Category: Tyrolean History

The Feast Day of San Nicolò

Saint Nicholas - San Nicolò

Altar painting of San Nicolò

In Western Christian countries, today (December 6th) is the feast day of Saint Nicholas – or as he is known in Italian: San Nicolò. For your enjoyment and in celebration, I am republishing a post I wrote in December 2015 explaining the story of San Nicolò – the original Santa Claus.

The Story of San Nicolò

Did you know that the patron saint of Castelfondo is San Nicolò? That’s right, the church of our ancestral village is named after San Nicolò in recognition of an early christian saint who is the inspiration for Father Christmas, aka: Santa Claus. In English he is known as Saint Nicholas.

San Nicolò di Bari lived during the 3rd to 4th centuries AD in a Roman colony that is now modern day Turkey. He died on December 6, 343 AD of old age.

There are several legends and miracles attributed to San Nicolò. One in particular may be the beginning of the gift-giving tradition associated with Father Christmas. Upon hearing of a poor man who could not afford dowries for his three daughters, Nicolò (then the Bishop of Myra) gifted part of his wealth to the daughters in the form of three bags of gold, saving them from a life with no husbands and most likely, forced prostitution. To read the entire story, (which includes one sack of gold being thrown down a chimney!) I recommend visiting the site: Life in Italy. This informative page includes the historical details of San Nicolò’s life and the explanation of how his legend morphed into today’s Santa Claus.

San Nicolò Church

Interior view of San Nicolò Church, Castelfondo

The photograph above pictures a prominent painting gracing the baroque altar of Castelfondo’s beautiful church. During my 2011 visit to the village, I was given a tour of San Nicolò by a lovely little woman who is the caretaker. She took me by the arm and escorted me around the altar, all the while describing paintings, frescoes and statues that adorn the church. Of course her explanation was in Italian! I nodded dutifully as I caught a word here and there. I was so appreciative that she had turned on the lights for us. Her obvious devotion to the church and the history it represented touched my heart. While she spoke, I could feel the spirit of my ancestors fill the pews. Generations of Genetti, Marchetti and Zambotti had worshiped in this church for hundreds of years! They had walked this very isle where I now stood. I’m sure they had a family pew where they knelt to pray, just as I had as a child in Hazleton, Pennsylvania attending church at St. Gabriel’s with my father. I was awed and overwhelmed by that moment … reaching through time to share a moment with the ancestors who had shaped my life.

San Nicolò Church

Front exterior view of San Nicolò Church, Castelfondo

As we gather with our families this holiday season, remember to thank your ancestors. Without their bravery, determination and Tyrolean values, our lives would be so different. How wonderful it is to understand where our roots came from and that we have inherited a rich culture shared with many cousins around the world.

Happy San Nicolò Day to my cousins near and far!

(Note: click on the photos to view them in a larger format.)

 

Update: After I published this post I received the following information from John Fellin. The Fellin family is from Revo, Val di Non.

John writes: “Your story about San Nicolo omitted the fact that, under Austria-Hungary and before the Fascist Italianization of the Welsch Tirol, this was the day that boys received a Holiday gift. The gifts might be nuts, some fruit or a couple of Kroner (if the family could afford it). Girls received their gifts on December 13th, the feast of Santa Lucia. The gifts were small and simple, nothing so extravagant as today’s Christmas gifts. Christmas was solely a religious Holiday with no gift exchanges. Italianization brought in La Befana and Santa Claus, ending the Austrian tradition of San Nicolo and Santa Lucia gift giving.” Thank you John for this  interesting addition to our blog post. Mille grazie!

 

100th Anniversary of Armistice and How It Changed Our Heritage

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Map prior to 1803 of Tyrol with Bishopric of Trent and Bishopric of Brixen

One hundred years ago on November 11, 1918, the ethnicity and homeland of the Tyrolean people changed. For on that day the Armistice of World War I was signed, breaking apart the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Shortly afterwards, on September 10, 1919, the Treaty of Saint Germain was signed, formerly annexing German-speaking South Tyrol and Italian-speaking Trentino to Italy. For centuries this entire area was inclusively known as “Tyrol”. With signing of the 1919 treaty, the region of Tyrol located south of the Alps was transferred from Austria and now became the northern Italian provinces of Trentino-Alto Adige.

According to Lou Brunelli, publisher of “Filò: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans”, Tyrol had a long cultural history stretching back 915 years under Austrian sovereignty:

  • 800 years under the Bishopric of Trento
  • 115 years under the Austrian Empire

In comparison, Italy was a young country, having only become a unified Kingdom (a monarchy) in 1861. By 1922 it fell into a Fascist dictatorship under Mussolini. After World War II, Italy became a democratic republic on June 2, 1946.

