Chased by the emotions welling from a simple e-mail subject line – Invio Ricerca Famiglie Rinaldi e Solla (Search for Families Rinaldi & Solla), – tears race down my cheeks. An incredible gift was soaring over the mystical internet highway. I took a breath, double clicked and read –
Come eravamo rimasti, finalmente posso inviarti la ricerca delle due Famiglie Rinaldi Mariantonia e Solla, spero che il tutto sia soddisfacente. (As we left it, finally I’m sending you the documents about the Rinaldi and Solla Familes – I hope this is satisfactory.)
Una caro saluto
How could it not be satisfactory? It was so much more than satisfactory! Attached were two incredible documents – documents tracing my grandmother’s family back to the 1500’s!
Immediately I sent PDF’s flying through space to my family. With a little more digging, my newly found ancestors will share incredible stories. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning –
One beautiful morning Annarita Mancini and I walked up Via Municipo and stopped in front of a small attached stone row house. This part of the Pontelandolfo dates back to the 1600’s. Annarita rang the bell.
The shutter of the second floor window burst open and our guide into the past thrust out his sleepy head. “Beh?” Oops, were we too early? Annarita explained that we had an appointment to see the church archives. While he was mulling that over, the beaded curtain in front of the door parted and a middle aged woman peeked out. Shouts from above moved her. She ushered us into the front room. More shouts from above and she ushered us up the stairs. Annarita and I looked at each other. Weren’t we supposed to go to the church? Wasn’t he the dude with the archive room key? Why are we going up to – well who knows what? What had my quest for the family’s history gotten us into? That quest had led us to the true keeper of the keys to knowledge – Antimo Albini! After a cursory greeting, Antimo promptly sat down at the computer, lit a cigarette and led me on a four hour journey into my grandmother’s past.
His head of thick grey hair bobbed and weaved as he pulled up database after database. This passionate historian had decided that the history of Pontelandolfo would be lost if someone didn’t do something. He decided to be that someone.
Antimo spent four years of his life meticulously going through all of the church records and putting the information in a Microsoft Access database. This was an incredible undertaking. As he digs into my past, the gleam in his eyes reveals a man filled with passion for both history and the story of Pontelandolfo. He entered data from books going back to 1607 – separate books for each year of the census. There were also combined year range books of births, deaths, and baptisms. That is a heck of a lot of books. Whoops – he had matrimonial books back to 1505! He said, ” as the books disappear, their stories will be gone unless people like us who care about our pasts start passing the stories on.” So get on the stick and start recording your stories!
As he created the databases he noted the book name, page number and entry number. That way if anyone really wanted to see the fragile old books they could just go to the relevant pages. He also created separate data bases labeled by book. Damn, he is good. The organization will help future historians track data.
We learned that until 1903 the priest of each parish was responsible for doing a census. The census held the tales of the village. The priests would visit each house in the parish – why am I wondering if they also got donations for the church at the same time – and ask questions. They noted the names and ages of people living in the house, if the house was owned or rented, what kind of jobs folks had, nicknames and what ever else caught their fancy. Those notes are now safely ensconced in Antimo’s database. In 1903 the state took over the job and started to do a census every ten years. These sure has hell don’t include the interesting notes the priests wrote down.
Before 1700 there were four parishes serving this mountain town of peasants and landholders – San Felice, San Angelo, San Piedro and San Salvatore. So priests from all of those parishes kept records of births, baptisms, deaths, weddings. These are great old journals with meticulous handwriting on paper so old that it crumbles when touched. We know that because the Comune has it’s own set of unprotected books that are manhandled, falling apart and not digitized! Che fa! Thank God Antimo created a database of the much more complete church records.
In 1688, there was a huge terremoto – earthquake – after which the parishes were forced to merge. Well. not exactly forced, but San Felice and San Pietro parishes spent a lot of time fighting over who got to be the cemetery. In those days that meant holding the bones of the departed in the catacombs of the church – you know that space just below the seats for the congregation. In the throws of the fight neither church got rebuilt. That narrowed the playing field and in 1700 there was only the mother church of San Salvatore. The church where my grandmother was baptized and twice married. It still stands and we go to mass there often – not because I’m a good catholic but because I can feel her presence there.
