The mystery of Anna Amerio

One of the most intriguing genealogical mysteries I have encountered lately is the private life of my (probably very distant) relative Anna Amerio, and her very peculiar family arrangement – for you see, for a number of years she lived and had several children with a man… who was NOT the man she was married to! [Audience gasps] For the record, there is a family tree chart towards the end of this article which may help you understand the many relationships mentioned below.

It is difficult to state when or where Anna was even born, as her existence is deduced through records that do not directly relate to her. She may have been born sometime around 1833. Her parents’ identities are equally mysterious, for the simple reason that I have not been able to pinpoint her baptism record. Again, more on that later.

But in the absence of these vital clues, what do I know about Anna? She first crops up in December 1869, when her son Leonardo Caire passed away aged two years in the hamlet known as Regione Cortetta, within the boundaries of the parish of San Marzano Oliveto, in the Italian region of Piedmont. The record makes no explicit mention as to whether Anna and the child’s father, Emanuele Caire, were married. However, the record does seem to contain some contradictory information: it clearly states that the unfortunate child had been born in the same parish; and yet, no baptism for him exists – in San Marzano Oliveto at least. This may suggest he was in fact born elsewhere, as I’ll explain shortly.

The 1869 death certificate for Anna’s child Leonardo, who died aged two years. His place of birth is (probably wrongly) given as San Marzano Oliveto, where he died.

The next record where I have been able to find Anna’s name mentioned is the 1870 birth of her next son, Bartolomeo, who is clearly recorded as the son “of the illegitimate union” between Emanuele Caire and Anna Amerio. The birth also took place in the above-mentioned hamlet of Cortetta.

In 1872 Anna gave birth to a daughter called Carolina Clementina, who was registered as illegitimate in the local registry office. After her birth, Anna would produce three more children (Giacomo in 1875, Antonia in 1877 and a second Leonardo in 1879), all of whom were registered as either illegitimate, or otherwise recorded as children of the unmarried couple Emanuele Caire and Anna Amerio.

Birth certificate of Anna’s daughter Antonia, which states Anna was “united and living” with Emanuele Caire. The words “his wife” have been ominously crossed out.

The absence of a marriage between a couple who clearly spent so many years cohabiting (presumably!) and procreating must necessarily beg the question: why didn’t they get married at some stage? And, given the fact that this is the only case of an unmarried couple in a long-term relationship living in the area between 1808 and 1926, I assume it can only mean one thing: that at least one of them wasn’t free to marry.

Locating Anna’s death record seemed straightforward at first: she was still alive when her daughter Carolina married in 1887, but she was already deceased at the time of her other daughter Antonia’s marriage in 1894. That can only mean that Anna died between 1887 and 1894. And yet, having thoroughly gone through the death records for San Marzano Oliveto covering that time span, I can conclude that no such document survives for an Anna Amerio who was listed as Emanuele Caire’s partner or mistress. But then again, would she have been listed as someone’s lover on an official record such as her own death certificate?

There is one – only one – intriguing candidate who fits the bill nicely, albeit while generating many more questions than answers…

In July 1893 (in other words, during the timeframe we are looking at for Anna’s death) a married woman called Anna Amerio died in San Marzano Oliveto at the age of sixty. No reference to the place or hamlet where she lived is made, and the two men who registered her death both bear the surname Amerio, leading me to believe they were either neighbours or more probably relatives of hers. The surname Caire is conspicuously absent from the record – which is not altogether surprising if this woman was the same person as Emanuele Caire’s long-term mistress. Or was she?

The most important clue on the death record is that the deceased is referred to as the wife of one Nicola Filippone. The wife, mind you, and not the widow. So, unless someone made a mistake in the registry, Mr Filippone, whoever and wherever he was, was still very much alive at the time. Read on, read on.

I then looked for the marriage certificate for Anna Amerio and the mysterious Mr Filippone, which actually took place in 1852. The bride’s parents are listed as Bartolomeo and Antonia, a name which Anna would give to her first (and, as far as I know, her only) legitimate daughter in 1854. The trail then goes cold until Anna’s death nearly fifty years later.

There are several intriguing coincidences between the woman who married Nicola Filippone in 1852 and the one who set up house with Emanuele Caire about a decade later. As I’ve established, Anna (aka Mrs Filippone) was the daughter of Bartolomeo and Antonia – names which Emanuele Caire’s mistress would later give to two of her illegitimate children. Another uncanny coincidence is that Mr Filippone was from the nearby town of Nizza Monferrato, and may well have moved back there with his family after his marriage to Anna; perhaps not coincidentally, Emanuele Caire’s mistress had at least one child, heretofore unmentioned, in Nizza Monferrato in about 1867 (we know this because the said daughter, called Rosa, married in San Marzano Oliveto in 1884, but is recorded as being born in Nizza). So, apart from the coincidence of names and dates, there is definitely the spatial element to consider as a plausible link between the two families.

Let us not forget that intriguing detail of Mr Filippone being alive at the time of Anna’s death in 1893. If this is indeed correct, and assuming that their marriage had broken down sometime before the late 1860s, there was no way that Anna could have married Emanuele Caire during her husband’s lifetime, which might explain why she always remained his publicly-accepted lover. The fact that Mr Filippone survived his wife, and lived in the same village as her, leads me to believe he may have been an extremely supportive and open-minded husband. Cheers to him!

