Saturday, 30 August 2008

Looking further a field for clues

Whilst trying to find living members of the family I started looking through records from other countries, this is also a good way of helping to work out areas that your ancestor came from. I knew where Joe (grandfather) came from but still couldn't find where his brother had emigrated to, I still had a long way to go with my research and little help was available at that time for Italians that had moved to the UK to live.
The National archives of Australia have an excellent search tool and this can help you find other members of your ancestors family, even some POW records from the war are available, they also have details of all Italian internees who resided within the UK that were sent to Australia during the 2ND WW.
I was lucky enough to find a mention of Joe Desio in these archives requesting Alien entry into Australia whilst waiting for his ship to be repaired.
One of the new websites to appear a few years ago was the Ellis Island records; this indeed has made a major break through for many family historians trying to trace their roots. It is one of the main sites that I use to give me an idea from what area Italians emigrated as their place of birth or last residence is mentioned on the passenger lists. Sometimes a province is mentioned but often the actual village is named, if the years of immigration is around the same years as your ancestor moved, you can be almost certain that others from the same areas will have also left, so with a little bit of luck you may be able to find just a few villages to work on.
There is another website Castle Gardens that has arrivals to the USA, the details are not so helpful but if you are looking for members of your family arriving in the states it is worth looking at. See helpful links for websites mentioned

On the Ellis Island site I found details for Joe in the form of a crew list for 1919, this was to be a breakthrough in my researching his merchant seaman history.

Many Italians immigrated to South America mainly Brazil and Argentina, again there are websites available online, none of these will help you in finding where they came from as only the port they left from is mentioned, the year and name of the ship, however with the name of the ship you can check with the LDS family history library to see if they have the passenger lists and if so these should have the full details including at least last residence. One of the main passenger lists for South America is and is fairly easy to search.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Searching for family in Italy

I must admit that I didn’t have a clue how to start looking for living family members in Italy. My first choice was to look at the telephone directories in Italy and entered the surname Desio into the Italian white pages; I came up with only 160 telephone numbers all over Italy. Surprisingly there was only one from the Como area and a few around Lombardy and several De Sio from the south. I felt sure I was onto an easy search and sat down and wrote a letter in Italian, thank goodness that the local dialect here is very similar to Italian and with the help of an online translator I managed to put something legible together.

So I wrote nearly 150 letters and sent them off and waited …………. What a disappointment I was in for, the response to my letters was far from what I had hoped for. I received 6 letters back and not one originated from the Como area and none were related to me. So my easy search came to nothing, where did I go from here?

It is a good idea to use the telephone directories to at least find out which areas your surname is mainly situated through out Italy. As you can see above my surname is spelt 2 different ways depending if they come from the North or South of Italy. So if you see a surname that sounds like yours but spelt slightly different it doesn’t mean that it is not correct. The way the surname is spelt can also give you a hint as to what part of Italy your ancestor came from. There are many white page searches available online but I find that the two I have added to “Helpful links” are fairly easy to use. Write the surname you want to find in the Cognome square, if there are a lot of people with the same surname then you can whittle down your search by adding a place ie, Milan or Province, Lombardia in the square that says “Dove”.

I felt sure that there must be other family members around somewhere; surely the brother that had gone to America must have had descendants? So my next search was telephone directories in the USA.

There turned out to be far more people with the surname Desio in the USA than there are in Italy so at least one of them must be mine. Again I did a search and pulled out a long list of Desio’s but before sending so many letters, this time I started to look at the first names to see if I could find a typical first name pattern, I crossed off the De Sio spelt surname and I even did searches with Google to see if I could pick up emails to write to.
I searched in the Ellis island records ( I will go back to Ellis Island in a future blog) and sorted out which Desio’s had come from Genova and with the help of the Social Security death records available on Rootsweb I picked out 60 possibilities. All I am sad to say to no avail.

From here I spread my search further a field and tried near the Italian/Swiss border, I pulled Desio's living in South America and even France. As you can imagine this all took several months. In the meantime I started to find out more about what civil records were available for Como and where.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Searching for Italian civil records

When I started my research 10 years ago there was a lot less available in internet, very few records had been transcribed and living here on an island limited the chance of visiting a Family History Library to see any of the microfilms from the Italian civil registers of a large part of Italy. (See LDS in helpful links).

After checking out the microfilm numbers from the FHL catalogue I decided to search for a volunteer to look up films in Salt Lake city the principal repository for the full microfilm collection. I was lucky enough to find a marvellous and very kind lady called Carol who willingly spent much of her free time in looking through the Como records for me.

