Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Updates from Portale Antenati

Since June, Portale Antenati has made great strides in making more civil records available.

3 June 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Arezzo, dating from 1314-1934

9 June 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Imperia (Section of San Remo), dating from 1805-1910

17 June 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Firenze, dating from 1818-1841

22 June 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Pescara, dating from 1809-1865

20 July 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Rieti, dating from 1840-1945

28 July 2015 - indexed database updated with new names for the following places/times: 1) Bari, births 1800-1900; 2) Caltanissetta, births 1820-1907 and deaths 1809-1930; 3) Genova, births 1800-1899; 4) Mantova, births 1762-1900, deaths 1787-1912, marriages 1791-1908; 5) Pescara, births 1809-1909; and 6) Urbino, births 1803-1903

31 July 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato do Potenza, dating from 1697-1865

31 August 2015 - indexed database updated with new names for the following places/times: 1) Bergamo, births 1866-1900; and 2) Cremona, births 1801-1904 and deaths 1865-1905

22 September 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Udine, dating from 1808-1905

8 October 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Napoli (Districts of Porto and Vicaria), dating between 1809-1865

30 October 2015 - added records from the Archivio di Stato di Forli, dating from 1800-1930

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Adding Cultural Context to Your Family History

The excerpt below was taken from a family history I wrote for a Sicilian family. It serves as a good example of how adding cultural context to your family history can make it more interesting and enable you to understand these ancestors within their historical time and place.

“The leitmotif of Sicily’s modern history has been an endless quest for liberty and autonomy.”  Its position in the Meditteranean, as well as the richness of its resources, made it a desirable conquest for many nations. Centuries of domination by one group after another left the island’s resources depleted and its people, deprived of liberty and hope for so long, without of any real hope for change. In 1713, after 300 years of feudalistic Spanish rule, the Duke of Savoy was crowned the king of Sicily.  The Sicilian people were happy for they hoped to finally have a king who was going to reside on the island for they thought that if he took up residence there he would see the plight of the people and be more apt to help. The following year a Sicilian Parliament was created, yet the taxation of the island’s poorest residents continued to be excessive.  The Duke attempted to understand the deep-rooted problems in Sicily but, in the end, his attempts at change were superficial and inadequate to create many lasting changes.  He filled the majority of the governmental positions with people from Savoy or Piedmont, not with educated Sicilians, whose condescending attitudes towards the locals soon dashed any hopes that real change would occur.  In the midst of all of this, the papacy, in it’s power struggles with the Duke, denied Sicilians the Catholic rites unless they defied the King’s authority.  Once again, they were stuck in the middle of a power struggle between two parties that cared little for the damage they wrecked on the island and even less about its inhabitants.[1]

Between 1719-20, the Spanish and Austrians fought for control of the island, destroying valuable property and crops, and Sicily once again became the battleground for foreign governments. The Austrians won yet the Spanish continued in their desire to rule the region. By 1734, after conquering Naples, Charles III proclaimed himself the ruler of Spain and Sicily. Devastated by all the wars, Sicily was in dire need of a ruler who would take their needs into consideration.  Instead, feudalism once again became the way of government. In all fairness, Charles III did reestablish the Sicilian parliament which gave the people some say in the government of their island. He ruled until 1759 when he turned the rule of the island over to his nine-year old son, Ferdinand.  Because of his age, Ferdinand had a council of advisors and viceroys in Sicily to carry out his decisions.[2]

By 1763, the island was in a terrible famine. The people were starving yet rioters who dared demand food for their families were summarily executed. Uprisings were frequent and the response brutal. While Palermo saw some attempt at beautification towards the end of the 18th century, the rest of the island was plunged even deeper into poverty. Beautification was not what they needed, food and the fair distribution of land was. Roving groups of bandits began to terrorize the countryside in an attempt to “redistribute the wealth.” Banditry became a form of “upward mobility” and came to be seen by some as the only means of self improvement and justice for the common people. Some historians feel that these bandits were used to settle disagreements among the rural nobility, as well as believe that what later came to be known as the Mafia had its roots in these practices.[3] “In Sicily, the bad social and economic conditions strengthened the Mafia.”[4]

