Families, the quarterly publication of The Ontario Genealogical Society, published Marianne’s article in their May 2015 issue, Volume 54, Number
A Legacy for Children
Marianne Perry has been researching her Calabrian-Sicilian (Italian) ancestry for two decades. She traced her paternal Calabrian roots to 1807, and has written The Inheritance, a historical fiction inspired by her grandmother’s life in Calabria, southern Italy during the early 1900s. She blogs about family, writing, travel, and genealogy, and can be contacted at www.marianneperry.ca.
Keywords: Surnames: Andreoli, Bonacci, Gigliotti, Lima, Mandia, Perri, Perry, Spagnuolo. Placenames: Casenove (Decollatura, Calabria, Italy); Decollatura (Calabria, Italy); Ellis Island, New York (New York, USA); Naples (Italy): San Bernardo (Decollatura, Calabria, Italy); Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario); Toronto (Ontario).
Genealogical research provides opportunities for people to learn about and honour those with whom they have history. Solving mysteries about our family’s Italian heritage has long been a keen interest and becoming a mother added a new dimension to my quest. By sharing ancestral stories with our children, I realized, we enable them to define their lives within a larger context. Telling our daughters and sons about those who came before them bestows a special legacy and helps ensure what we’ve discovered will be passed to future generations. This article focuses on our paternal (Perri) Perry Calabrian roots.
Genealogical research is a multi-faceted process and mine to date has encompassed: studying Italian genealogical reference texts; acquiring familiarity with Italian documents; becoming versed in Italian traditions impacting family dynamics; reviewing relevant magazines, journals, websites and blogs; examining Canadian and American census records; scouring collections available at Library and Archives Canada and the Archives of Ontario; designing and implementing an organizational and storage system for data and materials collected; consulting relatives and friends; tracking down, sorting through and analyzing memorabilia; conducting research on internet sites, at libraries and the local Family Research Centre; mastering how to write letters of request in Italian and identifying the process to secure information from Italian authorities; interacting with others involved in similar projects; joining The Ontario Genealogical Society (Sault Ste. Marie & District Branch and Toronto Branch) and organizations such as IL Circolo Calabrese; and engaging social media by participating in Facebook and LinkedIn discussion groups.
Travel has also proven fundamental to my research and I’ve visited the port of Naples, Italy and Ellis Island, New York, the beginning and end points of my grandparent’s transatlantic voyages to North America. In addition, I’ve explored Calabria, southern Italy on two separate trips and, while there, journeyed to the ancestral birthplaces of both grandparents.
The (Perri) Perry Family
My father, Arnold Joseph (Perri) Perry was born 22 October 1921 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. (1) A Petty Officer (2) and Radio Artificer in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War (3); he died 14 January 2008. (4)
His parents, Maria Caterina Spagnuolo Andreoli and Pietro Perri, were from Calabria, a region in southern Italy. My grandmother immigrated to Canada via Ellis Island, New York on 13 January 1913 (5) and my grandfather, 07 April 1910. (6)
They settled in Sault Ste. Marie, met and married at Holy Rosary Church on 21 September 1915. (7) By 1921, they were living at 718 Shafer Avenue and my grandfather working as a labourer at The Algoma Steel Corporation. (8) Their house had been located in the city’s west end, a section populated primarily by Italian and other European immigrants. My father had been one of nine children.
After the Second World War, my father met my mother, Dorothy Anne Mandia Lima, in Toronto, Ontario. They were wed at St. Peter’s Church in Toronto on 23 July 1947. (9) With my older brother, they’d relocated to Sault Ste. Marie in 1952 where they were reunited with his parents, siblings and their families.
I was born after the move and we’d lived with my grandparents at 722 Wellington West (10). This house had also been located in the city’s west end and three of my father’s brothers plus a sister had resided in close proximity. (11)
My grandmother had helped my mother care for me and my older brother and my father had secured employment alongside his father and several brothers at The Algoma Steel Corporation. By 1954, my father had acquired property in the Township of Tarentorus, District of Algoma with assistance from The Veterans Land Act (12) and commenced building us a home. (13) An electrician by trade, he’d started a company by 1956. (14) A younger sister was born and we were raised in Sault Ste. Marie.
