Campione d’Italia

Waterfront, Campione d’Italia, Lake Lugano, Italy. Courtesy Library of Congress

Researching family history does a lot to expand your knowledge of the world. I recently felt this way after discovering that my Italian roots are not as clear-cut as I had thought. Family lore had always stated that my great-grandfather, Julian Consolini, had come to America from Verona. I recently discovered that this was just family lore and that the documents tell a different story. His naturalization certificate states that he was born in Campione, Italy. Naturally, I looked into Campione to see where it was. My expectation had been that Campione was a small town on the outskirts of Verona. I imagined Verona was just the metropolitan reference point that people would understand better, in the same way that I tell people that I am from Boston when I really am not. I learned, however, that Campione was not close to Verona and, in fact, it wasn’t even in Italy.

Carta delle profondità del Ceresio o lago di Lugano / del D. L. Lavizzari. Courtesy ETH-Bibliothek Zürich

Campione d’Italia is an Italian exclave within the borders of Switzerland. It is governed by Italy and is a part of the Lombardy region. How did this little town get this unique status? Campione is naturally separated from the rest of Italy by the Alps. Any images you find will show that the mountains around it are large enough to imply isolation. In conjunction with this geographic problem lies a history of government and religious authorities exchanging claims over the area. This happened until Italy unified in 1861.

My great-grandparents at the time of their wedding.

Campione seems like a special little town with a lot of character, both Swiss and Italian. I find it unique that Campione is home to Europe’s oldest and largest municipal casino. Contemporary news has placed this casino at the forefront of Campione’s affairs. It was the town’s largest employer until 2018, when it shut down operations. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made life in Campione more challenging. Residents fall under Italy’s strict travel restrictions, which makes moving in and out of the area more difficult. I read about these events and wonder how it will affect them. What will they do in the face of these challenges? What made my ancestors leave Campione? Did they face similar challenges?

Julian working at G.E.

I wonder why family lore had always maintained that Julian was from Verona instead of Campione. Family lore has not supplied me with much information about my great-grandfather. He worked at the G.E. plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts for decades and married into the Italian community established in the Berkshires. My research into him has landed me with more questions than answers, although I do have new information to share with my family now. I learned that my great-grandfather was born in Campione, Italy, a unique place that I did not even know existed beforehand. What are some of the surprising things you have found while researching your family history?

Raymond Addison

About Raymond Addison

Raymond earned his BA in History from Stonehill College. During his time there he worked as an archivist's aide. He took roles in digitizing record collections and in preserving and restoring 19th century business ledgers. Prior to working with NEHGS, he worked with the Cambridge Public Library as a circulation librarian. He began studying his own genealogy as a hobby and quickly started showing library users how they could explore the field for themselves. In addition to his genealogical interests, Raymond enjoys being active in his free time and is an avid tennis player.

12 thoughts on “Campione d’Italia

  1. My husband’s grandfather, the son of immigrants, once exclaimed with exasperation, “I don’t know why everyone says our family was from Sicily! We’re not! We come from Palermo!” (Which is, of course, a city on the island of Sicily.) Perhaps your family thought it was romantic to have come from the town of Romeo and Juliet.

    1. What a great story Pamela! Julian would certainly have painted a pretty picture of his homeland by telling his family that he was from the city of Rome and Juliet.

  2. Though both my parents have Swiss ancestors, I have had better luck tracing my father’s side of the family. My mother’s grandfather, who came to the U.S. when he was only 13, served in the Civil War, a fact that seems to have alienated him from his family. We know very little about his roots.

    The Alps seem to have facilitated distinct communities in Switzerland. I was surprised to learn that both branches of my family tree came from communities not very far apart in Canton Bern, and yet no one married with anyone from the other branch over hundreds of years… that is, until my parents!

    1. Thank you for sharing that story Ruth. I agree and think our stories illustrate how the geography of the Alps have created unique and distinct communities.

  3. I enjoyed your post immensely. It is also beautifully presented. I’m inspired to delve into my husband’s parents family stories further. Switzerland, German and Italian roots. Present country borders are relatively new.

  4. Raymond–Interesting story. There is so much to validate about family stories. My paternal side comes from the frazione, Cirella di Platí, in the province of Reggio Calabria. The legend that persisted among my father and his siblings is that his grandfather, Rocco Carbone, was a Bourbonist and fought against Garibaldi in his march up through the Aspromonte. This story was reaffirmed to them by the 1961 Mario Camerini film, I Italiani briganti, staring Vittorio Gassman and Ernest Borgnine, who played a character by the name of Sante Carbone. This was not my g-grandfather’s given name, but still, whether the film depicted true events is arguable. Garibaldi sailed from Messina, Sicily, to Reggio Calabria on August 19. 1860–160 years ago next week. His route through Calabria was along the Tyrrhenian coast and not the Ionian where my grandfather was from…but still…Then in 1862 Garibaldi marched again with an army to capture Rome but was severely injured…shot in the foot…and carried away. So, the myth goes on and I am not sure if there is any truth except the stories, both familial and cinematic, that place Rocco/Sante Carbone in the general area during this time in Italy’s history.

    1. Hello jjocarbone. That is a very interesting story, thank you for sharing it. I think media can be a very influential force in how we interpret our family histories. It can seem like everyone wants to hail from some place famous.

  5. Maybe we are distantly related. My Angela Consolini married Giuseppe Nascimbeni about 1803 and lived at Brenzone, near Verona on the eastern shore of Lake Garda. Unfortunately, I have no information on her origin.

    1. Hi Bev, maybe we are distantly related. From what I have heard my Consolini ancestors have extended roots through Austria and Germany. Of course, I need to delve into that.

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