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.
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.
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?
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?