Often, novice researchers have a difficult time determining the 'maiden names' of their female Sicilian or Italian ancestors.  This is compounded by a lack of knowledge of the naming customs in many European lands, including Sicily and Italy.  And a commonly asked question is "Wasn't my grandmother married before she came to the U. S.?  On her passenger manifest, her surname is different than that of her children."

The answer is simple:  in Sicily and Italy, early on, the term 'maiden name' was not commonly in use.   They were not used as such,  and that is generally the case, even today.   A woman was known, familiarly and officially, by her BIRTH surname, that is, the surname of her father. 

         For example, Rosa, the daughter of Leonardo Alessi, was Rosa ALESSI.  When she married Gaetano Coniglio, her name remained the same: Rosa Alessi.  When her first son Gaetano CONIGLIO was born, his record of birth gave his mother's name as Rosa Alessi. When she emigrated to America, the name on her Italian passport was Rosa Alessi, and she was listed by that same name, Rosa Alessi, on the passenger manifest of the ship on which she travelled, even though below name her was her son's, identified as Gaetano CONIGLIO.

         If Rosa Alessi had remained in Sicily, she would have been called Rosa Alessi for her entire life.   If she had died there, her record of death would have been indexed under the letter 'A' and her name would have been recorded as Rosa Alessi. The headstone on her grave would have read Rosa Alessi.

If reference to her husband's surname was necessary for some reason (say, distinguishing her from her cousin Rosa Alessi, who had married Vincenzo Abate) she would be referred to as "Rosa Alessi in Coniglio", meaning "Rosa ALESSI, married to a man with the surname Coniglio".  This is converse to the American custom of saying "Rosa Coniglio NEE Alessi".

           The great majority of the thousands of women's names the author has viewed on passenger manifests showed the women's birth surnames.  That was how their visa or passports were filled out, and how they were listed on the manifests. Most that I've viewed were from the regions formerly comprised by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, both mainland and insular, but also include others from the North of the Italic Peninsula.   A woman's children travelling with her might be listed with their father's surname, or the field might be left blank.  That practice has led to many cases in which modern indexers assume incorrectly that the children's surname is the same as their mothers.  In some cases a woman's husband's surname may be "penciled in" over her surname in a different handwriting, indicating that it had been added after her arrival.

          Once in America and other English-speaking countries, local custom took over, and Sicilian women became known by their husbands' surnames.  Thus, in the United States, my mother went from Rosa Alessi to "Mrs. Gaetano Coniglio", or "Rosa Coniglio".

           Rosa Alessi was my mother.  Below are records of her life events, showing how her name remained unchanged, before she settled in America.

           My mother didn't remain in Sicily, but her sister Maria Alessi did, and she married a man named Andrea Salvo.     My Aunt Maria died in Sicily in 1974.  Her headstone in the Cimiterio di Serradifalco reads "ALESSI MARIA
VED. SALVO", meaning "Maria Alessi, widow of [Mr.] Salvo".  An image of her headstone follows my mother's records below.   

            Knowledge of the Sicilian custom will help to understand what seem to be inconsistencies in womens' surnames.  It can also be useful in the following situation: if you know that say, your grandparent emigrated as a child with his/her mother, and you know his or her name, but not the surname of his/her mother, you can search passenger manifest lists for your known grandparent.  If you locate your grandparent's manifest, on the line above their name will be the 'maiden name' of  your great-grandmother!  And remember, if you search for a female ancestor's or other female relative's Sicilian record of death, her record will be indexed by her birth surname.


Rosa's baptismal record, in Latin, below, shows in the left margin
the date of her church marriage to Gaetano as November 30, 1912.

From Serradifalco Registri Ecclesiastici Film No. 2012914, 1893 Baptisms, No. 295, Rosa Alessi     




Sp. il 30
Nov. 1912
fu Gaet.

Die 10 Settembre 1893

Ego  Sac.  Michael  Montante  Terranova,  c.s.  bap
tizavi   infantam   hodie   hora  9  natam   ab  Leo
nardo   Alessi   et   Concepta  Abate  jug,  cui  imposi
tum   fuit  nomen
 Rosa.   PP  fuere  Modestus  A
lessi et Rosaria Tabbone Conjuges.




 Married  30
November 1912
Gaetano Coniglio
son of the late Gaetano Coniglio

September 10,1893

I, Priest Michele Montante Terranova, High Chaplain, today at 9 :00 hours baptized an infant, daughter of Leonardo Alessi and Concetta Abate, and to whom the name given was Rosa. Godparents were Modesto Alessi and Rosaria Tabbone, husband and wife.


Rosa's birth record, below, indicates the date of Rosa and Gaetano's civil marriage as December 1, 1912.

