Orphans, Illegitimates, and Foundlings

 

 
        Often, descendants of Sicilian immigrants report that their ancestor was an orphan, and wonder what records may be available about his or her life.  Usually, the ancestors in question weren't truly 'orphans' but foundlings. 

Here, I'll try to clarify the difference, report what I know about records involving orphans and foundlings, and also address the concept of illegitimacy as it occurred in nineteenth and early twentieth century Sicily. 

         In brief, an orphan is a child of known parents, one or both of whom have died (leaving the child 'orphaned'); an illegitimate child is one whose parents were not legally married, and a foundling is a child who was abandoned as an infant by its parents, who are unknown.
  
         Most often, orphans were legitimate, had no stigma of illegitimacy, and were taken in, loved, and raised by the family of their deceased parents.  Foundlings, on the other hand, were 99% illegitimate, and 100% presumed to be so, carrying that stigma their entire lives.  The Italian word for foundling, ‘proietto’, which literally means ‘castoff’, is from the Latin ‘projectus’, which has the translations “miserable”, “vile”, “harlot”, “scurvy”, etc.
 
          The words ‘foundling’ and ‘orphan’ have VASTLY different meanings, and the lives of foundlings, in general, were vastly more difficult than the lives of orphans.
 
    The records for 'standard' births follow a specific "Napoleonic" format, in both the records of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1820 - 1865) and records of the previously non-existent Kingdom of Italy, beginning in 1866.  The earlier records actually contained more detail (indicated in italics), but generally the contents were as follows:
  •  Date of the record

  •  Name of the ‘Official of the Civil Status’.

  •  Name, age and occupation or status of the presenter of the child (usually its father).  This person's name occurs in the record after the words "è comparso/a" ("he/she has appeared").

  •  Father's age, occupation or status, and street address

  •  Date of the birth, sometimes hour and minute (the birth date not always the same as the record date)

  •  Mother’s name, age and occupation or status

  •  Gender and given name of the newborn

  •  Names, ages, occupation/status, and addresses of two witnesses to the registration

  •  Signature of all attending who knew how to write

  •  Sometimes, the mother’s age, and name of the father of one or both parents

       Below, we start with these 'standard' records of births to married couples both members of which are known.  Following those, we'll consider the birth records of orphans, illegitimates and foundlings.

 
 
 

           Here is a 'standard' record, that of my father Gaetano Coniglio.  His father, also named Gaetano. presented him, named the child's mother, his wife Carmela Calabrese, and reported the given name ('nome')of the child, Gaetano.  In the body of the record, no note is made of the child's 'cognome' or surname, since his father presented him and his surname is the same as his father's.


ATTI DI NASCITA

Numero 158
Coniglio Gaetano
 
 A 1o Dicembre 1912 sposó  
Alessi Rosa

Arnone










*
S'indiche la professione o la condizione.

    L’anno milleottocento ottantanove, addi ventisette di Aprile,
 a ore
anti meridiane diece e minuti ___, nella Casa comunale.
    Avanti di me
Vaccari Pasquale Segretario delegato con atto del Sindaco del ventiquattro aprile milleottocentoottandotto, debitamante approvato, Uffiziale dello Stato Civile del Comune di Serradifalco ______________
è
comparso Gaetano Coniglio, di anni cinquantatre,*solfaio domiciliatio 
in
Serradifalco, il quale mi ha dichiarato che alle ore po meridiane cinque e minuti __________, del di ventisei del corrente mese, nella casa posta in
via Migliore al numero diece, da Carmela Calabrese sua
moglie, casalinga, seco lui convivente
______________________
_________________________________________________________
e nato un bambino di sesso
mascolino che igli mi presenta e a cui da il nome di Gaetano ______________________________________________
   A quanto sopra e a questo atto sono presenti quali testimoni
Barile Vin
cenzo
___ di anni, trenta,*solfaio, e Barile Salvatore, di anni
trentasei,*solfaio, entrambi reidente in questo Comune. ______________
Letto il presente atto agli intervenuti si e da me sottoscritte
solamente, avendo li stessi detto di non sapere sottoscrivere

    P Vaccari
_____________________
_________________________________________________________
 


RECORDS OF BIRTH

Number 158

Gaetano Coniglio
 
On 1
st December 1912 married
Rosa Alessi

Arnone
 

 

 

 






*Indicates occupation or status.

