My surname should be Ameglio. And I say should be, because it isn’t – it’s Smith. My father was born following my English grandmother’s war-time love affair with an American soldier, Peter Ameglio. As she and my grandfather did not marry, and he never recognised him as his son, my Dad was registered under my grandmother’s legal name when he was born shortly after the end of the war (for the full story please visit my page dedicated to my grandfather).
But whatever official records may say, I am biologically a male-line Ameglio, even if not by name. This page is dedicated to the direct paternal line from which I am descended, and to those men and women from Italy whose DNA runs in my veins.
The Surname Origins
Ameglio is a relatively uncommon surname which, for all its rarity, can be found in practically all the regions of Italy. It is most commonly found in north-western Italy, particularly in the regions of Piedmont and its southern neighbour, Liguria. According to online analytic data, most other regions appear to have a significantly lower presenceof Ameglios, with the surname being more common in the north than in the south and on the islands of Sardinia and Siciliy, where it is non-existent. This prevalence of Ameglios in Piedmont and Liguria would seem to point that the surname originates from, or became from prolific, in the above-mentioned areas. It is hard to say at this stage if all Ameglio families have a common ancestor – an amusing but unlikely theory which only a Y-DNA genetic test would confirm.
My Direct Line
My most remote ancestor that I have been able to trace on my direct male line was a man called Gerolamo Ameglio, who lived in the latter half of the 1700s in the prosperous market town of Nizza Monferrato (then known as Nizza della Paglia, or “Nice of the Straw”, to distinguish it from the larger, and more famous, coastalcity of Nice). I know next to nothing about Gerolamo’s life, although he was probably of very humble origin. His marriage to Giulia Guasto produced at least one son, my great-great-great-great-grandfather Giuseppe Ameglio, who was born in or around 1786. The son’s life is equally mysterious, although I know he died in 1840 leaving at least three children from his marriage to the late Isabella Merlino.
Giuseppe and Isabella’s only known son, Gerolamo, worked as a contadino (agricultural labourer). His marriage to Francesca Giribaldi from the nearby hilltop village of Alice Bel Colle produced at least four children (at least two of whom had descendants).
Gerolamo would have been in his mid-40s when his youngest son, my great-great-grandfather Vincenzo, was born. The latter seems to have settled into married life at a young age, but before long the marriage had crumbled, and Vincenzo abandoned his wife and unborn child. We have no idea of where he died or when, though family legend has it that he died in Genoa.
Vincenzo’s only son, my great-grandfather Giacomo, was born after his parents’ marriage had ended. Brought up single-handedly by his mother Margherita, Giacomo would become one of many millions of Italians who emigrated to America at the turn of the century. Giacomo boarded a ship and settled in New York in 1910, where he married my great-grandmother and had my paternal grandfather. He travelled back to Italy on various occasions, but he eventually died in America at the age of 74.
Living cousins today?
As neither my grandfather nor my great-grandfather had any siblings, the surname Ameglio died out with them in the 20th century. My great-great-grandfather Vincenzo had at least an older brother called Giuseppe, who settled in the Italian village of Castelletto Molina. His son Enrico Ameglio, who married to Maria Scovazzo, had at least five children: Maria Giuditta Ameglio (1912-2003), Giuseppe (1914-1998), Stefano (1915-1998), Guido (1917-?) and Luigi (1919-?). I wonder if any of them have living descendants today!
In 2017 I took a DNA test with Living DNA. The test confirmed that my Y-DNA haplogroup (the DNA that is passed on from father to son) is Haplogroup I2, and within that group, to the subclade I-L596. The I2 Haplogroup is commonly found nowadays among Eastern European males, and is thought to have arisen some 22,000 years ago. Like the surname Ameglio, this haplogroup is fairly uncommon in mainland Italy, where the Ameglios are thought to have originated. The haplogroup seems to be prevalent on the island of Sardinia which, we must remember, was ruled together with Piedmont (where the Ameglios came from) as the same country from 1720 until the unification of Italy in the 1860’s. It shouldn’t be surprising, therefore, to find historical as well as genetic ties between the two regions.
This complex history and genetic information beg the question: how did the Ameglios I descend from carry a genetic signature which is more or less unique to Eastern Europe and to Sardinia, where currently (as seen in the first section of this article) there is no recorded presence of Ameglios? I can think of three possible explanations:
- As the genetic signature I-2 came into existence some 22,000 years ago, it most definitely precedes the creation of modern states and surnames (the latter only came into existence roughly 1,000 years ago). In other words, not all population groups which have belonged to the I-2 Haplogroup throughout history will necessarily bear the surname Ameglio. In other words, the family currently known as Ameglio may simply have “adopted” the surname, and dropped their old Eastern European name in the process.
- The Ameglios may have been of Sardinian origin (which might explain their Haplogroup signature) and later settled in northern Italy. While their descendants reproduced, their relatives back in Sardinia died out, and thus the surname on the island gradually became extinct while their Piedmontese cousins perpetuated the name in a different location – to the point where the surname is most prevalent today.
- A case of false paternity: if one of my female Ameglio ancestors had a son with a man who belonged to the I-2 Haplogroup, then their descendants may have inherited the Ameglio surname but genetically belonged to the I-2 Haplogroup, which they perpetuated down to me.