Tag: Damiano Genetti

Letters from the Past

DamianoDoorAs a genealogist, I get excited about dates and stats. But nothing thrills me more than finding a memoir or letter written by an ancestor. These bits of history allow a personal glimpse into the life and times of a family member.

On my last visit back to Pennsylvania, I was fortunate to be gifted a box of memories by my Uncle Leon Genetti. It proved to be a cache of information, transporting me back decades into my personal family line.

I am now in the process of sorting and scanning documents before returning this “time capsule” back to my uncle. The amount of historical information I have found is incredible, yielding several stories I will tell you in future blog posts.

letters1The first bit of Genetti memorabilia I’d like to share with you are two letters penned by my great-grandfather Damiano Genetti, sent to his son Stanley (Costante) Genetti. The letters were written in December of 1938 and August of 1939, sent from Castelfondo, Italy.

A little back history about Damiano – he returns to his native village in the Val di Non (Trentino, Italy) around 1922, without his family. He lives in Castelfondo for the next twenty-two years, until his death in December of 1944. During this time World War II breaks out (Sept. 1939 – Sept. 1945). The northern province of Trentino/Alto Adige is caught in the middle between German and Italian forces.

It is significant to note that Damiano’s wife, Oliva Zambotti Genetti, passes away in August of 1938. The second letter discusses Damiano paying for masses to be said in the memory of Oliva.

Another known fact to consider is that by 1939, Damiano is making plans to return to America, but is unable to leave due to the declaration of war in Europe.

Now back to our letters! After inspecting the documents, it’s obvious that the original letters were penned in dialect or Italian and later translated into English by someone familiar with the Tyrolean tongue. We can tell this from the unusual sentence syntax. Also, the signature at the bottom of both letters, does not match other documents personally signed by Damiano. From these observations we can conclude that the letters were received by one member of the family (in this case Damiano’s son Stanley) then translated, copied and distributed to other family members. We can also conclude from the mention of past letters, that Damiano wrote to his children on a fairly frequent basis and was concerned with their welfare.

letters2-aBefore composing this blog post, I shared the letters with Bill Genetti, Damiano’s grandson, to get his impressions. Bill made a very important observation: “The 2nd letter is dated 3 days before WWII broke out. September 1st was the date Hitler attacked Poland and war was declared. That 2nd letter may be the last letter to get through and he died before the Allies reached his area.”

Wow! Damiano was writing to his family on the very brink of war! I felt many emotions reading his letters – sadness, loneliness, affection for his children, a resignation of his position in life. Damiano’s words resonated through the decades, speaking volumes.

Since I was born thirteen years after his death, I can only go by the description others have told me of my great-grandfather: stubborn and determined, intelligent and scrupulous, caring and generous, a humanitarian yet distant and detached from his family. Perhaps Damiano’s words will give you a new perspective of an ancestor who lived many different lives (husband, father, mining superintendent, Calvary officer, businessman, traveler, mayor, herbalist).For these are personal letters from a man who lived a complicated life. It is an honor to share them with you now.

I’ll leave Damiano’s words speak for themselves. (To read each letter, click on the image for an enlarged view.)

letters2-bDo you have ancestor letters tucked away in your basement or attic? Why not share them with the Genetti Genealogy Project. Write me at info.genetti.family@gmail.com. Each letter will be added to your ancestor’s digital file in the Genetti Archive we are in the process of compiling.

See more photos of Damiano Genetti on our website Photograph Page.

Read Damiano’s obituary on our Tributes Page.

A Quote


Damiano and Oliva Genetti with 7 of their 9 children.

“May the protection of the ancestors be yours.”

From the poem “Beannacht” by Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue. A beautiful poem written as a blessing to the poet’s mother, this particular line jumped out at me. What an incredible way to think of our ancestors – as guardians over our lives. To read the complete poem, click here.

Where in the World Is Louise?

DamianoOlivaWeddingIf you are a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably wondering where I’ve been since December. Well I’m currently “Down Under” in Australia, exploring and soaking up the warm sunshine of Brisbane, Sydney, Manly Beach and Uluru. Yes, my husband and I love to travel. With every trip, I learn about other cultures, make new friends from far away countries and expand my personal universe just a bit more.

As I walked around the grounds of the beautiful Sydney Opera House, watching the busy harbor hum with ferries and ogling the massive cruise ships that put to port everyday, I couldn’t help but think of my ancestors.

Although they had lived in the same mountain valley for hundreds of years, a poor economy and no job opportunities had forced them to travel far from their ancestral home. From the mid-1870’s through the 1920’s, entire families left the Val di Non for a better life. They traveled to the United States, Canada, South America, and other parts of Europe. Unlike our ability to board a plane and be half-way around the world in less than a day, our great-grandparents had a much more difficult time traveling.