    In the year one thousand eight hundred eighty-nine, on day twenty-seven  of  April, at ten o'clock AM, in the Town Hall.
   Before me,
Pasquale Vaccari, Secretary delegated by act of the Mayor on twenty-four April one thousand eight hundred eighty-eight, duly approved, 
  
Official of Public Records of the Town of Serradifalco ___________ has appeared Gaetano Coniglio, age fifty-three,*a sulfur miner living
in
Serradifalco, who has declared to me that at five o'clock PM,
minutes ____ on day
twenty-six of the current month, in the house located at via Migliore number ten, by Carmela Calabrese, his wife, a homemaker, living with he, himself ______________________________
_________________________________________________________
is born a baby
boy who was presented for me to see, and who was given the name Gaetano ______________________________________________
   
To the above, and to this record, are present the witnesses Barile Vin
cenzo
age thirty,*a sulfur miner, and Salvatore Barile, age
thirty-six,*a sulfur miner, both residents of this community. ____________
The present act was read to those in attendance but is signed by me alone, the informant and witnesses having said that they don't know how to sign

    P Vaccari
_____________________
_________________________________________________________
 
 
 

         Sometimes, the birth is 'standard', but the name of the presenter is a  female's , not the child's father.  This may be a midwife, neighbor, or relative of the infant's mother who helped with the delivery.  The child's mother's name comes next, with the father's name after that.  Below is my brother Gaetano's birth record.


ATTI DI NASCITA

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 ______________
è
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 ViaPrizzi 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
  Sorci
 


RECORDS OF BIRTH

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 ______________,
appeared
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 ______________,
by
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
     
Gaetano.

    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
  Sorci

 
 
 
        Although they may be recorded on the same type of form, birth records for orphans, illegitimates and foundlings vary from the 'standard' records, sometimes to a significant degree.
 

Orphans
An orphan is a child of known parents, one or both of whom have died.

     When either of a child's parents dies, he or she becomes an orphan.  This may be the death of its mother in childbirth or later, or the death of its father by sickness or accident, or the death of both in some similar tragedy.  Because the child's parents are known, its birth record gives its parents' names, similar to the records of persons who were not orphaned.  The difference is that if the child's father, who would normally present the child, had died prior to its birth, it would be presented for registration by a midwife, or a relative of its mother.
 

      Below is the birth record of my third cousin twice removed, Salvatore Butera, born on 2 December 1875 to Giuseppa Difrancesco, presented by the seamstress  Maria Dellaria His father, also named Salvatore Butera, died  a month before he was born.  In accordance with long-honored tradition, Giuseppa named her son after his deceased father. 

      Again, no surname is written for the child, since his father’s surname is given as
Butera.

      The infant was an 
orphan.

From Serradifalco Registri Stato Civile Film 1964309, 1875 Births, No. 282, Salvatore Butera, Antenati image 190

ATTI DI NASCITA

    L’anno milleottocentosettanta cinque, addi quattro di Dicembre,
a ore
ante meridiane dieci e minuti ____, nella Casa comunale.
    Avanti di me
Tiburzio Dottor Piazza Sindaco
 
Uffiziale dello Stato Civile del Comune di
Serradifalco
è
comparsa  Maria Bellavia , di anni cinquanta, *cucitrice domiciliatia
in
Serradifalco, il quale mi ha dichiarato che alle ore po meridiane dieci e
minuti
___, del di due del corrente mese, nella casa posta in
via Pardo
al numero sette, da Giuseppa Difrancesco
volgare, qui domiciliata, vedova del fu Salvatore Bu-
tera, domiciliato in Serradifalo vivendo

è nato un bambino di sesso mascolino che ella mi presenta e a cui da il nome di Salvatore
   A
quanto sopra e a questo atto sono presenti quali testimoni Vancheri Ro
sario
di anni trentadue, *bracciale, e    Scavone Gaetano,           di anni
 
trenta, *bracciale entrambi residenti in questo comune.
La  dichiarante  ha  denunziato  la  nascita  sudet-
ta  per  avere  assistito  al  parte  di  Difrancesco  Giu-
seppa
  in  luogo  del  marito  di  questa  perche  morto

Letto il presente atto agli intervenuti si e da me sottoscritto sola
mente, avendo li stessi detto di non sapere sottoscrivere.

