POINT Chapter 15 Meeting - May 1, 2004

POINTers In Person
Chapter 15
Northern New Jersey

P.O. Box 636
Totowa, New Jersey

Pursuing Our Italian Names Together

May 1, 2004

Albert Marotta (#1018)

The Northern New Jersey chapter of POINTers In Person met on May 1, 2004 at the Elmwood Park Municipal Building.  Twenty-six  people attended.

Maria Carparelli (#2100) opened the meeting  by reminding the chapter that  the 2004 POINT National Conference will take place in Kansas City, MO October 7-9, 2004.  A new slate of officers will be presented to the membership by the Nominating Committee during the next meeting.   Also, the Bylaws Committee will update the bylaws during the next meeting.

 Maryanne Graham (#3654) presented the treasurerís report.  The chapter has 95 members;
64 of them have kept their dues current.  However, only 22 are members of POINT.

Carolyn McNamera (#4772) created a beautiful display for our chapter.  It was a map of Italy showing all the regions (and information about them) which are being researched by Chapter #15 members.
Joseph Infosino (#4718) informed members about Comunes of Italy, a publication in which each issue features a different province in Italy.

Sal Laguttuta (#3352) gave an informative and fascinating presentation entitled, Abandoned and Orphaned Children in Italy.  This was an update of his 1999 presentation to our chapter on the same topic.

Sal began researching this subject after he learned that his maternal grandmother and his grandfatherís maternal grandmother, from Mezzojuso (Province of Palermo), Sicily, were both foundlings (trovatelli).  Soon he discovered that foundlings were a sizable population in Mezzojuso.  Many documents indicated that the parents of these children were unknown and Sal wondered how in a small village of 3,000 people, no one could know at least the identity of the birth mother.  This led to research into the history of caring for foundlings in Italy, why there were so many in that country and what clues might direct the researcher to learn if his/her ancestors were once orphans.  This phenomenon involved all social classes and was widespread and accepted throughout Europe.

 Sal incorporated into his presentation two scholarly works: The Kindness of Strangers:
The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance, by John Boswell (1988, 1990) and Sacrificed for Honor: Italian Infant Abandonment and the Politics of Reproductive Control, by David I. Kertzer (1993).  Also included were published book reviews, written by Sal, on these two works.

Abandoned children became slaves, servants, prostitutes, members of religious orders (by oblation), or were later reclaimed by the birth parents (a token left with the child would identify the child to the parents) or became children of foster parents.

Before the 1300s, the wealthy would often limit the family size in order to preserve their estates, since an estate would have to be equally divided among all the heirs.  However at a later period, inheritance began to pass down only to the oldest male heir.  This led to less abandonment by the wealthy classes.  Hospitals began to receive foundlings by the 14th and 15th centuries.  By the 16th century, most major European cities would have some public institution specifically designated for the receipt and care of abandoned children.  In 1750 every commune in Sicily was required to establish a home to receive foundlings.  The infant was often placed on a wheel (ruota), sometimes with identifying tokens, spun into the building and a bell would be rung to alert the caregivers.  This would preserve the parentsí privacy.  Many children died within a few years of admission in these foundling homes.

During the years 1832-1849, between 6.8%-9.7% of the total births in Mezzojuso were by parents unknown.  Meanwhile, of all babies born between 1823-1832 over 4% in the Kingdom of Naples, 5% in Lombardy and Veneto, 6% in Tuscany and 7% in Sicily were foundlings.  In 1863 the region with the highest rate of abandonment was Umbria (6%), followed by Sicily (5.6%) and Calabria (5%).

Although illegitimacy was high in the South, most abandoned children were probably not illegitimate.
A marriage was considered legal and the children legitimate by both Church and State when the couple had both a civil and a church wedding.  Otherwise, either the State or the Church might declare the children illegitimate depending on which type of wedding the couple chose.  Surnames given to abandoned children might include, Proietti (although, this might indicate an engineer of a project), Esposti, Columbo (especially in the north), Trovata, Ignoto or variations of these names.  However, after 1870, the law prohibited the use of these names for new foundlings.  The name might also be the place where the child was found.  A member of the chapter commented that the given name might reflect the wish for a happy future, like Fortuna.

Sal is part of the Mezzojuso Internet Mailing List (www.leaptoad.com).   He also found a website featuring Italians trying to find their natural parents, or a daughter/son, or a sister/brother (if they were split up as foundlings).  Their website, Chi líha visto?, is www.chilhavisto.rai.it/clv/dovesei.htm .  An excellent site to locate the Italian geographical areas having a concentration of surnames is www.gens.labo.net.

  Future meetings will be held on:
     August 7, 2004
     November 6, 2004
     February 5, 2005
     May 7, 2005

 For details, see our website:     https://sites.rootsweb.com/~njpoint/

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