Or, The One Where I Finally Learn my Great-Great-Grandfather Antonio’s Death Date and Parents’ Names. Finally. Finally! And did I mention finnnnnaaaaally?
In the previous post, I discussed a question my mother posited to me about Italian cemeteries. Well, I told you that story so I could tell you this story.
My great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli, the subject of the cemetery question above. Antonio’s son Quinto (my great-grandfather) permanently settled in the United States, as did a couple of his Antonio’s other sons (Ottavio and Giovanni), but several other children, as well as Antonio and his wife Benedetta, remained in Italy.
I have no evidence that Antonio ever came to America, even though it was fairly common for Italian men to travel to America—and other countries—to find work for a while, then return home, rather than to stay. (If you are interested in that, I highly recommend reading Donna Gabaccia’s Italy’s Many Diasporas.) But nevertheless, my point is, I did not then have the benefit of any American records I could use to learn about him—an immigration record or a death record, for instance. All I had was his name (which I believe I got from one of his sons’ American death certificates) and an extremely approximate time frame for his death, which I had listed in my notes as “before 1925.” This was based on a conversation with my grandfather Renato at some point. When I asked if he knew when his grandfather had died, he said he didn’t, and he didn’t even remember him. He did remember his widowed grandmother Benedetta, though, which seemed to indicate then that they had lived nearby but that Grandpa was probably too young (or perhaps not born yet) to remember his grandfather at all. So I rather arbitrarily guessed that the man had died “probably” sometime prior to 1925, when my own Grandpa (who didn’t remember Antonio) would have been about 12.
The conversation with Mom about the cemeteries and remembering how I had hoped (and failed) to find my great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli’s death date at the cemetery in Italy reminded me that, hey, it’s been 10 years since then, and it has been a while since I actually tried to find out anything about him…say, online. And as we all know, more and more “stuff” — genealogical resources, digitized archives and indices, and quite frankly anything else you could imagine — is being added to the vast ocean of the Internet, every day. So it was certainly worth trying again.
So I took to Google.
(What else? I know that information professionals — of which I am one, as an archivist/librarian — like to knock Google, but I say, it’s a completely valid first step to any kind of research. It never hurts to see what comes up.)
Searching for Antonio Pasquinelli by name did not yield anything useful (i.e., nothing that hadn’t been posted by me in the first place).
I had better luck in searching for general archival/genealogical resources of the place where the Pasquinelli family had lived in Italy: Pescia, a little town that is now in the province of Pistoia (though it was originally part of Lucca before the province of Pistoia was carved out in 1927).
A shockingly small amount of Googling yielded the following treasure:
Oh yes, that’s right. I didn’t know exactly what “Italy, Pistoia, Pistoia, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1937” meant, exactly, but I certainly understood the description well enough as to be practically enraptured before I even clicked anywhere. The description of this digital collection from FamilySearch.org (free online genealogical records- if you’ve never gone there, stop reading immediately and go there now!) is as follows:
Civil registration (stato civile) of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the Pistoia Courthouse (Tribunale di Pistoia). Includes ten-year indexes (indici decennali); residency records (cittadinanze); supplemental records (allegati); and marriage banns (pubblicazioni). Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.
Clicking on “Browse through 834,726 images” (!!!!) yields the following page, which lists all the comuni/frazioni (cities/towns) in Pistoia. You then click on a comune to see what records are available to browse for that particular town. I of course chose Pescia, which is where my grandfather had always told us his family was from — and which, I will save you the suspense, definitely turned out to be true (oh God, was it ever true– I never saw the word “Pasquinelli” so much in my life).
There are lots of different sets of records available for Pescia, including mostly “allegati” for marriages, deaths, and births. These “attachments” or “supplemental records” seemed to be very random; I couldn’t figure them out…so I didn’t look through many of those.
But, ah, Morti, 1914-1929… That I understood. Deaths. Plain old death records. Atti di morti, actually, which technically translates to “death acts,” but that is the info-filled record of death that I was looking for. (According to my Italian genealogy books, which I acquired a couple of weeks later, there are different kinds of death records, but these “atti” are the meatiest kind, the kind I wanted.)