~Tiburzio D. Piazza

Numero 282

Butera Salvatore
Butera Salvatore il 24 Aprile 1898 in
Serradifalco contrasse matrimonio con Merlino Maria             

L'Alunno
    Arnone

Al 7-1-17 spos
ò Calogera Morelli

A
 

        


 

 

 





hS'indichi la professione o la condizione.
.

RECORDS OF BIRTH

    Year eighteen seventy five, on day four of December,
at hour
ante meridian ten and minutes ____, in the Town Hall.
    Before me
Doctor Tiburzio Piazza, Mayor
 
Official of the Civil Status of the Town of
Serradifalco
has appeared
 Maria Bellavia , of years fifty, *seamstress domiciled
in
Serradifalco, who has to me declared that at hour post meridian ten and
minutes
___, of day two of the current month, in the house located at 
via Pardo
at number seven, of Giuseppa Difrancesco
commoner, here domiciled, widow of the late Salvatore Bu-
tera, domiciled in Serradifalo when living

was born an infant of sex
masculine who she presented and to whom she gave the name Salvatore
  
At the above and at this registration are present these witnesses:Rosario Van-
cheri
of years thirty-two, *day laborer, and  Gaetano Scavone ,   of years
 
thirty, *day laborer, both residing in this town.
The  declarant  has reported the birth noted above, because she assisted with the delivery by Giuseppa Difrancesco, and she reported it in lieu of the husband because he has died.
This record was read to those assembled, but is signed below by me alone, they having stated that they don't know how to sign.

 [signed]Tiburzio D. Piazza

Number 282

Salvatore Butera
Salvatore Butera on 2 April 1898 in Serradifalco contracted marriage with  Maria Merlino             

  The Clerk
  Arnone

On 7-Jan.-1917 married Calogera Morelli


A
 

        


 

 

 





hIndicates the occupation or status.
.

     Both parents are named in this 'Atto', even though the father is recorded as deceased.  Giuseppa Difrancesco was remarried, to Salvatore Giumento, on 15 September 1881 in Serradifalco. It was customary for a surviving spouse with children to marry again after the death of a partner.  A widowed man would marry so that his children would have someone to care for them, and a widowed mother would do so to have a breadwinner for her family.  In those cases, the orphaned child would be raised by the surviving parent and a step-parent.  The margin notes on Salvatore's birth record, enteted there years later,  indicate that he was married twice, first to Maria Merlino in 1898, and after her 1916 death, to Calogera Morelli in 1917.  His two marriage records give the names of each of his parents, even though he had been orphaned.

      No doubt, there were cases in which both parents of a child died when it was an infant or very young.  Again, such children would have had 'standard' birth records, naming both parents.  I have found no records of any kind that show that such orphans were relegated to foundling homes, and I believe it very likely that such unfortunates were simply raised by surviving grandparents, aunts, uncles or older siblings.
 
 

Illegitimates
An illegitimate child is one born of parents who are not married to each other.

      Broadly speaking, in most cultures, if the father of a child is not married to its mother, the child is a bastard, or illegitimate.  An unwed mother could know the father of her child: he might be a sweetheart, employer, or even a relative.  But she might not know the name of the father of the child because she was raped by an unknown assailant, or, if promiscuous, she may have been impregnated by one of many men she had had relations with.

     Many, perhaps the great majority, of illegitimate children were abandoned, or killed outright, but some were also kept by their unwed parent or parents.  And while most abandoned children were illegitimate, some were not, even though any child whose parents were unknown was considered to be, and treated as, a bastard.

      The civil birth record below is in the format used in the Kingdom of theTwo Sicilies from 1820 through 1865.  Births in some cases were reported by the mother of the infant, or by a midwife, who named the mother, in which the father was reported as "padre ignoto" (father unknown) or "padre incerto" (father uncertain).  It's an 1824 birth record from the town of Marianopoli, for Salvatore Randazzo.  Though illegitimate, he was not abandoned, as his mother is named as Santa Randazzo.  He had a valid surname, notwithstanding that it was his mother's surname.  As in the cases where the father was known, the child's surname is not specifically given in the main record, as it is the same as his mother's.

