Individuals with Unknown Parents

As you research your families you will almost inevitably come to a person whose parents are not known. In this record collection for Canischio, the main reason for this is that the person was abandoned as a baby and raised by a foster family. For more detail on that practice see my post on abandoned infants.  However, in Canischio it is more common that the person’s mother will be known, but the father is not. In one instance in the current set of records, a father claims a child born out of wedlock, but the mother is unknown. For the Canischio birth records indexed on this site, having one unknown parent is always due to an out-of-wedlock birth.

So how do we account for these children and fit them into our family trees? There are basically three situations for these individuals: illegitimate children with a known parent, abandoned children who marry, and abandoned children who die as children or remain unmarried as adults. Each situation is addressed slightly differently.

Illegitimate Children

Illegitimate children with one known parent give us a few options. In birth records prior to 1875, we can often glean not only a parent’s name, but often a grandparent’s name as well. Another thing to pay attention to is the address at which the birth occurred. These pieces of information allow us to connect the child to his or her biological relatives with a good degree to accuracy. After 1875, this process becomes harder, but can still be possible. Here are few examples from both time periods.

First we will start with the record for Angela Maria Pecchenino born in 1866 in Canischio. Her birth is reported by her mother Domenica Pecchenino, age 36. Domenica’s father is identified as Antonio and is already deceased. Also the record notes that Domenica Pecchenino, is the widow of Gioanni Battista Bosone. At first you might think that the child conceived prior to the husband’s death and that Gioanni Battista Bosone should be the father. But the record itself indicates that the father is unknown so we shouldn’t jump to that conclusion.

Working through the process some more we are able to find other children of Domenica Pecchenino and Gioanni Battista Bosone, in particular a son named Gioanni Battista Antonio Bosone. In his marriage packet in the Allegati, we find his father’s death record in 1855. Clearly Gioanni Battista Bosone is not the father of Angela Maria Pecchenino. But we can confirm that the Domenica Pecchenino who is the widow of Gioanni Battista Bosone dies in 1891 and that her parents are Antonio Pecchenino and Angela Gioannini. It looks like our little baby girl was named for her maternal grandmother. So we can add Angela Maria Pecchenino to her family, though her father will remain unknown until some other records demonstrate who he was.

This case was definitely simplified by knowing that Domenica was the widow of Gioanni Battista Bosone. But the general process is the same in other cases. Basically, look for death records or even marriage records for the relatives identified in the baby’s birth record and use them to confirm parent and grandparent names. If they are recorded, ages and addresses of the individuals should be consistent across the records. Generally speaking, addresses will show more variation than ages over time.

Beginning in 1875, grandparents are generally not recorded on birth records so this makes the process somewhat more complicated. Let’s look now at the birth record for Anna Vaira in 1892. The mother reporting her birth is 18-year-old Maddalena Vaira from Canischio. The only other identifying information we can glean from the record is that the birth took place in an unnumbered house in frazione lombernero.

Since Maddalena is so young, her birth record will also be in this collection if she was born in Canischio. So we go to the index and see if we can find a Maddalena Vaira born in 1873 or 1874. And indeed, we find Maria Maddalena Vaira born on the 25 of July 1873 in Canischio. Her parents are Domenico (father Carlo) Vaira and Anna (father Tomaso) Pronsello. Again it looks like baby Anna Vaira was named for her maternal grandmother.

But let’s notice the family’s address when Maddalena is born. On her birth record 18 years earlier, the family lives in an isolated, unnumbered home simply referred to as the Pronsello home. No borgata, cantone, or frazione is given. This definitely isn’t similar to Anna’s birth record. But remember this is 18 years prior to the birth of baby Anna. Things could have changed. Can we get an idea of where Maddalena’s family was living closer to the birth of baby Anna? Well in 1898, six years after baby Anna’s birth, her grandfather Domenico dies. On his death record, his death is recorded as occurring in an unnumbered house in frazione lombernero. This matches much better with Anna’s birth record and increases our confidence that we have the right family.

Our confidence is further strengthened by confirming that there are no other candidates in Canischio for Anna’s mother. There are no other women of with names and ages similar to Maddalena Vaira in Canischio that could have been Anna’s mother. So we can fit Anna Vaira (father unknown) into her biological family as a child of Maria Maddalena Vaira.

Married Abandoned Infants

When an abandoned infant marries and has children, you can fit these individuals into family group sheets and pedigrees as spouses and parents. Marriage annotations are occasionally found in the margins of their birth records, and death records usually include the name of a person’s spouse. Failing that, you can track down spouses using the marriage indexes here as well.

If you find an abandoned infant listed in the birth records of Canischio, don’t be surprised if you do not find a marriage or death record. Even if the child did survive to adulthood and marry they may not have lived out their lives in Canischio. Generally infants discovered abandoned were taken to other nearby towns to be raised.  Sometimes the birth record will even indicate where the infant was taken. Typically a new birth record is created in the town in which they are taken as well, though it might be under another name. Talk about confusing!

One example of this is the birth record for Maria Buffa. Her record says she was discovered in a white blanket at the door of St. Antonio’s chapel and appeared to be about 2 days old. Further on, it indicates that she is being taken to the ospizio di maternita in Ivrea about 20 miles away. Even if Maria Buffa survived to adulthood, no other records are likely to be in the Canischio collection.

Unmarried Abandoned Infants

In the birth records indexed from 1866-1900 in Canischio, Italy, only ten children are recorded as having no known parents. Of those, two marry and can be included in pedigree charts by being attached to a spouse. Unfortunately, it is essentially impossible to identify the biological families for the eight remaining children. For seven of them, the records show that they were taken to the opizio for abandoned children in Ivrea. So it is unlikely that there are any further records for them in Canischio.

More interesting are the death records for abandoned children. There are 74 death records for people that do not list any parents. However, many have spouses and can be fit into a family tree that way. Approximately 40 people remain for whom no family connections are known. For the adults, it is unlikely you will be able to positively identify a foster or biological family connection absent other non-official records such as family histories. But for the ones who die as children it may be possible to at least connect them with foster families. Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the foster family or wet-nurse may be identified in the death record. You can see an example of this on the record for Giacomo Petronio Umidon where Francesca Crosetto is identified as nursing him. But in other cases, a little bit of sleuthing can also bring results. See my post on finding foster families for details on this process.

Conclusion

Sometimes when we come across individuals who are difficult to connect to the tree, we are tempted to give up and move on. Honestly, that is sometimes our only choice without additional records to light the way forward. However, in many cases we can make reasonably accurate conclusions using information in the records, and we can connect these people into families. They can be usually be connected to their biological relatives if at least one parent is known. If we can track down a spouse, we can connect them to their families by marriage. If we know no biological and in-law relationships, we still may be able to ascertain foster family relationships. Even though these people seem to be isolated in the records, in life they were not. They would have still been part of their communities, enjoyed circles of friendship, and had relationships with many people they considered family.

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