Finding Giovanna

A recent Vita Brevis post (October 28) discussed my discovery and correction of an error in the baptismal records of the parish church in Coli (Piacenza), Italy. I attributed that error to an absentminded priest who wrote the wrong family name for Domenica Plate when recording her baptism in the register on 4 July 1750. As my research continued, I uncovered another irregularity in the records, this time while trying to identify all the children of one set of great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Giovanni Peveri (c. 1690-1745) and Lucia (maiden name unknown), who resided in Villa Fontana.[1] The 13 January 1725 record in question named Giovanni Peveri and Lucia of Villa Fontana as the parents, and Cristoforo Grassi and Maria Zavattoni as godparents, but left a blank space for the name of the baptized infant girl![2] (see illustration).

Why a blank in important sacramental records? Is this another case of clerical absentmindedness? Occasionally I have found brief notes in these parish books or on loose scraps of paper that were later entered properly in the registers, so perhaps the priest made such notes at the time of baptism but forgot the child’s name when recording the event afterwards. Another possible, though unlikely, explanation is that Giovanni and Lucia had not yet decided what to name their newborn daughter, but keenly aware of high child mortality and following local practice, they took her to church within a day or two of birth to be baptized. We’ll never know the circumstances, and this is not the first blank space I’ve encountered while perusing the church registers. But this time I took it personally – she was, after all, one of my ancestral relations! Not content to add her to my family tree only as an “unnamed female child,” I set out to identify her by name.

As in the previous case of mistaken identity, I drew on my knowledge of local life, culture, and clerical recordkeeping in eighteenth-century Coli to devise a suitable research strategy to fill in that annoying blank. Fortunately, my efforts yielded fruit, and I can now state with confidence that the unnamed child in this 1725 baptism record was Giovanna. Hopefully, an account of these efforts will be of value to other researchers who encounter those dreaded and frustrating blanks in church registers or similar sets of vital records.

How can we discover the name of a child that was omitted from a baptism or birth record?

How can we discover the name of a child that was omitted from a baptism or birth record? When one is fortunate enough to have other vital records series for locations and/or institutions of interest, such as marriage and death records, searching them will likely yield the missing name. In the case of Coli, where parallel sets of baptismal, marriage, and death records exist (with some gaps) from 1718, the obvious first step was to search marriage records for women bearing the Peveri surname whose parents were Giovanni and Lucia, and who had not already been so identified in baptismal records, particularly if they resided in Villa Fontana. Happily, in this instance, there was only one entry that met the key criteria: the 1747 marriage of Giovanna Peveri, daughter of Giovanni, living in Villa Fontana, to Giuseppe Pugni, son of Giuseppe, Villa Gavi.[3]

Although this record does not name the mothers of the bride and groom, the facts that the bride’s father was Giovanni and her family lived in Villa Fontana were necessary conditions for continuing to focus on this Giovanna. Also of note, if she was my Giovanna, she married at age 22, which is consistent with the common age for women to marry in their early twenties. These particulars were very promising, but not sufficient to declare Giovanna the “unnamed female child” of Giovanni and Lucia Peveri. There was one other major genealogical uncertainty to resolve: which Giovanni Peveri was her father?

Having observed that local naming preferences and patterns frequently resulted in multiple people with the same names living at the same time, and that Peveri was one of the most common family names in Coli, I had to determine if there was more than one Giovanni Peveri, and if so, which one was Giovanna’s father. Accordingly, I reviewed all baptism records 1718-1745 and compiled a list of all instances where the fathers were Giovanni Peveri, along with the names of their spouses, the names of the children baptized, the dates of the events, and the families’ residences.

…I had to determine if there was more than one Giovanni Peveri, and if so, which one was Giovanna’s father.

The list served its purpose perfectly. As I suspected, there were in fact several men named Giovanni Peveri who were having children in the 1720s and 1730s, and just like the case of the inattentive priest who recorded the wrong family name in a 1750 baptism record, locality proved to be the decisive discriminating factor. There was only one Giovanni Peveri adding to his family in Villa Fontana – the one whose wife was Lucia and whose daughter was unnamed in the 1725 baptism record. My identification of this unnamed child as Giovanna also fits the sequence of documented births to Giovanni and Lucia: their previous child, Maria, was born in April 1723,[4] and the next one, Guglielmo, was born in February 1726.[5]

Another genealogical puzzle solved! After almost 300 years, Giovanna Peveri was finally rescued from oblivion, given her proper name, and joined her parents and siblings on my family tree.

