While working in Canischio records, you quickly begin to recognize the typical surnames for the comune. Gioannini’s and Donna’s abound. Ferrero, Pecchenino, and Cinotto, quickly become familiar names. And of course, the given names follow similar trends. Fairly soon, you recognize names as either native to the little town or “probably from somewhere else.” A good example of those might be Ghiglietto-Gallo or Cima. Sometimes moving just a few miles away changes the mix of names pretty drastically.
When I first began working with the records, the names that stuck out the most to me contained the name Naturale. There were a number of people with the last name, and their given names were often unfamiliar or extremely generic. I wondered where the names came from. Well, it turns out there was something that all these people with unusual names had in common.
A closer reading of the records showed that they had genitori incogniti, unknown parents. I started realizing that these people had been abandoned as infants.
Further online research showed that unmarried women unexpectedly pregnant would often leave their villages to deliver their babies. The babies would be left at a foundling home, baptized with names chosen by priests or midwives, and then generally fostered in other families. Their surnames would be different from both their biological families and their adoptive families. Sometimes these children were baptized with only given names and no surnames. In the wiki pages at FamilySearch you can find an excellent article on the practices surrounding Italian Infant Abandonment.
In Cansichio, this pattern of not having a surname seems to be common. But it appears that those children who survived to adulthood would often begin using one of their given names as a surname, particularly the name “Naturale.”
Abandonment at a recognized foundling home was not the only outcome for children conceived out of wedlock. As is often the case, there are lots of different circumstances surrounding illegitimate births. In Canischio, a number of birth records identify the mother, but the father is not identified. Some of these babies were sent elsewhere to be fostered but others stayed with their birth mothers and were raised in Canischio. An example of this can been seen in this record for Maria Domenica Adele Bosone.
There is an example of a child being abandoned after being recognized by his mother. This child was later reclaimed. Abandoned infants were often left with some small token. This token could later identify them in the very unlikely event that their parents decided to reclaim them. This boy was born in Canischio and his birth was recorded in Canischio under the name Antonio Biaggo Persico. Later the mother abandoned him the in neighboring town of Cuorgne. At the time of the abandonment, he was named Giusto Simoncelli. When his mother reclaimed him, his name was changed to Antonio Vaira. Antonio was his original name on his first birth record and Vaira was his mother’s surname. You can see the annotated birth record and the court order for the annotation in the collection.
One child born illegitimately was later legitimized when her parents married and the father acknowledged paternity. Her birth was originally recorded under the name Balbina Maddalena Braida. When her parents married in 1875, the record was annotated with her father’s surname, Vacca.
It will usually be very difficult, if not impossible, to track the parents of children who were abandoned as infants. There are a few tips on the FamilySearch wiki pages for Italian Infant Abandonment, but it is likely that these individuals will be brick walls without other additional evidences and indexes becoming available. But if you’ve got success strategies, we want to hear. Share your experiences in the comments below!