Italy Genealogy Research: records, passports, and the circus
Do you need help with Italy genealogy research? Or, even more intriguing, did you ever daydream about running away to join the circus? It’s the greatest show on Earth, right?! Eight-year-old me was sure circus life had to be exciting, daring, adventurous, and non-stop fun. Even now, the circus has a mystique that captures my imagination. When we discovered one of my client’s family lines had ties to the circus, I was thrilled to be a part of the discoveries. Birth, marriage, death records, and an important book on circus families in Italy, helped piece it all together.
Italy Genealogy Research: Introduction to the Ruffini Family
Rosemarie came to us to learn more about her maternal grandmother, Maria Ruffini’s Italian line. She had a copy of Maria’s Italian passport, which stated her married name was Bisbini and that she was born on 8 September, 1914 in Orzinuovi, Italy. Her parents were Amedeo Ruffini and Antonietta Mattiello, and at the time the passport was issued, she lived in Agira, Catania, Italy. Her occupation caught my eye—artista. “Artista” in Italian can be an artist or performer.
Another document Rosemarie had in her possession was the petition of naturalization for Maria’s husband, Giuseppe Bisbini, which he filled out as part of the paperwork to begin becoming a citizen of the United States. This document provided valuable information about the family, including when Giuseppe Bisbini was born, where he resided, a physical description, his marriage to Maria, and their divorce date. Even though they were divorced, Giuseppe provided Maria’s birth information and her New York immigration in 1952. Additional information about their children was listed, including their birth dates, places, and current residences.
Another piece of information was that Maria died in Florida in 1991.
Included in the petition were affidavits of witnesses who vouched for Giuseppe’s character. Their professions? An acrobat and trapeze artist, possibly hinting at a similar profession for Giuseppe! With Maria’s Italian birth and marriage information, we were prepared to research records in Italy.
A Connection to the Italian Circus
Orzinuovi, where Maria was born, is in the province of Brescia in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. While searching for records of the Ruffini family in this area, we learned both the Ruffini and Bisbini families were famous Italian circus families. The Ruffini family, originating in the Lombardy region, is one of the oldest circus dynasties of the early 19th century.
Carlo Ruffini, one of the sons of the anonymous founder of the Ruffini Family Circus, had two sons: Amedeo and Alteo. These two brothers were horsemen who worked in the family circus together until World War I, when they went their separate ways. Could Maria be connected to this famous Italian family?
As we were about to discover, tracing circus families can be complicated because they live a transient lifestyle. They are constantly moving from town to town, and children born into these families are often born in different localities from each other–which was the case in Giuseppe’s naturalization record. In an 18-year span, Maria and Giuseppe had five children. Four of them were born in Italy, in three different towns. The last one was born in Florida, in the United States.
Because they moved around so much, it was important to research the whole family unit, not just the direct-line ancestor and their parents. Birth, marriage, and death records played a crucial role in identifying all of the children born to each couple. By carefully examining them for any mention of where the family resided at the time of the particular event, we could trace the family throughout Italy.
Genealogy Research in Italy
From Maria and Giuseppe’s marriage information stated in Giuseppe’s naturalization record, we found their marriage promise in the town records of Brembio, province of Lodi, Italy. The marriage promise noted that the marriage was intended to occur in Vespolate, where Giuseppe had stated he was married. Italian law required that marriage banns be posted for two or three consecutive weeks to allow anyone opposed to the marriage an opportunity to make their opposition known.
As a side note, the marriage promise date wasn’t the marriage date – in this case, the marriage promise was dated 30 June 1935, but they didn’t marry until July 11th. This was verified in Maria’s birth record in Orzinuovi from an annotation in the margins of Maria’s birth record that noted her marriage to Giuseppe in Vespolate. This record stated that while the family usually resided in Cameri, Novara, Italy, they temporarily stayed in Orzinuovi. Their occupations were noted as “horsemen.” Maria’s father was named Amedeo Ruffini. Evidence gathered in this research session suggests that Amedeo, the grandson of the founder of the Ruffini Family Circus, was Maria Ruffini’s father.
A marriage record for Maria’s parents—Amedeo and Maria Antoinetta—which might have identified Amedeo and Maria Antoinetta’s parents— was not found; however, Amedeo’s death record was. It named his parents Carlo Antonio Ruffini and Maria Ernesta Cavaiani. It stated his occupation was a gymnast and gave his birthplace, Rivarolo, and said he was a resident of Brembio. With a birth year and town, his birth record was located, which named his parents Carlo and Maria Ernesta, and their occupation, gymnasts. Since he died at age 60, his calculated birth year was about 1878.
Amedeo’s birth record stated his father, Carlo was a resident of Milan. After researching the family, each of Carlo and Maria Ernesta’s children’s marriage records were obtained. Since each married in Brembio, it was much easier to accomplish this than if they had been married in different towns.
Each marriage record stated the bride and groom’s birthplaces. By creating a timeline of births, birthplaces, marriages, and marriage places, and the status of Carlo at each event, we could narrow down that Carlo died sometime before Teresa’s 1910 marriage. Another avenue for future research is in Baricella, as the youngest child found was born there in 1886, which may be where Carlo and Maria Ernesta married. Locating each of the children’s birth records may yield additional clues about the Ruffini family.
Hope For Tracing Transient Family Members
Rosemarie’s grandmother, Maria Ruffini, was born into this family of acrobats and horsemen and married into the Bisbini family, a circus family from Verona. In Alessandra Litta Midignani and Sandra Mantovani’s book about Italian circus families mentioned earlier, Maria and Giuseppe were named as a branch of the Ruffini family that had moved to Florida, connecting the Ruffini family in Italy with Maria’s family in Florida. Your family may not be as transient as a circus family. Still, this case study gives hope that even transient families can be traced when multiple vital events and residences of the entire family unit are carefully considered and analyzed together.
If you’ve hit a brick wall, and need creative ways to find your Italian ancestors, schedule a consultation with one of our professional genealogists.