Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More relatives found through the web

Not every new relative I have discovered results in a face-to-face meeting. I now have established online contact with distant cousins in Minnesota and California on the Seghieri side, and from Seattle, Olympia, Chicago, California and Wisconsin on the Spadoni side. Many, like me, are also exploring their family origins and are excited to establish contact and share information.

The gravestone for Narciso Spadoni and his wife
Giuseppina Bonacorsi, located in Chicago.
Most have found me after seeing that we have a family tree on or after reading my blog. One of the first to contact me was Wendy Manganiello, who is a descendant of Narciso Spadoni, an immigrant to Chicago. Narciso was born in 1877, just six months after my nonno Michele Spadoni, and in the town of Borgo a Buggiano, less than three miles from Michele’s place of birth in Pescia. Wendy and I don’t know how they were related, and we are not even sure they knew, given the hundreds of years that the extended family had already lived in this area. But we have enough information from Italian sources to assure me that all the Spadonis from that little area of Italy are related.

I happened to be in Italy when Wendy first wrote me, so I was able to do a little research on her behalf at the Borgo a Buggiano municipio. I obtained the “stato di famiglia” document for Narciso’s father, which I mailed to Wendy when I returned to the states in May. This document traces Narciso’s line back three more generations to Francesco, born around 1775. If I am able to pick up the trail in the church archives on my next trip to Italy, I may be able to jump back another 100 or more years and find out where Narciso’s line fits into Carlo Spadoni’s Stignano family tree, and that would establish a definite tie to our Gig Harbor and Seattle branches of the family.

Thanks again to the power of the Internet, Diane Rinella of California also contacted me after reading my blog entry about the connection between the Gig Harbor and Seattle families. Her grandfather was Guido Spadoni, who made his way to San Francisco shortly after his U.S. arrival in 1903. He was born in 1885 in Ponte Buggianese, only a few miles from Borgo a Buggiano and Pescia. Now I have promised Diane that I will dig more deeply into her ancestry as well.

She shared with me the fascinating fact that her grandfather’s brother was Italo Spadoni, who achieved fame when he was brutally assassinated in Ponte Buggianese in 1924 for opposing fascism. A street in town is now named after him and a plaque has been mounted in the main piazza in his honor.

Trying to puzzle together the missing pieces that connect the various branches of the Spadoni family has become a passion for me, and it is great to find other family members like Diane and Wendy who share the pleasures of this hobby.

That's Manon (May) Spadoni on the left, on
the day of her wedding to Francesco Niccolai.
I received this photo through my online
correspondence with their granddaughter
I was able to help Wendy by referring her to Italian archivist Andrea Mandroni. For a reasonable fee, he traced the line of her grandfather, Francesco Niccolai, back to the 1500s. Wendy’s excitement over this demonstrates our shared enthusiasm for the ancestry obsession. She e-mailed me in August: “I got my family tree results from Andrea about a week ago and he did an AMAZING job!  I was in tears when I got the package from him!!”

Another magical moment occurred when Wendy (who lives in Wisconsin) read some information that Diane from California left on my blog and realized that she and Diane are doubly related. The mother of Diane’s grandfather Guido was Maria Gioconda Niccolai, a sister to Wendy’s great great grandfather Antonio Niccolai. That means Wendy and Diane are related on both the Niccolai side and the Spadoni side.

Wendy had heard her grandmother talking about visiting family in California many years ago, but that connection had been lost. When Wendy saw on the blog comments that Diane’s grandmother was a Niccolai, she put the pieces together and left an ecstatic comment on my blog: “Oh. My. Goodness. I am so excited right now that I’m not even sure I can put together a sentence.”

Now Wendy and Diane have established on online relationship as well, sharing information, photos and enthusiasm. Diane posted this comment on my blog: “This is all very exciting. Thank you, Paul, for this magic.”

Are there any more Spadonis and Seghieris from Tuscany out there looking to make a family connection? Or even a Capocchi or Marchi (my great grandmothers)? If your ancestors came from Ponte Buggianese, Montecarlo, Pescia or any of the other little towns between Lucca and Montecatini, we are probably related, and I will do my best to find out how.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Finding a lost Seghieri and solving questions of mysterious visits

My older Gig Harbor cousins can remember hearing stories about trips our grandparents took to San Francisco to visit cousins. One trip was taken perhaps in the 1920s, when our parents were relatively young, and there was another trip in the 1940s when our Nonno—Michele Spadoni—and my dad and some of his siblings went to San Francisco to visit cousins.