As I sit in the piazza writing this, my heart fills and tears start to glide down my cheeks. What is that about? How could a middle aged, hard assed woman like me get so sentimental about finding my family? I haven’t a clue but the universe sent me here and as my dad’s first cousin, Giusippina, says often – sangue è sangue – blood is blood and I am the first of the family to return looking for those that stayed.
Finding one’s family is a backwards process. Start with the birth and death certificates of today and work backwards. Since I had already done a lot of research to gather the documents to become an Italian Citizen, I went to see Antimo with the materials he needed to leap even further back in time. (Read the blog about citizenship for more background.) https://midgeguerrera.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/cittadina-italiana-citizenship/)
Antimo started by finding my grandmother’s birth records. We had the day, time and name of her parents, Liberantonio Solla and Maria Antonia Rinaldi. (I am dying to know if we are related to the Rinaldi Olio di Oliva folks.)
Then he painstakingly worked backwards, creating a new excel data base for me that included everything he could find. The little details he unearthed painted a picture of the times and the people. nicknames were used everywhere. My great-great grandma Solla had the same name as mia nonna – Maria Rosaria. It was also the same name as her mother. Her birth certificate was noted as Maria Rosaria D’Addona.
Antimo said that baptisms were very close in date to birth records. Many children died soon after birth. Since everyone wanted the babies to go to heaven, people made sure they got those kids to church and baptized immediately. Often if a child died, the same name was given to the next child of the same sex. Boy, does that add another database layer of confusion.
Later we paniced – we couldn’t find my grandma’s grand-mom, Maria Rosaria D’Addona, in any database. Oh where oh where could my grande bisnonna be! We only found the unborn (no birth record) Cesare D”Addona in all the family census databases. Like she fell from the sky. The brilliant Antimo scanned even more documents and realized that Cesare was Maria Rosaria’s nonna’s name. Since there were two Maria Rosarias in the family they decided to call my great great grandma – Cesare. In 1839, Cesare was only 16 years old when she married the widower Felice Solla from Morcone. I am guessing he didn’t have much cash because they moved in with her mother on Via San Felice (now Via Municipo – the same street where Antimo currently lives.) That means I have walked past my great – great grandparents first marital home a million times!
I never would have figured that out. We were blessed to have Antimo, a focused detective, helping us by constantly cross checking information from birth, death, marriage and census records. OK, we found the lineage of my great grandma. Now let’s talk about great grandpop.
My great grandfather was Liberantonio Solla – family tales are full of his musical ability. Zia Caterina also remembered his ability to drink the night away and fall down the mountain on the way home to Via Porta Nuova. On my second visit to Pontelandolfo, we found my great granddad’s house . The rocks of this small medieval stone cottage – now in ruins – held secrets that we will never know. Or will we?
What we didn’t know was that Liberantonio wasn’t called Liberantoino by anyone but his mama. Pitocchio (flea in dialect) was his nickname. As he played the concertina, villagers shouted Pitocchio . I’m not quite sure of the name my bisnonna, Maria Antonia Rinaldi, shouted when he came home dead drunk, having spent all he made singing at the bar.
Oh, I just remembered, great grandma Maria Antonia Rinaldi was born in a rented house. Liberantonio Solla was born on Via San Felice – in the home of his grandma! How the hell did we discover all this in less than ten hours? My great grandfather was a “bracciante” – an ancient term for working the land for someone else and getting a piece of what you grew for yourself – yeah serf. I come from a long line of indentured servants. Weeoo. My great-great uncle Nicola Solla (Liberantonio’s bro) worked for the commune. We discovered that for generations a Nicola Solla worked for the commune. I can’t wait to find out if one works for the town today.
So much to discover. So many stories to hear, feel and relive. So little time to do it all.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Antimo Albini for keeping the keys to family history at our fingertips.