Postscript: Having gone this far, I was curious to learn more about the life of this woman whose name was omitted in the only extant record of her birth and baptism. If my research is correct, Giovanna was the sixth child born to Giovanni and Lucia, and three more came afterward. Her father died c. 15 May 1745,[6] when she was 20, leaving her mother Lucia with several children still at home, the youngest of whom were teenagers. As noted above, at age 22 Giovanna married Giuseppe Pugni, son of Giuseppe (of Villa Gavi), on 19 January 1747. The couple’s first child, Giovanni, was born 8 November 1747 and baptized the same day.[7] Another son, Pietro, arrived on the evening of 16 October 1749, and was baptized the following day.[8] Unfortunately, Giovanna’s husband Giuseppe died just two years later, on 18 October 1751, at the age of 30.[9] Young widows in Coli often remarried, as did Giovanna, who married Antonio Pugni, son of Pietro, on 19 December 1752.[10] Giovanna had two more children with Antonio: Giuseppe Maria, baptized 3 May 1754,[11] and Ottavio, born 2 July 1756 and baptized the next day.[12] Antonio lived until 1778,[13] and Giovanna until 1792.[14] RIP all!

Notes

[1] As in the previous post, I refer to people by their Italian names, not the Latin variants used in the Coli parish registers.

[2] Chiesa cattolica. Parrocchia di Coli (Piacenza). Registri ecclesiastici di Coli (Piacenza), 1694-1992. FamilySearch.org, Baptism register, entry for 13 January 1725, baptism of unnamed female child, daughter of Giovanni Peveri and Lucia (maiden name unstated), Villa Fontana, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, image 111: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-6WW?i=110&cat=987902. The record carries over to the next page, which is not included as an illustration.

[3] Ibid., Marriage register, entry for 19 January 1747, marriage of Giuseppe Pugni, son of Giuseppe, Villa Gavi, and Giovanna Peveri, daughter of Giovanni, Villa Fontana, FHL International Film 2123396, Item 3, DGS 4272543, image 299: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6DMQ-G3M?i=298&cat=987902.

[4] Ibid., Baptism register, entry for 24 April 1723, baptism of Maria Peveri, daughter of Giovanni and Lucia, Villa Fontana, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, image 102: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-FM6?i=101&cat=987902

[5] Ibid., Baptism register, entry for 11 February 1726, baptism of Guglielmo Peveri, son of Giovanni and Lucia, Villa Fontana, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, image 123: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-NXZ?i=122&cat=987902.

[6] Ibid., Death register, entry for 15 May 1745, death of Giovanni Peveri, Villa Fontana, age about 55, FHL International Film 2123396, Item 5, DGS 4272543, image 795: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6DMQ-284?i=794&cat=987902. Although Giovanni’s parents or wife are not stated, he was the only Giovanni Peveri in Villa Fontana, where his children were born.

[7] Ibid,, Baptism register, entry for 9 November 1747, baptism of Giovanni Pugni, son of Giuseppe Pugni and Giovanna Peveri, Villa Gavi, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, image 242: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-PYQ?i=241&cat=987902.

[8] Ibid., Baptism register, entry for 17 October 1749, baptism of Pietro Pugni, son of Giuseppe Pugni and Giovanna Peveri, Villa Gavi, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, image 251: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-DY4?i=250&cat=987902.

[9] Ibid., Death register, entry for 18 October 1752, death of Giuseppe Pugni, husband of Giovanna Peveri, age about 30, FHL International Film 2123396, Item 5, DGS 4272543, image 810: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6DMQ-Y85?i=809&cat=987902. I searched Coli baptism records 1718-1730, and found only one that must be Giuseppe’s: Baptism register, entry for 9 May 1721, baptism of Giovanni Giuseppe Pugni, son of Giuseppe Pugni and Margarita, Villa Gavi, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, images 87-88: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-LY9?i=86&cat=987902 and https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-K43?i=87&cat=987902. This 1721 birth date fits perfectly with his 1751 death at the age of 30. There are no other baptism records through 1730 for Giuseppe and Margarita, so Giuseppe was probably their last/youngest child.

