Clerical (or other) errors on civil records.

Often there is a story behind it all.   Here is my interpretation of events on a recent research puzzle covering several towns and the associated document errors.

‘His legitimate wife’ or was she?

This week I was researching a family in the early 1800’s; Carmine, his wife Giovanna and their son Angelo.

I noted that I had a birth record for a second son, Giuseppe that gave the name of a different mother.  In fact Carmine’s wife Giovanna died five years after the birth of Giuseppe in a town a good distance from where she was born and married, but not too far from where Giuseppe was born.   Since divorce was not a possibility until 1962 how could the true name of Giuseppe’s mother be recorded on his birth certificate as ‘his legitimate wife’ if his father could not have been legally married to her?

The Stato Civile of Napoleon’s time was very rigid about these things and normally the town officers would be aware of who was married to whom.  This is borne out by the wording on every birth record which reads ‘his legitimate wife’ (or similar) after the name of the mother, as was the case on Giuseppe’s birth record even though a marriage certificate was not usually required for a birth declaration.

A careful study of the records we had collected combined with some general research leads me to believe that Carmine took his wife to another town where she was probably committed to an institution of some kind.  It is possible she had post-natal depression or some other degenerative condition such as tuberculosis. Her eventual death was reported by her husband Carmine as having taken place in the ‘lenimento di Roccaravindola’.  I believe this would be a facility that ‘relieved suffering’!  A mental institution perhaps.  Nine years would pass before Carmine’s next son was born to another woman in another town.  Life would have been very difficult for a man to raise a son without a mother.  We don’t know if he moved away himself but he certainly took the mother of Giuseppe to another town for the birth.  She may have been the one helping him care for his son while his wife was in the institution. In this new town he could arrive with a woman and child and no one would question their civil status.

When Giuseppe was born, he was registered with his mother’s name and 5 years later, after Giovanna died, Carmine returned to his former home town with his two sons and six months later, married the mother of Giuseppe and promptly had another son.  The family then moved to another town altogether where they could live without questions being asked.

Yes, there was an error.  Not a serious one, but one which did confuse us until we found Giovanna’s death record. There were other errors in the records too, the name of the mother on the grandchildren’s’ birth records changed from Agostina (at the marriage) to Faustina (for the births), and on others from Dionora (at the marriage) to Leonora (at the births).  It took a detailed search of the marriage records to be sure there were not two marriages to two sisters for both brothers!




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