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Monday, May 12, 2014

Lazy susan babies

My coworker of Italian descent and I did some tandem research together.  Family lore tells a story that his paternal great grandfather (The Salvatore I wrote about in "The joys of Ellis Island immigration records")  descended from Italian royalty.  It seems that one of Salvatore's ancestors was the result of a love affair between a royal son and a maid in the household. When the maid got pregnant, she had to leave the household to avoid a scandal. The woman left for Tunisia to have the child and her lover eventually followed and married her.
 When my coworker queried his grandmother many years ago, she told him that the maid and her child did not end up happily ever after with her caped prince charming.  The woman gave the baby up to a monastery.  He talked to his uncle recently and his uncle confirmed that the man was a French duke.
While I was focusing on the paper trail, my coworker did some digging into the story. He found a very interesting article here which talks about the foundling children of Sicily.  To avoid the disgrace of being an unwed mother (and not necessarily because of a dirt dog nobleman), many women who found themselves pregnant out of wedlock would place their babies on a wheel built into the outer wall of a church, which they would then turn into the interior of the church.  This allowed them to abandon the child anonymously.  These foundling children whose parents were unknown, were baptized and given names.  The conditions however were not the best and many children later died.   In some cases the real parent or parents would later "adopt" and raise the child.
  These foundling children were sometimes given names that made it clear that they were illegitimate and forced them to deal with the stigma associated with their situation for the rest of their lives (and their children's lives). In some cases, the children were given last names which were in fact the name of a town.  I turned to Google maps and sure enough my co-worker's great grandfather's surname is the name of a small town on the east coast of Sicily, almost directly opposite of Trapani.  
  The next step is to see if I can trace back through the generations find this wee foundling child.  Apparently there the records of the baptisms of foundling children contain details about where the child was found, what the child was wearing, any markings, and any tokens that were swaddled with the child.

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