While there is still an element of assumption and guesswork here, to my mind there is little doubt as to what really happened. Here’s the story, as best as I can make it out, based on the evidence I have just explained: Maria Anna (as she was baptised) was born to Bartolomeo and Antonia Amerio in San Marzano Oliveto in 1835. In 1852, four days after her 17th birthday, she married Giovanni Nicola Filippone, and the couple had at least a daughter together, Maria Antonia (whose fate is unknown). I think it quite plausible to suppose that at some point the couple settled in Nizza Monferrato, where Nicola originally came from. Relations between husband and wife, for whatever reason, deteriorated at some stage, although it certainly seems like later they both ended up living in San Marzano Oliveto (not necessarily under the same roof, mind!). Either way, Nicola and Anna were still legally married, and the existence of at least one daughter made annulling the match practically impossible.

Entry of baptism for Maria Anna Amerio in 1835.

Enter Emanuele Caire, whom Maria Anna (aka Anna) would have known back from San Marzano Oliveto. He was about three years her junior, and may have been everything she hoped for in a man. I know for a fact that they had at least one daughter, Rosa, while they were living in Nizza Monferrato – and I’m pretty sure their eldest son Leonardo (the one who died in 1869 aged two and whose birth had allegedly taken place in San Marzano Oliveto) was in reality born in Nizza as well. The pair and their small family unit moved in the late 1860s to San Marzano Oliveto, where they each had close relatives. The fact that they openly lived together for so many years as husband and wife in all but name suggests they were accepted within their community as a somewhat unconventional couple. The birth of five more children (including Bartolomeo and Antonia – who as I said were probably so christened in honour of Anna’s own parents) cemented the relationship.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

There is of course a sad epilogue to this story. If Anna ever hoped to marry her beloved Emanuele, she was to be sorely disappointed. In 1893 she died at the age of sixty, according to her death certificate – she would have been fifty-eight in fact. It cannot be a coincidence that she was registered as the wife of Nicola Filippone: after all, legally that is precisely what she was, and for all her love towards Emanuele Caire, a legal relationship would have been considered much more relevant to a civil registrar than a somewhat scandalous, if long-standing amorous liaison to a man who in effect had never been her husband.

So, where to from here? First, I need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are no other Anna Amerios who died between 1887 and 1894 (the church archives should soon provide an answer to that question). Secondly, I need to prove the birth of the two children born to Emanuele and Anna in Nizza Monferrato in the late 1860s. It would of course be useful to find a reference to Nicola Filippone’s death after 1893, which would indeed prove why his wife never married Emanuele Caire, but as he seems to have disappeared from the picture after 1854, I can’t say I’m holding my breath.

In any case, I’ll keep you posted [see below for an added update!]

A schematic family tree showing Maria Anna Amerio’s immediate family tree (parents, husband and only known legitimate daughter). Those in blue represent Anna Amerio’s lover, their children and his parents. Note how the grandparents’ names have been passed on to some of the children.

The truth will out:

Well, since writing the above, I have had two strokes of luck. First, I have managed to locate the death record for Nicola Filippone, who died in 1900 as “the widower of Anna Amerio”. Nothing too surprising there. It does, however, prove that if his late wife had been Emanuele Caire’s lover, then it goes a long way to explain why she and Emanuele never married. They simply couldn’t.

Nicola Filippone’s death as recorded in 1900. Note he is mentioned as the widower of Anna Amerio.

And yet while the birth certificates for Anna’s illegitimate children Leonardo and Rosa in Nizza Monferrato are still eluding me, I have been fortunate to receive a communication from the local church archive telling me that, other than the woman I have found, there is no other Anna Amerio who died between 1887 and 1894. Moreover, the baptisms of the children who were born in San Marzano Oliveto (Bartolomeo, Carolina Clementina, Giacomo, Antonia and Leonardo) all state that they were illegitimate. And (here’s the best bit!) Anna is listed as being born in San Marzano Oliveto, and that her father was indeed called Bartolomeo.

Now, tragically the baptism records do not refer to Anna’s mother, which is somewhat unfortunate as that would have hit the nail on the head to prove her parentage, and therefore her identity. But I have gone through all the baptisms for an Anna, Anna Maria or Maria Anna born before the 1860s in San Marzano Oliveto, and there is only one person who fits the bill – and she just so happens to be the very same woman who married Nicola Filippone in 1852.

And so, my dear readers, I come to the relieving conclusion that Anna Amerio did indeed marry Nicola Filippone in 1852, and that they had a daughter together. As a married woman, Anna seems to have lived in nearby Nizza Monferrato for some time, where she probably began a relationship with Emanuele Caire. The couple and their two infant children moved back to San Marzano Oliveto, where they had their remaining brood. It was there that Anna passed away in 1893, followed by her legal husband seven years later. I know not when or where Emanuele died (he certainly survived his beloved Anna) but I am confident one day I will be able to ask one of her descendants if the story of such a remarkable woman has been passed down the generations to this day. If not, let this article reveal the story of their trailblazing ancestor.


This entry was posted in Genealogy, Italy, Marriage, San Marzano Oliveto, Women. Bookmark the permalink.

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