When I clicked on the records, I was presented with 2000+ images to browse through.
One of the first few images was this:
This is the info frame for the microfilm reel from which this collection was digitized. As an archivist, I feel the need to draw attention to it. These original records, some of which are now 100 years old, were only just microfilmed in 2005, according to this info sheet. Date filmed: 12 OCT 2005. They were only just microfilmed a year after my trip to Italy in 2004. And sometime after that (I didn’t find this info online), probably fairly recently, the microfilm was digitized and placed online by FamilySearch. WOW. That is some serious preservation effort taking place just in the past 10 years. I am assuming (perhaps wrongly–yes, perhaps wrongly, I don’t know) that 2005 was the first time these records were ever microfilmed…if there had been a copy already, wouldn’t LDS probably have just tried to acquire that? Or maybe the copy was no good. I don’t know. But…wow. I’m so pleased that, for whatever reason, these records, which contain quite a bit of my family’s history, were slated for high-quality microfilming and digitization.
OK, so after I marveled over that, it was on to the browsing. Yes, browsing. As in, not searchable with keywords, because they apparently have not yet been indexed by FamilySearch volunteers. But still searchable like sitting down at a table in the archives for hours and flipping through a book with no index. Except instead of having to spend my Italian vacation doing this in a courthouse, I was able to spend my nights and weekends doing this in my office, in my pajamas, with a Gilmore Girls rerun on in the background.
Now, I say there was no index, which is true and also not true. The record collection consisting of 2000+ images actually contained several volumes of original ledger books (arranged chronologically by year, from 1914 to 1929), with title pages such as this one:
Each year did have an alphabetical index, with a title page like this:
And entry pages like this:
However, there was no good way to find the beginning and end of a particular year’s worth of records or to find that year’s index book.
So I browsed. And it was okay anyway, because in doing that, I found relatives I didn’t even know I had, often mentioned as parents or witnesses (e.g., things that I would have never seen because those things were not listed in the original paper index).
If there had been an easy way to find the index page shown above, I might have had a much easier time of things:
Actually, this is probably a good example of one time when viewing the original records would have been much simpler—-ah, book form. Well, simpler, if not for the whole international airplane ride and language barrier thing. (My reading knowledge of Italian is decent; my speaking is not so good…)
I actually spent hours browsing the Atti di Morte collection, as well as other collections from the Tribunale di Pistoia. However, I was actually rewarded rather quickly with finding the ancestor I sought.
It turned out that Antonio Pasquinelli had died in Pescia in 1915 (so, very early on in the 2000+ pages of images of deaths in Pescia from 1914-1929).
Antonio appeared on microfilm frame 168:
VICTORY AT LAST!
Here’s a close up of the entire record:
I knew I had the right person because I recognized the name of his wife mentioned in the record: Chiostri Benedetta.
And then I set to work with my Italian dictionary, figuring out what exactly this thing said. And here’s what I came up with, first in Italian and then in English:
Atti di Morte – Pescia, Lucca, Italy – 1915
L’anno millenovecentoquindici addi’ quindici di Novembre a ore undici e minute quindici nella Casa Comunale. Avanti di me Franco Fantozzi Segretario delegato dal Sindaco con atto due Agosto millenovecentoundici, approvato.
Ufficiale dello Stato Civile del Comune di Pescia, sono comparsi Pasquinelli Leopoldo di anni settanta, colono domiciliato in Pescia e Lucaccini Beldassare di anni settantatre calzolaro [calzolaio], domiciliato in Pescia, i quali mi hanno dichiarato che a ore quattordici e minuti ___ di ieri, nella casa posta in Via di Campo al numero ___, e’ morto Pasquinelli Antonio di anni sessantatre, colono, residente Pescia, nato in Pescia, da fu Beniamino domiciliato in ___, e dalla fu Molendi Dosamira, domiciliata in ___, marito di Chiostri Benedetta.
A quest’atto sono stati presenti quali testimoni Lunardini Silvio di anni ventiquattro, colono, e [Quastapaglio?] Ferruccio di anni tretuno, colono, ambi residenti in questo Comune. Letto il presente atto a tutti gl’intervenuti, lo hanno essi meco firmato eccetto il dichiarante Pasquinelli illiterato.
