Mapping and rediscovering our Anglo-Italian bloodline to Southern Italy
My name is Daniel Deefholts. I am British, however, my family tales and DNA tells an interesting story mapped across many influential countries and fiery cultures with direct ties to Britain. My maternal line means I am a blood descendent of Italian migrants.
This connection stems from my mother, Sarah and my grandmother, Theresa. Before my mother qualified as a nurse, she picked up work in an Italian cafès in South London. It explains why some of my favourite dishes and desserts were always Italian growing up. I can identify one lesson learned: you should never upset anyone of Italian descent in the kitchen unless you are brave enough!
I have traced my Italian bloodline to 1740 with the help of local residents, my former Italian professor Marzia, and the digitisation of the state archives. After months of searching high and low for evidence, I located all the references my great-grandfather was unable to source many decades ago. It unlocked new evidence about my ancestral ties and challenges a long-held family hypothesis.
Nanny has always told us that our Pompei ancestors were originally from Naples, Campania before the unification of Italy (Risorgimento). She speculates an ancestor escaped the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and family rumours suggest some of our ancestors were killed by the greatest disaster in history. Modern day DNA testing and archival data reveals our ancestral ties are in fact Southern Italian.
My third great-grandfather – Francesco Antonio Pompei – was from a village called Picinisco situated halfway between Rome and Naples. In pre-Republican times, it belonged to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and his parents were domiciled in Strada Codarda. British archival data reveals Francesco was a bootmaker and confectioner master in South London. It must explain my mother’s love and painful indecisiveness for shoes and boots. We all have very sweet tooths. We are willing to fight over the last confetto alla mandorla.
Then by 1891, the UK Census documents that he had settled in Camberwell, London with his family and wife Maria Addolorata. They had thirteen children together. Their surviving children served in the British Armed Forces before the era of fascism and trained as bootmakers, confectioners, tobacconists, hairdressers and machinests. In 1933, his daughter Philomena Loreta gave birth to my great-grandfather David, but years later the German air raids on London had a devastating impact and killed some of our relatives. Fast-forward to the 1950s, my grandmother Theresa Frances and her sister Francesca were born during Britain’s post-war recovery and baby boom.
My mother Sarah, auntie Jade and uncle Robert will remember growing up with many pets including a goat. I remember my grandparent’s British-Italian friend Bob Giola – a market stall trader – originally from Varese who would drop by unannounced, talk for hours, watch tennis on the television with us and tease me hard. He was a true chiacchierone.
Discovering the archives has unlocked significant information about my ancestors’ lives, occupations and movements spanning centuries therefore allowing me to piece together facts, stories and hidden data with my family. Learning Italian has proven to be useful in allowing me to map our heritage and read and interpret all these records.
The local parish records also confirm that my last recorded ancestor in 1740 was Francesco’s grandfather – Vincenzo Domenico Pompei – my fifth great-grandfather. He married a Piciniscani woman named Lucia Cervi. He worked as an agricultura contadino. However, the archives reveal his father was actually Domenico Pompei who wasdomiciledin Strada Piazzetta with his wife Gertrude Cocozza.
Now my final mission is to visit the village with my mother to rediscover our roots and consult the parish records dating back to 1500. Who was Domenico Pompei? How did my ancestors end up there? Can I ever attempt to solve parts of this mystery burried in history? Once we have been granted with Italian citizenship it will open a new chapter of integration, adventure and rediscovery.
Il Portale Antenati, Ministero della cultura
UK National Archives
London Metropolitan Archives
Archives de Paris, Département des publics
Dr Marzia Maccaferri, Queen Mary University of London