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Searching for Alberti: Rumors, Facts and Rabbit Holes

**Disclaimer** this is a blog takeover. Uncle Danny invited me to write about my recent trip to Italy and my recent family research. This is VERY long story – but if you're interested in Alberti family history this is worth the read.

“The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.”

Alice in Wonderland has been a favorite story since I was a little girl. No matter what mysteries and impossible challenges were placed in her path, she found a way through. She met tricksters and villains but always persisted on her missions. What does Alice have to do with the Alberti family blog, you ask? Uncle Danny has awarded me and my genealogical research skills, the moniker of Alice. Stay with me here and I promise you won’t be disappointed…

Until a few months ago, the solid facts about Great Grandpa Alberti were pretty foggy. Uncle Danny has done an incredible job of taking what crumbs we know about him from “the box”: vague scribblings from Grandma Godfrey, tales passed down through generations, a few inflated newspaper stories and two passport applications. He traveled down his own rabbit holes of research to build fabulous and plausible accounts of what his life might have been like growing up in Italy and immigrating to the United States.

While I was totally enthralled with the grand tales of Great Grandpa Alberti’s life, I couldn’t let go of the fact that there was really no solid evidence to back them up…and well, that just won’t do. I am a realist. I want evidence. Uncle Danny’s blog motivated me. I wanted to know more about the Albertis of Florence.

So off I went down my first rabbit hole at the beginning of this year - starting with a trip to Italy with my cousin Kara (because every great adventurer/sleuth needs a sidekick right?) The journey to Italy via Newark, NJ was packed with fascinations and signs. We had a few hours to kill before our flight to Rome, so upon arrival in Newark we decided to hop on the ferry and cross the Hudson to Lower Manhattan.

This was my first time seeing Lady Liberty. It was extremely moving to begin our ancestral journey this way. It created a meaningful and introspective energy for Kara and me as we crossed the river. We disembarked the boat and found ourselves wandering through Battery Park. After walking a few miles we happened upon a large rock, somewhat hidden by tall weeds, with a plaque on it. The plaque read: Pietro Cesare Alberti 1608-1655. The first Italian American Immigrant settler in the colony of New Amsterdam. What is now known as New York.

I would describe the look on our faces as something between astonished and inspired. Before you get too excited…remember that I am a facts girl. We have zero evidence of any relation to Pietro Alberti. It was just a really cool coincidence that on a trip looking for facts about our Alberti, we found our first Alberti. It had to be some kind of blessing on our upcoming travels.

A quick backstory for some clarity…see I told you this was a rabbit hole. In 1969 Uncle Danny and Aunt Sharon made a quick trip to Florence attempting to find out more about our mysterious Alberti ancestor. They visited what is now the Firenze National Archives and submitted a genealogy request. The response came in a letter to Uncle Danny confirming that there were in fact many Albertis in Florence, some of which were nobility (however our family could not be directly connected to them). The letter also contained the approximate location of the Alberti family crest located on the side of the Alberti Tower near the Via dei Bardi.

Armed with these directions, upon arrival in Florence, Kara and I dropped our bags at our Air BNB near the Boboli Gardens and immediately set out to find two things: Espresso and the Via dei Bardi.

Imagine, two jet lagged cousins speed walking the narrow streets of Firenze, following 49 year old directions to the location of a 700 year old building. I wouldn’t say we were lost exactly. Lost feels like a permanent situation. We were more finding our bearings in an ancient city… and just like we stumbled upon the Alberti memorial in Battery Park, we happened upon the Alberti Tower. The Alberti crest is a shield with two crossed silver chains. Nothing intricate, but standing on the sidewalk staring up at the symbol of my ancestors, bathed in a golden sunset, was magnifico! Ready for another coincidence? The Alberti Tower is now a mixed use building that houses a café in the bottom and offices and apartments upstairs. One of those offices belongs to the Medici Archive Project. The Medici Archive Project is an organization dedicated to digitizing old Florentine genealogical records from the time of the Medici’s.

Another sign. With only three nights left in Florence, I figured that I needed to work fast to get anything discovered on the ground. Later that evening I began Googling like a madwoman. Reading the Medici Archive website directed me to the location of the Firenze National Archives and further instructed me to make a research request. Like all things Italian, this place was on its own schedule. Due to a national holiday there were no appointments available until after we left Italy.

That didn’t stop Kara and me from chasing the golden Florentine light all over the city. We wandered down narrow streets, drank wine and cappuccino in cozy cafes and daydreamed about walking in the same place our ancestor’s might have walked over 200 years ago.

I returned home relaxed and more inspired than ever to know more.

