Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lost and found Italian cousins add to enjoyment of research and history

I recently found at least two Italian-American cousins while researching in Italy, although we’ve only met online. And until now, we weren’t 100% sure we were cousins. Now I’ve confirmed we are all descendants of Giovanni Lorenzo Di Vita, born in 1680, who is the great grandfather of my great grandmother Maria Marchi.

Agostino Di Vita, right, with his
daughter Anna Di Vita.
Why does this matter and why do I spend so much time researching my ancestry? Great questions, and I periodically ask them of myself. But then, why does anybody have any hobby? It’s just fun to piece together puzzle parts and make connections. It also helps to make history more interesting. When I read about the decline and inglorious end of the Medici dynasty in Tuscany during the early 1700s, I wonder how this affected Giovanni.

Cousins Nick Binotti and Suzanne (Di Vita) Louis found me online through this blog and Ancestry.com. We each had a Di Vita in our ancestral line, and they all came from Pescia, so it was quite likely we had a shared ancestor. Last spring, I tried to find the connection myself. I made some progress, but in the end, I lost the trail.

Most cities only started recording birth certificates when Italy became a country in the 1860s, so I had to rely on church documents—baptismal and wedding records—to find the connection. But there are many different churches in Pescia and the surrounding areas, and I had been looking in the wrong ones.

A further complication is the fact that the family could have been listed under three different surnames: Di Vita, Vita or Viti. I don’t know why, but it could have something to do with the fact that our early ancestors were all farmers, quite likely illiterate, and they lacked written documentation of the origin of their surname. I had been searching only for Di Vita, but then I found that a father’s birth name may have been recorded as Viti, while his son was recorded at Di Vita or Vita—or vice versa.

After my fruitless search, I moved on to plan B. Would Nick and Suzanne be interested in paying someone to trace their Di Vita ascendancy? If so, I knew the man for the job, the premier researcher in the Valdinievole. I sent what info I had to Andrea Mandroni and asked how much it would cost to search back far enough to connect Suzanne’s ancestor Ferruccio Di Vita, born in 1892, to Nick’s ancestor Agostino Di Vita, born in 1901. I sent Andrea’s price quotation to Suzanne and Nick, and they agreed to share the cost. We waited a few months, and Andrea succeeded where I had not, sending us his research in February.

His chart shows how Suzanne and Nick are related. I had held a secret hope that his research would somehow also shed light on my own ancestor, Maria Luisa Di Vita. I knew from her marriage record (which Andrea had found for me a few years ago) she had been born in 1799 and her mother’s surname was Cinelli.

I had unsuccessfully searched for her baptismal record last year, but I hadn’t realized two things: She was baptized as Maria Luisa Viti, not Di Vita, and it was at Chiesina Uzzanese, a church about five miles distant from Pescia (thanks to Andrea for that tip as well). The church record shows that her father was Francesco and her grandfather Michel Arcangelo (sometimes spelled Michel’Angiolo, Michel’Angelo), who was of the Pescia parish of Castellare. With a little more research, I was able to confirm that this Michelangelo is the same as the one on the chart Andrea made for Nick and Suzanne.

This makes Nick’s grandfather my fifth cousin (with Nick being my fifth cousin two generations removed). Suzanne’s grandfather Ferruccio is also my fifth cousin, and she is also two generations removed. However, Suzanne’s grandmother was Quinta Seghieri, who was first cousin of my grandmother Anita Seghieri, so from that line, she and I are third cousins and in the same generation. Not only that, Suzanne also has a Marchi and a Cinelli in her line of descent, as does my family.

Okay, I know that sound complicated and the details may be boring, but when it’s your own family you’re finding, somehow it’s fascinating, even addictive. I may never meet Nick or Suzanne, but knowing that we share a respect and passion for our Italian heritage, along with a few inherited genes, I can’t help but feel the camaraderie. Alla fine, siamo cugini.

1 comment:

  1. Paul have you sent in your DNA to Ancestry yet? I have many cousin stories that I will save for later. Technology is simply amazing . .

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