From Marianopoli Registri Stato Civile Film 1438609, 1824 Births, No. 28, Salvatore Randazzo

     The above record (two pages) is in the format used in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from 1820 through 1860, and in some of the independent northern duchies and city-states from 1861 through 1865 (there was no country by the name 'Italy' at the time).  The left hand side gives details of the birth, while the right side acknowledges the baptism of the newborn.  Only the left side of the first page is transcribed and translated below.

ATTo DI NASCITA

Numero d' ordine   vent'otto
L’anno milleottocento
venti  quattro il di tre
       del mese di
        Luglio                   alle ore diciotto
                 avanti di Noi
     Giuseppe Baldi
     
Sindaco                                   
ed uffiziale dello
stato civile del comune di       
Marianopoli             di-
stretto di
     Caltanissetta                      Valle di Caltanis-
setta
è comparsa  Ninfa Abate 
        di anni
sessantadue di professione
     
 Levatrice
                      domiciliatia  in Mariano-
      
poli


                                                               
la quale ci ha pre-
sentato un     
fanciullo                      secondocchè abbiamo
ocularmente   riconosciuto,   ed   ha   dichiarato
che l
o stesso è nato da Santa Randazzo  

        di anni ventisei domiciliatia
  
in Marianopoli
 
e da
S'ignora il Padre
        di anni
_______ di professione ___
       ____
domiciliato ________

nel giorno       sudetto                            del mese di Lu-
glio
      anno corrente
alle ore                 diciasette                    nella casa   di
sua abitazione

L
a  stessa  ha  inoltre  dichiarato  di  dare  al
 
________                il nome di Salvatore

RECORDS OF BIRTH

Record number   twenty-eight
Year eighteen hundredtwenty-  four, day three
       of the month of
        July               at hour eighteen
                 before Us
     Giuseppe Baldi
     
Mayor                                   
and official of the
civil status of the town of       
Marianopoli             di-
strict of
     Caltanissetta                 Territory of Caltanis-
setta
has appeared  Ninfa Abate 
        of years
sessantadue occupation
     
 Midwife
                            domiciled in Mariano-
      
poli


                                                                      
who has pre-
sented an     
infant boy                          who We have seen
and acknowledged with our own eyes, and has declared
that the same [infant]
is born of Santa Randazzo  

         of years  twenty-six   domiciled
  
in Marianopoli
 
and of
an unknown Father
        of years
_______ occupation ___
       ____
domiciled ________

on the day       noted above            of the month of Ju-
ly
      year current
at hour                 seventeen                 in the house  of
her residency

the same [declarant] has also declared having given to the  [child]                                  the name of Salvatore

     The rest of the left portion states that the registration of the birth was witnessed by Felice di Marco, age 42, and by Michele lo Vullo, age 40, both peasant sharecroppers, subjects of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, both domiciled in Marianopoli, who were brought to the registration by Signora Abate.  It continues with a statement that the record is signed by the official only, the declarant and the witnesses being illiterate. It is signed by Pastor Carmine lo Porto, representative of Mayor Baldi.

     The right side of the record states that on 3 July 1824 the pastor of the Chiesa Madre (main church) returned the notice of birth to the town officials, acknowledging that the sacrament of baptism had been administered to Salvatore Randazzo on the same day.  That portion was also signed by Pastor lo Porto.  Salvatore Randazzo was an illegitimate child, but he was not an orphan or a foundling, and his mother and surname were known.

 

Illegitimates - continued

     The format used for birth records changed in 1866, and while the new nation of 'Italy' was developing new laws, records were completely handwritten from 1866 through 1874.  In 1875 new, somewhat shortened pre-printed forms were used that left out some of the information that was present in earlier records.  The most obvious difference in the new forms was the absence of the 'split' right side of the form, and any mention of sacraments or the church.  Dissatisfaction with the church, its power and influence was a main reason for the 'unification of Italy', and there was a schism between church and state in the new nation. 

