Sometimes clues to our past find us in the most unexpected ways. I belong to a Facebook group administered by Giovanni Marchetti. “Chei da Chastelfon” posts photos, stories and history about our ancestral village of Castelfondo. I love seeing photographs of ancient family homes, San Nicolo church and Castello di Castelfondo (the 12th century castle perched on a rock outcropping just below the village). Members of the group share vintage pics from their own family albums. And once in a while, Giovanni (who follows our family blog) will post a link back to the Genetti Family Genealogy Project.
A month ago, Giovanni posted a message for me to look in a specific file under the group’s photo albums. He thought I might find something of interest there. It took a little searching, since of course everything is in Italian. Upon finding the correct album and opening the file, I found myself staring at a collection of twenty vintage cabinet cards and postcards. (A cabinet card is a type of photographic portrait mounted on a stiff card measuring 4.5″ x 6.5″. It was popular from the 1870’s through the 1920’s.)
I immediately was drawn to one postcard – it was an early photograph of my grandfather, Leon Genetti! There was no hesitation on my part – for you see, I have my grandfather’s eyes. It’s like seeing yourself reflected in a mirror. Those eyes are obviously a genetic characteristic, since I have recognize their lilting, soft appearance in several living Genetti descendants as well as in a number of ancestor portraits. Plus – my grandfather looks just like my younger brother, James, at that same age! What a surprise – I was overwhelmed with joy!
In the postcard, my grandfather is standing next to a shorter gentleman with dark hair. From other photos, I recognized him too. It was Pietro (Peter) Zambotti – my grandfather’s cousin! The back of the postcard was stamped Dec. 7, 1908 and had obviously been sent to Castelfondo since it was written in Italian (with a bit of Nones). I could tell that the message was from Pietro, but I needed a little help with the translation. So I wrote Chiara Dalle Nogare, one of our Italian cousins who lives in Trento. Chiara and I are 4th cousins, we share 3rd great-grandparents, Antonio Genetti and Veronica Panizza.
Chiara got back to me right away with a translation. Here’s what Pietro Zambotti wrote to his relatives back home in Castelfondo many, many Christmases ago:
“Many greetings from your godson; together with my cousin I want to wish you merry Christmas and a happy new year. I am well and so I hope are you and all of your family. Your godson Pietro Zambotti” (someone else wrote next to this: the shorter) and then on the left: Leo Daminano (the taller)
According to Pietro’s baptismal record, his godparents were: Pietro Dallachiesa and Barbara Zambotti. So the postcard must have belonged to one of these people. My curiosity was aroused! Was I related to any of the other images staring back at me from this group of century-old cabinet cards? Where did they come from and who had cherished this collection of memories for so many years?
Ecstatic, I wrote back to Giovanni, asking for his help in identifing more of the cards. His answer surprised me. Giovanni, also a lover of history and genealogy, had found the grouping on eBay! He recognized the names on several of the cards (many are not identified) and bid on the lot. Unfortunately, Giovanni could not identify any of the photos other than those that were obviously labeled. He had placed them online in the group photo album, with the hope that others might recognize their relatives and a name could be added to a face.
So it seems the history of the postcard goes like this: My grandfather at age 21 and his cousin (age 27) had a picture postcard photographed at a studio in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The card was sent to Castelfondo, Austria in 1908 to one of Pietro’s godparents. At some point this godparent died and the photo was passed down to someone else. Ultimately the grouping was offered for sale on eBay, probably by someone who had no family connection to the photos (because who would sell such cherished family memories!). A caring soul, Giovanni Marchetti, rescued them from oblivion, bringing them back home to Castelfondo. What a story!
And there’s more! So far I’ve identified three additional cards and will tell their story in a future blog post.
Our thanks and appreciation to Giovanni Marchetti and the group at Chei da Chastelfon! Your American cousins are eternally grateful! Mille grazie!