- Posts for family history tag
Enslaved People in my Family History | Our Prairie Nest
Enslaved People in my Family History

Some of my ancestors fall under the definition of enslavers. Not all of them and not only the southern ones, either. Many people think slavery was endemic only to the southern United States, as far as U.S. history, but that’s not correct. There were enslaved people in the northern states, and I found at least one in my family in the federal census in Rhode Island. At the time, I didn’t pay as much attention as I do now, but I never forgot the surprise of seeing a tick mark in the box indicating my family had an enslaved person.

When I discovered my southern ancestors and found documents naming the people they kept enslaved, I decided to explore further and look into the names and histories of these people. Some people don’t understand why I would do that, let alone care. Maybe some people find it distasteful to address these aspects of our country’s history. Others, I know, say they would never admit to having ancestors who were enslavers. However, I think it’s important to address this, because it’s a fact of my family history. Rather than bury our heads in the sand, we need to say this was wrong and amoral, and learn from history.

However, the main reason I choose to talk or write about this is also because the enslaved people were people. They had their own personalities, thoughts, feelings, and hopes. Being enslaved is not and should not be all that defines them. So I would like to talk about the enslaved people in my family history. Furthermore, I would like to learn more about each and every one of them, if at all possible. Did they go on to have descendants? What were their experiences? What were their descendants’ experiences? Do they have living descendants today who are aware of their ancestors’ past as enslaved people? What are their thoughts and feelings about their ancestors’ experiences?

The Enslaved People

My nearest ancestor I can pinpoint as keeping enslaved people in his home is my 5th great-grandfather, Richard Howett, born about 1755 and died between 13 May 1805 (date of his Will) and 8 Feb 1806 (date his Will was probated) in Tyrrell County, North Carolina. His Will was the first document I ever found that named people who had been enslaved and also a sobering reality check. These people truly were treated as things, bequeathed in a Will with all other belongings, as if they were nothing more than livestock or furniture. Here are excerpts from Richard’s Will referring specifically to enslaved people:

I give unto my well beloved wife Lydia Howett one negro woman called Genea… I also lend the use of the following negroes one negro woman called Chloe one negro by called Washington on conditions that my wife raises the increase of these two negro women lent during her life, also I lend to my wife one negro man called Squire during her natural life… I leave to my son Richad Howett one still it is my will and desire that negro woman Tamer and negro woman Silve be sold by my executors at six months credit to the highest bidder at public auction the purchaser giving bond with good security and the money arising from said sail shall be equally divided between Charlotte Windsor and Patsey Windsor as their full share of my estate, I give my son Silvenus Howett a negro boy called Washington that I have lent to my wife at her death…

In addition to Richard’s Will, the fourth document in his probate file shows that Joshua Skinner filed a petition in 1822 for the sale and division of negroes, stating Lydia, Richard’s wife, did not adhere to the terms of the Will, to “raise the increase” of the negro women Chloe (Cloe) and Moll. Chloe had 4 children: Nancy, Mary, Samuel and Patience, and the petition asked that they be sold and the funds divided among the Howett heirs entitled to them.

Another document from 1821 shows the following enslaved people sold as part of the estate (their ages were listed in the document, and I added estimated dates of birth): Jim (23 – b. 1798), Aggy (20 – b. 1801), Jimmy (5 – b. 1816), Cooper (3 – b. 1818) (Jimmy and Cooper were Aggy’s sons), and Mariah (15 – b. 1806). Others named in the estate were a boy, Spinner/Spencer, and an old woman, Doll (or possibly Moll).

Seeing the actual document with your own eyes is very different than seeing it typed out, but no matter how we come across such records, acknowledging our history is important. Even more important is not letting the history of these people end up buried and forgotten. My ancestors enslaved them, but I promise to honor their lives.

Mid Year Goal Revisit | Our Prairie Nest
Mid-Year Goal Revisit

I generally prefer structure, and set goals and expectations. Of course, last year messed that up for many of us, so it feels good to return to structure. The 3 adults in our household are fully vaccinated, as are the majority of our friends. For us, there was never any question about our willingness to get the Covid vaccines. Now, our social calendar has started to fill out more. We’re still cautious, but more relaxed as far as interacting with certain people.

At the start of the year, I set some loose genealogical goals and, with summer coming, it’s time to revisit them.

Benson

This remains an easily solvable problem. I just need to visit a Family History Library for access to a particular database. Since the Omaha Public Library is an FHL affiliate library, I’m going to try them first. Our closest FHLs have odd hours, so the Omaha Public Library seems like the best place to start. Unfortunately, I’ve tried contacting them to ask if their FHL affiliate status means we can access databases that are otherwise locked from access at home. The reference librarian doesn’t seem to understand my question, so it’s a matter of visiting and giving it a try.

Hawksley

I set this goal aside for now, but I do have promising DNA matches in England. What I’d really like is to see someone with the Hawksley surname from the UK take a Y-DNA test with Family Tree DNA. That would be optimal, since I manage the Hawksley DNA project there.

mtDNA

I’ve made slow, but steady progress on researching my mtDNA line. First, I extended the maternal line of my closest match. His ancestors are in Sicily from the 1700s through the 1900s, and probably even further back in time. Then, I was able to finally find my 4th great-grandmother’s mother. It looks like Angela Giusto’s mother was Maria Bruzzone. There are far fewer records available online for the region I’m researching than there are for Sicily, and no church records. I’d like to find Angela Giusto and Tomasso Pedemonte’s marriage, so I can confirm her parents, and perhaps learn where they were born.

Wood/Gray

This is an unexpected goal I added to my genealogical research this year. My Wood and Gray families are from Manchester, Lancashire, England, and various places in England and Ireland before that. The GRO (General Register Office) makes it easy to order birth, marriage, and death records online as PDFs for a mere £7. That’s not quite $10 USD. So I’ve been getting any records from 1837 to present that are relevant to my direct ancestors.

Southern Ancestors

I think one of the goals I haven’t set, but would like to, is learning more about my southern ancestors and how they fared during and after the Civil War. I have many DNA cousins on this branch, and I think I would love to learn more about this family.

As for personal goals, those have pretty much been:

  1. Read more often, usually a half hour every night.
  2. Finish a cross-stitch. There’s no excuse not to, since I’m at the backstitching stage!
  3. Level up my genealogy skills.

I think I’m doing pretty well at all of these goals, and the year itself has mostly been a good one. We did have a bumpy May, though, with our water heater and grinder pump both going bad within less than a week of each other. We were fortunate enough to be able to replace both, and the silver lining is we can count them as part of our renovation, since they’re on the side of the house we have yet to start working on. Well, I guess now we’ve officially started that half!

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!