     While the church still recorded and maintained administration of the sacraments, baptism, confirmation, marriage and extreme unction (death benediction), new laws required that the civil status of citizens be records in separate civil records of birth, marriage and death.  The 'Atti di Nascita' shown in the above section on orphans is an example of such a civil birth record.  In the usual record of this type, the child's father was the 'declarant' who presented the child and gave the details of the child's birth, his own age, occupation and address and the name of his wife, the mother of the child.

      However, after 1865, there were records similar to Salvatore's, shown above.  In a typical record of this type after unification, the person presenting the child was the mother herself, or a female relative or midwife.  The child's birth particulars and the mother's age, occupation and address were given, but where the record usually said "born of [father's name]", it would read "nato da
sua unione naturale con un uomo, non minore, non maritato, non parenti, ne affine con lui nei gradi che ostano al riconoscimento, che non consente essere nominata"

      
The meaning of that phrase is: "born of her unwed union with a man, not a minor, unmarried, not a relative and not of close enough consanguinity that would proscribe their acknowledgement of the child, and the man does not wish to be identified".   The reason for this wording is due to the Italian Civil Code of 1865: Book I, Chapter VI, which includes Article 180, stating that a child born of parents who were closely related could not be acknowledged by either parent.  Such liaisons were rarely officially admitted, with one or the other of the parents declaring 'in good faith' that they did not know of the consanguinity.

      As in the previous case, the child would bear the surname of the mother.  The father would be officially unknown, but with the twist that the father was known by the mother, but not specifically named.  Again, children whose births were recorded in this way were
illegitimate, but  they were not  orphans or foundlings, their mothers were known and their surnames were recorded as the surname of the mother.

 

Illegitimates - continued

      As noted above, in some instances a man would present a child and say that it was "born of his unwed union with a woman, not a minor, unmarried, not a relative and without consanguinity that would prohibit their acknowledgement of the child, and the woman does not wish to be identified".  What? The father of the child was known, but not the mother?

      Having a child out of wedlock was a ‘vergogna’, a disgrace, not only to the woman, but to her family.  Having her name officially recorded would magnify that disgrace.  Obviously, the man knew who his child’s mother was, as did the whole town, probably, but a woman could decline to be named, so that she would not be officially shamed. 

      Below is an example of this type of record, for the 1898 birth of Cataldo Migliore in Serradifalco. A portion of the record was at the bottom of a page, and it was continued on the next page.  IN this case, because the father presented the child, its surname was that of the father's.

From Serradifalco Registri Ecclesiastici Film No. 1964311, 1908 Births, No. 23, Cataldo Migliore, Ancestry.com image 10/151


RECORD OF BIRTH

Number 23

Cataldo Migliore




 

 

 

 

 


* indicates the occupation or the status
 

     Year one thousand nine hundred eight, day nineteen  of January
at hour eleven                            and ten  minutes                         , in the Town Hall.
      Before me Federico Crucillà second councilman acting as vice
Mayor due to the indisposition of he and the first councilman
Official of the Civil Status of the Town of Serradifalco ___________________________ has
appeared
Cataldo Migliore, age forty years, * sulfur miner
domiciled in Serradifalco, who has declared to me that at hour two two
and minutes ____ of day nineteen of the current month in the house located at
Via Cappellini   at number twenty-nine, by his unwed
union with an unmarried woman, not a relative, nor of a degree
of consanguinity that would prohibit their carnal knowledge

was born an infant of
male sex who he presented to me, and to whom he gave the name of
Cataldo
To the above presentation and this registration were present the witnesses
Cataldo Prizzi
 
age thirty-five, * sulfur miner, and Francesco Genovese
age forty, * peasant sharecropper, both residents of this Town.
I read this record to those assembeled, but it is signed by me alone, they having said they don't know how to write.
(signed) F Crucillà
 

 

      After unification, civil authorities did not recognize church marriages.  To be legally married, a couple must be wed in the 'Casa Comunale', the Town Hall, by the official of the civil status of the town. Church marriages were "illegitimate", as were any children born to the couple, and those children were so reported in the civil birth records.  Again, the mother was not named, to protect her ‘official’ identity.  Many devout couples did not see the need to be married civilly, as they believed they were 'married in the eyes of God'.  However, when a child was born to such a couple, the mother had a choice: be officially named as an unwed mother in the child's record of birth; or invoke the phrase about not wishing to be named.  To avoid this, most couples were married twice: in the traditional church wedding, and a day or two before or after the canonical wedding, in a civil ceremony in the Town Hall.