Well imagine my excitement when I heard that cousin Trisha and her husband would be traveling to Florence and Pienza just a few months later. I sent her all the Alberti information I had and crossed my fingers for her success. That success came in April. I would even venture to call it a major breakthrough in my research.

Before we can continue with the story, I need to make a list for you to recap what we think we know about Albert Alberti’s early life in Italy. Because this is what I do. I make lists.

What we think we know about Albert Alberti’s life in Italy 1855-1870

- Born in Florence in March 11, 1855 (from his passport application)

- Born in Pienza in March 4, 1855 (passport application – hmm two birthdays eh?)

- Placed in a Monastery at age 3 -17 which he ran away from (family story)

- Worked as clerk in a town called Galluzo (from a newspaper story for his retirement)

- Father: Joseph Mother: Siena (passport application)

- Had two sisters, Assontina and Anntonina (notes from Grandma Godfrey)

- Spoke Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Hebrew possibly more languages (notes from Grandma Godfrey)

- Parents were a Count and Countess with a large estate in Florence (G.G. notes)

There. Now we are all on the same page with the “facts” about Albert. Moving on. I promise we are about to get to the really good stuff!

Trisha received an e-mail a few weeks later from the Archivio Di Stato Di Firenze. It was the “Nato” or birth record for Alberto Alberti. It was of course, written in Italian. Apparently Albert was a better first name than Alberto to use in America. 

I will translate the Nato here for you:

Alberto Alberti born at 9 in the evening, on March 11, 1854 to Guiseppe di Gaetano, a pharmacist and Fioravanti Maria di Serafino, a landowner (or blacksmith *I’ll explain this more later on) Living as part of the population of the Pienza Cathedral. Baptised on the 13th day of March. Godfather, Progaj Gaetano

*(Progaj is listed on the record as the god parent’s second name, but this must be a typo as there is no J in Italian. Perhaps it’s Primo or Proggio. This record has been translated for us and the original is not online for me to see. This person could be Guiseppe’s father or perhaps this is a word in Italian I am not familiar with yet. I’ll keep researching this one.

Italian birth records are arranged a bit differently than ours. You often have the name of the fathers of the parents listed as well. So for research purposes that is a goldmine. It gave me two more names to search for in history *Gaetano Alberti (Alberto’s dad) and *Serafino Fioravanti (Maria’s dad). Tuscan records pre 1861 were organized by the Parish, so this birth record also told me exactly where to look – Pienza Cathedral Parish in Pienza.

If you have been following along with Uncle Danny’s blogs you have to be sitting with your mouth open right now. This tiny paragraph of information is monumental in the hunt for Alberti. It confirms a few “what we thought we knows” and in my mind, makes them cold hard facts. Remember? I love facts. I start with identifying everything that I know as true and work backwards or sometimes forwards from those truths. Like Alice in her Google Wonderland I set off to find more.

Ready for a new list? Thought so.

What we now know as fact about Alberto Alberti

- Given first name is Alberto

- Born Pienza, Italy on March 11, 1854

- Father: Guiseppe Alberti di Gaetano Mother: Maria Fioravanti di Serafino

- Father was a Pharmasict, Mother a Landowner/Blacksmith

- Alberto’s paternal grandfather was named Gaetano Alberti

- Alberto’s father in law was named Serafino Fioratanvti

- Sister: Assontina

To date, I have read over 500 Italian birth records and census pages. All in Italian and all written in scrolly, faded and hard to read script. So, while the Tuscan government was kind enough to scan birth, death, marriage records and some census books from 1808-1865, they are not searchable documents. The reader must virtually flip, page by page, for the names they seek. My labors did not go unrewarded.

I was sitting at my desk at 4pm, waiting to leave the office at the end of a pretty boring day. I decided to spend an hour searching for Great Grandpa Albert(o)’s father – Guiseppe Alberti di Gaetano. On the website for the Tuscan Atenati, I found the 1841 censimento (census) for all of Florence. Pienza is a town within Florence so this seemed like a very good place to start. Page 1…lots of Italian names: Brunori, Formici, Sagnome, Vegni. Page 2….more Italian surnames names, members of the household and, laborers, maids, smiths and their families.

Page 3…first entry lists – Serafino Fieravanti, age 52, widowed, Catholic, a Fabbro Possidente. Fabbro Possidente translates to Master Blacksmith. This is a tricky one - as Possidente means Landownder and Fabbro Possidente means Master Blacksmith. The census takers of the time weren’t very good at capturing accurate occupations in Southern Italy. Some political and economic situations happening in Italy at this time encouraged census takers to list the least the important occupation or to combine occupations. Not so important in 1841 perhaps, but puzzling for the 7x great granddaughter in 2018. This means Alberto’s future father in law might have been both a Master Blacksmith and a Landowner.