My branch of the Genetti family left their village of Castelfondo in the Austrian Tyrol for the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Their journey would have transpired somewhat like this. First they would travel down the valley to the city of Trento. Today this takes about an hour by car. But before the era of automobiles, our ancestors road in a horse and cart loaded with children and baggage or they walked. It would have taken the better part of a day to reach the city. Once in Trento, the family purchased train tickets to the port of Le Havre, France as well as their tickets to board a ship to New York City. After traveling by train through the mountains to the French port, they boarded a large steam ship with hundreds of other immigrants.

Due to the expense of moving a big family to a new country, my great-grandfather traveled to America first, bringing along his four oldest children. The passage by ship would have been about 10 days at sea, most likely docking in New York City. I say “most likely” because I have yet to find the ship records for this particular crossing made by Damiano and his children who arrived sometime around 1903.

Three years later Damiano’s wife, Oliva, arrived on December 3, 1906 at Ellis Island with the couple’s five youngest children. The little one, Angela Maria, was just three years old. We do have ship’s records for Oliva and the children. They traveled steerage. It must have been a long and difficult journey for a mother trying to keep track of five young children. In New York City they joined their Papa, boarded another train and reunited a few hours later with their older siblings in the new and strange city of Hazleton.

I have much respect for my great-grandfather. From online records I know he made the arduous journey between Hazleton, PA and Castelfondo, Austria (now Italy) at least seven times, between 1877 and 1930.

Even by today’s standards of air travel, I know it’s not easy to reach the village of Castelfondo, tucked in the alpine meadows. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been 100 years ago.


What’s In a Name


Cosma Damiano Genetti
Born: 26 Sept 1857
Died: 3 Dec 1944

Have you ever wondered where your name came from? Often when researching family genealogy, a namesake from an earlier generation will become apparent. For example: a son named after a grandfather or a daughter named after a favorite aunt. On the Genetti Family tree, sons are often named after fathers, grandfathers or an uncle. Each branch of our tree also has certain names that are passed down from generation to generation, identifying that particular family line. For example, you see the prevalence of Giovanni Battista, Pietro and Francesco in my branch of the tree. Another branch shows many Giorgio and Pietro ancestors. A third section of the tree has numerous Francesco Nicolo and Giovanni Battista.

When I began researching my great-grandfather and his siblings, I found the names in his family to be poetic and a bit different from others in that generation. A few children were named after family members, but others had their own unique character. My “bisnonno” (great-grandfather) was Cosma Damiano – certainly an unusual name! Other siblings included: Sisinio Alessandro, Angela Maddalena, Angelo Rafaele, Agostino Leone, Dionisio Antonio and Erminia Enrica. All lovely, expressive monikers.

But it was “Cosma Damiano” that I was fascinated by. There were no other men on the family tree with this name. Why had Catterina (my twice great-grandmother) baptized her second son with this odd name? With no clues to go by from the tree, I decided to do a web search. Perhaps he was named after a famous person or his “nome” had some other importance.


Twin physician brothers,
Saints Cosma and Damiano.

The answer came immediately from Wikipedia. “Santi Cosma e Damiano” or Saints Cosma and Damiano, were early Christian martyrs who died in the 3rd century. Twin brothers, they were considered to be two of the earliest physicians. They practiced their profession of healing, refusing to take any payment for their services. OK, this was interesting, but why had Catterina chosen this name for her son? Reading on, I found the clue. The feast day of Saints Cosma and Damiano was September 27. My bisnonno had been born on September 26, 1857 and baptized the next day on September 27th. His mother must have considered her baby’s birth to have an important synchronicity with this feast day. Although I have no proof to go by other than an educated guess, I believe this reasoning to be a fairly good conclusion of why the baby was named “Cosma Damiano”.

Two other interesting points to note:

– The Catholic church decided to move the feast day in 1969 from September 27th to September 26th, which coincidentally now coincides with Damiano Genetti’s birth date!

– Damiano Genetti, like his namesakes, was also considered a physician by the Tyrolean people of Castelfondo, Italy and Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He was well-versed in herbal medicine and several other curative methods. And, like Saints Cosma and Damiano, he took no payment from anyone who sought his services. This information was related to me many times by Damiano’s grandchildren and by several people in Castelfondo. It was also documented in a book by Marco Romano, comprised of interviews by village elders. Damiano and his healing abilities were mentioned many times by those who knew and remembered him.

If Catterina’s intention was to name her son after the two physician saints, it seems to have had a prophetic effect on Damiano’s life.


Read more about Saints Cosma and Damiano: