Late last year, I noticed a posting on the swissinfo page by a Richard Simpson who was looking for his late wife’s great grandfather, Antone Russi. Antone had lived in El Dorado County, California, and had partnered with the Forni family in the dairy business. Family lore said Antone was born in Airolo in November 1845. That certainly made sense, since Forni a well known name from Airolo. Perhaps, Russi and Forni came to California together and bought a dairy.
At the time I wondered if this Richard Simpson was an old friend of mine, Dick Simpson, who worked for many years in California government. And I ran into Dick at function a few weeks later, and sure enough it was. So I promised to help search for Antone.
The first thing I did was run the Russi name through some Ticino-Swiss name books I have, but it did not show up. In fact, all the data indicated that this name came from Canton Uri above the San Gottardo Pass, not from Airolo, below the Pass. So I ordered the microfilm for the parish of Airolo that is available here in America through the Family History Centers of the Mormon Church. Perhaps the family had moved to Airolo. But the parish records showed no Russi family. The telephone directory for Ticino did show a few people around Bellinzona with the Russi name, and so I asked my good friend and fellow Ticino researcher, Dr. Mauro Baranzini, to contact them, and see if any of them knew of an Antone Russi born about 1845.
Mauro got back to me that the Russi families living in Ticino today came originally from Canton Uri, mostly around Andermatt, but no one knew of any Antone born in 1845. Mauro also went to the cantonal archive and looked for the family, but again nothing.
So I knew I had to look in Canton Uri, but here came a problem. I am an American, and like most Americans I get along in one language, English. I can do research on Latin church records and Italian civil records, but records in Canton Uri will be in German. But I found out that the records for Canton Uri include a very detailed “Stammbuch” listing the genealogy of the cantonal families since the 1600s, and that I could obtain a copy of these records on microfilm through the Mormon Church.
And so last week the records showed up, sure enough in German, and even worse, handwritten in the old German script. Although I do not know six words in German, I found that the records were quite clear. The dates were easy to read, each family has a unique number; each child has a unique letter of the alphabet, and there is easy to follow cross referencing. The families are listed in order of marriages, that again made the “Stammbuch” easy to follow. I looked for a marriage around 1844 and sure enough, there he was: “Jos. Anton Russi,” born 21 November 1845 to Karl Anton Russi and Karolina Christen, in Andermatt. Further research made it clear this was the right person.
It seems that Antone came first to New York and then to California. He became friends with the Forni family and since they were both Swiss, it was just assumed they were from the same place. But in fact, they were a dozen miles, a mountain range and a canton apart.
Dick Simpson was quite surprised to learn Antone was German Swiss, not Italian Swiss. But I am sure it made little difference to Antone; he was a hard working Swiss dairyman in California. As to where he came from, well, that was a matter that could wait for another century to be found out.