[Lucaccini Baldessare], Silvio Lunardini, Ferruccio [Questagia?], Franco Fantozzi
And now, one more time, with gusto— I mean, in English:
Death Records – Pescia, Lucca (now Pistoia), Italy – 1915
The year 1915 the 15 of November at the hour 11 and minute 15 in the Town Hall,
Before me, Franco Fantozzi, Secretary delegated by the Mayor with action the second of August 1911, approved.
As official of the Civil State of the Comune of Pescia, (they) appeared (before me) Leopoldo Pasquinelli (age 70), a sharecropper residing in Pescia, and Beldassare Lucaccini (age 73), a shoemaker living in Pescia, (and it was) declared to me which things, that at the hour 4 and minute ___ of yesterday [14 November 1915], in the house [addressed at] number ___ Via di Campo, has died Antonio Pasquinelli (age 63), sharecropper, residing in Pescia, born in Pescia, to the late Beniamino [Pasquinelli] residing in ___ [deceased], and to the late Dosamira Molendi residing in ___ [deceased], [and] husband of Benedetta Chiostri.
In this act were present as witnesses Silvio Lunardini (age 24), sharecropper, and Ferruccio [Quastapaglio?] (age 31), sharecropper, both residents in this Comune. The present document having been read by all attendants, they have signed it except Pasquinelli, declaring (himself) illiterate.
[Lucaccini Baldessare], Silvio Lunardini, Ferruccio [Questagia?], Franco Fantozzi
From this document I learned several things I did not know before about my ancestor, including:
- His death date: 14 Nov 1915
- His death place: definitely Pescia- and not only that but the very road of the house in which he died, Via di Campo! – a road that still exists, by the way, I checked!
- His approximate birth year (about 1852) and birth place (Pescia)
- His occupation: sharecropper
- His parents’ names: Beniamino Pasquinelli (which by the way is what he named his oldest son – an Italian tradition I have learned) and Dosamira Molendi (another beautiful Italian name I’ve never heard before!)
I also learned some interesting things about Italian records in the course of browsing through these records in search of this record in particular:
- If it says “del fu” or anything with “fu” in it, it means the person being referred to is deceased (e.g., “da fu Beniamino Pasquinelli” above- because Antonio’s father was already deceased at the time); based on what I know about Latin and Italian, this comes from a past tense form of the verb “to be” and is sort of like saying, “well, he was Beniamino Pasquinelli, but he’s not anymore, he’s dead, he’s ex, he’s past, he was.” Interesting.
- Even married women are listed under their maiden name on these death acts. I noticed it in browsing. Then when I got my Italian genealogy books I read that this was common, that women went by their maiden names on official documents, even after they were married. There’s something kind of awesome about that. And not just for genealogy, but it’s damn helpful for that as well.
- There’s an elaborate reporting/witnessing system for recording a death. Two people reported that the person died, and two additional people acted as witnesses of this report at the city hall. And all four of them sign the death act. It was my sister Gina (the nurse) who pointed out that maybe this was because the death wasn’t being certified by a physician like death certificates are today—so they wanted to be absolutely sure this person was in fact dead, so…lots of witnesses. Again, interesting.
- They spell out the numbers. On the pre-printed form, as well as in the handwritten part. This is awesome for the same reason that you have to write out in words the dollar amounts on your personal checks—so there’s less chance for confusion about what number you mean. It sure makes it easier on me, especially with some of these clerks’ handwriting—much easier to decipher a word than to be sure of what numeral I’m seeing.
So that’s how I finally—-FINALLY—-learned something more than a name about my great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli.
I know I used the word “finally” a lot at the beginning of this. I never imagined that I might be having this thought on your (my reader’s) behalf by the time I got to the end: When is she finally going to get to the point and be done with it already? I do realize that this got extremely long. I apologize for that. I noticed it happening, but I wasn’t sure where would be a good place to cut it off and split it in two. So…it’s one super-long post. Hopefully you found it interesting.