An integrated dynamic immersed in Italian traditions and the Roman Catholic faith had defined the Perris during the initial two decades of my life. My father’s brothers and sisters were best friends and they’d functioned as a cohesive unit. Intensely loyal, they’d kept close communication, tackled problems and doled out resources. In a co-operative approach, they and their respective families had made wine, sausages and preserves, gone mushroom picking, helped each other build and maintain houses, overseen the development of a family plot at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery and constructed a summer camp on Lake Superior.
The multitude of cousins had led intersecting lives. We’d celebrated special occasions, forged relationships and bonded with aunts and uncles. Cognizant of my interest in the world, an uncle had gifted me a set of encyclopaedias while an elementary student. Godparents were considered surrogate parents and my father had selected his younger brother and sister as mine; until their deaths; I’d maintained ties with them. Possessions had also been dived out according to need. As a case in point, my first bicycle had belonged to a string of others and, after having outgrown it, had been handed to the next in line.
My grandparents, Caterina and Pietro Perri, whom we addressed as Nana and Nannuze, had represented the centre of our clan and ritual had determined every one go to their home on Sundays. Nana had been the matriarch. A formidable woman with an imposing physique; she’d commanded authority and my father and his siblings would gather around her as if summoned to an audience to deliver reports. Nana had cultivated wild roses, peony shrubs, a vegetable garden and apple trees on her property. She’d shared her bounty with the family and prepared traditional foods on holidays.
Nannuze had worked at The Algoma Steel Corporation for forty plus years. (15) Slight compared to Nana, he’d had a mild disposition and reserved presence. In his post-retirement years, he’d developed an affinity for soap operas and an attachment to a salt and pepper shorthaired Chihuahua named Toro. I can recollect Nannuze roaming through the house in soft-soled slippers with the miniscule animal cradled in his arms. I also recall him sitting in his chair with Toro nestled in his lap watching television and inviting me to pat his beloved pet. He’d had wavy snow-white hair, warm brown eyes and a shy smile; an endearing image that has remained etched in my memory.
Nana had died first and in the aftermath, Nannuze had stayed in their home. For three years, he’d lived in quiet self-reliance. Death coupled with time, however, alters family dynamics and though the Sunday visits had continued, change had signalled a redefinition of the Perri family.
Nannuze passed away 22 July 1971 (16) and, by then, others had also died.
The Perris had dwindled in size; death, however, had not been the sole cause for shrinkage. Many of my cousins had matured into adulthood and moved out of the neighbourhood. Some had made choices inconsistent with previous generations and a number had left the city to attend university or seek employment. As a result, the traditions and rituals connecting us had waned. The chapter of the Perri family I’d known for twenty years had come to an end and, when we’d buried Nannuze, it was more than his loss I’d mourned.
My children were born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie and they developed strong attachment to my parents. We’d lived nearby and my father had served a gentle yet firm guiding presence. My daughter and son had adored him and he’d them. When he died, a chapter of our life ended and, similar to the situation with Nannuze’s passing, it was more than my father’s loss we’d mourned.
Prior to his death, my father had given me a copy of an old black and white photograph of my great-grandparents, Maria Concetta Gigliotti and Luigi Perri.
His knowledge about them, however, had been scant and largely anecdotal. He’d told me that my grandfather, Pietro Perri, had been one of three sons born to them in Decollatura, Calabria; the others having been named Francesco and Giorgio. My grandfather had never returned to Calabria and he’d been uncertain as to the extent of contact with his parents or siblings. I’d always wanted to find out more about my grandfather’s family in Italy and wished I’d done so while my father had been alive. In the aftermath of his death, therefore, I’d judged it integral to the legacy I’d intended to bequeath my children. As a result, I set aside other genealogical projects and, by 2010, had assigned it priority.
The First Step
I decided to begin by developing a profile of the Perri family of origin in Calabria and established the following research objectives with respect to Maria Concetta Gigliott and Luigi Perri.
- What were their dates of birth and death?
- Where were they born?
- Where had they lived?
- What had been their occupation(s)?
- Who were their children?
The Italian Genealogical Records System
After myriad efforts, it had become apparent that confirming these basic facts would warrant new investigative approaches. Past research strategies applied had produced inconsistent results and I’d needed to undertake different measures to achieve objectives. Understanding how to access genealogical records in Italy (17) had become fundamental to my plans and this brief explanation aims to clarify actions taken.
