POINT Chapter 15 Meeting - August 6, 2010

POINTers In Person
Lou Costello Chapter 15

Northern New Jersey

Pursuing Our Italian Names Together
August 6, 2010


The Northern New Jersey chapter of POINTers In Person met on August 6, 2010 at the Elmwood Park Municipal Building.  Nineteen people attended.

Maria Carparelli (#2100) opened the meeting by alerting members that Tony Desiderioscioli was ill and that the chapter will send him a “get well” card.  She mentioned that Dr. Sandra Lee was having a special exhibit, “From Italy to America: Faces of Italian Immigrants/Italian Americans” on October 6, 2010 at the Oakeside Cultural Center in Bloomfield.  Maria also told members about the Passaic County Historical Society Picnic, which will celebrate that organization’s 25th anniversary.  She was also happy to announce that she learned that the chief sculptor of Mt. Rushmore was an Italian, Luigi del Bianco, from Meduno, Pordenone, Italy.

Al Marotta shared some items of interest with the chapter.  He mentioned that a  Wall Street Journal article published in May stated that 2010 was the first year that no Advanced Placement Italian exam would be offered.  In January 2009, the College Board, a nonprofit that represents 5,700 colleges, announced that the AP Italian exam would be discontinued due to a lack of  interested students and financial losses.  Also, Al said that according to a New York Times article published in May, Kean University in Union, NJ recently found a population count of the U.S. from an “actual enumeration” conducted at least four years before the country’s first official census in 1790.  The handwritten tally was found among the papers of John Kean, a merchant and an elected member of the Continental Congress from South Carolina in 1785.  He was appointed by President Washington as the First Cashier of the Bank of the U.S.  Many of his descendents were elected representatives for NJ for generations.  This early census will be displayed at the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University.  Al also updated the chapter about the effect the NJ State budget is having on libraries.  The State’s proposed 74% cut in state support for NJ libraries has been changed to a 43% cut, due to great public protest.  Still, it will halve per capita state aid to libraries and will discontinue the Jersey Click federated search, etc.  The Heritage Quest database was discontinued on December 31, 2009 and was not renewed.  Also local tax cuts will have a great negative impact on local libraries.  Newark’s system will lose $2 million and will reduce hours and services.  Camden might close its entire library system permanently.  Roxbury and E. Hanover might dissolve their libraries.  These are but a few examples.

Maryanne Graham (#3654) presented the treasurer’s report.  The chapter has 45 active members.

Daniel Donatacci gave a very informative presentation, “Introduction to Italian History: Politics, Religion, and the Genealogist”.  He introduced the topic of Italian history in the context of Europe.  Then he focused on politics and religion as a means of understanding records which genealogists and researchers use.  It is essential to place your ancestors in historical context.  If the heart of history is the writing of stories, then chronological history helps the researcher to organize material and communicate it to others.  It is most important to locate the correct person and keep the line clear by using solid documentary evidence.  Sometimes, researchers in haste trace a family or branch that seems similar, but which is not related.  This often happens when one overlooks the historical context.  Researchers must pay attention to documentation that is seen as truth.

The geography of Italy, with its numerous rivers, rough terrain, mountains, etc., created a situation which isolated neighbors and regions.  This is why small towns became self-sufficient and why inhabitants identified with the local place rather than with the country itself.  Also, this explains why many civil records are kept at the local level.  Many Italians gained a sense of “Italy” as a county only after they emigrated.  Still, others kept up local identification.

Beginning with the Classical Period, Mr. Donatacci traced, in detail, the complex history of the Italian peninsula and its islands from the ancient civilizations of the Greeks who settled southern Italy and Sicily, “Magna Graecia”, along with numerous smaller native tribes,  the Etruscans, whose empire “built up” central Italy (8th Century BC) and finally the Roman Empire.  By 500 BC the Roman Republic was established, followed by Rome conquering its neighbors and expanding its empire.  The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) re-conquered Italy and its emperor introduced into the eastern empire the Roman law, which continues to be the foundation of European law.  However, by the 6th Century AD the Germanic Lombards took over the north  and the Byzantine Empire controlled the south.  In 324 Christianity became the official religion of the empire.