     This is why I often use quotes with the words "unwed" and "illegitimate", to signify that the couples may not have been officially married, but they had been married in a church ceremony.  There were scattered instances of feisty women who probably thought "damn the torpedoes" and not only appeared at their child’s registration, but had their names recorded, most likely believing “I was married in church, so there!”  These women would be named, with their names followed by the phrase "non congiugata" or "non maritata" (not married). But for her children to qualify to inherit property, or for her to eventually be named on the children’s marriage records or passports, she would have to, at some point, file an official "rettificazione" (correction) or marry in a civil ceremony.  That would record any children’s names and dates of birth, and declare them legitimate, by power of the civil marriage. 

       As previously, if the father's surname is given, it is not repeated in the body of the record for the child.  From the above example, the Cataldo Migliore the son, even though his father was known, was illegitimate, and his mother was unnamed.

       However, there were 'margin notes' in the birth record that I did not translate above.  They're shown again below, with a translation.

He is the legitimate son of the
couple Cataldo Migliore and Onofria
Giarratano, by the subsequent matri-
mony celebrated on 19th May 1918

(signed by the clerk) Arnone


On 26 September 1929 he married
Carmela Mielli

(initialed by the clerk) CAZ

      So ten years after Cataldo Migliore was born, he was 'legitimized' by the marriage of his parents.  It's very likely that he was brought up in his biological parents' household, and that he, his neighbors, the town officials, and possibly the whole town knew who his parents were.  But until he was officially declared theirs in their marriage record, he was 'illegitimate'.

 
 

Foundlings
A foundling is an abandoned child of unknown parents.

      In Sicily, bearing a child 'out of wedlock' was a disgrace not only for the woman who was its mother, but for her entire family.  Church and civil authorities condemned such women, and to avoid censure, infanticide or abandonment was the path chosen by many.  There is a long and sordid history of such practices, but put briefly, authorities around the middle ages began programs like the installation of 'foundling wheels' so that unwed mothers, rather than outright murdering their infants or abandoning them in places where they could not survive, could anonymously leave the child where there was some chance of it being cared for.  By doing so, they would be (at least 'officially') unknown, their 'honor' would be preserved, and their family and community would be spared of 'scandal'.

     The fact that such options existed was also a temptation for legitimate, biological parents to abandon newborns they could not or chose not to keep.  Child abandonment by legitimate parents actions was illegal, but at various times in diverse places, legitimate children may have been abandoned.

      THese unwanted children, whether legitimate or not, became foundlings.  Eventually systems arose to handle the often overwhelming number of such children: 'brefatrofi' or foundling hospitals were established in large cities, where foundlings, the few that survived, might reside in for years.  In smaller or rural towns, 'ospizi' or foundling homes might take in abandoned children temporarily until their care could be arranged for withiin the local community.  As stated above, the details of the foundling experience are addressed at www.bit.ly/Foundlings, while this present section deals with the concept of illegitimacy.

    Child abandonment was widespread throughout Europe and especially in the Appenine duchies and principalities and in Sicily, from the Middle Ages through the late 1800's.  Children were abandoned by women who were impregnated out of wedlock, and even by legitimate parents, for various sad reasons.

     Because they were literally 'found', on a doorstep, in a field, in the middle of a street, or in a state- and church-sponsored 'Ruota' (foundling wheel), their 'birth' records show the date they were found and an estimated age, or date of birth.   In the space where a newborn's parents would be named the civil record of birth would state 'padre ignoto' (father unknown) and 'madre ignota' (mother unknown), or simply 'genitori ignoti' (parents unknown).  Church baptism records of foundlings in Latin, would state 'parentis ignotibus' (parents unknown).

