The same name but related?

Gary Carlson, United States
In doing ancestral research in Ticino, I’ve noticed that old (1700s and 1800s) parish records are dominated by just a few surnames. For example, my family comes from the parish of S. Antonio near Giubiasco. Our family name was Sarina, and there were eight or 10 (or more!) families with that name, a like number named Tamagni, Mossi, and a few others. If you go to the next parish, there would be a separate set of names. This seems to be the case in Italy as well. I’ve always wondered if those families were all biologically related, or if it goes back to when names were almost tribal, indicating they came from a certain place. My cousin in Switzerland thinks that they are biological, but I took the records back as far as they went (1691), and I still couldn’t connect them.

2 thoughts on “The same name but related?

  1. Gary points out a strange phenomenon of Ticinese last names. After the Council of Trent, 1560s, all Catholic priests were required to keep lists of the families in their parishes. This required developing last names for the families; it was not good enough anymore to describe someone as Giovanni son of Giacomo. Last names tended to be physical characteristic (Grossi—big, Rossi—red headed), what a person did (Forni—worked on a stove), a place (Salmina, lived in a hamlet called Salmina), or a combination of dialect words (Tonascia is my favorite, coming from “Antonio” and “ascia,” meaning a rough person. The name can be translated to mean “Tough Tony.”)

    In early times people owned the village grazing land, water, bakery, etc in common and they did not want people from other villages using their facilities, so there was great pressure to marry within the village. Perhaps one family was given a last name in 1600; take for example, my family’s last name, Morisoli in Monte Carasso (meaning, I think, a likeably dark complected person.). The name does not exist in the 1500s and by the time we have written records in 1670, everyone with this last name seems to descend from a single Pietro. So by 1700, there are maybe five families with this last name, but then they intermarry and by 1800 there were 20 or so families with this same last name, all living in the Monte Carasso. So we have the strange situation that Gary notes, lots of families with the same last name in one village, and the name unknown in the neighboring village.

  2. Thank you for that historical perspective Tony.

    My ancestors were MATTEI’s of Cevio, Ticino. In 1993, I visited there and was able to look at the church records. Imagine my surprise when the first MATTEIs I came across who married, shared the same family name. Then there was a subsequent set of cousins who also married. And then another set of definitely first cousins married, I was pleased to note they had sought a dispensation. From the mid 1700s to the last marriage in 1831, in four generations three were interfamily marriages. One of the husbands was a notary, so I deduce there was no shame in this at all. Think of the headaches this has casued me in trying to draw up family trees!

    In 1832 there was a census taken by the church. There were five MATTEI families in Cevio at the time. Two I could identify as direct ancestors, because of the last cousins to marry, but sadly I was unable to research to see if the others were also close cousins, though I expect they must have been. If I could link them, then I would be able to know more about that time and place for my people.

    In 1993, I could find only one MATTEI (a wonderful baker who made the best panetone ever!), but he insisted there was no relationship. The MATTEI name was obvious in other parts of the Valle de Maggia however… but now it is so long ago.

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