Sicily saw some improvement in living standards during the later decades of the 18th  century but by the beginning of the 19th century revolution was in the air. Around this time, Spain went to war with France. With Napoleon Bonaparte such a formidable enemy, Sicily ended up providing most of the finances, as well as the grain, needed to feed the Spanish troops. The British became involved in an attempt to protect Sicily and through their influence King Ferdinand abolished feudalism and set up a government similar to Britain’s. Even freedom of the press was granted, a luxury they had never before enjoyed. However, this mattered little for the average person because most of them were not literate. After Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo in 1816, the British withdew their support and King Ferdinand proceeded to denounce the Sicilian constitution once again. He then gave himself the new title of Ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies rather than the King of Naples and Sicily.[5] Napoleonic influence brought mandatory military conscription between 1802-1814. Conscription was not popular, especially since those from the rural areas of Sicily bore the brunt of fighting a war in which they had little stake.  However, service in the Italian army during this period did seem to help unite people from the diverse regions of the Kingdom.[6]

Significant peasant rebellions occurred during the years 1820-1822, 1848-1849 and 1859-1860. The collection of the Palermo state archive [Archivio di Stato di Palermo] lacks some civil records for these years of rebellion, records purportedly destroyed. Often though, a second copy of such records can be found in an Italian town archive. 

The cholera epidemic of 1836-37 made a bad situation worse. Not only was the loss of life tragic for the island’s people, the public uprisings and subsequent executions of participants added to the devastation and hatred of the Spanish.  It was thought that cholera was brought by soldiers from elsewhere in Italy.[7] Decades of on and off rebellion occurred before Giuseppe Garibaldi brought his 1000-1800 volunteers to the island in May of 1860. His intent was to make Sicily part of a unified Italy. After Garibaldi promised land to any Sicilian who joined in the fight, many Sicilians donned red shirts and fought for their survival. By August of 1860, after only four months of war, the Spanish Bourbons were ousted from the island.[8]  While the common enemy had been defeated, there were still many deep-rooted problems to overcome.

[1]     Connie Mandracchia DeCaro, Sicily: The Trampled Paradise, pp. 11-12, 63-65, 89.  Quote can be found on page 89.
[2]      Ibid, p. 65.
[3]     Lucy Riall, The Italian Resorgimento: State, society, and national unification (Routledge, 1994), pp. 54-56; and Spencer di Scala, Italy from Revolution to Republic, pp. 34, 154-155, 173.  This source discusses the unequal distribution of land in Sicily and well as the role the Mafia played in Sicilian history.
[4]     Spencer di Scala, Italy from Revolution to Republic, p. 154.
[5]        Connie Mandracchia DeCaro, Sicily: The Trampled Paradise, pp. 67-75.
[6]        Alexander I. Grab, Napoleon and the Transformation of Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 163; digital images, Google Books ( accessed 2 July 2009).
[7]        Lucy Riall, The Italian Risorgimento: State, Society and National Unification, pp. 191-192.
[8]     Lucy Riall, The Italian Resorgimento: State, society, and national unification, pp. 1, 57, 71, 191-192, 207.  This scholar refers to event locations generically as Italy when during certain times she references Sicily was not yet united into what we now know as Italy.  Also, the civil records of the town of Polizzi Generosa microfilmed at the provincial archives in Palermo, are missing birth and death records for 1821-most of 1822 as well as 1859-1861.  However, these records can be found within the civil archives of this particular town.   See also  “The Sicilian Insurrection.; Reinforcements for Garibaldi Projected Attack on the Mainland,” The New York Times, 2 July 1860, Web edition (  accessed 1 July 2009); citing p. 1; and Connie Mandracchia DeCaro, Sicily: The Trampled Paradise,  p. 75 and Spencer di Scala, Italy from Revolution to Republic, pp. 120-121.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Need Onsite Research in Italy?

Holtz Research Services dba Lo Schiavo Genealogica
Schedule of Onsite Research

Do you need onsite research in Italy? Below is our current schedule of onsite research for the next few months. If you need research in any of these locations, we’d be happy to help you.

Prices vary depending on how much research you need. However, it ends up being less expensive to hook onto a currently scheduled trip, because expenses can be spread across multiple clients.

Research in other provinces is currently being scheduled so, if the one you need isn’t listed here, please email me at It may be upcoming but not yet confirmed.

October 2015

Torino province – Archivio di Stato di Torino

Napoli province – Archivio di Stato di Napoli

Cosenza province – Archivio di Stato di Cosenza

Reggio Calabria province – Archivio di Stato di Reggio Calabria

Ragusa province – Archivio di Stato di Ragusa

Catania province – Archivio di Stato di Catania

November 2015

Roma province – Archivio di Stato di Roma and other towns within this province.

December 2015

Bari province – Archivio di Stato di Bari and other towns within this province.

