distant known mtDNA ancestor at this time, and I hope to learn more about her with focused research.

Giuseppe Bergamasco’s parents were Antonio Bergamasco and Maddalena Bozzolasco, and he had 3 siblings – Agnes, Maria, and Caterina. Giuseppe certainly knew Giacomo Spiazzi and Caterina Pedemonte, because Giuseppe their son Bartolomeo’s godfather.

That is what I know about my northern Italian ancestors at this time, but I hope to learn more soon!

DNA Confirmation | Our Prairie Nest
DNA Confirmation of Ancestry

One of the most exciting things happened to me in December of 2019 – I finally resolved a 26-year-old brick wall! During 2020, I poked at my new research questions here and there, which included delving into the ancestry of my great-great grandmother Emma’s father, Francis Wallace (1838-1892).

At first, I didn’t find much beyond my great-great grandmother’s baptism naming him as her father and a Nova Scotia directory listing for him in Port Mulgrave, employed as a clerk. Not much to go on, but I persevered during 2020 and put together a family group for Francis.

There weren’t many Wallaces in Nova Scotia, so I looked at all of them, particularly those in the same area as Francis. Little by little, I found that Francis was the brother of Vincent J. Wallace (1835-1878), who married Margaret Mahoney and worked as a customs agent. Vincent and Margaret had at least 3 children together.

This find was thanks to locating the baptisms of both Vincent and Francis, whose parents were listed as James Wallace and Rebecca Elizabeth Smith. Their father, James, also worked as a customs agent. Even more interesting to me was the fact that James and Rebecca’s marriage told me not only the names of their parents, but also that James was from County Wexford.

As it turned out, my great-great grandmother’s maternal grandparents are also from County Wexford. Since so many people emigrated in groups or stuck with people from known communities, this makes sense. I wonder if the Murphys and Wallaces knew each other in Ireland, or if they were from different parishes (seems more likely).

I found that Francis Wallace came to Boston and died there in 1892. While his death record and probate offer no further details about him, it’s interesting to know he followed his illegitimate daughter to Massachusetts.

Of course, I still couldn’t be absolutely sure that Francis was Emma’s father with only a baptismal record. However, it was nice to have a paper trail that added 2 to 3 generations to an ancestor who’d given me so much genealogical trouble for my entire adult life.

You can probably imagine my excitement when a DNA match who confirmed Wallace ancestors showed up in my Ancestry matches last week. When I receive new matches, I always keep an eye out for certain surnames. This particular match was a Wallace, but because the match was female, I didn’t assume this was her maiden/birth name.

However, as soon as I built out her family tree, I found that she descended from James Wallace and Rebecca Elizabeth Smith through a third son – Edward William Wallace! I did a happy dance to celebrate having a DNA match who shared this ancestral couple with me.

Someone asked how I made the connections between Francis and Vincent, and got to this point with the Wallace family. I ultimately accomplished this research with a combination of methods – DNA, indexed records, and unindexed browseable records. These records included directories, baptisms, marriages, probates, and Canadian censuses, as I tried to pinpoint which Wallaces were mine.

There are, I’m sure, even more records that are not digitized that have additional facts about my Wallace, Smith, Murphy, and Fraser ancestors in Nova Scotia, and certainly back in Ireland and Scotland.

Now that I feel this lineage is proven, thinking about Vincent and James Wallace brings me back to a family story: my great-great grandma Emma used to show one of my great-uncles pictures of ships she said were owned by wealthy ancestors. My great-uncle thought those ancestors were in trade or had a route from Nova Scotia, Canada to the Boston area.

Once I made the connection to the Wallaces who worked as customs agents, this story made sense. I doubt my Irish ancestors owned ships, but Vincent and James certainly inspected cargo coming into Nova Scotia. And how would that cargo have arrived in the early and mid-1800s but on a ship?

Genealogy Goals for 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Genealogy Goals in 2021

It’s time to decide what my genealogy goals are in the new year. This is more difficult than previous years, because I had the same goal from year to year. Ever since I broke through my nearest brick wall, I spent 2020 a little “scattered,” for lack of a better term. However, I did make excellent progress with my maternal Italian ancestors and correcting a family story that stated my great-great grandmother had an uncle who was a bishop (2020 correction: she had a nephew who was a theologian and advisor to a pope).

So it’s time to focus on some SMART goals for 2021.

My Ancestors

Even though I finally determined who my great-great grandmother Emma’s parents (and grandparents!) were, I still don’t know who her first husband, Mr. Reagan, was. I’d like to find this first name, their date of marriage, and what ultimately happened to him (divorce or death).

The first wife of Edward Curtis of Dudley, Massachusetts was Esther (born circa 1747 and died in 1840), and her maiden name remains unknown. I have a network of DNA matches who I am sure share her unknown parents as ancestors. I’d like to solve that mystery this year.

I would like to get a look at the probate record of Elisha Benson (1731-1813) found in Vermont to verify that he and his wife, Sarah Steward (1732-1790), are the parents of Levi Benson (circa 1765 – 1815) of Wareham, Massachusetts.

My Galfre ancestors in Italy come from France a generation or two prior, and I’d like to find that connection.

I would also like to focus on my mitochondrial lineage. Our mtDNA haplogroup is H1aj1, which seems to indicate Jewish ancestry. My most distant known maternal ancestor is Angela Giusto of Cogoleto, Genoa, Liguria, Italy. I’m giving her an estimated birth year of about 1815 or so, since her two known children were born in 1837 and 1842.

Other Ancestors 

My ex-husband’s paternal ancestors are still a mystery that I would love to solve. His third great-grandfather was John Goodwin Hawksley, born iN Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick, Canada in 1810. He had three sisters. Their parents were an unknown Hawksley and Mary Goodwin, the daughter of New Jersey loyalists whose names also remain unknown.

Online trees that give the unknown Hawksley man a name go with either Guy or William, both of which I believe are incorrect. My hypothesis based on research and DNA points to a British man who was stationed at Fredericton during the time frame that John and his sisters were conceived and born. That man returned to his family in Ireland and England after his service, and that was that. Is my hypothesis correct? I don’t know, but I hope to find out as I enter my 28th year of researching that family.

Wish me luck!