From Serradifalco Registri Stato Civile Film 1961310, 1893 Births, No. 307, Rosa Alessi       


          Numero 307
Alessi Rosa
A 1 Dicembre 1912
sposò Coniglio Gaetano


hS'indichi la professione o la condizione.

    L’anno milleottocento novantatre, addi diece di Settembre, a ore ante meridiane sette e minuti trenta, nella Casa comunale.
    Avanti di me
Lima Giuseppe Assessore Anziano Funzionante da Sindaco per impedimento del Titolare,
Uffiziale dello Stato Civile del Comune di
Serradifalco è comparso
Leonardo Alessi, di anni trentasei, *solfaio domiciliatio
Serradifalco, il quale mi ha dichiarato che alle ore po meridiane nove e
___, del di nove del corrente mese, nella casa posta in
via Prizzi
al numero ___, da Concetta Abate sua
moglie, casalinga, seco lui convivente

è nato un bambino di sesso femminino che igli mi presenta e a cui da il nome di Rosa.
   A quanto sopra e a questo atto sono presenti quali testimoni
Lombardo Leo nardo di anni trentasette, *solfaio, e Sferrazza Francesco,
di anni
ventotto, *solfaio entrambi residenti in questo comune.
Letto il presente atto agli intervenuti si e da me sottoscritto
solamente, avendo li stessi detto di non sapere sottoscrivere.
G. Lima


           Number 307
Rosa Alessi

On First of December 1912
Gaetano Coniglio                Arnone





hIndicates occupation or status.

    In the year one thousand eight hundred ninety-three, on day ten  of  September,
AM hour ten , in the Town Hall.
   Before me,
Giuseppe Lima, Senior Councilman, assistant of the Mayor, because of the inability of the incumbent,
Official of Public Records of the Town of Serradifalco ___________ appeared Leonardo Alessi, age thirty-six ha sulfur miner living
Serradifalco, who has declared to me that at PM hour five and
minutes ____ on day
nine of the current month, in the house located at
via Prizzi number ____, by Concetta Abate
his wife, housewife, according to him living with him
is born a baby of the feminine sex who was presented to me, and who was given the name Rosa ______________________________________________
To the above, and to this record, are present the witnesses Leonardo Lom
age thirty-seven,hsulfur miner, and Francesco Sferrazza, age twenty-eight,hsulfur miner, both residents of this Town ____________
The present act was read to those assembled but is signed
by me alone, they having said that they don't know how to sign

    G Lima

        My parents were married in the Chiesa Matrice (Main Church) of San Leonardo Abate in Serradifalco on November 30, 1912, and in the Municipio, or Town Hall of Serradifalco on 1 December 1912.  Note that the civil marriage record is signed by both Gaetano and Rosa, who signed "Alessi Rosina".   Gaetano was a sulfur miner, and he married Rosa, daughter of a sulfur miner, which reflected the rigid class distinctions in Sicilian society at the time.  Rosa was the sister of Angela Alessi, the wife of his older brother Giuseppe.

Da Anagrafe di Serradifalco, 2008        

From the Serradifalco Registry Office, 2008        


           Gaetano and Rosa's first child, a son, was born at Via Prizzi No. 11, and named Gaetano, not after his father, but after his father's father, also a Gaetano!  Gaetano (b. 1889) was in the U.S. in 1913, and Rosa must have been staying with her family on Via Prizzi (she was born at Via Prizzi No. 9).  Extended families often lived in two, three or more adjacent houses.  The record shown below was at the bottom of one page of the town's register of births, and at the top of the next. 

           Note that the child's mother was named by her birth surname, Rosa Alessi, as was and is still the custom in Sicily.  A woman went by her birth surname her entire life there, but acquiesced to the 'American way' after she immigrated, and became know by her husband's surname.


Numero 323
Coniglio Gaetano


*S'indiche la professione o la condizione.

    L’anno millenovocento tredici addi ventiuno di Dicembre,
 a ore
nove e minuti trenta, nella Casa comunale.
    Avanti di me
Sorci Giacomo Segretario Comunale delegato con atto del Regio Commissario in data 25 Giuno 1913, debitamante approvato, Uffiziale dello Stato Civile del Comune di Serradifalco ______________
comparsa Barravecchia Rosaria, di anni ventisette,*levatrice domiciliatia in Serradifalco, il quale mi ha dichiarato che alle ore tre _________ ____________e minuti ____________, del di ventuno del corrente mese, nella casa posta in Via Prizzi al numero undici _______________ da Alessi Rosa, casalinga,noglie di Coniglio Gaetano,
zolfataio, entrambi
residenti in Serradifalco _______________________
e nato un bambino di sesso
maschile che ella mi presenta e a cui da il nome di ____Gaetano __________________________________________
   A quanto sopra e a questo atto sono presenti quali testimoni
Petix Luigi
____ di anni ventinove,* impiegato, e Barone Giovanni_______
____, di anni
trentatre,* impiegato, entrambi reidente in questo Comune. La dichiarante ha denunciato la nascita suddeta per avere nella suindicata sua qualità prestati sussidii dell' arte sua
alla Alessi Rosa nell' atto di parto, ed in luogo del marito di questa il quale non ha potuto denunciarla perché assente da Serradifalco
Letto il presente atto agli intervenuti, l'hanno quest meco sottoscritto.
   Barravecchia Rosaria
  Luigi Petix
  Giovanni Barone


Number 323
Gaetano Coniglio






*Indicates occupation or status.