She did a very thorough job and found 3 generations of my family which included births, deaths and marriages. At first she sent me the marriages and a few births but the day an envelope arrived full of death records I felt that someone very close to me had died, it took all day to get rid of that sad sensation. Sadly out of 4 children only 2 had survived those were my Grandfather and his brother.
There was a death certificate for my G grandmother who was only 42 when she died, this is something that whilst translating records for others I find time and time again, the women died young, Annetta as I said was 42, her sister in laws died at 30 and 34, certainly women had a tough time in those days (1890’s)it was not uncommon for the men to remarry, this includes my G G grandfather who married twice.

Luckily there are new records made available to the public every day, the complete register for Como is now online at Ancestry at a price, the LDS (the Family History library) have also started to transcribe the original registers for other areas, at the moment they are preparing to start on the Italian records, however they do have some American census records, Parish records for some areas in UK and the 1891 census for Argentina free (at the moment) online, see the Family history link. These are not the same lists of records that they have on the other website mentioned further up in this posting but here scans of the original documents are available for most of the records mentioned.

I think that within 3 years a large amount of the Italian records will be available to be viewed online, this will be an enormous help to many, helping people who are not sure of the areas their ancestor came from to try and find their roots.

In the majority of Italy the civil registration started when Italy was united in 1866 and the only records available before that year are church records. However there are some areas within Italy that have records that go further back and others that don’t even have records from 1866, this is due to these parts of Italy being part of other countries, mainly Austria. Use a map of Italy for the years your ancestor would have lived there to see where the boundaries were. In a further post I will go into detail about other records that can be requested from the communes in Italy.

I am willing to do look ups in the Como records and translate them for anyone that needs help.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Notes on Naturalization records and British subjects

It can be very frustrating when you find your ancestor on the census records and he states that he is a British subject, but you can’t find the record. Many of the immigrants that arrived before the late 1800’s did not apply for naturalization mainly because it was to expensive and only people with money or businesses were able to afford it. So if your ancestor is on the 1861 census for example and he is a street singer, organ grinder or carman and he says he is a British subject it is probably not true. I have even found a case for one of our members, where the man had served as a volunteer in the army in 1914 and stated that he was born in Bristol and it wasn’t until the 2nd WW that the HO started to ask questions due to his Italian surname, the police checked him out and found out that he had actually been born in Italy…… Remember keep an open mind not everything is always the exact truth.

Other Italian immigrants just did not want to loose their own nationality and preferred to stay as they were, some intended to stay a short time and make some money to take back home, others were and are proud of their origin and wish to remain Italian even though they settled down within the UK.

Did you know ………….
Women who had British nationality were automatically considered Italian in the eyes of the British Government when they married an Italian. Therefore they were also called “Aliens” when WW II broke out and had to request and sign for re admission when the war was over, many of these can be found in the London Gazette.

If your Grandfather or Great grandfather did not become British and did not serve with the British army, then you and your family are entitled to Italian nationality.

Replies to comments and questions August 2008

Thanks Valerie for your comments;

Regarding Naturalization before 1800, the earlier the date the less requests for naturalization there was. Send me your research surname and your members number, my details are available in any of the AIFHS journals.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Naturalized British Subject

Mum knew that Joe had been given British Nationality at sometime which saved him from being interned in WW II. She had no idea where the documents were so I started to search the web and struck lucky when I found the National Archives website.
I put a search in for Desio, but had no luck and eventually searched for someone who was going to Kew and would be willing to do look ups if you pay part of the costs. I asked him to look up the naturalization records for me from the ledgers that are in the Open reading room and up he came with a reference number for 1922. Due to the fact that 100 years had not passed my mother as a direct descendant had to request and fill in the forms.

The National Archives at Kew in London (see helpful links), have a fairly good search engine, sadly it won’t do wildcat* so remember what I said in my last post “In the Beginning” if you don’t find it at first try variations. From the late 1800’s most of the immigrants applied British naturalisation and these normally come under Naturalization and Denization records, luckily the National archives have now put the complete list of names into the archive search and Joe is now on there. If for any reason the person you are looking for doesn’t come up try the London Gazette.

Below is a list of the National archives references that include naturalization and denization records.
Denizations can be found in the Patent Rolls in C66, with supplementary Patent Rolls in C 67. There is a name index to C 97 for the period 1751 to 1793, the Westminster denization roll is held at Westminster Abbey Muniments and Library, London.

Background Naturalisation papers can be found in HO 1 for 1844 to 1871, HO45 for 1872 to 1878, HO144 from 1879 to 1934 and HO405 for 1934 to 1948. All records dated after 1922 are closed for periods up to 100 years though the Home Office will consider opening files on request, these records can be searched using the search on the NA website.
Between 1844 and 1873 naturalisations were also enrolled on the Close Rolls in C54, duplicate copies of Naturalisation certificates, which gives limited information of what is contained in the background papers, can be found in HO 334 between1870-1987.