There are twenty regions in Italy. Each region is sub-divided into provinces and the capital city of every province has state archives that hold civil records. (18) (19)
Calabria is a region located in southern Italy and it is divided into five provinces: Cosenza, Vibo Valentia, Catanzaro, Reggio di Calabria and Crotone. (20)
Decollatura is a comune (city) in Catanzaro province, Calabria, Italy. It has a population of approximately fifteen hundred and is comprised of five frazioni (villages): Adami, Casenove, Cerrisi, Tomaini and San Bernardo. (21) (22) The state archives responsible for Decollatura are located in Catanzaro city, the capital of Catanzaro province.
In Italy, civil records are also kept at the Stato Civile, the municipal office of the comune (23) as well as the church. (24) There is a Stato Civile in Decollatura and Santa Maria Assunta is the relevant church.
The Perri Family of Origin in Calabria, Italy
This section highlights facts authenticated, documents received and methods utilized.
A. Letters to Italy
I do not speak or write in Italian; requests submitted to Italian authorities for my great-grandparent’s birth and death documents, however, had mandated correspondence in the language and a specific protocol. By studying guides in reference texts (25) (26), I learned how to pen appropriate letters, which, in 2012, I mailed to the Catanzaro State Archives, the Decollatura Stato Civile and Santa Maria Assunta Church according to requisite procedures.
I received responses to my queries and photocopies of documents. The documents were in Italian and I interpreted them by referring to examples and explanatory notes in reference texts. (27) (28)
The following tables provide relevant details.
Great-Grandmother: Maria Concetta Gigliotti
Photocopy of Document Received: Atto di Nascita (Birth Record) (29)
Great-Grandfather: Luigi Maria Perri
Photocopy of Document Received: Atto di Nascita (Birth Record) (30)
B. Family Memorabilia
Informing relatives about my genealogical project yielded positive results as the providence for this document testifies. In 2012 when a cousin was preparing to sell his late parent’s house, he’d put random memorabilia in a cardboard box, which he’d given me in the hope something might assist my research. Our fathers had been brothers and after our grandfather had died, the family had sold his Wellington Street home and distributed possessions amongst them. I examined the contents and amidst old photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, etc., found a creased copy of a document written in Italian related to my grandfather’s birth.
I interpreted it as per Section A and the following table summarizes relevant details.
Grandfather: Pietro Perri
Copy of Document Reviewed: Estratto dal registro degli atti di nascita (Extract of Birth Record) (31)
C. Ancestral Travel
In May 2013, I travelled throughout Calabria for two weeks with my husband. My first trip in June 2004 had been of shorter duration, before my father’s death and limited to Cosenza province where my grandmother had been born. Once I’d immersed myself in researching the Perri family of origin, however, I decided an intensive exploration of Calabria vital.
Commencing in 2011, therefore, I undertook rigorous planning that included contracting the services of a couple from Catanzaro province with expertise in assisting foreigners with genealogical research. Given my inability to speak Italian and the different dialects in the region, I’d deemed this essential to maximizing my success in Calabria. I’d also determined an itinerary that encompassed visiting several places linked to Perri family history in Decollatura, scheduled appointments at the Decollatura Stato Civile and State Archives in Catanzaro city plus travel to a bevy of small cities and historical sites located from the north to the south in the region.
My appointments at the Decollatura Stato Civile and the Catanzaro State Archives were productive. I’d already established a relationship with both offices based on my 2012 letters of requests. While there, I was provided opportunity to view and obtain official photocopies of documents that advanced my knowledge about our family’s history in Calabria.
The following tables provide relevant details.
Great-Grandparents: Maria Concetta Gigliotti and Luigi Maria Perri
Viewed original document at Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura.
Photocopy of Document Received: Estratto Dell’Atto Di Matrimonio (Extract of Marriage Record) (32)
Children of Maria Concetta Gigliotti and Luigi Maria Perri
Viewed four original documents at Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura.
Photocopy of Documents Received: Estratto Dell’Atto Di Nascita (Extracts of Birth Records)
Registration of Population Document: Household of Luigi Maria Perri
Viewed and prepared from original document at Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura.(37)
Unable to obtain photocopy.
The following table provides a selection of details noted.
The document was dated circa 1906/1907 and had also indicated the Perri family lived in House Number Twenty on Maggiore Street in Casenove, Decollatura.
Research objectives with respect to establishing a profile of the Perri family of origin in Calabria have been met with the exception of a date of death for Maria Concetta Gigliotti. I did receive a Certificato Di Morte (Death Record) for Luigi Perri from Santa Maria Assunta Church in Decollatura indicating he’d died 06 December 1921. (38)There is a discrepancy, however, and I am seeking further clarification. Efforts, therefore, are on-going.