View of the Dolomites from Bolzano/Bozen, Alto Adige (South Tyrol)

For most of the past millennia our ancestral lands were influenced and controlled by Austria. Although our ancestors spoke Italian and regional dialect, their nationality and passports prior to 1919 stated that they were citizens of Austria, as they had been for centuries. Now with the stroke of a pen (and much political maneuvering by Italy), the region became Italian. (The events that lead up to Tyrol becoming part of Italy and the subsequent suppression of Tyrolean culture is a complicated and involved story. If you would like to read more about the history of this region, I have provided informational links at the end of this blog post.)

View of Val di Non from Castelfondo, Trentino

Since most Tyroleans emigrated to the United States prior to the 1918/1919 annexation, they came to America as Austrian citizens, and were never really considered Italians. However our relatives who remained in Trentino, now officially became Italian citizens. Mr. Brunelli told me that 97% of USA-bound immigrants arrived before the annexation and were not subjected to the subsequent Nationalism fueled by Fascism that occurred particularly in the Province of Alto Adige/Sud Tirol. 

The confusion of ethnicity for Tyrolean immigrants is reflected in the United States Federal Census. My immediate family is identified in three different censuses as: Austrian, Swiss and Italian! I have seen other Tyroleans listed in census as Bavarians and Czechoslovakians. But when you research our shared genealogy, you realize that all of these families are from the same region of the Val di Non, often from the same village! For those unaware of historical events, the 1900, 1910 and 1920 US Censuses can seem bewildering when it refers to ethnicity. Are we Austrian, German or Italian? Is Tyrolean an ethnicity if it doesn’t exist as a country?

San Genesio/Jenesien with view of Dolomites, Alto Adige (South Tyrol)

In the latest issue of Filò (Volume 19), publisher Lou Brunnelli (a 1st generation Tyrolean American) offers an insightful answer to the cultural and ethnic questions that plague American descendants of Tyrolean ancestors. He has given me permission to reprint this issue’s Introduction here:

Dear Tyrolean American …

Father Bolognani, the historian, sociologist, and apostle of our Tyrolean American community asserted the following … “A strange situation hindered the immigrants from the Trentino, making life more difficult for them then for other ethnic groups that arrived as the same time. Though they spoke no German and were Italian by language, they belonged to the Austrian empire and held Austrian passports. Considering themselves Austrian, or Tyrolean, they did not settle in cities as did most Italians. A search for their identity was difficult.” In other words, our people sought their definition, their differentiation from other groups. As their homeland, the ancient Tyrol was annexed by President Wilson and the Allies without a plebiscite [direct vote by eligible voters to decide an important public question] to Italy, they literally became ethnic orphans as Italy adopted a process of Italianization, becoming Fascist and then our [America’s] political adversary as they declared war on us in their affiliation with the Axis Powers. Defeated in the war and recovered with our American help, Italy became culturally adverse by no longer differentiating our history [Tyrolean] and our identity and imposing on us an identity that they had evolved while forgetting ours. What happened after the annexation, happened there and not here [America] … to them and not to us.

The Filò does not engage in a political polemic but legitimately and justifiably seeks to differentiate, to enhance the literacy and legitimacy of our historic existence and experience. Article by article it asserts with pride and joy: that who we are is who we were! ~ Lou Brunnelli

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Modern map of the northern Italian provinces of Trentino (dark pink) and Alto Adige (light pink)

I find it fascinating that our immigrant ancestors brought to America a culture that they kept alive in small communities, but that 100 years later many might say no longer exists in their ancestral homeland. Even today there is a conflict brewing between Austria and Italy concerning the proposed dual-citizenship for German-speaking South Tyroleans (see articles noted below).

Many of us were told as children that we were Tyrolean, not Italian. This concept might seem confusing to our cousins in Italy. But our grandparents and great-grandparents arrived in America as Austrians, became United States citizens and never accepted the label of “Italian”. From the scribbling and crossing out of country origins I have viewed in the US Census, our ancestors were just as confused about their ethnicity after the annexation as we are today attempting to describe our own background as Tyrolean Americans.

In conclusion, I take no sides and make no opinions concerning the ethnicity of Trentino-Alto Adige. I present this information only as a means to bring understanding to our shared Tyrolean American experience, place our ancestry in context to the 1918 Armistice and grasp how the events of the past century have changed Tyrol and its people.

My thanks to Lou Brunelli for sharing his knowledge and insights of Tyrolean culture. I highly recommend subscribing to Lou’s publication Filò: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans. It is a quarterly magazine provided free of charge to the descendants of Tyrolean immigrants.