Eventually a number of large sheets of paper arrived with copies of all contact that there had been with grandfather and others related to his petition. The form requesting naturalization included his parents names which was Edoardo (Mum got that right) and Annetta Arrigo (Hum that’s not Eleanora is it!!!!) When he requested naturalization both parents were deceased and further down he mentions a brother in America.
As he was a merchant seaman he had to fill in a list of all the ships he had worked on over the years, this included the date, name of ship and sometimes the ships registration number. According to the record he had arrived in the UK in 1898 and before working on the ships he had been working as a machine operator, he was living with his cousin and gave a list of people who vouched for him, including one who was brother in law to the lady Joe was engaged to…… and that wasn’t my grandmother, this is still an unsolved mystery.

When you receive the documents these will give you details of their date of birth, where they were born, parent’s names and surnames and if they are still alive, and any other information that might help prove that they have lived in the UK during the past 7 years this includes where they have lived and what they have done. 7 people (referees) have to give a written oath confirming that they know this person and for how long and the type of person he/she is. Sometimes letters written by your ancestor may also be included requesting information about their naturalization from the Home Office. Normally the local police are the ones that had to go to visit the list of 7 people and double check that they know the person mentioned and then send the inform back to the HO. Finally the last document is a signed oath by your ancestor and a letter confirming that they are now British Subjects.

Joe stated that he had been living with his cousin, Nicola Macchiavello was also Italian (one that doesn’t appear to have become British) due to this he was not accepted as the home referee, as you must be British. A great deal can be learnt about your ancestor from the details given about his/her character, so bit by bit you start to get to know them a little more.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

In the beginning

Here in Spain we have identity cards and about 10 years ago I went to renew my ID card, when it came to my turn the person dealing with the renewal said that I had to add my second surname which is my mother’s maiden surname. So OK I had my second surname added to my ID card.

What did I know about the history behind my mother’s maiden surname …………. Not a lot, I knew that my grandfather was born in Como, Italy and when I added his surname to my ID card I found out that it was Desio, until that day I didn’t even know that much.

One afternoon I typed the letters “Desio” into the computer and among other options I got back several genealogical pages, “God what are these?” I opened Rootsweb and came across a list of Desio’s in the USA, some of these could belong to my family but I didn’t even know Grandfathers full name. So back to my mother and a talk about the past, it was time to learn about who he was.

It is important to find out as much as you can from family members, jot down any information that they give you or tape the conversation especially if stories from the past are going to be told.

I was told that Mum’s father was called Jo Desio but his real name was Giuseppe Desio, he was a merchant seaman and came from a rich family who lived besides Lake Como, they had a villa with a swimming pool and they had something to do with the newspaper business. She was pretty sure that her grandfather was called Edward and her grandmother Eleanor. Jo had escaped from a monastery where he was being prepared to become a priest and his family had disowned him, so he ran away to sea. She thought that there was a brother who had gone to live in America and bred pigs and made gloves!!!!!!!!

Well she got her father and her grandfather’s names right and that the family came from Como, the rest was a bit of an exaggeration to say the least, told to her by her father. Time was on my side and patience is a virtue, which is something you need to have lots of when it comes to genealogy.

Don’t take everything that you are told as gospel truth, memories can get mixed up; stories told over the generations get changed, keep an open mind and don’t close your eyes to anything that might present itself.

First names and surnames especially foreign ones often got changed or misspelled, sometimes they were changed to sound more English, many even changed their surnames by deed poll and these can often be found in one of the three gazettes, the London, Edinburgh or Glasgow.
The Gazette has a brilliant search of their archives on their website and goes back as far as the early 1800’s, I have added the address to my “helpful links” keep your search simple, I find using one word is almost the best way and easy when it is a foreign surname and you can be sure that less articles are going to found. If nothing comes up with the surname try the first name as the person would have been called in Italy, try variations of the spelling of the names and as a desperate last try write in “Italy".

Details to be found in the Gazette are naturalization records, news about businesses that may have needed to be published here, military lists, deed poll and bankruptcy.

Friday, 8 August 2008

My Italian Family from Como, Italy

When I started researching my ancestors several years ago, I never thought that it would draw me into such a wonderful and highly interesting journey back through the years from here in Spain where I now live, back to Wales where I grew up and finally arriving at the most lovely place on earth Lake Como.

I intend to give an account of my own research and at the same time I hope that I can give guidance to others who need a helping hand with their research. I have had an enormous amount of help from other people, often complete strangers who have spent their time on looking up civil registers for me ............ Thanks to Kay, Carol, Debbie and many others.

This is my way of returning the help given to me.