Locating the graves of my great-grandparents had been one of the goals of my May 2013 visit to Decollatura and I’d requested the local contact I’d contracted to investigate the matter before our arrival in Calabria. While there, my husband and I explored the Decollatura cemetery with our contact plus met with an official who’d provided information.
We were told there were no records of internment for the period 1850 to 1900. In addition, 1900 to 1925 had marked a redevelopment phase during which the remains of many had been removed and placed in a new ossuary located underneath a small building constructed at the entrance for this purpose. Efforts to find my great-grandparent’s graves prior to our visit had been unsuccessful and the official had concluded their remains had in all likelihood been transferred to the ossuary. Apparently this represents common practice in Italy and a religious ceremony would have accompanied the act. At the end of our time in the cemetery, my husband and I entered the ossuary building and I’d said a prayer to honour my great-grandparents.
Genealogical discoveries are not always pleasant and I’d regarded the probable final resting place of Maria Concetta Gigliotti and Luigi Maria Perri with particular sadness.
The Next Step
Genealogical research is a never-ending pursuit; discoveries made unearth other mysteries to be solved. While gathering data to profile the Perri family of origin in Calabria, I learned more than articulated in this article. What happened to my grandfather’s brothers? Did they remain in Casenove, Decollatura? Did they immigrate to America? Are there any Perri descendants living in Casenove, Decollatura now? Why did my grandfather never return to Calabria? These are some questions for which I found answers; subjects, perhaps, of subsequent articles.
An Ancestral Album
I have been contemplating compiling an ancestral album for my daughter and son that would contain a family tree, key documents, photographs, etc. In addition to a paper copy, there would be an electronic version. With the 1841 birth of my great-grandfather, Luigi Maria Perri in Casenove, Decollatura, Calabria, Italy designated the starting point; entries would summarize approximately one hundred and fifty years of Perri history and conclude in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada with details specific to their lives. In light of my children’s relationship with my late father, I anticipate they would consider the album a cherished inheritance for them and their own families.
Genealogical research has the potential to transcend the limits of time and place. We are all more than who we are now and by informing younger generations about their past, we give them a place in family history. By sharing stories of those who came before our children, we create the possibility that they will do the same with those who come next. Yesterday will blend with the present and carry forward the promise of tomorrow. Of all the legacies we can bestow our daughters and sons; I believe this among the most precious.
Determining the proper form of the Perri/Perry surname of my Calabrian paternal ancestors proved to be challenging; nevertheless, I was able to authenticate it as having been “Perri.” My great-grandfather, grandfather and father were born “Perri” but my father eventually had ours legally changed to “Perry.” I was born “Perri” but it changed to “Perry” during my teenage years. Some of my relatives, however, have continued to use the earlier/original version. The inconsistency has created genealogical hurdles, to say the least. Further explanation would be an unnecessary digression from this article, and I trust this note will suffice at this time.
The Veterans Land Act, passed 20 July 1942, enabled veterans of World War Two to purchase land with the help of government loans. Funds were also available for livestock and equipment. For a concise definition, consult http://www.the canadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/veterans-land-act/. A copy of the act may be reviewed on the Government of Canada Justice Laws Website (http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/V-1.5/Full Text.html. The Library and Archives Canada website also has information (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-912.003-e.html).
- Arnold Joseph Perry, Baptismal Certificate (original in my possession); Holy Rosary Church, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
- Arnold Perri, Advancement/Passing Certificate (01 August 1942), (original in my possession); Director of Naval Education, Naval Service Headquarters, Ottawa, Ontario.
- Arnold Perri, Radio Artificer Royal Canadian Navy Certificate (15 October 1945), (original in my possession), H.M.C. Signal School, St. Hyacinthe. P.Q.
- Arnold Joseph Perry, Proof of Death Certificate (original in my possession); Northwood Funeral Home, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
- Caterina Andreoli, Passenger Record (January 13, 1913), (digital image 0035, line 0017), EllisIsland.org(www.ellisisland.org/search/viewTextManifest.asp?MID=14214712550179085…:accessed 08 January 2006).
- Pietro Perri, Passenger Record (April 7, 1910), (digital image 149, line 0027), EllisIsland.org(www.ellisisland.org/search/viewTextManifest.asp?order_num=19841866655&MID=1…:accessed 08 January 2006).