Click here to register for a subscription to Filò

 

For more information see:

Filò: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans (where you can scroll through current and past issues of Filò)

World War I Armistice Signed: November 11, 1918 – 100th Anniversary

History of South Tyrol

Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919)

South Tyrol: A Minority Conflict of the Twentieth Century (Studies in Austrian and Central European History and Culture)

Italy and Austria at odds over South Tyrol dual-citizenship

Italy’s South Tyrol: where an identity crisis lingers

Iceman – New Movie About Otzi

I can’t wait to see this movie! “Iceman” is about Otzi, the world’s oldest preserved mummy and an ancestral Tyrolean. He lived 5,300 years ago during the Bronze Age in what is now the Italian Alps.The fictional story line was created around facts discovered about the famous Iceman, such as his death was a result of being shot with an arrow. In an interesting twist, the movie was filmed using the ancient Rhaetian language, spoken by the people of the Eastern Alpine region (Northern Italy, Southern Germay, Eastern Switzerland, Slovenia and Western Austria) during the pre-Roman and Roman periods.

I hope “Iceman” is made available to US audiences soon!

Click here to see the movie trailer for “Iceman”!

Want to know more about the Rhaetian Language? Click here.

A Tyrolean Proverb

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Camillo Branz (1870-1948), Ray’s great-grandfather.

My favorite reason for doing genealogy are the people you meet along the way. Our little family website has drawn the attention of Tyrolean descendants from all over the world. Sometimes they turn out to be cousins; often they are family genealogists searching for clues to their own ancestry.

Last week I received a wonderful email from Ray Branz who shares our Tyrolean heritage. Ray explained, “Years ago I was traveling through Diamondville, WY and came across the attached story. I do not know the Bazzanella family … but … they left behind a proverb that may bring a smile.”

The name “Branz” immediately rang a bell! Jean Branz Daly is a prolific contributor to the Genetti website (and my first cousin, once removed). Jean’s mother, Erminia Genetti, married Henry Branz and they lived in Freeland, PA. I wondered if Ray was related to Jean’s father’s family.

Since Ray is also a genealogist and has detailed research about his own family tree, he wrote back immediately with the answer. Yes, we had many overlaps in our shared family histories. The Branz family was from the village of Sanzeno in the Val di Non, not far from the Genetti’s ancestral village of Castelfondo. Ray’s great-grandparents, Camillo and Maria Rosa, immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1890’s, settling in Nuremberg, PA for a short time. They soon moved on to the coal mines of Wyoming. In 1904, the family finally putting down roots in southern Illinois. From Ray’s calculations, he and Jean were indeed distantly related as 6th cousins, once removed through the Branz family.

Since I have Genetti and Marchetti family who lived at the same time and in the same place in Pennsylvania as Ray’s great-grandparents, we are sure our ancestors knew each other. Plus different branches of the Genetti family also worked the mines in Wyoming and Illinois. Since Tyrolean immigrants who shared a common dialect (such as Nones from the Val di Non) often socialized and lived in the same communities, it’s likely that Camillo and Maria Rosa also knew the Genetti families who lived in these states. I always marvel at how truly small the world is!

Below is the original typed copy of the Tyrolean Proverb shared by Ray Branz. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Many thanks Ray. I look forward to future conversations about our shared heritage.

In closing, here’s a quote for everyone who has taken the time to write me during the past two years:

“The best part about genealogy is searching for ancestors and finding friends.” ~ Lawrence Dillard

TyroleanProverb

More About Ötzi, The Iceman

Otzi The Iceman

This life size model of Otzi, created by Dutch artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis, is on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. Photograph by Robert Clark – National Geographic.

For all of you Ötzi fans, The Iceman has been making the news recently.

PBS just aired an informative NOVA episode, “Iceman Reborn”, filming the unique process used to create an identical replica of the Tyrolean mummy. Ötzi’s twin will be available to scientists who are unable to observe the famous ice mummy in person.

Paleo-artist, Gary Staab, worked for five months to reproduce the first of three copies utilizing cutting edge techniques in 3-D printing combined with his extraordinary talent of observation and artistic skill. I loved the program!

Read an interview with artist, Gary Staab at the Smithsonian: http://goo.gl/ZZHSOz

Or, watch the PBS NOVA episode at: http://www.pbs.org/video/2365669542/

In other Ötzi news – The Iceman Speaks! Well … not quite. Scientists are in the process of recreating Ötzi’s vocal tract, including his vocal cords and mouth. The experiment will then combine the replica with software that will approximate what Ötzi’s voice sounded like 5,300 years ago.

