Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ancient family ties, common interest bind me to cousin Carlo Spadoni

Monday, April 16
Education and psychology have their share of buzzwords, many of which I have learned and since forgotten during the 31 years I was a teacher. One that has stuck with me is the term closure, which can be defined as filling in the gaps, or reaching a state of resolution, conclusion or completeness. A simple analogy can be made by comparing closure to the feeling of fitting the final piece of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in place.

Today I feel a sense of closure on my Spadoni family tree research, not in the sense that I will cease adding names or lose interest in meeting relatives, but more in the sense that I have found everything I could have hoped to find when I set out on this journey. My encounter this evening with Carlo Spadoni feels like I have put in place the final piece.

Two days ago, I received an e-mail from Carlo. He obtained my address from Andrea Mandroni,  the archivist who helped me trace my family back to 1600 and then showed me how it fit into a family tree done by a local Spadoni family that took the family line back to 1430. Carlo is the man who spearheaded this research, and unlike my closer Italian relatives in Italy, he shares my interest in family history and is eager to talk about it.

We meet in our apartment at Casolare and enjoy Lucy’s homemade apple crisp, topped with gelato, as we share information about our immediate families, and I question him about the greater Spadoni family in Italy. He gives me a 90-page book containing the story of his research into the Spadoni family of Stignano. It includes photos and transcriptions of ancient documents and very brief notations of events that took place, such as a notation that 1631 was an Anno Pestilentie, a year of widespread disease.

The book focuses on Stignano, Carlo says, because this is where one finds the first records of the Spadoni family in this region. Stignano is a hill town, on the same set of hills surrounding the Pescia valley as Montecatini Alto, Buggiano Castello and Montecarlo. Prior to the 1600s, the flatlands below were swampy, full of mosquitos and subject to frequent flooding. The grand duke of Tuscany made the problem worse by damming up the rivers to create a lake for his fishing vacations. Local residents had little choice but to farm the hillsides.

When the lake and swamps were drained by a series of canals and levies, the areas below opened up for farming wheat, corn and other grains, and people of the hillside cities moved into the lowlands, which had been enriched by soil deposits from the years of flooding. Many of the Spadoni families, my ancestors included, moved to Ponte Buggianese. Not a single Spadoni remains in Stignano today.
But with the groundwork that Carlo has done, it is theoretically possible for every Spadoni family in the area to do what I have done. By tracing my line back as far as my Stignano ancestor, I can see how I am related to Carlo. We are very distant cousins, since our branches diverged in the late 1400s. He is descended from Michele, born around 1480, and my line comes from Michele’s brother Bartolomeo, born around 1490. Not important, Carlo says. We are still cousins, and I agree wholeheartedly.

What about the other Spadonis who now live in Ponte Buggianese and Borgo a Buggiano, I want to know. They are all descendants of the Stignano family, Carlo says. I am delighted to hear this confirmation, as it means that I have been correct when I told members of the Chicago and Seattle Spadoni families that I believe we are related. All of the Seattle family and most of the Spadonis in Chicago come from Ponte Buggianese and Borgo a Buggiano. If they can trace their lines back to Stignano, we can find the specific connection. This also means that the Spadoni who was sindaco of Ponte Buggianese around 1900 is a relative, as was Italo Spadoni, who has a street named after him with a memorial affixed to the wall of the city’s central piazza.
Can you see any family resemblance? Carlo says his blue eyes come from his mother.

Carlo also knows that the father of Michele and Bartolomeo, Francesco, moved from a little town called Marliana, about eight miles deeper in the mountains behind Stignano. Francesco’s father, also named Bartolomeo, certainly came from Marliana. I’ll have to put that on my list of places to visit next year. Beyond that, Carlo has no records. We are fortunate, he says, that the churches and government offices in this region kept such detailed records, because many Italian families in other parts of the country can’t trace their roots nearly as deeply as we have.

As for the surname Spadoni, he does not know when that originated or if we are connected to the other Spadoni families in other Italian provinces. A number of early descendants had the middle name Romolo or Romola, so that could suggest a Roman origin, but that is only speculation. One thing he does know is that nearly every Spadoni ancestor he found is listed as a contadino, a country farmer. No kings or counts, I joke? No, he says quickly, and from his expression, I detect that like me, he is proud to know that his ancestors were diligent, hard-working people of the soil, surviving the perils of the centuries by sweat and honest labor.

As Carlo departs, we promise to keep in touch, and I sense the reason we feel an extra element of kinship is that not only do we share the same last name but we also share a reverence for family and for the sacrifices our forebears made to provide for the generations that were to come. Finding this simpatico distant cousin near the completion of our six-month sojourn gives me a feeling of completeness, of conclusion. Suddenly the word closure is much more than just a buzzword to me.

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