- Caterina Andreoli and Pietro Perri, marriage registration 081230 (21 September 1915); digital image, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca: accessed18 March 2012), citing microfilm MS932, reel 330, Archives of Ontario.
- (http://search.ancestry.ca/content/viewerpf.aspx?h=2088825&db=OntarioMarr1858-1899:accessed:18 March 2012).
- Pietro Perri Household, 1921 Census of Canada, Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie (City), Algoma West, Ontario; Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 49; Page Number: 4, Family 41; digital image, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca : accessed 30 July 2014), citing Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds.
- Dorothy Anne Lima and Arnold Joseph Perry, Certificate of Marriage (original in my possession); St. Peter’s Church, Toronto, Ontario.
- Sault Ste. Marie City Directories (Ontario) for 1953-1954: Vernon Directories Limited. 239.
- See note 9.
- The Veteran’s Land Act, 1942. Agreement #3858. (original in my possession); Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, 25 March 1954.
- Department of Highways. Building Permit #29691. (original in my possession); Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, 22 April 1954.
- Sault Ste. Marie City Directories (Ontario) for 1955-1956: Vernon Directories Limited. 253.
- Peter Perry. Canada, Voters Lists, Federal Elections, 1935-1980. Algoma West, Ontario. Year 1965. Database on-line, digital image, Ancestry.ca (http://www.ancestry.ca), citing Library and Archives Canada. Reel: M-5146. (http://search.ancestry.ca/Browse/Print_d.aspx/a98218691f6839c7c99db82db542e19/484…:accessed 08 October 2012).
- The Sault Daily Star. Copy of obituary notice from family album. Handwriting indicates date as 23 July 1971.
- Trafford R. Cole, Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical, & Other Records in Family History Research (Ancestry Publishing, 1995), 174-186.
- Lynn Nelson, A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors (Betterway Books, 1997), 128-136.
- Suzanne Russo Adams, Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide (Ancestry Publishing, 2008), 103-114.
- Lara Dunston & Terry Carter, Travellers Calabria. (Thomas Cook Publishing, 2009), 26-119.
- Comuni.Italiani website (http://en.comuni-italiani.it/079/043/index.html).
- Comune Decollatura website (http://www.comunedecollatura.it).
- Suzanne Russo Adams, Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide (Ancestry Publishing, 2008), 57-70.
- Suzanne Russo Adams, Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide (Ancestry Publishing, 2008), 77-92.
- Lynn Nelson, A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Italian Ancestors (Betterway Books, 1997), 123-127.
- Suzanne Russo Adams, Finding Your Italian Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide (Ancestry Publishing, 2008), 139-153.
- Trafford R. Cole, Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical, & Other Records in Family History Research (Ancestry Publishing, 1995), 49-74, 75-97 and 201- 221).
- Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman, Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide (Avotaynu, Inc. Publishing, 1994), 80-112.
- Maria Concetta Gigliotti, Atto di Nascita (photocopy of original), 03 December 2012, Archivio Di Stato Di Catanzaro, Catanzaro, Italy.
- Luigi Maria Perri, Atto di Nascita (photocopy of original), 03 December 2012, Archivio Di Stato Di Catanzaro, Catanzaro, Italy.
- Pietro Perri, Estratto dal registro degli Atti di Nascita (photocopy of original), 07 August 2012, family memorabilia.
- Maria Concetta Gigliotti and Luigi Maria Perri, Estratto Dell’Atto Di Matrimonio (prepared from original), 10 May 2013, Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura, Decollatura, Italy.
- Giovanni Perri, Estratto Dell’Atto Di Nascita (prepared from original), 10 May 2013, Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura, Decollatura, Italy.
- Fortunato Perri, Estratto Dell’Atto Di Nascita (prepared from original), 10 May 2013, Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura, Decollatura, Italy.
- Giorgio Perri, Estratto Dell’Atto Di Nascita (prepared from original), 10 May 2013, Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura, Decollatura, Italy.
- Pietro Perri, Estratto Dell’Atto Di Nascita (prepared from original), 10 May 2013, Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura, Decollatura, Italy.
- Luigi Maria Perri Household. Circa 1907/1907 Registration of Population. Casenove, Decollatura, Calabria, Italy. (Viewed and prepared from original document), 10 May 2013, Servizio Dello Stato Civile Decollatura, Decollatura, Italy.
- Luigi Perri, Certificato Di Morte (photocopy of original, 02 February 2013, Parrocchia S. Maria Assunta, Decollatura, Italy.