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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.

Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Spring 2021

As much as many of us may look back at 2020 and say, “What a dumpster fire,” it seems 2021 isn’t much of an improvement. Though I’d like to think we’re going to eventually get to an overall better, more positive place by the end of the year. Besides, I think I’ve let go of the idea of “good years” and “bad years” and, really, it is what it is – a little bit of both – and that’s just life.

Personally, I’ve experienced two losses so far this year and that has certainly shaped my attitude about 2021. My only paternal aunt passed away and it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it still fills me with sadness to know she’s gone. The other was our parrot of 10 years, Avery, whose loss is heartbreaking. We didn’t anticipate it and, sadly, that’s often the way it goes with birds.

Spring 2021 | Our Prairie Nest
Me and my baby, Avery.

People, of course, are asking or saying – if I’m being honest – dumb and insensitive things. “I didn’t realize he was that old”/”How old was he?” He was 10, thank you very much. “Was he sick?” No and, again, thank you so much for asking. Oh, and sending me pictures or videos of why parrots are so great. Um… pardon me, why? I’m grieving a sudden loss and these things are really twisting the knife. When someone loses someone precious to them, why do people feel the need to ask the how, what, and why? Especially when there is an understandable degree of guilt, since that life was your responsibility? Pet owners often feel guilt, even if they shouldn’t, and these kinds of questions push that idea that somehow it was our fault that our pet died. If that’s what you’re trying to do when people lose a beloved pet, congratulations. You succeeded. If that isn’t your intention, would you please simply say, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Do you want to talk about it?” and leave it at that?

So that’s my mini-rant about that.

Anyway, we never plan on having another bird. Getting one was originally my husband’s idea, because he’s a bird lover. However, he soon realized the amount of work that goes into being a “bird parent” is disproportionate to the amount of energy and attention he was actually willing to put in. I became Avery’s bird mom and loved every moment of it, after never in my life considering having a parrot. We’re all feeling the loss, though, and we know that we don’t want to go through it again. Even our cats have noticed something has changed (namely, Avery not plucking their fur, pecking their paws, and sitting on their backs), and they seem a little gloomy about it.

There are, of course, good things to share. It’s not all sadness. My son went to prom for the third and, likely, last time. He’s a senior and partied his Saturday night away with his class. It was an exciting but sad moment for me. I remember going to the prom with his dad 28 years ago.

Clearly, I’m losing it.

My son took my weeping in stride, thankfully. My husband got a kick out of it and obliged me by taking tons of pictures. Graduation is only 3 weeks from now. I’ll be sure to bring copious amounts of tissues.

My daughter said she doesn’t want 2nd grade to end. I don’t blame her, and I also reminded her that she was the one saying she didn’t want school to start last August. She laughed about that, and we talked about beginnings, endings, and how everything has it’s time and place and cycle.

As far as genealogy, I’m turning my attention to my husband’s family. He descends mostly from recent immigrants from so many different countries, that his ancestry presents a unique challenge to me. The majority of my ancestors have been in New England since the Mayflower and Great Migration. There is a branch from Virginia and North Carolina in the 1600s and 1700s that ultimately sort of folded into my New England ancestors, and then my few recent immigrant ancestors are from England, Ireland, and Italy. All very familiar territory for me. My ex-husband’s ancestors are also mostly Great Migration New Englanders, as well as settlers in New Brunswick and Quebec. I know my way around New England and Canada fairly well, genealogically-speaking.

My husband’s ancestors are from Ireland, Quebec, and there are two or three lines that were in the U.S. by at least the 1700s, that went west from Pennsylvania and Virginia. Other than that, I’m looking at countries I’ve never had to work with: Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, and Switzerland. Working on each line is challenging, because none of them are well-documented, except the ones from Quebec. DNA is a helpful tool here. Many of my husband’s matches still reside in Norway, Finland, and other European countries.

I’m also looking at both of our mtDNA lines. My ex-husband’s mtDNA line was super easy to trace. He’s an A2 and we were able to document him back to the daughter of Chief Madokawando, who’d married Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Castin. Many of my ex-husband’s mtDNA matches with a genetic distance of zero (15 matches) also descend from this couple.

My mtDNA haplogroup is H1aj1 and that’s the one I’m most interested in exploring right now. I have only 2 matches with a zero genetic distance, however. One is my maternal uncle, so clearly we know which ancestor we share – my nana/his mother. However, we have another match, born in Sicily. As this is the Italian side of my family, I’m hoping to pinpoint how the other match is related to us. Recently, I dedicated many nights to working on our match’s maternal family to see if it might give me clues about mine. The most recent maternal ancestor I can name is my 4th great-grandmother, Angela Giusto, probably born in Cogoleto, and definitely died between 1842 (when my 3rd great-grandmother was born) and 1865 (when Angela’s husband, my 4th great-grandfather, Tomaso Pedemonte, remarried in Cogoleto). Since records for Cogoleto during this time frame aren’t available online yet, I need to be patient.

Working on my match’s family was quite interesting, since he had documented 3 maternal generations, and I was able to add 5 more through vital records in the towns of Lascari and Gratteri, in Palermo, Sicily. The interesting thing is my maternal family is from northern Italy, while his entire family is from Sicily, two completely different regions. Will I find our shared maternal ancestor in Sicily? If so, when and why did my family go north? It’s a project I’ll be working on for the foreseeable future. One neat thing of note is that when you click my 23andMe ethnicity results to look at the breakdown for Italy, it does show Sicily as one of the regions. Sooo, who knows?

Finally, I ordered my husband’s full sequence mitochondrial DNA test and that result came last week. He is haplogroup V11. He has fewer matches at a genetic distance of zero than my ex-husband does, but many more than I do, with 8 matches. I think there’s a good chance that at least a couple of them will make a good basis for comparison as far as finding out more about my husband’s maternal lineage. I’m specifically focusing on the Scandinavian matches or those with most distant ancestors with Scandinavian names, since that’s where I’m sure we’ll find a connection.

The most distant maternal ancestor I have for my husband is his 3rd great-grandmother, Maria Ursula Taescher, born about 1853, maybe in Switzerland. She married Emil Anton Ospelt on 6 November 1876 in Liechtenstein, and they emigrated to the United States. They were in Dubuque, Iowa for some time before moving to Washington County, Oregon, where she died on May 9, 1930. I don’t have the names of Emil’s or Maria’s parents, and don’t know if their death certificates will yield that information, so I’m starting there (I placed my request this weekend), and will work my way back.

I might try to work on a more in-depth post about working with mtDNA in the future. For now, though, the rest of spring will probably be a flurry of activity. We have an awards night at the high school for fine arts students, so I’ll be attending that, followed the next night by my son’s last concert in guitar and choir. And then there will be graduation. Meanwhile, my daughter is supposed to start softball this year. We signed up last year, but it was a wash due to Covid. However, my husband, son, and I are all vaccinated, and my daughter is eager to play. We’re all hoping for a kid-safe vaccine soon!

Well, that’s the news from here. I wish it was happier, but I’m grateful for the years I had with my aunt and my Avery.

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?