Thursday, March 14, 2013

Maestro...Please!: A New Age in Italian Family Research

No one can tout Molfetta, Italy, as a cradle to the world renowned. Nonetheless, it has produced its fair share of notables through the ages from the 18th century artist Corrado Giaquinto to the anti-fascist author and statesman Gaetano Salvemini.  The most renowned modern-day figure with roots in Molfetta is the master conductor and present musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Riccardo Muti ...with all due respect to rapper Caparezza.  

Justice and Peace by Corrado Giaquinto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Those of you with knowledge of Maestro Muti may be thinking, "Wait a minute!  Isn't he from Naples?"  Well, you're only partially right.  Muti's paternal family ties to Molfetta go back centuries.  He also spent most of his early life through late adolescence in Molfetta.  However, his mother, Gilda Peli-Sellitto, was from Naples, and he was apparently born there.  According to Muti's 2010 autobiography, her pride in her hometown was so intense that she traveled back to Naples each time that she gave birth.  When questioned later by her children as to the impracticality of this unnecessary travel, she rationalized her actions quite bluntly.  To paraphrase, she claimed that as her children went out into the world it would be far easier for them to simply say that they were born in well-known Naples than to have to explain the location of far lesser-known Molfetta.

While this explanation elicits eye rolling from many of Molfettese heritage. the Maestro should be taken at his word until relevant records are legally made public (or when Donald Trump runs out of other public figures to harass over frivolous birth document disputes).  Besides, as his autobiography affirms, the physical location of his birth did nothing to diminish his personal affection for the town of his youth and paternal ancestry.
   
 A few clips from a televised concert with Muti accompanying the late Luciano Pavarotti on piano

As Riccardo Muti rose in international notoriety during my childhood, my paternal grandmother and father would occasionally mention their experiences with the Maestro's father, Domenico, back in Molfetta.  He was the local doctor, and little Riccardo would often accompany Domenico on his horse-drawn wagon enabled house calls.  My grandmother would always end noting that we were somehow related to the Mutis, but the process of confirming a family connection seemed too convoluted to pursue.  

Fast forward twenty-five years, and I've discovered a passion for tracing family histories while Riccardo Muti is in the news due to his tenure in Chicago.  Unfortunately, since I could dedicate precious little time to sifting through microfilms of Italian records at my local Family History Center, proving this particular family link did not hold a prominent place in my list of research priorities.  However, my friends, things just got a whole lot easier.

It is now the dawn of new age in Italian family history research.  As I mentioned in a past blog post, Taking Our Italian Legacy Digital,  Italian civil registration records from the 19th and early 20th centuries are being digitized through a partnership between FamilySearch and the Italian National Archives.  This ongoing project has already made millions of records accessible for free at the Ancestors Portal run by the Italian National Archives.  While the site can often be tough to navigate and record indexing may take eons to complete, the mere existence of these documents in digital form is a game changer for anyone interested in exploring Italian heritage.  What would once require many strategically planned trips to an FHC can now be done from the comfort of one's own home as time permits.  In addition to the 19th century records for Molfetta from the Bari State Archives on the Ancestors Portal, FamilySearch.org has a decade's worth of records from the early 20th century from Molfetta within a Trani courthouse collection

With the help of these records and the Maestro's autobiography, family rumors transformed into evidence in a matter of hours.  In short, as the basic diagram below illustrates, my paternal grandmother was Riccardo Muti's third cousin, making me his third cousin twice removed ...Lucky him.  


Obviously, no one in my family anticipates free front row tickets to Carnegie Hall any time soon.  While amusing, exploring links to celebrities is just a tiny aspect of family history research.  However, I feel it's safe to assume that cousin Riccardo wouldn't mind having taken part in illustrating how these newly accessible records could spawn a golden age in Italian genealogy.