     The birth record below is dififerent from the 'standard' and also from the records of orphans and illegitimates.  Firstly, it is obviously completely handwritten, which is because it didn't fit in the pre-printed forms.  Further, in all the previous records shown, both, or at least one of the infant's parents were known and named.  The presenter in this record is not the child's parent or a midwife, but someone called the  'ricevitrice dei proietti' , the receiver of castoffs, the father and mother are nowhere named, and not only is the child's given name recorded, he is specifically given a 'cognome', or surname.
 

PARTE SECONDA    

From Serradifalco Registri Stato Civile Film No. 1964311, 1906 Births, Part II, No. 2, Angelo Milingiana

 


PARTE SECONDA

Numero 2.
Milingiana Angelo

  L'anno milleottocentonovantasei, addi quattro Aprile a ore undici e minuti
cinquanta nella Casa Comunale.
  Avanti di me Guttillo Crescenzio Assessore delegato con atto del Sinda-
co in data dicianove Novembre 1906 debitamente approvato Uffiz-
iale dello Stato Civile del Comune di Serradialco
è comparsa
 Teresa Barrile  del fu Michelangelo di anni quarantotto, Rice-
vitrice dei proietti domiciliata in questa Comune la quale mi

 


ATTI DI NASCITA

ha presentato un bambino di sesso mascolino dell' apparente età di
giorni quattro nato, presso cui si trovano una camicia di mussolino
bianco con
ricamo, speser di piqu
è bianco, fascia e fascialare di ri-
galino bianco, grembiale di mussolino bianco, fasciato neco, due coppole
una di mussolino e l'altra di lana colore accaio con merletto bianco,
uno scialle di lana colore accaio, senza segni apparenti, e mi ha dichia-
rato che alle ore una del di quattro del corrente mese, nella
pubblica
ruota dei proietti di questa comune, sita in Via Dante Alighieri, nu-
mero quarantadue.  ha trovato questo bambino, presso cui erano
le vesti e gli oggetti sopra descritti, giacente supino con ambe
le
mani racchiuse intro le fasce.
              Al detto bambino ho imposto il nome di Angelo e il cogno-
me di Milingiana.
                 La  dichiarante  poi avendomi fatto l'istanza di lasciare a
lui il bambino, promettendo di assumerne l'allevamente e la cu-
stodia finch
è si sarà proveduto per la nutrice necessaria nonche
di darne conto ad ogni richiesta dell' Autorità e nulla trovando
in contrario alla
istanza medisima, vi ho aderito ed ci ho lasciato
alla dichiarante il bambino medisimo.
            A quanto sopra ed a questo atto sono stati presenti qua-
li testimoni Mistretta Luigi di anni cinquantasei, impiegato,
e Barone Giovanni di anni ventotto impiegato, entrambe re-
sidente in questo Comune.
Letto il presente atto agli intervenuti, l'hanno meco sottoscritto
ad eccezione della  Ricevitrice , la
quale ha detto di essere illitterata

~
Luigi Mistretta
~
Barone Giovanni
~ Guttilla Crescenzio

 

 

 

     Because civil birth records for foundlings were usually longer than for ordinary births and didn't fit the standard format, often they were entered in the town register at the end of the entries for regular births, in a 'Second Part' of the register, with a new sequence of record numbers.


SECOND PART

Number 2.
Angelo Milingiana

  The year one thousand nine hundred and six, day April four at eleven -
fifty in the Town Hall.
   Before me Crescenzio  Guttilla, Councilor delegated by act of the Ma-
yor on nineteen November 1906, duly approved Officer of the Civil Record of the town of Serradialco, appeared
 Teresa Barrile , daughter of the late Michelangelo, of age forty-eight Re- ceiver of castoffs, resident in this town, who


