Family roots: memories and migrations

I’ve let the trail run a little cold in the quest for more family knowledge. While I am excited to pick up the story once again, my summer was too full of falling in love with every country and new friend to spend any significant amount of time in front of my computer. Now that I have returned, I am anxious to pick up where I left off. Cousin Mike put me in touch with Helen Stanton, author of a website chronicling the story of her family, who share a similar history with mine- Italian transplants to the UK. Helen’s website is an absolute wealth of information, and answers many of my questions.

The stunning Rizza sisters – Caroline, Phyllis, Carmen (and child), Marie

As I posed at the end of my last post, I wanted to find out why, and when, the Pacellis and Rizzas migrated to Edinburgh. While it’s still unclear how and why the Pacellis left Italy, church records indicate that Vincenzo and Maria Rosa, parents of Maria Antonia, were active in the Church of the Sacred Heart in the 1890’s, and that Vincenzo was a musician, which was apparently a common occupation for Italian immigrants. Coincidentally, one of my great-grandmother’s brothers who was killed in the first World War was also named Vincenzo, and was also a musician. The loss of three of Maria Antonia’s sons in the first World War, two of whom played the violin and some other instrument (piano? flute? I don’t correctly recall), is part of what broke her heart, eventually causing her to abandon her family in Canada.

Anyhow. The Pacellis’ arrival in Edinburgh is still a mystery, but is seems that Michelangelo and his brother arrived in Scotland, following their father, in the early 1890’s. This follows a mass-migration pattern that was apparently traditional in Italy. Supposedly, seasonal or temporary migrations were the norm in Italy during this time, and it was Napoleon’s influence, and the unsurprising influx of French aristocracy who needed land, that squeezed the lower classes, pushing them North and West, and made many of these migrations more permanent. It is no surprise that the Rizzas owned several ice cream shops, as the Italians were apparently renowned for their music, artwork, and confectionaries. (Anyone who has tried Italian gelato or sorbetto will undoubtedly agree)

pre-unification Italy

A second question is where, exactly, the Rizzas and Pacellis came from within Italy. My great-grandmother was long proud of the fact that her mother was Piedmontese. The Piedmontese were traditionally well-off and lighter in countenance, as they share a border with France, and were instrumental in winning Italy’s independence pre-1900’s. Italy is still a country divided, the north enjoying a far higher standard of living than the south, and being Piedmontese was akin to aristocracy, especially when living among the diaspora in ethnic neighborhoods. Despite the fact that the neighborhood the Pacellis called home was not the high street (their front door literally overlooked the gallows), their aristocratic roots were a point of pride that lasted through the generations. It seems, however, that this blue-blood was one-sided, as history and migratory patterns indicate that the Rizzas’ origins were further South.

As always, more research has only raised more questions. Soon to come is a long-lost photo, which was taken on the same day as the picture sent to me from cousin Paul, from Ireland.


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