Italian Church, Holborn, London, England
The Italian Church in Clerkenwell road, London was built in 1863 before the Clerkenwell Road was constructed. This is why it is encircled by tall buildings and has its strange side entrance at the top of Hatton garden. This church was a prime place for the baptism and marriage of many of my family. However the church records have not been deposited in a Record office, as the Church is able to maintain its registers in a vermin, damp and fire proof vault. This made it more difficult for my research. I had to arrange an appointment with the Parish Clerk and then pay the required fee in order to look through wonderful volumes in search of members of my family. I was fortunate to spend a very long and productive morning at the church and obtained many entries for immediate family and for other family names from the villages of Campello and Calpiogna. 

For me the Society of Genealogists had an image of retired whiskered gentlemen drawing up large family trees when I joined but setting this aside I decided it’ library would be of use in my research. On its shelves in the Swiss section I did find a very useful book that told me the Diviani’s had been in Campello and Calpiogna since the 1600’s. I also found details of burials in the Kensal Green Cemetery where there are not only Diviani buried but also graves commemorating other Ticinese people who lived and died in London, these graves are maintained by the Unione Ticinese.

I joined the Unione Ticinese some years ago to find out more about the Ticinese people and their life in London and was delighted to be present when Peter Barber and Peter Jacomelli launched their book “ Continental Taste” which gave me a wider experience of the Ticinese immigrant including mention of some of the Diviani’s who came to London.

The Unione Ticinese was founded in 1874 in Fleet Street in a Swiss restaurant that was run by a Brentini. The original purpose of the organisation was to offer support to the newly arrived Ticinese or perhaps give financial assistance if an emergency trip to Switzerland was required. Nowadays it exists as a cultural and social organisation that meets in London to celebrate Carnevale (February/March) and a Castagnata (October) in which chestnuts are brought from Ticino. These are roasted and served with Ticinese fare and accompanied by traditional music.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) believe we are all related and part of one family. To this end the church members research their lineage to try to link everyone up. To facilitate their members’ research they have extensively microfilmed many church records and have a huge library of all of its material that is available to all of us. There is a large Family History centre in London at Hyde Park but my nearest Mormon Family History Centre and library is in Bournemouth and I made my first foray there way back in 1992. Imagine my delight when looking through the catalogue I found that they had filmed the Parish Registers for Calpiogna and Campello from their start in 1661 up to 1900 and for the payment of a small fee I could order a copy of the film and read it in their centre for up to 3 months.

I paid my money and waited whilst the order was processed from the repository in Salt Lake City, USA and in due course it arrived. What was I expecting? I don’t quite know but after my first trip I had to go out and buy an Italian - English pocket dictionary. This was when I entered the magical realms of “Maria figlia di Giovanni”. After a few visits I was proficient in reading enough of the microfilm to start picking out all the Diviani entries. I then had so many “Maria figlia di Giovanni” entries that I didn't quite know how to catalogue and record them. However in time I realised that the mothers’ maiden name was crucial to sorting out the families, as was the Soprannome an “extra” name that appended to a family to show which branch of the family the person was in.

Further investigation of the Mormon library introduced me to the International Genealogical Index (IGI) which is a worldwide index arranged by country and created as a result of their members and family history contributors transcribing entries from microfilms and Registers. Of course I looked for Switzerland and Diviani and though I found the former there were no entries for the latter - not then anyway. Now if you look at the IGI for Switzerland you will find a wealth of Diviani entries. I felt that I should give a little something back in return for the all the help they had given me.

Before I move on from the Mormons I should mention the 1881 census project which was a joint venture between the Mormons and the Federation of Family History Societies. The whole of the 1881 Census for England was transcribed and now can be quickly search by surname or place or birth etc. So a quick introduction would be to look up your family name and where they were on census night in 1881.

I now knew my ancestors came from Valle Leventina in Switzerland, I knew Italian was the language spoken there but I didn't know the reasons for emigration or anything about Calpiogna or Campello. Remember the Internet was still a baby at this time and travel books of Switzerland seemed to have very little information about Ticino and then it concentrated on Locarno and Lugano. Tony and I decided should make a trip to the place and so on a September morning in 1994 we made our first visit to Switzerland. We decided to drive from England to experience as much of the scenery as possible not believing we would see nothing as we made our drive up and over the St Gottard Pass. It was shrouded in mist and rain as was Campello, when we had made the tortuous drive from Faido past countless hairpin bends and then to find the only hotel (3 Cervi) was shut! After travelling all this way we were not so easily put off and decided to spend a few days in Faido and see some of the other sights in the Leventina valley and 3 days later arrived back in Campello in beautiful sunshine to the place of my forefathers. How did I feel? Overwhelmed, excited, emotional you name it, I felt it.

As you can see from its photo it is a beautiful little village perched high at 1300 metres above sea level on the left hand side just as you exit the southern portals of the St Gottard Tunnel. Whilst there I experienced my first Castagnata (Chestnut festival) held in the deserted village of Fontanedo where all the Diviani’s lived prior to moving higher up the mountain to Calpiogna and Campello and where I met other people bearing the name of Diviani. We stayed at the only hotel in the village (occupants= 58!) that is owned and managed by the Brentini Family. Jean Brentini who is Sindaco (Mayor) also shares my interest in genealogy but is researching his own Brentini family. An instant bond was formed between us during our first meeting but our communication was very disjointed. I could just about order a couple of beers in Italian, Jean’s first language is French as he was born and brought up in Geneva. He does speak Italian but with a French accent, which was very difficult for me and he spoke no English and neither did anyone else in the village at the time. Jean had access to copies of the Parish Registers and together we identified the baptism entry in 1824 for Pietro my 3x Great Grandfather and also the entry of Pietro’s parent’s marriage in 1802.Confirmation was made by default that Pietro was my ancestor when I looked at old Comune “family book” that had been deposited at L’Archivio Cantonale in Bellinzona that showed Pietro’s lineage via his parents but no entry for his marriage or death. Indeed when Jean Brentini and I looked at the current “family book” for my branch of the family it showed that the whole male line apart from Pietro had died out by 1861. Whilst I was at L’Archivio Cantonale I did find an interesting book that appeared to be a register of all the occupants of the Comune of Calpiogna, including Campello taken sometime between 1825 and 1833. Unfortunately it wasn't possible for me to have a photocopy, and it was in the days before digital cameras, but I was able to extract the Diviani information that has enabled me to complete more information about individuals on my database. I have since returned to L'Archivio Cantonale and have photographed the whole book and am currently transcribing details of all the families that are listed.

By now I was well and truly hooked into this research and had made 2 trips to Switzerland and on our third trip decided to visit the Federal Archives in Bern. Again language difficulties didn't help. I was just about understanding Italian, had a smattering of schoolgirl French and no knowledge of German which it seemed everyone spoke there. However undeterred I did find one archivist who could speak a little English and he explained the catalogue to us. A fruitful day ensued revealing a “box” of Campello correspondence regarding 112 Fleet St, London, England and some passports for members of the Diviani family. Although none were for my Pietro they were extremely interesting as they gave dates of application, dates of travel and more interestingly descriptions of height, eye and hair colour, nose shape and whether or not they sported a beard.

 Copyright C Goodenough 2012                                                                                                                                                                                      More