February 2016

Genova province - Archivio di Stato di Genova and other towns within this province.

Milano province – Archivio di Stato di Milano and other towns within this province.

Bergamo province – Archivio di Stato di Bergamo and other towns within this province.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Adding Cultural Context to Your Family History

Below is a portion of a family history that I wrote on the Lo Schiavo and Catanzaro families who originated on the island of Sicily. The resources I used for this section were particularly informative as I strove to understand the lives of these ancestors.

The sexes held distinct roles in Sicilian society. The father was the head of the household with the mother carrying out the decisions of her husband and handling the families’ finances.  The wife’s main objective was to pick wives for her sons when the time came and to make sure they had a dowry for all the daughters and a bridal gift for all the sons.  Church marriage used to be the only form of marriage until 1870 when civil marriage took precedence. After that, you will often find a couple marrying twice, both ecclesiastically and civilly.[1] 

The peasant class in Sicily consisted of five general types of occupations: agriculture, fishing, peddlers, traveling artisans and small shopkeepers.  Those who lived in coastal were often fishermen whose work provided food as well as income for their families.  Any excess catch, over and above what a family needed, was sold to provide for other necessities. Fishermen were considered a “lesser” class of peasant because they had only one useful skill, while the other peasant groups were thought to have several.[2]  A farm worker worked hard for very little wages, often leaving for work before dawn and returning long after sundown.  Others plied whatever skills they had: entertaining, herb or firewood gathering…even grave digging could produce a small fee, which could put some type of food on the table.[3]  Even now you can hear remnants of the old ways in the cries of the peddler[4] as he makes his way through the streets of a Sicilian town.  His cries ring out and the centuries-old dance between peddlers and their customers continue.  Older women barter from their third-floor balconies and, after reaching an agreement, lower their baskets by rope for their agreed-upon product. 

Most Sicilians were Catholic and their lives centered on their families and the Church.  Yet polytheism, in the forms of paganism and superstitions, was also practiced.  These practices were interwoven into the Sicilian culture and practiced alongside Catholicism.  Even as late as the 1930’s, the dead were sometimes buried without shoes, a leftover practice from the Saracens.  Paganism could be seen in the type of patron saints revered, many of whom were not biblical but rather came from the Greek and Roman gods of old.[5]  Even the use of amulets or other decorations to ward off “malocchio” or the Evil Eye can be more closely linked to paganism then anything else.[6]

The average person in Sicily did not speak the Italian language as we know it, but rather their own dialect.[7]  Similar to Italian in many respects “…the Sicilian prefers the i and u, which give it a Moorish or Turkish physiognomy; …[and] terminates both masculine and feminine plurals in i.”[8]  Clothing styles were markedly different between the classes, at least through the first third of the twentieth century.[9]  The poor often wore berets or scarves upon their heads and a cloak to hide the quality of the clothes underneath while the rich sported regular hats and clothing made of fine textiles.[10] 

[1]    Phyllis H. Williams, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America, pp. 76-78, 86.
[2]     Ibid, pp. 24-27.
[3]     Phyllis H. Williams, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America, p. 22.  The average wage for a Sicilian man working the fields was $.30 a day for ten hours of work.  Primitive means of cultivation made the work difficult and the progress slow.  See also Spencer di Scala, Italy from Revolution to Republic , pp. 154-155.
[4]        In Sicily, a “venditore ambulanti”or traveling peddler sells his product on the streets of the town by calling out what he has to sell along with the price of the product.  At one time a horse/mule and a cart was commonly used but now you’re more likely to see them use a very small truck to cart their product.  They sell anything from bread to vegetables to fruit, herbs and many other products. 
[5]        Phyllis H. Williams, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America, pp. 135-138.
[6]        Alan Dundes, The Evil Eye: a casebook, (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), information on the Evil Eye is found throughout the whole book; digital images, Google Books ( accessed 17 July 2009).
[7]        George Smith and William Makepeace Thackeray, “Sicilian Folk-Songs”, The Cornhill Magazine (Smith, Elder and Co., 1877), p. 444; digital images, Google Books ( accessed 28 April 2009).
[8]        “Dialects and Literature of Southern Italy”, The Foreign Quarterly Review (Treuttel and Wurtz, Treuttel, Jun, and Ricter, 1830), p. 181; digital images, Google Books ( accessed 28 April 2009).
[9]      Jane Holowitz, Economic development and social change in Sicily, p. 52.
[10]    Ibid., p. 52.