Finding our ancestral village, part 2

 A copy of Giorgio di Carlo's 1792 baptismal certificate (from his 1826 marriage to Marta Ferrito) 

The story so far: When we went to trace our Italian roots, we discovered that the information on my great-grandfather’s documents was confusing and contradictory. You can read about the beginnings of my research into our Molisan roots here.

Once I tracked down Poppop’s birthplace to Forli del Sanno in Molise, I thought that was where the di Carlos must have come from. But then as I dug further into the family history, I found out that was not the case.

Poppop (born Pasquale di Carlo) along with his sisters Dina, Teresa, and Lucia (plus another Pasquale who only survived a month) were born in Forli del Sannio. Their parents, Vincenzo di Carlo and Concetta Capobianco di Carlo, were not. As part of our bid for Italian citizenship, we got a copy of Vincenzo’s passport, which listed a scribble for his birthplace that I finally decoded as Rionero Sannitico, a mountain town in the province of Isernia in Molise. The town now has a population of about 1,100, but in the 1800s nearly twice as many people lived there, mostly working as farmers, laborers, and craftspeople. Today it’s one of hundreds of small Italian villages all over Molise that have been emptied out as generations of young people have headed to cities in the north or other countries to seek work and, nowadays, faster internet connections.

Vincenzo's passport, which shows his birthplace as Rionero Sannitico.

When I dug further into the records, I learned that Vincenzo’s father, Giorgio di Carlo (born Alessandro Giorgio di Carlo in 1792, but he seemed to drop the Alessandro later in life), had been married twice. His first marriage in 1826 was to Marta Ferrito, a 22-year-old from Rionero Sannitico, who quickly bore him six children in quick succession—Berenice, Felice, Giacomo Antonio, Aurelia Antonia, and Carmine Antonio—and then died at the age of 35, probably from exhaustion.

Giorgio was left a widower at age 47, with six children aged two through nine. I shudder to think how much of the child-rearing and housekeeping fell on the shoulders of the eldest, nine-year-old Berenice. I can only imagine how difficult her life was during this time. Seven months to the day after Marta’s death Giorgio married Lucia D’Amico, who had been widowed herself at the age of 27. This marriage also took place in Rionero Sannitico. I don’t have any record of how many children she had going into her second marriage, but it was likely at least two or three.

Lucia promptly resumed reproducing, and over the next 14 years had at least six children, the oldest of which was my great-great-grandfather, Vincenzo Antonio Di Carlo. The younger siblings were Generoso Antonio, Giacomo Antonio, Filomena Antonia, Michele, and another Giacomo Antonio.

This makes three Giacomo Antonios in total, so we can assume that Giorgio really liked the name. These days it seems bizarre to name a baby after a child who has recently died, but it was very common at the time in Italy. Sometimes they were family names that it was important to pass down, so if the first recipient died, the name would be bestowed on the next child born.

There was a span of 24 years between the birth of Giorgio’s first child and his last, but it is likely that when Vincenzo was growing up there were up to a dozen children in the house, including Lucia’s from her first marriage. One can assume that he thought himself quite conservative to only have six of his own once he married.

Fornelli, a small village in Isernia, Molise, and home to many, many di Carlos.
One thing that stood out to me was that Giorgio’s last two children, Michele and the third Giacomo Antonio, were not born in Rionero Sannitco but in Fornelli, a village 12 miles away that is known for being one of the most beautiful in the region.

When I started digging into Fornelli’s records from the 1700s and 1800s, I saw that the town was full of di Carlos—the name was one of the most common in town. And it turns out that is where Giorgio di Carlo, Vincenzo’s father, had been born, and his father before him*. The town was full of relatives, and my family tree was growing by leaps and bounds. It seems that with Fornelli, in the province of Isernia in Molise, I had finally found the di Carlo ancestral village.

*As it happens, Giorgio was baptized in Fornelli’s Chiesa San Michele Arcangelo, or the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, a saint with special significance to the Lombards. That hints at the town’s Longobard past, and I’ll write more about that later.