RECORDS OF BIRTH

presented an infant of the masculine sex, of the apparent age of
 four days, on whom was found a shirt of muslin,
white with embroidery; a jacket of white pique; a sash and ribbons of ri-
galino;  an apron of white muslin with small stripes; two caps,
one of muslin and the other of wool, steel-colored with white lace; and a
steel-colored woolen shawl, without apparent birthmarks; and she de-
clared that at hour one of day four of the current month, in the public
wheel of castoffs of this town, located in Via Dante Alighieri number forty-two, she found this baby, on whom were
the clothes and objects described above, lying on his back with both
hands covered in the wrappings.
                       To the said child I have given the name of Angelo and the surname of
Milingiana.
                  The  declarant  then having made a request for me to leave the
said child with her, promising to take over its nutrition and its cu-
stody until she provides for it the necessary wet-nurse
as well as to account for every request of the Authorities, and finding nothing
contrary to that application, I agreed, and I have left
the child itself with the declarant.
                 To the foregoing and at this registration have been present here
the witnesses Luigi Mistretta of years fifty-six, employed,
and Giovanni Barone of years twenty-eight, employed, both re-
ident in this Town
   I have read this document to those assembled here; they have signed below with me
excepting the  Receiver , who has said she is illiterate.

~ Luigi Mistretta
~
Giovanni Barone
~ Crescenzio Guttilla
 

 

 

 

      It should also be noted that in some cases abandoned children were not actually left on a doorstep, the street or in a wheel, but were delivered by midwives from "una donna che non consente essere nominata" - "a woman who does not consent to be named", and neither was a father named.  In these cases, even though the midwife obviously knew the identity of the mother, she was officially unknown, as was the infant's father, and the child was given a concocted name and consigned to a wet-nurse or a foundling home in the same way as any other foundling.  For an example, see the case study for Santa Venerdi.

     Subsequent records of the foundling's marriage or death would give the same description of its parents: 'unknown'.

Other foundlings, their naming, records, and examples of their consignments to caretakers are discussed in great detail, with more case studies, on my page at www.bit.ly/Foundlings
 

In Summary

     Based on extensive, but still limited, research, orphans, children who have had one or both parents die, generally were raised by a surviving parent or other family members.  The identity of their parents was known, and the orphans' birth, marriage, death, and other vital records can be researched to determine their parents' names and extend their trees. There was no stigmatization by the community for being an orphan.  Rather, it aroused sympathy for the children.  This researcher has found no evidence of orphans being relegated to foundling homes or hospitals, although that possibility existed.

     Foundlings, for the most part were the illegitimate result of a woman being impregnated "out of wedlock", although that term, after 1865, could indicate that she may have been married in a church ceremony.  The civil and church authorities encouraged and even forced unwed mothers to legally abandon their infants in a public foundling wheel, or at an 'ospizio' (local foundling home) or a 'spedale' or 'brefatrofio' (regional foundling hospital). Some foundlings were abandoned by their legitimate, biological parents, a practice that was generally illegal.   Since the result in either case was that the parents were officially unknown, being a foundling was assumed by all as the same as being a bastard, and the stigma for the children, reinforced by telltale surnames, was lifelong.

     Most foundlings died, but some, in foundling homes, survived to puberty and beyond, some to be consigned to or fostered by families not their biological kin.  Foundlings who were consigned out to 'external' local wet-nurses also had a high mortality rate, but some survived and were formally or informally 'adopted' by the family of the wet-nurse, known as a 'balia' or 'nutrice'.  The mortality rate in small towns or rural locations may have been somewhat lower.

      Records of birth for foundlings, whether the infants were "legitimate" or not, do NOT give the names of their parents,  Their parents are unknown, since the practice of anonymous abandonment was officially sanctioned.  Subsequent records of marriage or death, passports, etc., and even on official consignment or adoption records of foundlings will use the same term to list their parents as is used on their birth records: 'genitori (or parenti) ignoti'.  See http://www.conigliofamily.com/Foundlings.htm#IdentifyingFoundlingsParents

       Whether they were formally and legally adopted or simply fostered for long terms, original records defining the names of their adoptive parents are few.  These children would still be officially listed with unknown parents, and would be "illegitimate" unless  unless they were formally, legally, acknowledged by one or both of the parents.  This could be by a separate 'rectification' or 'legitimization' record, or by the civil marriage of the couple, in which the marriage record would name and acknowledge any children born to the couple before that marriage.

       To see a study of a abandoned child who knew his parents but was still officially a foundling, see the case of Giuseppe Coppola.

 
 

Other "Sicilian Studies"

 
 

The Lady of the Wheel is a fictional account of events in the life of one foundling. Click on the book's cover, below, for more.

            

 
 

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