Family Roots

My great-grandmother, Maria, in Canada.

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.

Marriage certificate of Michael Angelo Rizza and Antonina Pacelli.

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.

86 West Bow, where the Rizzas lived around 1903, and the last address on record.

Initially, we struggled to find their apartment, but once we did, what we gathered exceeded any expectation I had.

Church of the Sacred Heart

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.

The view up the street

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:

VIncenzo Rizza, 26 October, 1896

Petrus Rizza, 25 January 1894

Caterina Rizza, 30 August 1901

Angela Antonia (or Angelo Antonio, I’m not particularly certain which) Rizza, 20 November 1903

Michael Angelo Rizza, 22 July 1905

Maria Carmela Rizza, 16 March 1907

Antonius Rizza, 24 November 1909

Carolina Rizza, 29 January 1911

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12 comments
  1. david whelan and theresa pacelli said:

    hi my name is david i am 60 i live in dublin ireland. i am married to a pacelli who is the g granddaughter of francesco pacelli brother of maria antonina pacelli and also giuseppe pacelli children of vincent pacelli and maria rosa savino. all of the before mentioned can be found on the 1901 /1911 census of ireland ,if you wish to correspond contact my email.

    • I just wanted to say that I have noted your connection to the Pacelli and Rizza family in my own family website Quilietti.com.

      I would be interested in a link to the census you talk about above.

      My son Jamie works and lives in Dublin and we visit regularly. We just love the place and the folks

      • david whelan and theresa pacelli said:

        I would be only to happy to help.

      • david whelan and theresa pacelli said:

        children of francesco pacelli and mary doyle. Mary rose born about 1892 unknown.Elizabeth esther born 1894 dublin. Christina born 1896 died 1918 dublin.Catherine born1898 died 1898 dublin.Josephine born 1899 dublin.Florence born 1902 dublin.Catherine born 1904 dublin.Philomena born 1906 died 1907 dubl;in.Teresa born 1908 dublin.Vincent born 1910 dublin.Francis born 1914 dublin. children of giuseppe [joseph] pacelli and mary mahoney. Mary teresa born dec 1893 dublin.Nora born nov 1895 Lauriston scotland.Philomena born 1897 died 1899 dublin.

      • david whelan and theresa pacelli said:

        amendment to birth of mary rose born unknown.mary rosina priscilly born 23 july 1892 dtr of francis and mary priscilly of 48 golden lane. changed by statuatory declaration 1962 her 70th year to pacelli most likely for pension application. declaration made by john quinn and j ryan. relatives?.

      • david whelan and theresa pacelli said:

        1911 census of capel st dublin for francis and mary pacelli states 11 born, francis jnr born 1914 makes 12 one birth unaccounted for.

  2. Dear David: My name is Judy Cavallo. All of the names you mentioned are members of my husbands family. My mother-in-law was named Mary Carmen Rizza. Her mother was Maria Antonia Pacelli.Her father was Micheal Angelo Rizzza; Maria Antonia”s mother was Maria Rose Savino, father Vincenzo Pacelli; Maria Antonio Grandfather was Francisco Savino; Grand Mother was Yolanda Frantonia. On Maria’s father side; Grandmother Benedetta Marino,Grandfather was Guiseppi Rosario Pacelli. I found this information in Carmen’s family bible.

    • david whelan and theresa pacelli said:

      Dear Judy many thanks for the info on the parents and g parents of the pacelli and savino families, this is priceless there is no way i would ever have been able to obtain this info without your help,Louisa god bless her,little did she know when she started this blog how many connections she would be responsible for across the world.

  3. Paul Stevenson said:

    Dear Judy: my name is Paul Stevenson

    • Paul Stevenson said:

      Dear Judy: My name is Paul Stevenson and my grandmother was Teresa Pacelli, she had a sister Nora and they were the daughters of Guiseppi (brother of Francesco and Maria Antonia). They had an Ice Cream Parlour in Brunswick Street, Dublin where they also lived. The 1901 and 1911 census shows that Vincenzo and Maria Rosa lived there with them. Guiseppi died in 1912 and Vincenzo and Maria Rosa moved to Canada with Maria Antonia and her family in 1913.Family surnames today include Heather, Clarke, Colman, Ephson and Stevenson

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