Searching for Luisa, Part 1: Rome

I had arranged to meet Mary in Rome to help her with her goals of finding her Grandmother’s baptism record.  Sometimes, no matter how well prepared we are things just don’t work out the way we plan.  Here is Mary’s own story of our day together.

Looking for and (hopefully) finding information about my maternal grandmother was one of the main reasons I wanted to make this trip.  From her birth certificate, I know that she was born in Rome on March 4, 1893 at the hospital in San Giovanni Laterano to a woman who did not consent to be named and that after her birth, my grandmother was taken to the city hall where she was given a first and last name – Luisa Liaci –  and her birth was registered.  Her birth certificate states that was to be taken directly to the Brefotrofio di Roma, located at the Ospedale Santo Spirito in Sassia.  A Brefotrofio was a home for foundlings usually attached to a hospital run by religious; most, but not all, of the babies were illegitimate. Some of the infants arrived at the Brefotrofio the way my grandmother did and others were left in the baby wheel (la Ruota) for the nuns to find.  The fact that my grandmother’s natural mother didn’t agree (or wasn’t permitted) to have her own name noted on the birth certificate makes it a pretty sure bet that Luisa was born out of wedlock.

My goals for the Rome search were to:  1) find a record of Luisa’s baptism, 2) visit the Ospedale delle Donne which has to be where she was born, and 3) visit the site of the Brefotrofio di Roma at Ospedale Santo Spirito in Sassia.  I made arrangements to meet with, Ann, a genealogist who lives in Italy and who had helped me find Luisa’s birth certificate and how long she was at the Brefotrofio.  Ann also helped me find and confirm information about the family of my grandfather, Luciano Del Signore.

Our plan was to go to the archives for the Diocese of Rome (Archivo Storico at the Vicariato di Roma) and search for Luisa’s baptism record.  After that, we planned to visit the Ospedale delle Donne.  Our final stop was going to be the Brefotrofio where we had scheduled an appointment for a tour of the old buildings that would (fingers crossed) include the area where the babies lived in the late 19th century.

The baptism record search at the Vicariato was a bust.  We couldn’t find anything in the time we were allowed to look at the books – very rigid with their rules – which I don’t understand. ( All baptisms of illegitimate babies were done at Santo Spirito church until 1896 after the baby’s birth was registered and before they were admitted to the Brefotrofio, only five names were listed for the day Luisa born and they were all male.) We did go to the Ospedale delle Donne and were able to see the outside of the old building only.  The inside of the building, where the wards once were, has been totally renovated/restored and the space is now used for art shows, etc.  I wrote several letters asking for permission to see the inside but never received an answer; and, when Ann and I visited the Ospedale delle Donne we couldn’t find anyone who would unlock the doors for us to have a look around.  Finally, we headed over to the Brefotrofio for our tour appointment only to find a sign on the door that all tours / visits were cancelled for the week. However, a nice security guard let us take some photos.  Overall, except for meeting Ann in person, it was a disappointing day.

I leave Rome tomorrow and head to the town of Pico, about 60 miles southwest of here, where Luisa went to live with a foster family at the age of two.  I’m disappointed that I couldn’t find a record of her baptism or get a look inside the Ospedale delle Donne or the Brefotrofio so I have to be content with have to be content with what I’ve seen here.


As a side note let me (Ann) say that we should have found the baptism record but it just wasn’t there.  Did they forget to baptize her?  Hard to believe.  Did they forget to record it?  Probably.  Was she baptized privately by the mother before she let the child be taken away?  Maybe.  She stayed in the Brefotrofio for the maximum time allowed, 2 years and was only fostered just before she was to be sent to an orphanage.  She had no obvious deformities or ill health and she survived the breast-feeding period which was the most dangerous time for newborns as they were often fed by disease-ridden prostitutes.  Does this mean she was fed by her natural mother who always hoped to claim her?  We hope so but we’ll never know.

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