I’m not sure if it’s the melting pot aspect of America that makes so many of us curious about our heritage, but I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the story of my family– how people with last names like “Pacelli” and “Rizza” and “Cavallo” came to live in Southern California. The stories and names and loves and losses captivated me, and my sister and I were raised on a blend of old East Coast and new Italian.
After we buried my grandfather in April, we visited my other relatives’ graves, and the old stories came flooding back, as well as my fascination and desire to know more. On an impulse, I booked a plane ticket, and found myself in Edinburgh last Tuesday morning. We don’t know much about how two Italians met and married in Scotland, but I’ve touched the hard evidence that Michael Angelo Rizza and Antonina Pacelli married in the Church of the Sacred Heart on January 26, 1893.
The surname and family lore suggests that Antonina was related to Pope Pius XII, though the stories tell us that her family was kicked out of Italy at least fifty years before he came to power in the Vatican.
Before crossing the Atlantic, I did my best to research the topic, and was ready with the name of the church where the Rizzas were married, as well as their known address, which I gathered from family members who had also made the pilgrimage.
Initially, we struggled to find their apartment, but once we did, what we gathered exceeded any expectation I had.
The church was hardly around the corner, and we were a bit bewildered at first as to how to proceed, but eventually found a doorbell, and a kindly father who escorted us upstairs to the records. I had only planned to see the marriage certificate and look around the church, but it struck me that the Rizzas had probably baptized at least some of their children before moving to Canada, and the priest agreed, helping Izzie and I on the scavenger hunt that took us through three books of baptism certificates, and covered twenty years.
We found the baptism certificates of the first eight Rizza children (there were 13 in total) as well as the addresses where each had been born. The Rizzas moved three times, and lived in a Catholic Italian neighborhood (something we found out by tracing names and addresses through the church records). While I’m not certain what, exactly, I was searching for when I booked my ticket, I do feel a sense of closeness with my family, to know what it looked like when they left their apartment in the morning.
Although it was fascinating to see where they lived, to know their birthdates and names (as many of my great-grandmother’s siblings name’s had been lost to history), I am struck now by the questions I wished I would have thought to investigate, such as, when did they leave for Canada? Is there a record of deaths or immigration, so we could find out which siblings made it to Canada? What names did they use when they enlisted in WWI? (the Rizza sons who enlisted, and were killed, were too young to enlist under their real names).
While I will probably always have questions, I’m happy to have come one step closer to unraveling the convoluted tale. The following pictures are the baptism certificates: