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).

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