In his household is also Maria Fieravanti, age 12 and a servant, Marianna Tamagnini, age 48. No mention of Maria’s mother. Perhaps she died in childbirth. Another rabbit hole to go down on another day. 

Now before you point out of the variation of the last name, remember those Italian census takers. They were probably underpaid, facing regional language barriers and had sloppy penmanship. My guess is the researcher working for Trisha in Florence read the cursive “e” in Fieravanti as an “o”.

Even though I sat, gob smacked, looking at proof of Alberto’s mother living in Pienza in an 1841 census....remember...facts. That small variation of the surname left a tiny seed of doubt in my mind. Well, only 55 more pages of the census to read. I couldn’t help but wonder if I might find Guiseppe Alberti living in the same town as Maria. Maybe he was a neighbor boy and they fell in tweenage love under the Tuscan sun. Wait, I think that’s a movie. Nevermind. Back to census scanning. Towards the end of the census, halfway down the page is all the proof I need. I found Alberto’s Mother and Father. I could hardly believe what I was reading - Giuseppe Alberti, age 29, unmarried, Catholic, occupation: Pharmacist.

You might have noticed that Guiseppe had a good 17 years on his future bride in 1841. That is a bit puzzling. By the time she turned 20, he was already 37. I am currently on the hunt for their marriage record. I don’t know the exact year they were married. Working backwards from the year their first son was born (Alberto in 1854) and her age at the time of the census, and also assuming she was around 20 and they were probably married for at least one year before his birth, I estimate they walked down the aisle between 1849-1853.

I also found what I think is Maria’s uncle living in Florence at the same time. Antonio Fieravanti, age 58, a Shoe Shop owner and his wife, Maddalena, age 46. They had one son, Caiimer who is listed as a Clerk. Antonio must have been a patient man. Also listed in their household was his mother in law, Barbera Ciolfi, a widow, age 80. I found it interesting that they listed her as “Impotente” or powerless under the occupation category. I wonder if Antonio felt that way about her at the time.

With confirmed names, locations and the beginning of a timeline taking shape, I started the search for the next family members. The mysterious sisters of Alberto: Assontina and Anntonina. These two ladies are enigmas. They are only mentioned twice in the documentation I have from Uncle Danny. Once, in a letter from Assontina’s husband. Antones wrote to Grandma Godfrey from Firenze. He shared they were married for 60 years and she died in 1947 after suffering with illness for 30 months. Another mention of the sisters is in Grandma’s notes about the Alberti family. They are mentioned as having disappeared/died during the Nazi occupation of Italy during WWII. The fact that there are no photos of them and no other information about their lives was puzzling and I love a good mystery.

The letter from Antones is enough proof for me that Assontina existed. However, there is still no evidence of Anntonina at all. Except for one tiny clue. In 1940, the Kansas City Star published Alberto’s obituary. In that write up, it states he is survived by two sisters living in Florence, though neither one is named.

I return to the digital treasure chest of the Tuscan Atenati records to begin my search for Assontina Alberti. The Pienze birth records for 1861-1865 are available online. Time for more math – if she was married for 60 years and died in 1947, she married Antones in 1887. Subtract another 20-25 years from that and it lands us smack in the middle of the available birth records for Pienza.

While searching through all five years of records I found not only Assontina (which I assume was her nickname), listed as Assenota Sactona, born June 6th, 1863, but also her brother who was lost in history until now – Gaetano Serafino Alberti, born February 27th 1865. Both children born of Giuseppe Alberti and Maria Fieravanti.

Assenota’s 150 year old records are very hard to make out, but you can see that Alberto Alberti is listed as her god parent. A person named Dolci Annunziate is listed as the god parent of Gaetano Serafino. If you aren’t completely bored out of your gourd with reading this genealogical novella I am writing, then you will have noticed that Giuseppe and Maria named their second son after their fathers. Probably a great honor to them.

Wow! That was a lot of research rabbit holes! This Alice has a brain cramp. 1861 is the next census that occurred in Florence. The 1861 census should show Alberto’s entire family living under one roof. It would prove if the stories about Alberto living in a monastery from 1857-1871 are true. It would prove if Anntonina existed and if that was, in fact, her name. Unfortunately the only way to view these documents is in person, at you guessed it, the Firenze National Archives. Perhaps Trisha’s research contact in Florence can help us out via e-mail. If not, then another trip is in order.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have about 1,000 birth records from 1809-1813 to read through on the hunt for more details of Alberto’s father, Giuseppe Alberti. He was born in 1810 during the French occupation of Florence. A very interesting time in Italy for you history nerds. My hopes are to find his father and continue to trace the Alberti lineage as far back as I can. Who knows, maybe we really were nobility. Remember, I am a facts girl. So off I go…in search of Alberti.

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