Of course scientists have no idea what language was spoken by the famous Tyrolean, since the earliest written inscriptions by humans appear around 1500 BC. Ötzi’s birth date is between 3359 and 3105 BC. According to project coordinator, Francesco Avanzini, “We should be able to recreate the timbre of his vowel sounds and, I hope, even create simulation of consonants.” How exciting!

Click here to read the article “Can mummies talk? Scientists find out” by The Christian Science Monitor.

See more photos of Ötzi, published in the March 2016 issue of National Geographic, click here.

Want to get up-close and personal with The Iceman, then hop on over to Ötzi’s home at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology: http://www.iceman.it/en

 

 

Tyrolean Wisdom Stories #4

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San Nicolo Church, Castelfondo, late 1800’s

Proverbs from Trentino:

Dialect: Tutti li cimi scorla.

Translation: All genius are somewhat disturbed.

 

Dialect: Chi zappa, zacca e chi mette giù, tol su.

Translation: The one that hoes, eats; the one that sow, reaps.

 

Proverbs courtesy of Filo Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

Visit Filo for a fascinating glimpse into our ancestral arts, culture, cuisine, history and much, much more!

Tyrolean Wisdom Stories #3

Damiano Genetti

Cosma Damiano Genetti in doorway of Genetti home in Castelfondo.

Proverbs from Trentino:

Dialect: Mort, fech e amor, l’é trei robes che no se sarà mai bogn de scone.

Translation: Death, fire and love can not be hidden.

 

Dialect: Ò prèst ὀ tardi sé paga tut.

Translation: One does not know if the remedy is worse than the cure.

 

Proverbs courtesy of Filo Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

Visit Filo for a fascinating glimpse into our ancestral arts, culture, cuisine, history and much, much more!

Tyrolean Wisdom Stories #2

CastelfondoWell

Central piazza fountain – Castelfondo

Proverbs from Trentino:

Dialect: Se t eves ben, te perdones dut, se to odies no te perdones nia.

Translation: If you love, you forgive; if you hate, you forgive nothing.

 

Dialect: Vardavene da n om che fila, da na femena che scigola e da la bocia de n cian.

Translation: Beware of a man who spins, a woman who whistles and the mouth of a dog.

 

Proverbs courtesy of Filo Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

Visit Filo for a fascinating glimpse into our ancestral arts, culture, cuisine, history and much, much more!

Tyrolean Wisdom Stories

CastelfondoVideo

Village of Castelfondo, Val di Non, Trentino

Proverbs from Trentino:

Dialect: A pagàr e a morìr se fa simper en temp.

Translation: To pay and to die, one does in time.

 

Dialect: Colazion bonora, disnàr a la so ora, a zena ‘n pochetòt, se te vòi viver tantòt.

Translation: Early breakfast, a punctual lunch, and light supper for a long life.

 

Proverbs courtesy of Filo Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans.

Visit Filo for a fascinating glimpse into our ancestral arts, culture, cuisine, history and much, much more!

Felice Anno Nuovo

New Year's Eve Celebration 1955

New Year’s Eve Celebration at the Genetti Ballroom located in the Genetti Food Center, N. Laurel St. in Hazleton. Year: 1955. The gentleman wearing a bow tie is Stanley Genetti, one of the four Genetti brothers of Hazleton, PA.

Looking back on 2015, it has been an amazing year of exploration into our shared genealogy! So many new discoveries, so many new cousins! I feel truly grateful to everyone who has supported our family website/blog. Thank you for your contributions in the form of research, photographs, emails and encouragement (and yes – sometimes even monetarily). Your support has helped grow our website into an amazing resource for Tyrolean families throughout the world. Mille grazie!

At the end of each year, WordPress (the hosting company for our website/blog) compiles an Annual Report with stats on how we did during the past twelve months. Here are a few details from 2015:

  • Our blog was viewed about 9,400 times in 2015.
  • 89 new photographs were uploaded in 2015 (about 2 photos per week).
  • On our busiest day, August 27th, we had 140 views of the website.
  • We’ve had visitors from 86 countries!
  • Most visitors came from: The United States, Italy and Brazil.

As we bid farewell to 2015, here are a few words from our ancestors in the form of Tyrolean proverbs (courtesy of Filo Magazine: A Journal for Tyrolean Americans):

Dialect: Chi che vol ben viver, l’toghe i mondo come l’ven.
English: He who wishes to live well, should take life day-by-day.

Dialect: Chi è stret di man, l’è stret di cor.
English: He who is tight with his hand is tight with his heart.

Dialect (Val di Non): Col tem e la paia s’è Madura achja I nespoli.
English: With the passage of time and with patience, all things mature.

Buon anno a tutti!