A few months ago, I wrote about discovering your Italian roots, focusing on the marriage records of Arturo Bighinatti and his wife, Amabilia “Mabel” Provasi. I have had some success recently (teaming up with a few Bighinatti cousins), uncovering the large swarth of the family tree. Thanks to Rovigo’s civil records on FamilySearch.org, mysteries are being revealed for the first time in generations. One such story involves my great-great grandmother Mabel and a man named Mr. DeMaestri.
Some years ago, my grandmother’s cousin Marie wrote a book on her family tree called A Peek at the Past. It details Mabel’s life in Castelmassa, the family dynamic, her journey to America with Arturo and her daughters, and the family’s first years in the United States. When I first read the story of Mabel’s beginnings, I was naturally intrigued by a story of scandal. Being nineteenth century Italy, I suppose the story I am about to relay would have caused major gossip at the time. Then again, maybe not. If this happened in America in the 1880s, it would’ve been covered up for sure (per another story I will tell another day). The story, however, was hearsay. It was probably told to Marie by her mother as Mabel had died before Marie was even born.
After searching records in the relevant years using the most obvious surnames, nothing popped up. Searching each record individually would’ve have taken more time than I was willing to spare in the event that the story was untrue. In any event, I stopped looking, thinking perhaps, Bice was born elsewhere, she was never registered, or she never existed. Well, she existed and the story…
… in her early teens, Amabilia had an encounter with a Mr. De Maestri. The details of this relationship are not known other than he was a “city man” from Milan who held a good job. He also had a sister who was a school teacher. Other than that, was he a married man? How old was he? We can only speculate? But at the age of 15, Amabilia gave birth to a baby girl by him and the baby remained with her and her parents to be raised in the house on Via di Mezzo. There was never a marriage. They named the baby Bice (pronouced Bee-chay) and from time to time Mr. DeMaestri’s sister, the school teacher, would drop by the house to visit her. As the years went by she continued on being part of Bice’s life. – A Peek at the Past
We Can Speculate No More
Two days ago, I came upon an 1887 Castelmassa birth record that caught my eye by total coincidence. I was searching another family entirely when I noticed the DeMaestri name. It was a conditioned response to look into it because of that story. The baby girl’s name was Beatrice Matilde Mariotti. Beatrice to Bice is not a stretch. So I looked into it further and the story unraveled.
Reporting births to civil authorities in 1887 Italy required the father, or some other male relative, to register the birth with the town. In addition, two witnesses are needed. The information they provided is invaluable to genealogists, especially when the forms required names, dates, an address and the aforementioned witnesses. And, in certain cases, the large margin next to the record is filled with information from future registrations (marriages, deaths, etc.). There was the smoking gun. But even if the smoking gun had not been written in the margin, every piece of data from this birth says this is our Bice.
On 21 March 1887, a 71-year old “usciere” named Antonio DeMaestri registered a birth with Castelmassa authorities. He stated at 8pm, three days earlier on 18 March, a baby girl was born at a home, Via Masina 11. She was born to, and I’ll use the Italian, “una donna he non consente di essere nominata” [English: a woman he does not want to be identified.]. He also stated, as required, that her name be Beatrice Matilde using the surname Mariotti. The two witnesses are a 52-year old named Giuseppe Spirandelli and a 25-year old, Pietro Bocchi. How would I have known this was Bice without the smoking gun? Five quick key points.
First, the man’s name was DeMaestri and it was the mid 1880s when the story allegedly took place. Second, he was an “usciere” or the town’s bailiff, a respectable town job. Third, she was an illegitimate child based on the absence of her mother’s name. Fourth, Pietro Bocchi just happened to be Mabel’s brother-in-law. And fifth, the most obvious point, based on other documents, Via Masina 11 was the address of the Provasi home (not on Via di Mezzo as stated in A Peek at the Past).
The Smoking Gun
Three years later, when Mabel turned 20, she petitioned the local court asking that Bice be recognized as her biological daughter and that her surname be changed from the fictitious Mariotti to Provasi. The courts obliged and recorded the name change in the 1890 civil registration for births. Officially, Beatrice Matilde Mariotti became Beatrice Matilde Provasi. As a consequence of this court action, town officials went back to the 1887 record and made a note of the change (in the large margin). In addition to that, a second note was added to Bice’s 1887 record. It was statement by a legitimate son of Antonio, stating that Bice was Antonio’s daughter and she should be recognized as such for purposes of marriage (a 1906 date is included but some of this note is illeggibile). The second note also says Antonio was “di Milano” or from Milan.
The Story, As It Truly Is
… in her teens, Amabilia had an encounter with a 71-year old man named Antonio DeMaestri. He was from Milan who held a good job as a bailiff and town official. He also had a sister who was a school teacher. Other than that, was he a married man? But at the age of 17, Amabilia gave birth to a baby girl by him and the baby remained with her and her parents to be raised in the house on Via Masina. There was never a marriage. They named the baby Bice (pronouced Bee-chay) and from time to time Mr. DeMaestri’s sister, the school teacher, would drop by the house to visit her. As the years went by she continued on being part of Bice’s life.
A story over a hundred and twenty five years old uncovered by chance while searching old documents. What we will probably never know is how Mabel met this man and how it resulted in a child? Was it some forbidden love affair or was it sinister? Was he married? There is a connection between another Provasi woman and a DeMaestri in the registers. Perhaps he is a nephew of Antonio? Unless some long lost diary is found or the court records indicate what happened, we will never know.