200 – The Home Village

We’re focusing on the villages of the Comune di Neirone to find the home of our Pensa and Gardella families.

Antonio and Rosa Pensa and their children left Italy as the new year of 1869 began. Their US immigration record states their ages upon arrival March 1, 1869.

New Orleans Arriving Passenger List – S.S. Paganini – March 1, 1869 – Photo of Italian family

This gives us a starting point to search for vital records, like birth and marriage. Let’s plot the birth years of the children. And let’s guess that the marriage year of Antonio and Rosa was a year or two before the birth of their first child Caterina, so around 1857.

Church Records vs Municipal Records

Church records. Before 1860, Italy was not one country. It was made up of city-states, like Genova and Milan and Florence. There was no central record-keeping of births, marriages, and deaths. Records were kept at the parish level of the Catholic Church.

Municipal records. In 1860, Italy became a unified country under Vittorio Emmanuel II. The new country decreed that vital records be kept by municipal governments. This transition left a gap in Genova area records between 1860 and 1866. Those years would have been helpful to us since 3 of the 5 Pensa children were born during those years.

Search for Caterina Pensa birth/baptism record

Let’s begin our search of church records with Caterina Pensa, Josephine Pensa’s oldest sister. Caterina was the eldest daughter of Antonio and Rosa, born around 1859. There were four church parishes in the Neirone area, so we only have four parishes instead of a dozen villages to search. Can we find a birth record for Caterina in one of those parishes?

San Lorenzo, Roccatagliata

Church of San Lorenzo, in Roccatagliata

I perused the baptism registers for the four parishes.

The Church of San Lorenzo in Roccatagliata had lots of Gardellas, some Pensas, and almost no one else.

San Maurizio Church in Neirone had lots of Gardellas, but very few Pensas.

The other two parishes had almost no Gardellas, and no Pensas.

Here’s the list of baptisms in 1859 for the Church of San Lorenzo, in Roccatagliata.

There were 41 babies born in the village in 1859, 34 Gardellas, 5 Pensas, and 2 others. There were two babies named Cattarina Pensa.

The baby Cattarina Maddalena Pensa, born January 30 and baptized January 31, was the child of Antonio Pensa and Rosa Gardella Pensa. That’s exciting. The other Cattarina Pensa, born March 17, had different parents.

Birth register – Caterina Maddalena Pensa – Church of San Lorenzo, Roccatagliata, Italy – January 31, 1859

This is a great find. We know from Katherine Pensa (married name Gardella)’s death certificate in the U.S. in 1946 that her birth date was recorded as January 31, 1860. That’s a good match, even if a year and a day different.

And from the baptism record, we get some new information:

  • the names of Caterina’s grandfathers:
    • Giovanni Pensa, deceased, father of Antonio Pensa
    • Costantino Gardella, deceased, father of Rosa Gardella
  • and the name of one of Rosa’s sisters:
    • Maddalena Gardella, godmother (daughter of Costantino Gardella, deceased)

Search for marriage of Antonio Pensa and Rosa Gardella

Let’s continue our search of church records. If Caterina was the oldest child, then perhaps Antonio and Rosa married a year or two earlier. Let’s look at the Church of San Lorenzo marriage registers.

Bingo. Here is a list of marriages in Roccatagliata in 1857, two years before Caterina’s birth.

There were five marriages in the village in 1857 – 3 Gardella grooms and 2 Pensa grooms. They married 4 Gardella brides and 1 Casagrande bride. Three of the brides were named Rosa Gardella.

  • Antonio Gardella and Maria Casagrande
  • Andrea Gardella and Rosa Gardella
  • Giullio Gardella and Rosa Gardella
  • Giacomo Pensa and Maddalena Gardella
  • Antonio Pensa and Rosa Gardella

Here’s the marriage record of Antonio Pensa and Rosa Gardella on October 8, 1857.

Marriage – Antonio Pensa and Rosa Gardella – San Lorenzo, Roccatagliata – October 8, 1857

Another great find. The names of Antonio’s and Rosa’s fathers match those on Caterina’s baptism record, so these are the same people.

And from the marriage record, we get more new information:

  • their ages:
    • Antonio Pensa, age 32
    • Rosa Gardella, age 22
  • the names of their mothers:
    • Antonio’s mother – Cattarina Pensa, deceased
    • Rosa’s mother – Cattarina Gardella
  • a death date for Rosa’s father Costantino. He’s alive here, in 1857, but deceased in Caterina’s birth record a year and a half later in 1859. He must have died between October 1857 and January 1859.

Search for Costantino Gardella

We had a potential death date for Rosa Gardella Pensa’s father Costantino, so we were able to find his death register. He died in November 1858, just a month after his daughter Rosa married Antonio Pensa.

Death register – Costantino Gardella – San Lorenzo, Roccatagliata – October 24, 1857

From his death register, we learned Costantino’s age and the names of his parents.

So Antonio Pensa and Rosa Gardella’s ancestors look like this:

Municipal Records

The church records are available from 1839 through 1859, so we’ve come to the end of their usefulness. Antonio and Rosa were both born before 1839, so we can’t search for their births.

After Italian unification in 1860, record-keeping became the responsibility of the government. In the Genova area, municipal record-keeping began in 1866. And church records aren’t available for San Lorenzo after 1859. So, we can’t search for births of children Giovanni Pensa (c. 1861) or Rosa Pensa (c. 1864).

Search for Andrea Pensa

Andrea Pensa was age 3 when he arrived in New Orleans on March 1, 1869. That puts his birth between March 1865 and March 1866.

No luck. We searched the first few months of 1866 municipal records, but to no avail. So we assume his birthday is earlier than 1866.

Search for Josephine Pensa

Josephine was a baby when she arrived in New Orleans on March 1, 1869. There’s a controversy whether she was born in Roccatagliata, or even in Italy, or aboard ship, or in New Orleans.

We will explore this controversy in more detail in an upcoming story.

It’s Roccatagliata!

Our challenge was to find the home village of our Pensa and Gardella families.

We succeeded. Our families are from the village of Roccatagliata, in the commune of Neirone, in the province of Chiavari, in the district of Genova.

Let’s explore their life in Roccatagliata.


2 thoughts on “200 – The Home Village

  1. MBG February 26, 2022 / 10:58 am

    Woooohoooo. How exciting. Well done.


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