Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My 5th Great Grandfather: A Random Act of Kindness?

I spent about five years documenting the thousands of birth, marriage and death records for my grandfather's hometown of Basélice, Benevento, Italy dated 1809–1860.

Documenting every record allowed me to bring my grandfather's previously unknown-to-me family back many generations. I worked backwards through time, primarily, so that I could attach people to my bloodline more easily.

When I first looked at the earliest reel of microfilm, which begins in April 1809, I was dumbfounded by the very first birth record.

My 5th great grandfather, Nicola Pisciotti—age 60—found a baby girl at this door without clothing, as he left his house. The baby girl, whom they named Maria Giuseppa, was a few days old. She was 16 years younger than Nicola's youngest son—my 4th great grandfather, Giovanni Pisciotti.

Did Nicola and his 58-year-old wife Rosa Pecora really raise Maria Giuseppa at their advanced age?

Well…maybe not. I did not capture an image of this document when I first saw it on microfilm (I didn't have a smartphone yet), but now it is online on the Benevento archives site.

And now that I can take my time and translate it, I realize that Nicola found the baby, but he did not raise her.

That explains why I found no other records for a Maria Giuseppa Pisciotti.

The saddest aspect of these early 1800s records from this small, rural town (population about 2,000) where a young woman absolutely could not raise her out-of-wedlock baby, was that each year about five babies were born to women whose identities were known only to the midwife.

The babies were given last names that no one else in town had, and were usually raised at the convent.

But not our Maria Giuseppa. Perhaps her mother did not go to the midwife. Perhaps she had the baby on her own, with no help whatsoever, and left the infant at the home of Nicola and Rosa. I don't know what became of Maria Giuseppa because I don't know what last name they gave to her.

Here is the document and my translation:
The last word, nutrice, changed the story entirely.


Today, the second day of the month of April of the year 1809 at two p.m. appeared before me, Mayor Pasquale Carusi, Nicola Pisciotti, laborer, 60 years old, living in Baselice on Strada la Costa, and he presented a baby which he says he found on this doorstep, naked, without rags [clothing or blanket], while he was leaving his house. After seeing the baby I [the Mayor] have determined that it is a girl a few days old. I enter the name of the newborn in the registry as Maria Giuseppa. Under that name I order that said child be remitted to a nurse.

It wasn't until I translated that last, difficult, handwritten word for nurse that I realized Nicola and Rosa did not raise this baby.

Still, it was quite a unique story for this town.

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