Australia, New Zealand, California, Nevada and Arizona!

From Diana Neal, Britain

Giuseppe Pietro Lafranchi, born in Coglio, Valle Maggia, in the year 1843, was apparently the only son of Giuseppe Antonio Lafranchi and his first cousin, Maria Caterina Laffranchi. Giuseppe Antonio was an early immigrant to the Australian gold-fields: he left Coglio when his son and daughters were small, probably intending to enrich the family coffers, and to return home. But a note in the Town Register for Coglio, held in the Archivo Cantonale in Bellinzona, states that news of Giuseppe Antonio’s death had been sent to his family in a ‘private note’ in the year 1855.

Three years later, Giuseppe Pietro, my great-grandfather, followed in his father’s foot-steps, leaving his widowed mother, Caterina, and his homeland, for the mines of Victoria. Other Lafranchi relatives were already in Melbourne, and presumably initially cared for the boy. Giuseppe Pietro remained in Australia and New Zealand for the next nine years, working as a waiter before moving on to the gold-fields. He once told my mother, Dorothy Lafranchi, who was born in California, that he had left a man ‘for dead’ in the gold-fields, after a man had attempted to jump his claim. By 1867 Giuseppe had returned to Ticino, and in February 1871 married Eugenia Brigida Righetti of Someo, also in the Valle Maggia.

In the same year he left for the American West, landing in New York, and travelling first to Petaluma in Sonoma County, California. There he acquired work in the trade he had learned as a child in Coglio– that of dairy hand. Later he moved on, first to Nevada, working as a charcoal burner, then to Prescott in Arizona. Thanks to a government scheme, he managed to acquire a farm in the vicinity of 160 acres. In 1875, the bride he had left soon after marrying her arrived, also at the port of New York, on the SS Nevada from Antwerp. Whether he met her on the ship is unknown, but it is known that she arrived with their first child, Adela, who was four years old at the time.

Of their five children, three more were born in Prescott, the last of these being El Dorado or ‘Edward’, the oldest boy, in 1879. Why Giuseppe had chosen Arizona as a place to settle remains a mystery. Were there other ticinese families in the area, or was Giuseppe simply taking advantage of a government land grant? By 1881, however, the family had moved on to a more typical Swiss-Italian destination, Sonoma County. There, in 1881, my grandfather, Marin Joseph Lafranchi was born, the youngest and last of their children.

It may be that Giusppe Pietro’s first employment in Northern California was a return to the traditional dairy trade of the Ticinesi. The 1880 Federeal Census has a Joseph Lafranky living and working at Salt Point in Sonoma County as a dairy man. It is difficult to judge, however, if this is really our man. Despite the well-known inaccuracies of census recordings, it may be difficult to believe that the given age of 22 could be a simple mistake in transcription of a man’s age which was really 36 at the time. Joseph is also listed as being single. Again, it may be that Eugenia and family had been temporarily left in Arizona or another part of Sonoma County while Giuseppe found work. An article on Giuseppe in The History of Sonoma County suggests that the family’s move to Sonoma County was prompted by Giuseppe’s desire to increase his acreage. A census record for Eugenia seems to be missing for 1880, during the period that Joseph Lafranky was resident in Salt Point. She may have been living with some of her Righetti relatives, who may previously have settled in Arizona or California.

Not long after the birth of his last child, Marino, Giuseppe acquired lands which he farmed until handing over the ranch to his sons Edward and Marino. The 310 acre ranch was located between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa on the Sebastopol Road. Two generations of Lafranchis were born and raised there. It remained in Lafranchi hands until Marino retired in the 1940s. Giuseppe Pietro died on the 25th July 1924 in Santa Rosa, followed some years later by Eugenia on the 28th December 1933. Eugenia had lived in America from the age of 30, but had never learned to speak English. A very traditionally religious woman, she remained fairly isolated from the larger American society right up to her death while she was living with Edward and family in Petaluma. It is difficult to know how reconciled she had become to her solitary departure from her homeland in the Valle Maggia, and her arrival in the brash new land of the American West so distant from the life she had known. Yet, in many ways , she was one of the lucky ones who was not left permanently behind at home, while the young men of Ticino sought their fortunes, and their adventures, far away.

One thought on “Australia, New Zealand, California, Nevada and Arizona!

  1. The La Franchi name is quite extensive in the Sonoma Co and Marin Co. name. Altho I am not part of this line, I have some pictures (school) that might be part of your line….Ida Lafranchi, Eddie LaFranchi. If they are in your line then email me back at and I will send you the pictures..

    Sally Staley

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