Chapter 15 Meeting - August 7, 1999

POINTers In Person
Chapter 15
Northern New Jersey

P.O. Box 636
Totowa, New Jersey

Pursuing Our Italian Names Together

August 7, 1999

Albert Marotta (#1018)
The Northern New Jersey chapter of POINTers in Person met at the Housing Authority Community Room in Garfield, NJ on August 7, 1999.  Eighteen people attended, including at least one new face.

Annita Zalenski (#39) opened the meeting by handing out a printed e-mail she received concerning the latest update from the Austin, TX PIP Chapter on the POINT 2000 Conference, scheduled for October 6-8, 2000.  She then informed us that Pat Locasto (#3430), our chapter's VP, and his wife Nancy and their family have moved to Las Vegas, NV.  This prompted us to nominate Maria Carparelli (#2100) as our new VP.  We wish Pat and Nancy the very best in their new home and know that our chapter's loss will be the newly re-restablished Las Vegas Chapter's gain. We also learned that Giulio Salemme and his wife, Elisabetta,  enjoyed their stay in the United States.  Giulio is an Italian citizen who has helped many Americans in their Italian research.  PIP members were invited to Annita's house on July 5 for a get-together and to meet Giulio and Elisabetta.  A great time was had by all.  Annita also mentioned that she has been asked by the Center for Italian and Italian-American Cultute to give a presentation on Italian genealogy.  This will be followed several weeks later by a one day workshop.  Our members were asked to volunteer for this event.

Lilian Pappas (#2717) presented the treasurer's report and told us that we now have 42 paid members (including five couples) in our chapter.  Nineteen of these members belong to POINT.

Sal Lagatutta (#3352) presented his research on Orphaned and Abandoned Children in ItalyThis subject was fascinating, new territory for us.   Sal's unique and informative presentation was sparked by research into his own family history, which led to numerous roadblocks since he learned that his grandmother from Mezzojuso in Sicily was a foundling.  Then he discovered that another relative was also abandoned as a baby.  In fact, it seemed 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 an interesting and somewhat sad journey into the history of caring for foundlings in Italy, why there were so many in such a child-loving country and some possible clues to learn if your ancestors were once orphans.  This phenomena involved all social classes and was widespread and accepted throughout Europe

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).  This was supplemented by a book review from a genealogist's viewpoint by Thomas Briggs (#1383)  on the book by Boswell.

Abandoned children became slaves, servants, prostitutes, eunuchs, 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.  Oblation was another option.  The parent would donate the child as a permanent gift to the monastery.  Oblation probably began in the 5th century and was well established by the 7th century.

Before the 1300's, 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 comune in Sicily was required to establish a home to receive foundling.  The infant was often placed on a wheel, sometimes with identifying tokens, spun into the building and a bell would be run to alert the caregivers.  This would preserve the parents' privacy.  Many children died within a few years of admission in these foundling homes.

It is interesting to note that according to the records of the village of Mezzojuso, during the years 1832-1840, between 6.8%-9.7% of the total births were to parents unknown.  Between 1823-1832  over 4% of all newborns were abandoned in the Kingdom of Naples, 5% in Lombardy and Veneto, 6% in Tuscany and 7% in Sicily.  In 1863 the region with the highest rate of abandonment was Umbria (6%), followed by Sicily (5.6%) and Calabria (5%).  Sardinia had the lowest rate of abandonment at 0.6%.

Most abandoned children were probably not illegitmate.  Yet illegitmacy was high in the South.  This was probably due to economic problems and to  misinterpretation by researchers of vital or church records.  Confusion might have begun when the Council of Trent codified what the Church considered a legal marriage.  Sometimes this was in conflict with that the State considered a legal marriage.  This problem compounded when Italy became a unified state.  A marriage was considered legal and the children legitimate by both the 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.  Thus most of these children were really legitimate.  Annita found that during her research in the Trento area, names often appeared upside down in the records if the child was considered illegitimate.  Surnames given to abandoned children might include Proietti, Esposito or the name of the place where he/she was found.

Note: To read more about this subject, please see Tom Briggs' web page - Child Abandonment.

Our next PIP meeting is scheduled for Saturday, November 6, 1999  at 10 A.M. at the same location


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