Category: Maps

A Case of Mistaken Identity!

Villages of Castelfondo and Ofena

Map of modern-day Italy showing the villages of Ofena in southern Italy and the village of Castelfondo in northern Italy.

Several weeks ago I received a curious email from a gentleman with the surname of Genetti. According to his email, “D. Genetti’s” family had settled in New England in the 1920’s. He gave me the names of his great-grandparents, but missing was information about their village of origin in Italy. I had heard of a Genetti family in this part of the country, but had never come across their ancestry in my research. Since most branches of our family settled in mining areas of the United States, I’ve found it easy to track the immigration of each branch to a specific coal mining region of this country. But I had not found any branch of the Genetti family (originally from Castelfondo) who emigrating to Massachusetts.

In his second email, my new Genetti contact provided a detailed family tree, extending back nine generations, beginning with Giovanni Genetti (1737-1839). I responded enthusiastically – yes! I would be happy to include his genealogy on our online family tree. But first it was necessary to document and verify the names and dates on his tree. I had learned from past experience that information provided without resource documentation can often contain errors. So I set about researching his ancestors. What I found was a complete surprise!

Here’s my response email to D. Genetti:

“According to your tree, the earliest Genetti ancestor is Giovanni Genetti (1737-1839). I was unable to locate him on our ancestral tree (which dates back to 1461) nor in the Castelfondo baptismal records. I did further searching on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, but without any luck. Then I attempted to search for recent ancestors on your tree that were born in Italy and emigrated to the USA. Still I found none of these relatives in the data bases with the name of Genetti.

My last resort was searching for derivative spellings of Genetti. I then found an Italian family tree on Ancestry.com with five generations of your relatives listed along with corresponding birth and death dates – but their name was spelled “Genitti” and they were from Ofena, L’Aguila, Italy – not Castelfondo, Tyrol. When I searched FamilySearch.org for Genitti, I found results that matched what I had found on Ancestry.com.

Unfortunately, I’m sorry to tell you our families are not related. Without records proving that they are from the Val di Non region of Trentino (Tyrol) I can’t enter them into our online family tree since there would be no connecting ancestor. My guess, is that your surname was changed as some point after your family emigrated to the United States. This was a common occurrence. I suggest researching your family through Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org as well as the baptismal records from Ofena, Italy under the surname of Genitti. You may be able to go back much further in the records with the original surname.” (end of email)

As a genealogist, I have an insatiable curiosity! I had to know more about this family. So after sending my email (and not feeling very good about breaking this surprising news concerning a mistaken surname!), I continued digging to find answers. Here’s what I found. “D. Genetti’s” 2nd great-grandfather arrived in Canada from Italy in 1921 under the name Pasquale Genitti. The family must have traveled to the United States soon after, settling in Massachusetts. That same year, Pasquale’s son, Giuseppe married and the Massachusetts Marriage Index lists his name interestingly as “Giuseppe Genetti”. The 1930 Federal Census states the family’s surname is “Genett”. And in the 1940 Census, it becomes “Genetti”. Misspelled names are a common occurrence in the census since it is the sole responsibility of the census taker to notate the information correctly. Unfortunately, names were often written phonetically, and therefore misspelled. The errors on the 1930 and 1940 censuses could account for the family simply adopting a new version of their name.

However, other documentation provided the following information. World War I and World War II registration cards, as well as naturalization documentation for one of Giuseppe’s immediate family members, states the surname to be “Genitti”. And the Social Security Death Index states that Giuseppe’s own surname at the time of his birth in 1890 and at his death in 1968 was “Genitti”. But whomever had constructed their detailed family tree, had decided to use the surname “Genetti” throughout, rather than reflect the new name within the generation that had adopted the change. It was obvious that my email friend was two to three generations separated from his family’s name change and not aware of the true origins of his ancestry.

Hopefully the information provided in this “case of mistaken identity” was not too shocking. I trust it will be used as positive motivation to research the family’s true roots, ancestry and culture.

 

Take a Walk with Google Earth

Castelfondo-6

View of the town’s fountain with the Genetti home in the background. Look for this landmark while you are walking around Castelfondo using Google Earth.

If you find genealogy a tad on the dry side, here’s a tech tip that will make it a whole lot more interesting. Why not take a walk through your ancestral village using Google Earth!

This is SO cool! You can be transported directly to a town in Europe (or anywhere else!) without leaving your home. I spend hours on Google Earth exploring places I’m going to visit on my next trip. So let’s zero in on Castelfondo, the ancestral village of the Genetti family and see what we can find.

If you haven’t already played with Google Earth, you will first need to download the basic software from the site. Go to https://earth.google.com. It’s free and only takes a few minutes to load. After you finish downloading you’ll see an icon on your desktop that looks like a blue marble with white swirls. Click on the icon and you are ready to explore!

Let’s get started. In the upper left corner you’ll see a search box. Type in Castelfondo, Trentino, Italy and hit the search button. In an instant you’ll be whisked to a small village in the Italian Alps. From this perspective you will see an aerial view of Castelfondo, the surrounding countryside and nearby villages. Zoom in using the “plus” sign found on the right side of the screen. Or for a lot more fun, grab the little orange man located on the right and drag him into the village. Now you are at street level and can take a stroll through town. Yes, really! You can walk the very streets your ancestors called home, all from the comfort of your desktop!

If you click and hold on the little orange man before you move him into town, you’ll see blue lines pop up on the screen. This tells you where you can and cannot walk. Once you are moving around town, just click on the yellow line to move forward. You can also click on the left or right of the screen to turn around and take in the surrounding view. To return to the aerial view, just toggle the button marked “Exit Street View” found in the upper right of the screen.

Of course, you won’t be able to adventure down every street, but you can maneuver around most of the town and see quite a few sites. Here are a few landmarks to look for: the castle on the edge of town (only seen from the aerial view), the town bar (right over the bridge and on the left side of the stream that runs through town), San Nicolo Church, the town’s central fountain, the village grocery store, apple orchards and vineyards that surround the town and Amici di Castelfondo (the local cultural and historical society). If you find the town fountain, look just beyond it and you will spy the Genetti homestead. Unfortunately you can’t walk right up to the house, but you can see the fresco that is displayed on the side of the home.

Have fun with Google Earth and happy exploring!