My great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Robertson (1854-1940), was prejudiced against all Italians. There was a lot of anti-Italian sentiment in America in her time. She cried when my mother was born looking too Italian, with her black hair and olive-colored complexion. It didn’t help that her daughter Mary Trulucia married Wilford Alberti against her wishes, and that he was unemployed at the time of my mother’s birth. Wilford was the oldest son of Albert Anatole.
The majority of the early Italian immigrants pouring into this country were extremely poor and uneducated. More anti-Italian sentiment was generated in my mother’s lifetime, when prohibition gave root to the Mafioso.
Then there was Italy’s early affiliation with the Axis powers in the Second World War, before they switched sides in 1943.
Despite all this, my mother was proud of her Italian heritage, and her prejudice was limited to Sicilians and their link to the Mafia. This is why she would repeatedly say “We are from northern Italy, Florence, not Sicily.”
If my mother had hard evidence that her grandfather Albert came from Florence, she didn’t reveal it, and it’s not in “the box” my sisters left me years ago. My mother’s suggestion that we came from Florence is flimsy evidence, but there are other indications that Albert Anatole and his family were from Florence.
There are a number of Alberti’s scattered throughout Italy, but I would wager more money than I should on Florence as his home. I suspect his lineage and connection to the city extended back to the 15th Century, and beyond. The connection may be in that “data book # 4”, sitting on some library shelf in Florence.
Statistics on who reads this blog show what device they are using to access it, and what country they are from There is one reader from Italy who I think accessed through Firefox. If he or she has any Italian links to the Alberti family, I hope they contact me.
Albert listed Pienza as his birthplace on his naturalization papers, but years later, just before his retirement, he tells a reporter he was born in Florence. This would be solid evidence, if it weren’t for the fact that Albert had trouble separating fact from fiction. Even with that, I think he was telling the truth when he told the reporter it was Florence.
There is also a letter in “the box” from Florence, Italy dated 12 March, 1947. It is
a beautifully scripted letter from the husband of Assontina, one of Albert’s sisters. It was forwarded to my mother from Laura, the secretary that Albert married after the scandal in Kansas City. She forwarded it with no envelope that would reveal the exact address in Florence. Although Albert had been dead for six years, Laura continued the pattern set by Albert to keep my mother from directly corresponding to the Alberti family. Why?
In that letter from Assontina’s heart sick husband, he notes:
“I do not know what I shall do – I think I shall go (after some time) to live with a sister who like all is kind and affectionate to me.”
I think he may be referring to one of Albert’s other sisters. In my mother’s enigmatic arrows and incomplete lines on the pages, where she tries to recreate everything she can remember about the Alberti family, she indicates that Albert had three sisters. She can only remember the names of Assontina and Antoninas. With an arrow pointing to the name Assontina, she adds “died in husband Antonio’s arms of dysentery.” Another arrow from the names of the known two sisters points to “Nazi’s took over and they died.”
We know that Assontina died in 1946 according to the letter from her husband. Possibly another sister (or sisters) died during the German occupation during the war. The Nazi’s did occupy Florence, and in their withdrawal destroyed nearly a third of the city. The Via dei Bardi (street) was reduced to a pile of rubble. This was where many of the earlier Alberti’s had homes. Most of the medieval bridges were destroyed with the exception of the historic Ponte Vecchio, mentioned earlier as the escape route for the Medici’s, and other prominent families, including the Alberti family, during the turbulent 15th Century.
Albert was 85 when he died in 1940, so the sisters were probably younger or possessed some serious longevity genes.
Albert traveled back to Italy twice after retiring, taking Laura with him. I have records of the ships they traveled on, but no information on where they went after getting off the ship. One trip lasted two months. Albert was most likely visiting relatives, and showing Laura the “beautiful estate” he told my mother that his family wanted him to take over. This “secret,” Albert kept about the family and “the beautiful estate,” must have been a dandy. Could it have been a scandal more scandalous than the one in Kansas City?
We know that the Alberti’s were feudal lords as far back as the eighth century. In the twelfth century, some were established in Valdamo, a commune near Florence in Tuscany. The Alberti’s from this branch began to settle in Florence.
Many of the Alberti men became judges and notaries, and some members of the family became rich from investing in the wool industry. That money led to the loaning of money and progressed into banking. The Alberti family eventually had bank branches all over Europe. There was a time the Alberti family paid more taxes to the city of Florence than any of the other wealthy families, including the Medici’s.
When Sharon and I were in Florence, we marveled at the art and architecture. We had no idea of what life was really like for the Florentine families that lived there in medieval times.
There were tremendous obstacles and a dark underside behind the statuary and ornate columns. There was the black plague in 1348 that killed more than half the population of Florence. It started in Europe, when twelve ships docked in Marseille and most of the crew members onboard the ships were dead. The crew members caught the plague from flea infested rats, and then it was transmitted from person to person. It would return to Europe time and again. In 1348, the population of Florence was a modest ninety thousand, but in 1348, it was one of the largest cities in Italy. The plague reduced the population to less than forty five thousand.
Then there was politics, just as cutthroat and dirty as it is today. It was inevitable that, with its enormous wealth, the Alberti family would become entangled in it.
Benedetto Alberti and his sons became major players in the political intrigues, and the government began to fear them. Two major political mistakes were used by the government to banish them from Florence for a number of years.
First, in a civic celebration and parade in 1386, the Alberti family dressed their brigade of Knights in white and gold and adorned them with their own coat of arms instead of the communal insignia (Ouch!). They were forced out of the festivities for “excessively glorifying the family.”
Later that year, Benedetto’s son-in-law was named Standard Bearer of Justice. When it was discovered he was not of the required age, Benedetto engaged in what one anonymous chronicler described generously as “heavy handed pressure.”
Various charges, including treason, were brought against Benedetto and Cipriano, Alberti, and they were forbidden from holding any office, and to make sure they were run out of town. Over a period of twenty five years more and more Alberti men were banished from Florence. The final blow came in 1412, when it became so bad that all Alberti family members were banned from Florence. Their property was confiscated and transferred to other families. Bounty hunters were encouraged to shoot any Alberti male that came within 200 miles of Florence.
One of the exiled Albertis was Lorenzo, a Florentine banker, who then moved to Venice, where the Alberti family conveniently had a bank branch.
While he was in Venice, Lorenzo fathered a son with a woman from Bologna; Leon Battista Alberti, born illegitimate by this union, became the most famous of all the Alberti men. Listing all his accomplishments would wear you out; architect, art theorist, writer, linguist, cryptographer, and musician. Sharon (my wife) wants me to include the beautiful geometric gardens he designed.
While Leon Battista was studying law in Padua, he took up mathematics because it was a relaxing break from the memorization law required. Studying mathematics for relaxation would have never crossed my mind.
Eventually the Florentine ban on the Alberti’s was lifted. Many of the buildings in Florence were designed by Leon Battista Alberti. I’ve ordered several books authored by him, which haven’t arrived yet. One of the books is “Libri della famiglia,” where he stresses the importance of education, marriage, household management, raising children, and money.” That should be interesting reading from a man who never had a wife or children.
Leon did have a dog though, a mongrel that he loved so much he wrote a lengthy eulogy for him. As I mentioned in a previous blog Leon said he could tame wild horses, and claims he could spring over the head of the man standing next to him. According to other sources, he could sing beautifully and played the organ. He was handsome, an engaging conversationalist, and his achievements in crypto-analysis were groundbreaking. (I must be connected to another branch of Albertis’).
My apologies for not finishing Albert off this week. I tried, but he insists on living for one more blog.