I am always working on various genealogy projects. Most involve DNA analysis and helping others solve family mysteries, such as unknown cousins finding their birth families. Yes, if you have completed DNA testing, I’m sure you will find a surprise cousin or two (maybe even an unknown half-sibling!) popping up in your results. Of course, due to protecting the privacy of those I work with as a search angel, I can not write about these projects.
But recently I researched a fascinating case involving misattributed ethnicity that I can share with you. Over the years I have received strange queries from cousins asking about their ancestor Barbara Libener Inama (1875-1936). Barbara is a direct descendant of the Marchetti family from Nuremberg, Pennsylvania (originally from Castelfondo). She is also indirectly related to the Genetti family through marriage. I am personally related to Barbara Libener through my grandmother, Angeline Marchetti, who was her first cousin. (That makes me a first cousin, twice removed to Barbara.)
Barbara and her husband, Emanuele Inama, moved from Pennsylvania back to his ancestral town of Sanzeno in the Val di Non sometime around 1898. There they raised their large family and lived out the rest of their lives. However, all of Barbara’s family remained in Pennsylvania, along with several of her sons. At some point, probably after Barbara’s death, a story began circulating in Italy that Barbara Libener was a full blooded Native American of the Sioux tribe. This tall tale was published decades ago in a regional Trentini magazine and it became part of the Italian family’s lore, although there was no proof supporting the fabrication. However, as far as I am aware, no American descendant of the Marchetti/Libener families had ever heard the story.
Descendants of Barbara and Emanuele, all living in Italy, kept the fantastic story alive by passing the magazine article along to American cousins researching their family genealogy. Twice I received questioning messages from cousins asking about the article of “The Indian Wife.” I simply shrugged it off and explained genealogical record and DNA evidence proved this story could not be true.
But a few months ago the story once again resurfaced through a distant cousin living in France. I have worked with this cousin during the past two years on his complicated and mysterious genealogy. We have confirmed he (we will call him D.R.) is a direct descendant of Barbara and Emanuele, they being his great-grandparents. Upon visiting Trentino this past summer to trace his roots, D.R. too was given this incredulous magazine article. He and his wife, Patricia, also questioned the authenticity of the story, as D.R. has absolutely no Native American ethnicity in his DNA results. For those not familiar with DNA testing, you inherit 50% of your DNA from each parent; 25% of your DNA from each grandparent; and 12.5% of your DNA from each great-grandparent. If the story were true, our French cousin should show at least 10% of his ethnicity to be Native American. Instead his ethnicity from two different testing sites showed 0% Indigenous American.
After learning the story of the “Indian Wife” was still very much alive, I decided it was time to uncover the truth using genealogical research and scientific evidence. As a family genealogist and someone who works with genetic genealogy, I see it as my duty to document family truths, even if it debunks ancestral stories. (And very often it does!)
The result was a paper I recently published on our family website, entitled: “The Myths and Facts about Barbara Libener Inama (1875-1936).” The paper details all of my research into Barbara Libener, including DNA evidence from several of her descendants. Through Patricia, our French cousin’s wife, it has also been forwarded to family in Italy. So far – I have not heard a response to my research. I guess we will wait and see …
I would very much like to hear opinions from other cousins regarding this piece of family lore. After reading my paper, feel free to leave a comment to this post or ask questions about my research. I am happy to discuss or explain my findings.