Saturday, March 16, 2013

One puzzle solved, others unresolved, but exploration always a pleasant and rewarding undertaking

This shows about half of the small cemetary at Ugliancaldo.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 (part 2)
Having finished our time in Gramolazzo, Carlo drives us west onto a high Alpi Apuane ridge to the little town of Ugliancaldo. Carlo had made an interesting discovery during one of his previous trips to the alta Garfagnana, and now I have the opportunity to see for myself. It is a small cemetery next to the church in Ugliancaldo full of gravestones with a familiar surname: Spadoni. This cemetery is less than 50 feet by 50 feet, and yet we find at least 20 Spadoni grave markers, some within the last 30 years and others 100 years old.

At least 20 grave markers had the surname Spadoni.
World War 2 memorial to those fallen in battle.
We wonder how long the Spadoni family has had roots in Ugliancaldo. Could these people have been descendants of the brother of one of our ancestors? It seems the circumstances here are very similar to those of the Spadoni family of the Valdinievole. In the case of our family tree, Francesco Spadoni moved to Stignano in the 1400s and his descendants now populate the towns around Stignano in a radius of about five miles. The tomb in Stignano and the nearby cemetery in Ponte Buggianese also are packed with Spadoni graves.

After I snap a few photos, we take a stroll around the very silent town. I estimate by looking at the number of houses that during its peak years, the city housed upwards of 600 people. Carlo finds an old lady working in her yard and asks how many families live here now. Only four or five, she says, although during the summer many more families come back to their ancestral homes to escape the heat of the lowlands.

“Are there any Spadonis who live here?” Carlo asks. Yes, there is Oreste, who lives just down this street. We ring Oreste’s doorbell and Carlo introduces us. We are invited inside and Carlo explains how he and I are distantly related to each other and that he has traced our family through the church and civic archives back to the 1400s. I am very happy to have Carlo with me today. Usually I am so limited in what I can say, but now he does all the talking for me, and he says all the things I want to say if only I could.

Carlo, Paul and Oreste Spadoni
What is the story of the Spadoni family in Ugliancaldo, Carlo wants to know. Oreste knows the name of his grandfather, but that’s about it. When the Spadoni family first came here and where they came from he has no idea, nor does he know where such records would have been kept. However, would we like some homemade grappa, he asks? It seems unlikely we will ever find out how or if we are related, but that doesn’t stop us from having a nice chat about Ugliancaldo. Afterwards, his wife Giuseppina walks with us back to the church. She has the key and takes us inside for a little tour. We see more evidence of the family on the walls of the church, as Nello Spadoni helped oversee the construction of the cappella, and his name is inscribed in the wall.

Before we leave, Carlo asks directions to Bigliolo, because I have told him that I am in e-mail contact with a Robert Spadoni from California and a Sharon Spadoni Dines in Chicago whose ancestors come from Bigliolo. This little town is another half hour to the northwest, and I figure that at the least, I can get a photo of myself next to the sign for Bigliolo and e-mail it to Robert and Sharon.

Carlo, however, has outdone me. He had looked online and found the name of the only Spadoni of Bigliolo, Enrico, and by asking a few passersby for directions, we locate Enrico’s house and find him working on his olive trees with son Matteo in the hillsides above their house. He does have a large farm, as Robert had told me. We pass Enrico’s vineyards and a large barn full of cows between his house and olive grove. Soon we are in his house with his wife Paolita, sharing a bottle of wine and talking about our families.

Enrico confirms that Robert Spadoni and Robert’s brother Ken and their sisters are his cousins, and though he thinks he has relatives in Boston or Chicago, he doesn’t know who they are. Unfortunately, Enrico does not have much information about his ancestry. His father’s name was Giuseppe and his grandfather Enrico, born around 1880. He thinks his great grandfather may have been named Domenico. By looking at information Robert has sent, I determine that Giuseppe had a brother, Angelo, who went to California and had five children, one of whom is Robert.

Paul, Carlo, Matteo and Enrico Spadoni among the olive trees in Bigliolo.
Where does Sharon fit in? That is still to be determined. Sharon has told me that her great-grandfather is Giovanni Spadoni of Bigliolo, born around 1850, but that birthdate seems to put him a generation before the Enrico of 1880.  I believe Enrico’s father Domenico was the brother of Giovanni, but I will need to do some on-line research to see if I can verify this.

In any event, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to determine a link between the families of Bigliolo, Ugliancaldo and Stignano. One thing is becoming clear, though. All the Spadoni families of the Garfagnana and the Valdinievole that we have learned about were contadini, and they were at least wealthy enough to be property owners and not tenant farmers. When they had children, traditionally only the eldest son inherited the property. The other sons, though, did inherit something important—they learned the value of investing their sweat into the soil, of raising crops and farm animals, of preserving and preparing food, of saving for the future—and they learned to bring up their children with the same knowledge, values and work ethic. The younger sons sometimes moved to neighboring communities to take wives and buy their own farms. Over a period of 1,000 years or more, the Spadoni name spread up and down this region of Tuscany, and perhaps to other regions as well.

Of course it is also possible that more than one person in Tuscany earned the nickname Spadone, or Big Sword, and so there could be several unconnected groups of descendants. I prefer to think that we are related, but in the grand scheme of life, it is probably not important.

Carlo, just out of the photo on the left, talks to Paolita
and Enrico in the fire-warmed living room of their farm home.
What is nice about the whole affair is that this search has brought me to Enrico’s house to enjoy a conversation and bottle of wine, and earlier to Oreste’s house, and to this whole fantastic day getting to know Carlo and Franco. I have made connections with Robert in California and Sharon in Chicago. I am slowing learning Italian and have come to a greater appreciation of the importance of family and the sacrifices that parents make for their children. All of this is more important than filling in a blank spot on a family tree, but the genealogical pursuit has been a good vehicle to carry me here, and these are the things I reflect on during the two-hour drive back home.
Note: Two days later, I spend four hours searching on the computer, and I finally find proof that Domenico and Giovanni were brothers, thus solving the mystery of how Robert and Sharon are related. This adds an extra element of satisfaction to this little adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Such a great experience. Why have villages like Uglaincaldo died? With the beautiful setting you would think that that alone would sustain them?



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