HOW I TRACED MY TICINESE ANCESTRY


Some researchers just want to trace their father’s line back just a couple of generations others, like myself become name gatherers and start researching the lines of every person who enters their family line, e.g. first I researched my father’s line and then I started on my mothers family then my paternal grandmother’s lineage and then to my maternal grandmother’s lines, I think that I have about 60 different surnames “on the go” at this moment in time - all with their own qualities and stories to tell.

Print old of Sardinian Chapel, London, England.
Pietro Diviani my 3 x great grandfather, who I later identified as being born in Ticino in 1824, came to London, England around 1850. I had been told the first Diviani in our family was a diplomat, upon investigation the closest he came to diplomacy was his marriage in 1852 in the Sardinian (Embassy) Chapel that, was just off Kingsway in London. It was in the period after the Catholic emancipation (1829) when there were few catholic churches in London - the Italian Church in Clerkenwell Road didn't exist so the only option for worship was an Embassy chapel of a catholic country.

Everyone in my immediate family told me their birth and marriage dates and also supplied as much information as possible regarding deceased relatives. I also borrowed people’s birth marriage and death certificates and took photocopies for my records. Close relatives were invaluable in providing the basics for my research even if their memories were a little fuzzy. A throw away remark about my great-great grandfather “of course you knew he married 3 times” told me something I didn’t know and as a result I was able to piece together this part of his life.

Whilst talking to these relatives I asked them to get out the family photo album and asked them to identify everyone in some wonderful old photos. I persuaded them to pencil or stick in post-it notes where the photos weren't labelled so that the subjects would be identifiable in the future. Photographs are wonderful things full of memories and whilst we can remember who feature in photos we ourselves have taken or featured in please remember our descendants won’t know who these people are. So please make a start on your photo album and label your snapshots for the family heirloom of the future.

All this research gave me the foundation of what I knew about my family and also showed me what I didn't know. At this point it was useful to draw up a rough family tree; I didn't spend too much time on it as it needed updating frequently as my research progressed. My basic tree starts with me at the bottom with my parents on the next level. I aim to keep each generation on the same level and usually the husband is shown on the left of his wife - of course there are exceptions. In my case the difficult relationship to try and show is that of my paternal grandparents who were first cousins!

I needed to resort to official information in the UK especially as my parents and previous generations were born in UK. Civil Registration began on 1 July 1837 in England and all of us who are born in England and Wales will have been registered at the local Superintendent Registrars office. These records are collated into indexes alphabetically arranged by year and into 4 quarters March, June, September and December and separately for Birth, Marriages and Deaths. All of these indexes are available to the researcher free of charge at the National Archives in Kew London (microfiche) and will give you all information that will enable you to order a copy of a birth marriage or death certificate from the General Registrar Office (GRO) .

When I started researching Diviani I took a blanket approach and decided that there couldn’t be that many Divianis so I looked through every index and recorded every Diviani entry - This was to be the start of my One Name Study and involved 160 years of research (e.g. 1837 to 1997). For each of these years there would be an index for Births, Marriages and Deaths for each quarter. At that time the indexes were available in book form at the Family Records Centre in London, so in total I looked through (160*4*3) = 1920 indexes. Each index weighs about 9Kgs so I have handled about 17820 kgs to reveal just over 200 entries.

My earliest UK entry was for Pietro’s marriage in 1852 to Mary O’Connor. So I took the plunge paid my fee and ordered my copy certificate along with a couple more early Diviani entries. I now had a clutch of certificates that gave addresses of the people being registered that led me to explore the London census for the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. The census has a 100 year rule of confidentiality and little did I know how keenly I would await 2 January 1992 for the release of the 1891 census or how frustrated I would be waiting for the much awaited 1911 census to be released. 

Such is the popularity of Family History the National Archives decided the 1901 census would be digitised and available on the internet unfortunately the planners underestimated the popularity of the hobby and the site was unable to cope with the sheer volume of researchers in its early days. However the early teething troubles were quickly rectified. As the internet gained popularity and with the arrival of major Genealogy research sites it is now possible to  search for long lost relatives in all the available UK and USA censuses and other essential datasets from the comfort of my own armchair.

Of course not everyone stayed in the same place for 1 year - let alone 10 years, so sometimes I found nothing. Other times I hit the jackpot and unearthed a whole family. The real breakthrough revealed from the census entries told me the Diviani family members were Swiss then I found an entry that said they came from Calpiogna and then ultimately the entry that said Campello, Switzerland.

So where were Campello and Calpiogna? My local library didn't yield a lot of information; a Michelin map of Switzerland did not give me any leads either. Then I found another census entry that stated Tessin was place of origin this narrowed down to the Canton of Ticino and after some investigation and a trip to Stanfords (cartographic bookshop) in London I located Campello and Calpiogna in the Valle Leventina just above Faido.

Wills are a valuable source of information, the main copies used to be held at Somerset House but are now located at the London Probate Registry and for a small fee I obtained some details of family bequests that helped to piece together a family group.

The London Metropolitan Archive (LMA) also had much useful information. My searches there tracked down a print of the interior of the Sardinian chapel where Pietro married, a rather unhappy exterior photograph taken just before its demolition in 1893 to make way for Kingsway in Holborn. It also holds microfilms of deposited Parish Registers (C of E) for most of London. Its not only fascinating to view baptism entries for your ancestors but also strange to come across a copy of your own marriage entry! Recently the records of the Unione Ticinese have been deposited there and are available for open research.

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