Sharon’s search for an explanation?

When Sharon started researching her ancestral line in a small town in Abruzzo she was a little shocked at the apparent comportment of her ancestors.  She remarked ‘the women in my family certainly got around!’

After studying the records she found I saw a potentially different story.  It all began with Maria Proietta who gave birth to a baby boy and was not married in the eyes of the law. The midwife declared the birth and even though the mother is named on the birth record of her son he was given the surname Abbandonati.  Why?  Why would the town clerk give the child a different surname than the mother?  By law, the father couldn’t be named if they were not married in a civil ceremony and in these cases the child, who is recognized by one parent was usually given the surname of that parent.    In this case the child is given a different surname.  This was the law.  The mother was not present to ‘recognize’ him as her child so the clerk was required to invent a surname for the child. I assume Maria provided the name Antonio. Usually when a couple was living together the children were given the surname of the parent who made the declaration of birth.  In this case neither parent made the declaration.  I believe Maria’s name was entered so the town would know the disposition of this ‘abandoned’ baby and so no payments would be made for its care.

Antonio eventually had a child with Carminarosa (who was not an abandoned child) but they were not married and her daughter was given her surname when she presented the child for registration, in the normal way.  The couple did eventually marry civilly three years later but not until after the birth of her second child who was given the surname of her father since he was the one who declared the birth and in this case her mother was also named in this ‘natural union’.

Six years later their son was born.  This son married a 26 year old woman who had been abandoned at birth.   Her birth had been declared by the midwife who lived in the same street as the rest of this family.  Antonio may well have been aware of her true ‘family history’ and wasn’t really marrying an unknown entity.

It is possible in this small town that these couples were married in the church but did not register their marriages civilly.  This occurred more frequently in the towns under the former Papal (Vatican) States but it did happen in other areas also.  So Sharon should make an effort to check the parish records.

There may have even been reasons they could not marry civilly or religiously.  Divorce was not legal until 1962 so if a wife or husband had dementia, or war-induced paranoia and were committed to the local ‘manicomio’or if the man who made his girl pregnant never returned from the war.  Or perhaps the local ‘lord of the manor’ took his ‘rights’ or she was raped in the fields.

Since all the participants in this story were illiterate much of this bureaucratic naming may have gone unnoticed.  It would have come to light only when documents had to be completed.  Death records, birth or marriage records.

I think Sharon will be spending a lot of time in the on line records of this town, discovering who else lived in Borgo San Rocco and looking for other evidence of her family’s lifestyle.

We were happy to evaluate Sharon’s research and put it in context with the times.




  1. I am so grateful for all of Ann’s help in discovering my ancestors! Ann’s assistant, Rita is also working very hard for us in San Donato Val di Comino…. This is becoming quite an adventure and I am very lucky to have found Ann to help us along the way.


      • So many foundlings were given the surname Esposito that it was decided at some point in the 1800’s to give each a unique surname not found in the town. Naples was the worst offender for this. Be careful though, some towns added the word Esposito after a surname to identify the child as a foundling on the birth record but it was not part of the name.


  2. I was devastated to learn, only yesterday, that my grandmother was born to her unmarried mother and, thereafter, abandoned. Her mother gave her the name Michelina and it is likely that the nuns or priest gave her the surname Bendetti. Happy, her mother returned after 3 years and claimed her child and acknowledging her as her own, at which time my grandmother was given her mother’s surname.


  3. Anna

    My grandfather was a foundling in Rome in the late 1890s.
    We have the birth registration details but no name of course of the mother or father.
    Is there any chance of finding this/these names?
    My grandfather was Angela Evangelista. He was adopted by a childless couple in Pignataro Interamna.


    • If you don’t have a copy of the original registration these records are on line at
      If he was sent to the Brefotrofio and from there fostered by a couple in Pignataro Interamma the best you can find out is the date he was fostered to them. After 2 days, a week etc. Names of the parents will remain a mystery. Many young women from the area were sent to Rome to give birth so the evidence of their ‘sin’ would be forever removed from their lives.
      A child abandoned in a small town is more likely to have parents in that town (or the next one).


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