With everyone from my dad’s generation now gone, no one from my generation could tell me who these California cousins were, and it has been a mystery for many years.  Since there are numerous Spadonis in California, some cousins think maybe Nonno went to see a Spadoni family that only he knew about, but other cousins think they remember that the trip was to see Nonna’s cousins, in which case it would either be a Seghieri family or possibly even a Capocchi family, as the mother of our Nonna, Anita Seghieri, was Ines Capocchi before she married Torello Seghieri. Anita passed away in 1941, so she didn’t make the trip in the 1940s.

Donald Seghieri
This mystery has recently been solved. It started with a letter that came to my sister-in-law Rosemary’s ancestry account on March 28 of this year: “My name is Donald Seghieri. My father was Tristano Seghieri and grandfather was Egidio Seghieri whom I believe was Torello's nephew. Our side of the family lived in San Francisco, CA. I'm researching the family name and would appreciate any info or photos you may have.

This message opened up a correspondence, followed by a visit and now a friendship between Donald and me, and it has solved the mystery about those visits to San Francisco. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Egidio Seghieri
In checking ship records, we found that Don’s grandfather Egidio came to the states in 1905, two years after Michele came here. On the same boat with Egidio were his cousins Ruggero Seghieri and Alfonso Seghieri. It is known that Michele was well acquainted with the Seghieri family back in San Salvatore, Italy, prior to his coming to America.  Initially, Michele and the Seghieri cousins all went to Chicago, but Egidio eventually made his way to Washington state, where he worked for a railroad company in Easton on the east side of Snoqualmie Pass. Don was told that Egidio came to Washington because he had family there, and indeed he did: records show that by 1909, Ruggero and his brother Seghiero are living in the Tacoma area, and their sister Anita and her new husband Michele Spadoni—my grandparents—are as well. There is also a record of a Francesco Seghieri in the 1910 census, though just how he is related is another mystery to explore. It is not clear when Egidio came to Washington, but he shows up in the 1910 census in Easton. It is unknown who came to Washington first, but undoubtedly family ties were involved in making this a popular destination for both Seghieris and Spadonis.

And it was family ties that brought Don Seghieri back to Washington for a visit this August. I invited him to attend a Spadoni-Seghieri family reunion at my brother Roger’s house on August 4, and he not only accepted but came a few days early to get in some extra visiting time. My sister hosted him at her house, and he turned out to be a delightful guest. We all concurred that we were proud to call Don our cousin.

“He was easy to talk to and he had such interesting life stories to share,” Linda said. “The thing I enjoyed most about meeting and talking with Don was finding out that the cousin Nonna Anita and some of my aunts and uncles drove down to San Francisco to visit long ago was Don’s grandfather and his family, and that those visits were part of Don’s family history lore, too.”

Not only is Don a great guy, but he is a cousin who shares my enthusiasm for family history. We spent an evening together delightfully sharing stories, photos and genealogical information. I confess to being a little jealous because Don grew up in a close-knit Italian community. Don’s grandfather moved to San Francisco around 1920. When my grandparents moved to Gig Harbor around 1915, they were one of the only Italian families around, and it became a priority for them to learn English and blend in as Americans. Their Gig Harbor friends were immigrants from Croatia, Scandinavia and various European locations. Every one of their seven children married non-Italians, whereas in Don’s San Francisco neighborhood, his dad married an Italian and many of Don’s friends and relatives were Italian-Americans.

