Monday, February 6, 2017

Maria Rizzi writes her name

I've been using Antenati to go through the 1840 marriage records for the town of Bitetto, Bari, in Puglia, Italy, where many of my ancestors were from. It's a time-consuming but valuable exercise, as these marriage records include parents' names for both parties, which has brought me back another generation on several lines.

On all of the records, almost without exception, for my peasant farming ancestors, the last page of the record includes a handwritten line indicating that none of the parties to the marriage (which included any surviving parents of the couple) could write, and so the document is signed by only officials and witnesses.

But there was one exception, and it was not who I expected it to be. My 4th great-grandmother, Maria Rizzi, signed her daughter Teresa Monti's marriage document.

Maria Rizzi signature, 1845 marriage record of Vincenzo Cianciotta & Teresa Monti

I thought that the younger you were, the more likely you'd be to be literate. I certainly thought that the male-er you were, the more likely you'd be to be literate. Instead, my family's first brush with literacy comes in the form of a widowed woman, in her 40s if not older, possibly even a grandmother by this point.

I find myself so curious about this ancestor, who had learned to write her own name when most of those around her had not, more than a decade before Italy's public education system was established. And I'm so proud of her, this ancestor whose name I didn't know this morning, for her remarkable accomplishment.