Saturday, April 7, 2012

More intriguing Seghieri discoveries

Saturday, April 7
Montecarlo has its own local superstar of family history, Doctor Sergio Nelli. I heard him speak last year about local history at a town celebration of Italy’s 150th birthday, and I knew then that I had to meet him. The records clerk in the Montecarlo municipio gave me his name and phone number two weeks ago, but I hesitated to contact him until I had the services of a good translator. I knew that the information he could give me would be too valuable to risk missing some important details because of my imperfect language abilities.

Bi-lingual friend Elena Benvenuti has arranged a meeting in Doctor Nelli’s home on the main street in Montecarlo. He welcomes us graciously, and we find him friendly and relaxed, though it is obvious he takes history very seriously. He has worked at the state archives in Lucca for 33 years, and his hobby and work, he says, are almost indistinguishable.

On the walls of his dining room, which seems to double as an office, are extensive and complex charts of both his own and his wife’s family trees. Scattered historical ledgers and a laptop computer cover the table, and before we arrived, he was working on genealogical records for another family. He has been entrusted with Montecarlo’s city and church files, and he is transferring the data to an extensive Excel spreadsheet.

He has nothing on the Spadoni family, because most of his data is prior to 1900, when the Spadonis were still in Pescia, but he is a goldmine of material about the Seghieri line. Last year I benefitted from extensive family research handed to me by third cousin Fausto Seghieri, dating our family line back to the middle 1500s.

I had thought this was the farthest back the records went. Not so. Doctor Nelli already has family trees on file taking our line back to Giunta Seghieri in 1310. I have never heard this name before, and it is a slightly unusual ending for a male name. However, says it comes “from a short form of the personal name Bonag(g)iunta, literally ‘good addition,’ a name commonly given in the late Middle Ages to a long-awaited or much-desired son.” This somehow makes my discovery even more significant, knowing how special my ancestor must have been to his parents to merit this name of endearment.

The tree that dates back to Giunta spreads out and follows numerous branches into the 1500s, so if the other Seghieri families here can trace their ancestors back that far, they might all find out how they are connected—and it looks like Doctor Nelli has the files that could make that possible.

He provides other valuable tidbits as well. He has property records that show the family has lived on via Mattonaia since the 13th century, and that in 1780 there was a river called Rio dei Seghieri. Most likely this is now what is called Fosso (ditch or trench) di Montecarlo, which runs right through Seghieri land.

He also provides a hint about why this neighborhood is called Marcucci. Linguistically speaking, Marcucci would be the offspring of Marco, or more specifically, cute little Marcos. In our line, we have three ancestors named Marco in the 1500s, possibly the source of the place name.

Another mystery has been the Seghieri-Bizzarri family line, and once again Doctor Nelli has information. Double names result when a male marries a woman from a wealthy noble family, because the children benefit from having a name associated with the more prestigious family. It appears that a Montecarlo Seghieri married a Bizzarri from the Pisa area, perhaps in the late 1700s or early 1800s. Each reference to a Seghieri-Bizzarri mentions that he was a landowner in Montecarlo, and one Seghieri-Bizzarri was gonfaloniere—similar to a mayor—of Montecarlo. Several members of this line were Knights of Saint Stefano, and at least one was a member of the priori of the knights, a high position of leadership. Looking online later, I find that Leopoldo Seghieri-Bizzarri is listed as a surgeon in 1859 and Simone Seghieri-Bizzarri was both a knight and a lawyer. Arcadio Seghieri-Bizzarri wrote an elementary school textbook.

I also read online that the Sacro Militare Ordine di Santo Stefano Papa e Martire was a Tuscan religious and dynastic military order created in 1561 by Cosimo I dé Medici. Its original mission was to fight the Ottoman Turks and Mediterranean pirates. Only noblemen with no heretics in the family line could join.

I was once told by one of my older relatives that my great uncle Seghiero “Jim” Seghieri, on one of his return visits to Italy, met with a Seghieri descendant from a noble line. At some time in the 1900s, however, the Seghieri-Bizzarri line vanished. I search the Italian white pages directory for the name, and nothing comes up except someone in Firenze, a person with the surname Casamorata Seghieri Bizzarri on via Vittorio Emmanuele II, 43.

This family research is a strange and entertaining pastime. I can spend several days riding around to offices and coming up with nearly nothing, and then in a single meeting that lasts little more than an hour, I come up with more information than I expected to obtain during my entire stay in Italy.

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