Discovering a new Italian family mystery… down under!

Lately my family research has mainly focused on my Italian ancestors, and I’ve been extremely busy adding every single birth, marriage and death recorded in my great-grandmother’s village under the civil registry collection on FamilySearch, which covers the period 1866 (when civil registration began in Italy) to 1910. By doing so, not only am I “growing” my family tree exponentially, but I am also discovering links to many other families I had no idea I was related to.

Yesterday, while I was taking a break from this fascinating but time-consuming task, I decided to try a new resource which I occasionally dip into, just to see what results may come up: Google Books. I typed in the name of my Italian ancestors’ village, San Marzano Oliveto, and my great-grandmother’s family name, Amerio, and pressed search. My eyes immediately focused on an extract of a book called No need to be afraid: Italian settlers in South Australia between 1839 and the Second World War, by Desmond O’Connor. This is the intriguing result I got:

My interest was instantly piqued. Someone from my family’s home-town with my great-grandmother’s surname living in Australia in the 1920s and active in right-wing politics? I just had to get to the bottom of his story. And he had to be a relative, right? Well, not necessarily. Amerio is a fairly common surname in the village, and the surrounding area, so the chance of Giuseppe Amerio being a direct blood relative was no means guaranteed. However, thanks to my ongoing efforts to chart not just my family but all families in the village would, I hoped, make it easier to locate who this man was, and determine if he and I were actually related.

Like in all other locations across Italy at the turn of the century, many inhabitants of San Marzano Oliveto chose or had no alternative but to emigrate abroad. Many, of course, went to Argentina, while others, like my great-grandmother, went to the United States. But some, I have recently discovered, also settled in Australia, and this made me wonder if I could trace Giuseppe Amerio’s story down under any further. After all, there is no shortage of Giuseppe Amerios in my family tree file (56 to be precise), and a substantial percentage of them could have been the individual who became so enamoured with Mussolini’s politics…

A call from help on Twitter yielded some very good advice: try searching on Trove, Australia’s national library search engine, which is free and includes newspapers as well as a number of other printed resources. In went the words “Giuseppe Amerio”, and lo and behold came a torrent of results, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, when Giuseppe would of course have been politically active. I was lucky enough to find an article penned by him in 1928, where he compares Benito Mussolini to Italian national heroes Mazzini and Garibaldi. The article not only gave me a clearer picture about my potential cousin’s political views -I think the least said about that the better, by the way-, but astonishingly it also included an actual photograph of Giuseppe himself! Trove truly is a genealogical treasure trove!

Giuseppe Amerio, Italian Consul in Adelaide.

But could the newspapers reveal anything else about Giuseppe’s background? Well, nothing is mentioned about his year of birth, which would have been very helpful, or his parentage, which would have allowed me to pin-point him on the tree immediately, but there was a very useful entry which unlocked the mystery definitively: his marriage announcement!

It turns out that in April 1927 Giuseppe married fellow Italian Vincenzina Amerio, who had arrived in Australia barely a fortnight before. The marriage announcement, and subsequent reports about the wedding itself, included a reference to Vincenzina’s father, a man called Achille Amerio. With such an unusual name, I scoured my family tree file for anyone who fitted the bill – and voilà! Achille Amerio, born in San Marzano Oliveto in 1875, the son of a local veterinarian, had married Leonilda Giulia Asinari, and had had three children called Luigi Francesco, Remigio and (drum roll please) Vincenza! I freely admit I was slightly disappointed to observe that this branch of the family does not belong to my own lineage – not as far as I know anyway – which made me suspect that Giuseppe too may well have belonged to a different family from my own.

I decided to try yet another online resource: I typed Giuseppe and Vincenza’s name in Ancestry to see if I could get any additional information about them. The only helpful record I was able to retrieve was a passenger list from 1934 showing Vincenza travelling to Adelaide via Melbourne, accompanied by Luigia Leonilda Amerio.

The passenger list for the SS Viminale, showing Vincenza Amerio travelling from Genoa to Australia in 1934.

Luigia Leonilda Amerio was a new name to me, and for a moment I thought this might be Vincenza’s mother coming out to Australia to visit her daughter and son-in-law. But the name was not exactly right: Vincenza’s mother was Leonilda Giulia, not Luigia Leonilda.

Ah, but of course, once again Trove had the answer: a short article from 1934 (in Italian) stating that the Consul’s wife and their little daughter had recently arrived in Australia from a trip to the motherland. Well, well, well! Giuseppe and Vincenzina had a daughter called Luigia Leonilda Amerio. And that got me thinking: following tradition, could the daughter had been named after her two grandmothers? Leonilda was obviously her maternal grandmother’s name – was Luigia her paternal grandmother?

It was clear I was onto something, although so far I had basically only managed to find information on Giuseppe’s wife. His origins were still a question mark. I then had one of those wonderful eureka moments that unravel a mystery in an instant. Vincenza’s birth certificate, to which I had access thanks to the collection on FamilySearch, stated that she died in 1976 in the Italian city of Verona – a fair distance away from sleepy San Marzano Oliveto.

Vincenza’s birth certificate, with a marginal note stating she died in far-away Verona in 1976.

Now that seemed to be a clue. It seems natural to assume that Giuseppe would have died in the same city as his wife, so I checked my records again, this time looking for a Giuseppe Amerio whose mother’s name was Luigia. And would you believe it, I only found one possible candidate who ticked all the boxes: Giuseppe Amerio, born in 1895 to Gaetano Lorenzo Amerio and Luigia Pelazzo, passed away in Verona in 1981, five years after Vincenzina. At last, I had found Giuseppe Amerio!!!

Giuseppe’s birth certificate, with a marginal note stating he died in Verona in 1981.

I don’t really think I need to continue my research into this couple to prove that Giuseppe Amerio (1895-1981) married Vincenzina Amerio (1905-1976). All evidence points in the right direction – but just to be sure, I may apply for their death certificates in Verona, or I may reach out to the Australian authorities to see if there’s a way of acquiring their marriage certificate in Adelaide, though I am satisfied to have unravelled my latest family mystery by simply typing in their names in a handful of online resources at my disposal.

And what of the other mystery? Is Giuseppe actually related to me, or, like Vincenzina, does he belong to another family which, despite the identical surname, is not connected to me? Actually, Giuseppe is indeed my blood relation. His paternal grandfather Giuseppe Amerio (they weren’t very adventurous when it came to choosing names, were they?) was the grandson of Pietro Francesco Amerio, my 5x-great-grandfather, making Giuseppe Amerio my great-grandmother’s third cousin and therefore my third cousin three times removed.

It truly is a small world, isn’t it?


This entry was posted in Australia, Emigration, Genealogy, Marriage, San Marzano Oliveto, World War II. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Discovering a new Italian family mystery… down under!

  1. Zoe K says:

    Great detective work! I enjoyed reading about your search. I’ve always gravitated towards my Italian ancestors; they’ve been some of the most fun to research and track down.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s