[10] Ibid., Marriage register, entry for 19 December 1752, marriage of Antonio Pugni, son of Pietro, Villa Gavi, and Giovanna Peveri, wife [sic – widow] of Giuseppe, FHL International Film 2123396, Item 3, DGS 4272543, image 311:https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6DMQ-51P?i=310&cat=987902.

[11] Ibid., Baptism register, entry for 3 May 1754, baptism of Giuseppe Maria Pugni, son of Antonio Pugni and Giovanna, Villa Gavi, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, image 262: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-FCR?i=261&cat=987902.

[12] Ibid., Baptism register, entry for 3 July 1756, baptism of Ottavio Pugni, son of Antonio Pugni and Giovanna, Villa Gavi, FHL International Film 2123395, Item 3, DGS 4272542, image 269: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6QD7-D9D?i=268&cat=987902

[13] Ibid., Death register, entry for 15 February 1778, death of Antonio Pugni, son of Pietro, Villa Gavi, age 50s, FHL International Film 2123396, Item 5, DGS 4272543, image 844: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6DMQ-TC6?i=843&cat=987902.

[14] Ibid., Death register, entry for 13 September 1792, death of Giovanna Peveri, wife of Antonio Pugni, Villa Gavi, septuagenarian, FHL International Film 2123396, Item 5, DGS 4272543, image 871: https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6DMQ-P3G?i=870&cat=987902.

Joe Smaldone

About Joe Smaldone

Joe Smaldone and his wife Judy Warwick Smaldone have been researching their family’s history for 20 years. Their research has taken them to many national, state, and local libraries, archives, court houses, churches, cemeteries, historical and genealogical societies, and other research sites across the United States, and abroad to Ireland, Italy, and Sweden. They are members of NEHGS, the New Hampshire Historical Society, and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Joe is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where he created and taught a course entitled Your Family in History. He is a Genealogy Research Consultant at the Family History Center, Annapolis, Maryland, and has published several genealogical studies, abstracts, and indexes.

8 thoughts on “Finding Giovanna

  1. I know nothing about Italian research. Could you tell me if Villa Gavi, Villa Fontana, and so on refer to actual houses, areas of a town or city, or something else? Also, does Peveri have any particular meaning? Is it a place name or occupation name or something else? Thank you.

    1. Hi Martha – thanks for your query. I can’t speak for all of Italy, but historically in Coli a “Villa” appears to have been a street or small cluster of homes within or on the outskirts of the village center. Some of the historic villa/street names still exist in Coli, as seen in contemporary maps, e.g., Google Maps. I have not researched the surname Peveri, but there are some books on Italian surnames that might include that name.

  2. Interesting. Thank you. I have identified two ancestral villages in Italy but haven’t tackled any records yet, given the accessibility, languages and handwriting. It would be thrilling to get back into the 18th century as you have.

    1. Hi Carol – yes, acquiring the experience & skills needed to work through Italian records can be daunting, but if you take it one step at a time, be patient, learn as you go, and keep at it, you will be well rewarded!

  3. Interesting. I found quite a few similar blank spots or underlined blanks in the parish register of Tarves, Aberdeenshire, Scotland – including the missing first name of my great-great-grandfather. As his stated age on later documents matched the year and place of baptism, and his father was stated as John as in the register, I concluded it was the same person. I later read the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. The 1791 version says “The church is very old and ruinous” whereas the 1845 edition says “The church was built in 1798” – apparently large enough to seat 900 in this small village! So no doubt the minister was preoccupied with his grandiose plans while he was performing numerous baptisms and marriages. Evidently this problem crossed political and geographical boundaries!!

  4. Bravo Giuseppe ! I have spent many hours in the Family History Room of LDS churches laboriously scrolling through the records of my Italian ancestors. My results and discoveries mirror yours, but I wish I had had the benefit of your insight when I first began. I consider myself fortunate to have access to films of all these beautiful records since they have helped me to push back my ancestry much further than I would have thought possible. And when I finally arrived in my Italian home village several decades ago (Castellamonte in Torino) there I met all the descendants that my painstaking research had identified. Che bella !

    1. Hi Mary – many thanks for sharing your success story, painstaking though the process was! I too had good fortune tracing my Smaldone ancestors to Potenza town, Basilicata, and then going there and hunting down lost cousins!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.