Back: Alfonso, Ruggero, Torello.
Front: Egidio, Seghiero.
Egidio Seghieri, according to my research in Italy, indeed was a first cousin to Anita and her brothers Ruggero and Seghiero and sister Rosina. I found an old picture taken in Italy that shows Ruggero and Seghiero together with their father Torello. Also in the photo are two previously unknown persons about the same age as Ruggero and Seghiero. One is no longer unknown, though. Don compared him to photos he has of his grandfather and positively identified him as Egidio. The other person is very likely cousin Alfonso Seghieri, who went to Chicago on the same ship with Ruggero and Egidio in 1905. Probably it was a group photo showing the four cousins who were planning to leave for America soon. I have since discovered that Alfonso spent some time in Chicago, but then he returned to live out the rest of his life in Italy. He married Ida Carmignani and they had two daughters. His sister, Quinta, also came to America, and she married Ferruccio Di Vita, and they made their family in the San Francisco area.

Don verifies that our family came to visit his family. After the reunion, he wrote me: “I spoke with my Mom this week about last weekend’s Washington trip. She said that several Spadonis came down in the 1940s (after the war) to visit with the Seghieris in San Francisco. She said that she and dad were married (1939) and that my brother (1940) and I (1943) were already born. She also told me that Alfonso Seghieri had contacted the family in San Francisco several times and was coming out from Chicago to visit, but he never made the trip.” Don also said he remembers his Uncle Fiory (known to friends as Bud), who was a professional musician, giving our family an impromptu accordion concert.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Finding my Italian cousins in America

Sometimes I wonder about the strange interest I have in my family history and in discovering previously unknown relatives. Why does it make a difference what my ancestors’ names were or where they came from? Why do I feel an unusual affinity—a kinship, one might say—for a man who is my fifth cousin but otherwise a complete stranger?
A group photo taken August 4, 2012, at the Spadoni-Seghieri family reunion at the home of Roger and Rosemary Spadoni.

One need only to read a few of the heartwarming stories about siblings separated in their youth who have later reunited to see how the bonds of family remain strong through time. Another example is adoptees who feel compelled to seek out their birth parents, or vice versa. Granted, this drive varies in strength from person to person. I am reminded of the potential cousin I met in San Salvatore who cut off our conversation about our possible common ancestor by saying, “I’m not interested in these things at all.” However, I have found this man to be the exception in my search for family ties.

Andrew Holmes, while studying kin recognition in animals for his PhD in the United Kingdom, wrote in 2010 for, “There is evidence that many different animals can recognise their relatives, despite never having encountered them before. Indeed, there is evidence of kin recognition in all the major groups, from mammals to fish, birds to amphibians, as well as insects, plants and single-celled organisms.” He further explains the benefits of this in the animal kingdom: “In non-humans, kin can group together for protection or foraging, can cooperatively care for young, or can simply choose not to fight one another . . . (and) being able to recognise your relatives helps prevent matings between close kin. Certain animals are able to recognise unfamiliar kin and change their behaviour towards them accordingly, choosing not to fight, not to breed, to nest or group together or simply to avoid each other.”

This trait obviously carries over to humans as well. Most of us instinctively feel closer to people with whom we share a common genetic make-up, even if the relationship is rather ancient. Holmes cites an Arabic saying: “I against my brother, I and my brother against our cousin, I, my brother and our cousin against the neighbors, all of us against the foreigner.”

On one level, logic questions why this should be. Why should I go out of my way to meet an unknown distant cousin when I have plenty of friends nearby, and I already have trouble enough finding time to spend with my friends? Yet this is the way God made us—at least many of us—and I find that most of my relatives feel the same way. My conclusion is to leave the mystery of why this is so to the scientists and just enjoy my extended family. I accept that kinship is an important part of our primal nature.

With that stated, I am going to devote some time to writing about relatives that I have discovered and met in the United States within the last six months. Some I have met face to face and others, so far, only by correspondence, though I hope to someday meet them in person. I have found relatives in Wisconsin, Chicago, Texas, Minnesota and all over California. Some have been living as close as Seattle and Tacoma, but we never realized before that we were related. Admittedly, I haven’t found the final pieces that show how all of us are related, but that’s just a matter of time and research. We are all descendants of the Spadoni and Seghieri families of the small geographical region in Italy that contains Ponte Buggianese, Stignano, Montecarlo and other small villages within a 15-mile radius. These families have occupied this region since at least the 13th century and recognize that they are genetically connected. Any Spadoni from this region who immigrated to the United States is related in some way, even if only extremely distantly, and the same is true for any Seghieri. More to come soon on these relative discoveries . . .