Monday, April 26, 2010

Bonifacino …. of Rocchetta di Cairo Montenotte

One of the first rules of good family history research is to avoid assumptions, preconceptions and unverified notions. At the forefront of this pitfall is the “surname game.” In this old genealogical blunder, the would-be family historian assumes that everyone with the same surname is automatically related to one another. Genealogy how-to books are replete with “what not to do” stories about those who make claims of a family relationship to a famous person with the same surname. One old favorite is the claim to be a “descendant” of George Washington. Of course, George Washington had no children, and therefore no descendants. Claims like this are pretty transparent and are easily disproven with minimal research.

Other times, researchers will simply assume that all people with the same last name share a common ancestor. For example, someone with the last name of Baccino or Tortarolo might assume that they are related to all people with that last name. Of course, those of us who are familiar with Giusvalla family history know better than this. Names like Baccino and Tortarolo are common throughout Giusvalla and the surrounding towns and nearby provinces. Even in a small town like Giusvalla, the Tortarolo family from località Taranco will quickly point out to you that they are not related to the Tortarolo family from down the road in località Prati Proia.

The bottom line is clear in all situations; genealogy basics (“Genealogy 101,” if you will) dictate that you do your research before you assume you are related to someone simply because they share your last name.

Recent research into the families of immigrants Luigi Bonifacino and his brother, Giuseppe Bonifacino, illustrates another facet of the name game: never assume that all people of the same surname are from the same place.

A couple incidental factors led me to erroneously assume that Luigi and Giuseppe Bonifacino were from Giusvalla. The first factor illustrates the ease with which we fall into Genealogy Pitfall #1: surname frequency. Bonifacino is a common surname in Giusvalla, and there was another family named Bonifacino that did come from Giusvalla to the U.S. The second factor was location (and association). When Luigi and Giuseppe Bonifacino came to the U.S., they went to work for the DuPont family in the powder mills. Giuseppe lived for awhile at Squirrel Run, and Luigi also lived for several years on the grounds of the powder mills. While working in the powder mills, Luigi and Giuseppe became associated with the families that came from Giusvalla, including the Bonifacino family of Giusvalla. Luigi even married as his first wife Giusvalla native Felicita Bonifacino.

And so, for many years, it went no further than that. It was a case of guilt by association. I ignored the fact that I had not one shred of evidence that Luigi and Giuseppe came from Giusvalla. I blithely continued to document the American descendants of these two men, assuming they were all part of our big Giusvalla family simply because their name was Bonifacino.

There was, however, something that I always wondered about. Not one person from the large families of Luigi and Giuseppe Bonifacino attended the “Tutti I Giusvallini” reunion in 1923. They are completely absent from the big picture of the Giusvalla immigrants that was taken at that reunion. How could this be?

A light went off last month when I was reviewing the birth records of the children of Giuseppe Bonifacino. On birth records from this era (late 19th through early 20th centuries), usually only the country of birth is listed for the parents. So, on the birth records of the children of Luigi and Giuseppe, their respective birthplaces are listed simply as “Italy.” Except for one. And on that birth record – remarkably - Giuseppe’s town of birth is listed. The record states that Giuseppe Bonifacino was born in “Rochetto Cairo” [sic, Rocchetta di Cairo Montenotte].

I already knew from their death records that Luigi and Giuseppe’s parents’ names were Giovanni Bonifacino and Rosa Santi. With this information, I was able to contact the diocesan archives in Acqui Terme and obtain a copy of the marriage record of Giovanni and Rosa. It states that on July 9, 1861, Rosa Santi of Cairo Montenotte, daughter of Luigi Santi and Teresa Berretta, married Giovanni Bonifacino of Rocchetta di Cairo Montenotte. Rose and Giovanni were married at the church of Sant’Andrea in Rocchetta di Cairo Montenotte.

Luigi and Giuseppe and their families were not at the 1923 “Tutti I Giusvallini” reunion because they weren’t from Giusvalla! Their presence at the powder mills however, was not merely incidental, because there were other families from Rocchetta di Cairo Montenotte living there as well (Ferraro, Sicco, Persoglio, etc.). Like the Giusvalla immigrants, Luigi and Giuseppe followed their friends and neighbors from their hometown in Italy to the DuPont powder mills.

Though I’m sorry to have to admit to myself that I fell for Genealogy Pitfall #1, I am grateful to know that the information on the families of Luigi and Giuseppe Bonifacino is now accurate and well-documented. And I relearned an important lesson about making assumptions, however logical they may seem.

In the picture: Birth Certificate of Louis Bonifacino (Delaware Public Archives).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Furtinèn ed Manzèn

My great-uncle Fortunato (Borba Furtinèn ed Manzèn) was one of Giusvalla’s most prominent citizens. He was very active throughout his entire life as a town consigliere, and on more than one occasion was elected mayor of Giusvalla.

Borba Furtinèn was born in Giusvalla on April 25, 1887. At the age of 18, like all young Giusvalla men from his era, Furtinèn joined the 1st regiment of the “Alpini.” After completing his required two years in the Italian army, he returned to Giusvalla and married. He and his wife Santina ran a little store that was attached to the front of their home on the Piazza Anselmi. They never had any children of their own, but became well known in the town as the people to go to whenever you needed help with something. Borba Furtinèn is referred to in my family lore as “l’uomo più buono del mondo.”

Furtinèn owned the first car in Giusvalla. With only tiny roads winding through the countryside, there wasn’t much room for him to make his way. A couple years later Carlo Ferraro (aka “Cide-yes”) bought a car and when the two would meet on the roads of Giusvalla, one of the drivers would have to backtrack until the other could find an area wide enough to pass!

