One of our clients asked us to trace his Italian ancestry. Through census records, death certificates, newspaper obituaries, and naturalization records, research in the San Francisco area determined that one of his immigrant ancestors was Lazzaro Raffanti (1878-1922). Lazzaro’s name could not be found in the passenger arrival lists for the Port of San Francisco. Surprisingly, he arrived instead through the Port of New York on April 16, 1896, on the SS la Bretagne, at age sixteen, and then traveled overland to the west coast. The main objective of research at this point was to learn the specific place of origin in Italy. But the 1896 passenger manifest gave only his country of birth, not the town or province.
Lazzaro died in San Francisco on January 17, 1922. His death certificate revealed the names of his parents: Sabatino Raffanti and Euselia Garbini. Lazzaro’s exact birth date of April 7, 1878 is provided, but his birthplace is listed only as Italy, nothing more specific. A newspaper obituary supplied a few more helpful pieces of the puzzle. Lazzaro had two surviving siblings: Carlo Raffanti and Vera Bursalia. Unfortunately, their parents’ names or exact places of birth were not mentioned.
Studying Carlo and Vera might provide the name of the town or village in Italy from whence they came. Vera Bursalia could not be found in any U. S. records, but plenty surfaced on brother Carlo. Unfortunately, his death certificate and other records did not name the town of his birth.
In consultation with our Italian research specialist, a strategy was developed. New York passenger arrival records after 1906 gave more complete information than before that year. We searched all Raffantis in the arriving passenger manifests, and kept track of the frequency of their towns of origin. Since Raffanti is not a common Italian name, this statistical study did not take long. Overwhelmingly, the most frequent town of origin named by these immigrant Raffantis was San Ginese, in the Tuscan hills of northern Italy. Armed with that information, our Italian researcher went to work studying the civil registrations there. San Ginese was a fractional municipality, meaning that it was too small to have its own civil registration office. Their births, marriages and deaths were recorded in nearby Cappanori, and are available on microfilm at the Family History Library.
It was exciting to discover the birth record of Giovanni Giuseppe Lazzaro Raffanti, born April 6, 1878 to Sabatino Raffanti and Ersilia Garbini! The date of birth is one day off from the date recorded on the death certificate, but nevertheless is considered a match. By following the family in these records, two more generations were added to the pedigree. Sabatino and Ersilia’s marriage record gave the names of each of their parents. The birth records of Lazzaro’s parents were also located, which provided their birth dates and confirmed their parents’ names. Those two sets of parents were searched in the birth, marriage and death records, which then revealed the names of their parents.
Let us help you find your immigrant ancestors, and their towns of origin in the ‘Old Country’. Someday our client hopes to visit San Ginese and the surrounding towns, in the beautiful Tuscan hills of Italy.