When Rome fell in 476 and chaos reigned, the Church filled the power vacuum and became a temporal and political force from 728 and the Papal States took shape in central Italy.  By 962 the Germanic Holy Roman Empire took control of Italy.  The Normans replaced the Byzantine Empire in the South and established a feudal system in the 11th century.  During the Middle Ages there was constant fighting between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire.  Toward the end of this period, the Peace of Constance (in 1183) acknowledged the autonomy of Italian cities.  The Anjou Dynasty took hold of Naples and Sicily when Charles of Anjou was crowned King of Sicily in 1265 and France continued to rule much of Italy until 1494.  The 1300s featured “the black plague”, together with wars and famine.

Nobles began to have influence by the 1400s.  These were supporters of royalty and some were merchants who became a wealthy and respected class, with titles and privileges.  During this period the office of notary public was created to collect taxes, providing the earliest genealogical records, and the formation of universities began.    Although the Renaissance ushered in the cultural revolution, the monarchy still reigned in the south, the Papal States controlled the center and independent city states held sway in the north.

The 1500s was the first time a unified written language was used for communication between statesmen.  This might have been the first unifying spark for Italy.  The Council of Trent (1545-1563) mandated the creation and keeping of Catholic parish records, which took effect in 1595.  Guicciardini published in 1564 “History of Italy”, which was the first modern history to use government documents to verify history.  However, Italy was not ready for unity yet.  The 16th Century saw control of Italy alternating between France and Spain.  Austrian rule replaced Spanish in the north in the 1700s and brought more freedom and prosperity, but little unity.

In 1798 Napoleon divided Italy into Cisalpine, Ligurian and Roman Republics.    The Italian Republic became a kingdom under Emperor Napoleon in 1805.  The feudal system was abolished and the keeping of civil vital records was mandated and standardized, with recordings required in duplicate in 1809.  This short period represented the first time that all of Italy was united under a centralized administration, along with the rest of the empire.  The Napoleonic civil code created a uniform judicial system.  All too soon, unity was again destroyed as Austria struggled with France in 1815 to control the Piedmont area.  After Napoleon, previous boundaries and rule returned and various Italian territories were redrawn (which has implications on researching records from these areas). The Bourbons returned to the South and established the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which included everything south of Rome and the Papal States.    Revolutions swept through the peninsula in 1848.

Finally, too much constant foreign rule prompted Italians to desire unity.  By 1860, Bologna, Parma, Modena and Tuscany united with Piedmont, while the South united itself.  The  Kingdom of Italy was officially formed in 1861 and by 1870 Rome becomes its final capital, paving the way for a completely united Italy.  The Vatican was created in 1871 as a separate and independent state within Rome.  Yet, this loss of the Papal States caused tension among the population.  Many decided to be married by the Church, but never alerted the town, as required by law, of the marriage.  Thus, the town declared the resulting children “illegitimate” unless the couple remarried in a civil rite.  Also in 1871, a general draft required all Italian males to register at 18 years of age in order for the board to determine eligibility for military service.  Power eventually shifted from the monarchy to the parliament.  The 1880s wartime economy saw the construction of steel mills, ships and railroads.  After World War I, many businesses fell into bankruptcy and the economy worsened.  This led the way for labor unrest, the rise of the socialist party and Mussolini.  The Great Depression made it necessary for Italy to nationalize its industries.  After World War II, a democratic republic was established and the monarchy was exiled.

Mr. Donatacci concluded by presenting “The Genealogical Proof Standard”.  It includes conducting an exhaustive search in reliable sources, keeping a complete and accurate citation to the sources used, assessing the quality of information, resolving any conflicts by use of evidence and arriving at a soundly reasoned and coherently written conclusion.

Among the highlights which might give valuable context and insight to the researcher is that each town in Italy has civil records from at least 1870 and some towns from 1809.  Many Catholic parishes have kept records since 1595.  University records may date to the 1200s.  The oldest records may be notary records.

It is important to remember that each civilization/ruling class influenced art, architecture, government, laws, religion and records.  Also, our ancestors’ daily lives were shaped by these events and cultures.

   Future meetings will be held on:
     November 6, 2010
     February 5, 2011
     May 7, 2011
     August 6, 2011

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


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