A soft-spoken and gentle soul, Borba Furtinèn passed away quietly in Giusvalla on January 1, 1959. He is lovingly remembered by those who knew him.

In the picture: Lalla Santina and Borba Furtinèn, circa 1958.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ra Trifurina

My great-grandfather’s cousin Matté Perrone married in 1904 in Giusvalla to Caterina Ferruccio. Matté was born in Giusvalla in 1876 at località Dogli, one of the large brood of children of Pietro “l'plén” Perrone and his wife, Teresa Manzino. He was a quiet, gentle and extremely reserved man. Matté’s bride, Caterina, on the other hand, was full of fire and very strong willed. Because Matté was so reserved, he was content to let Caterina run the house. She made all the important decisions and because she became known as the head of the household, she was called “Ra Trifurina.”

Matté came to the U.S. in 1905 and went to work for the DuPont family in the powder mills. Shortly after his arrival, there was an explosion and Matté was seriously injured. Upon receiving word of her husband’s accident, Caterina immediately left Giusvalla - on her own - to come to the U.S. and take care of Matté. When Matté regained his strength, they both returned to Giusvalla and opened a little store near their home at Ca’d Gaspò.

“Ra Trifurina” became known in Giusvalla as a force to be reckoned with. She was a fierce and intimidating business woman, always demanding the best deal possible. All the while, she was a loving wife to Matté and a gentle mother to their brood of six children. When Ra Trifurina died in 1937, the house at Ca’d Gaspò quietly mourned the loss of their matriarch, however 73 years later her descendants and their cousins still repeat the stories of the fiery and lively Caterina “Ra Trifurina!” It seems she is not yet ready to be forgotten.

In the picture: Caterina Ferruccio, “Ra Trifurina”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Italian Magic: The Dandelion

This past weekend, I was happy to see that the Dandelions were starting to bloom. I ran out and dug up a bucketful, and took them into the house to start prepping them for salad. After I had them cleaned and ready to eat, I decided to call my mother to see if she would like to have some of the day’s “harvest”. To my surprise, she told me that she and my father were just finishing up their lunch. Included on their menu for the day was…….. Dandelion Salad! She’d beat me to it!

I remember as a boy, watching my Grandpop Salvo pick the Dandelions from our yard, and bring them into the house in either a pot or a colander. Eventually they would be washed and then “vanish”. I did not know for sure what was being done with these WEEDS (yes, the average American sees them as weeds unfortunately) once they were washed, but couldn’t help but wonder.

And then, one day I noticed that there was a different looking “salad” on the table during lunch, served in a glass bowl. I said “what is that??”, to which I was told………. “Dandelion Salad”. I can’t remember during my first experience seeing them, if they had hard-boiled eggs with them or not. But if it wasn’t during that initial time, it definitely was during a subsequent serving of them that I remember seeing them with hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes they would even include a mixture of what our family calls “chi chi’s” (chick peas or garbanzo beans). You can add this dish to the list of what I considered “A Menu for the Mentally Insane or Senile” at that time.

I have to reiterate that when my grandfather lived with us, I was a little boy. I was born in 1971, and he moved in with us in 1973. I’ve said it in previous posts here on the blog, but I’ll say it again now: growing up with my Grandpop Salvo around was sooooooooo different from what I would see at homes of friends who were my age. If I had lunch at a friend’s house at that time, the menu would include items like : peanut butter and jelly, hot dogs, or maybe even a piece of frozen pizza. I can tell you as I sit here typing this, that NEVER at that time did I walk into a friend’s house to have them say “oh hey my mom just put Dandelion Salad on the table- you want some??”

As I got older, I eventually tried them. It was something I could take or leave. With their slightly bitter, peppery taste, I wondered what damaged psyche would actually “enjoy” eating something of this nature. Not to mention the fact that I never recalled seeing anyone else on our street pulling stuff out of their yards and throwing it on the dinner table! It really makes you wonder as a child, what alternate dimension you’re living in when this stuff is going on every day in your house, and you KNOW it’s not happening at the places where your friends live.. And do you dare mention it to a friend, to see what they would say about it all? NO WAY. “Yeah, I might be living with aliens, but I’m not telling anyone else that! They won’t talk to me anymore!”

I did eventually ask my parents and grandfather why people would even eat these things. The reply that came back was the same that would be provided when things like escarole (pronounced “scuttle” in our home), turnips, broccoli rabe, and other strange veggies made their way to the table: “because it’s good for you”. That was it. “OK so if these things are so good for you, then why are we the only ones on our BLOCK eating them from our YARD”, I thought to myself.. But at that age, you don’t ask questions in that fashion, unless you want to find yourself unconscious.

Over Easter weekend, I told my wife’s grandmother (a native of San Pietro a Maida, Italy), that on the day prior, I’d been out gathering Dandelions for salad. I sat eagerly awaiting her reaction, as it’s the first time I think I’ve ever gotten to mention to her that our family eats them. Her 89-year old eyes suddenly widened, and she said with a smile, “YOU EAT DANDELION SALAD??!!”. I said yes, by all means. She told me that she’d not had them since she was a little girl. I told her the story that I have just recaptured here, and as I told it to her, she smiled the entire time. She too is from the age of my grandfather (who would have been 106 this year if he were still alive), so she always enjoys me telling her about the traditions I try my best to continue on from Grandpop Salvo’s family.

As many of our readers probably already know, the Dandelion truly is “good for you”, as I was taught decades ago. But why it’s good is for many reasons: it works as a natural diuretic, it purifies the blood, contains multiple vitamins, and even sustains the immune system. Funny how they never mention that on the Scott’s Turf Builder ads!

Buona Pasqua to all of our readers...