    In the year nineteen hundred thirteen, on December 21, at hour nine and thirty minutes, in the Public Office.
Before me,
Giacomo Sorci Town Secretary delegated by act of the Royal Commissar dated 25 June 1913, duly approved Official of Civil Records of the Community of Serradifalco ______________,
Rosaria Barravecchia, age 27, *a midwife _______,
living in
Serradifalco, who has declared to me that at hour three _________,
and _____________ minutes, on day
twenty-one of the current
month, in the house at
Via Prizzi number eleven ______________,
Rosa Alessi, housewife, wife of Gaetano Coniglio,
sulfur miner, both residents of Serradifalco
was born a baby of masculine sex who she presented to me, and he was given the name

    To the above and to this record are present the witnesses Luigi Petix _________, age twenty-nine, *employed, and Giovanni Barone
_____, age
thirty-three, *employed, both residents of this community.
The declarant announced the above having as indicated above applied her skill in her female arts
for Rosa Alessi in the act of birth and in lieu of the husband, who could not make the announcement because he is absent from Serradifalco
The present act was read to those assembled and they have signed with me below.
   Barravecchia Rosaria
  Luigi Petix
  Giovanni Barone


        On 14 December 1914, Rosa, 19, and her son Gaetano, two weeks shy of his first birthday, landed at Ellis Island on the SS Patria.  Listed as their closest relative left in Sicily was her father Leonardo Alessi.  Their destination was her husband Gaetano Coniglio at P. O. Box 52, Robertsdale, Pennsylvania.

        According to Sicilian custom,  Rosa is listed by her birth surname, Rosa Alessi: her son is listed as Gaetano Coniglio.


        Like many immigrants, Rosa and Guy, Jr., listed on the above manifest at page 62, line 8, were detained at Ellis Island because they did not have enough funds to pay their way to their destination.  The record above shows that Rosa arrived with $25.  This record of detainees lists "Alessi, Rose and ch[ild]"   The code "tel $" means they were being telegraphed funds.  At the right is the indication that they were released on 16 December at 12 noon, and that they had been charged for two breakfasts, one dinner [lunch], and two suppers.  They had landed on 14 December, so Rosa and her baby were held at Ellis Island for two days, until Gaetano either came for them or sent money. 
        We can only imagine  what thoughts were going through Rosa's mind, thousands of miles from her parents, hundreds from her husband, just twenty years old with a babe in arms, and unable to speak the language of the strangers around her.  But she made it!!


      Once settled in America, local custom was followed, and Rosa was known as 'Mrs. Gaetano Coniglio', or Rosa Coniglio, as she signed her name on her Certificate of Naturalization.


      My mother's sister, my Aunt Maria Alessi, remained in Sicily and she married a man named Andrea Salvo.     She died in Sicily in 1974.  Her headstone, shown below, is  in the Cimiterio di Serradifalco.  It reads "ALESSI MARIA VED. SALVO", meaning "Maria Alessi, widow of (Mr.) Salvo"


SICILIAN LINKS Sicilianità Is Sicily 'Italy'? The Sicilian Languge
Cognomi ~ Sicilian Surnames Ngiurii ~ Sicilian Nicknames Place-names as surnames Sicilian Coats of Arms
Foundlings The Sicilian Naming Convention

Given Names

Convert Latin given names to Sicilian
La Bedda Sicilia ~ My history of Sicily Heritage Path ~ original Sicilian records Civil Record Format ~ 1820 - 1910 I'm a Sicilian American
My Lectures on Sicilian Genealogy Sicilian Occupations in Civil Records Sicilian Records at the Buffalo FHC Orphans, Illegitimates, and Foundlings
Li Carusi ~ The Mine-boys Shortened Sicilian Given Names There is no letter "j" in Sicilian The Thing
  Womens' Surnames Masculine and Feminine Names  




The Lady of the Wheel (La Ruotaia) is my first book, inspired by my genealogical research of Sicilian families.  It's a historical novella about foundlings and sulfur mine workers in the 1860's in Racalmuto, a town in central Sicily.





Robertsdale, Pennsylvania






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