Fri - July 22, 2005

Vizzaccaro DNA 

Yesterday I received my results from The Genographic Project public participation kit that I sent in in May. The goal of the project is to create a genetic map of humanity's "journey through the ages." The research goal of the project is to collect genetic samples from intact indigenous populations, but anyone can buy order a Participation Kit and submit their DNA to the Project. This public participation kit is mainly a funding and publicity device, but participants receive the results of a basic genealogy test that can reveal a little bit about their deep ancestry and a very little bit about other participants that might be related to them.

Males receive the DYS# and Allele value for 12 DNA loci. These DNA loci are used for genealogical testing for two reasons: 1) they are fast mutating, so they have high resolution; and 2) they are in the "junk" DNA (they have no evolutionary value). These DNA loci are all located on the Y-chromosome, which only men have, and are passed directly from father to son. So Y-DNA testing of this sort is designed to reveal relationships among direct male descendants of a common ancestor.

So, if my 12 allele values were exactly the same as someone else with the Vizzaccaro surname then it is likely that we share a common ancestor. A perfect match on 12 markers puts the odds at 50% that we have a common ancestor within the past 14 generations (approximately 500 years) and a 95% chance that we have a common ancestor within the past 62 generations (approximately 2,000 years). Higher resolution tests, using 25 or 37 markers, are available and a perfect match on one of these tests would shorten the time horizon significantly. For instance, two males with a perfect match on a 37 marker test would have a 50% likelihood of having a common ancestor within 5 generations (175 years) and a 90% likelihood of having a common ancestor within 16 generations (560 years). These 25 and 37 marker tests are very useful for testing genealogical relationships, since the likely time to the common ancestor is within the researchable past.

The 12 market test, though, is less useful for genealogical purposes than for anthropological purposes. These 12 markers can be used to predict a person's haplogroup. A haplogroup is a group of people that that share a single genetic identity. For instance, members of Haplogroup O3 are thought to descend from the first Chinese rice farmers who appeared in East Asia nearly 10,000 years ago.

It turns out that I am likely a member of Haplogroup I1a, which is common among northern European populations but is diffused throughout all of Europe. It is relatively uncommon in Italy, which is where my paternal ancestors lived but this DNA could have arrived in Italy in a number of ways: Viking's plundering the Mediterranean, the Romans bringing slaves back from Belgium, Sweden, or Holland, etc. Remember, we are talking about deep ancestry not recent ethnicity. Typically, for genealogical purposes, several tests of cousins are needed to zero in on the DNA profile of an ancestor because of the possibility of random mutations, non-paternity events, and the like.

So, why is this all interesting to me? One, I think it is just plain cool. Two, even this low-resolution test opens up some interesting possibilities about the deep ancestry of the Vizzaccaro family. For instance, Haplogroup I1a is somewhat common among Basque populations which I think might possibly be the source of our surname (there is a Basque province called Vizcaya). Three, when I find some other Vizzaccaro folks to test with me we can updgrade to the 25 or 37 marker tests and begin to establish which other Vizzaccaro branches (if any) we are related to. This, in fact, is my primary motivation. I'd love to have other Vizzaccaro families test their DNA and share the results so we can start patching together the complete Vizzaccaro family tree. Email me at if you are interested. We can start our own Vizzaccaro DNA research project or just all join Jim Denning's Frosinone, Italy Project. 

Posted at 10:22 PM     Read More  

Sun - June 19, 2005

Gennaio Vizzaccaro 

My Latin is not what it used to be, but I think I have found my GGGG grandfather, Gennaio Vizzaccaro.

I blogged earlier about hiccup I had connecting my great-grandfather Loreto Vizzaccaro to his HIS grandfather. Loreto's birth certificate says that his father was Rosato and his paternal grandfather was Bernardo. Alas, what I believe to be the marriage certificate for Loreto's parents is actually for Rosario Vizzaccaro son of Leonardo Vizzaccaro. I have come to accept that Rosario and Rosato are one and the same, albeit with less than 100% confidence.

In any event, this acceptance opens a whole new world of information. When Rosario and Antonia Vizzaccaro were wed in 1860, they needed the consent of their parents. Since Rosario's parents (Leonardo Vizzaccaro and Maria Grazia di Vetta) and Antonia's father (Benedetto Nardone) were dead at the time of the marriage, proof of these deaths was needed in the form of death certificates. These death certificates were included in the marriage file, called a processetti. Since Leonardo was dead, Rosario needed his grandfather's consent. Since his grandfather, Gennaio, was dead too HIS death certificate had to be added to the file. Since Gennaio's death predated the collection of civil records in Villa Santa Lucia, the record was copied in Latin from the parish records. Here is an excerpt.

This is what I get from this paragraph: Anno Domi[nio] millesimo septuagesimo octagesimo sexto, die decimo octavio mensis Aprilis, Januarius filius gim Leonardi Vizzaccaro, aestatis suoe annorum trigenta quinque in doleo properia repartiva ab hae vita migravit . . .

Roughly translated, this means: On 16 April 1786, Gennaio son of the deceased Leonardo Vizzaccaro, in his 35th year with painful speed passed his life.

So, from the processetti for Rosario Vizzaccaro and Antonia Vizzaccaro I was able to establish significant details for four generations of Vizzaccaro. Excitingly, Rosario's great grandfather Leonardo would almost certainly have been alive when the castasto onciaro , or tax census, was taken in the mid 1700's. If I can just locate it . . . .

Posted at 11:01 PM     Read More  

Sun - June 5, 2005

O Brothers, Where Art Thou? 

I have suspected for some time that my great-grandmother Maria Nardone had at least two brothers, Giuseppe Nardone and Orazio Nardone.

When my great-grandfather Loreto (Maria Nardone's husband) emigrated to the United States in 1910, he declared that we was going to join his brother-in-law Giuseppe Nardone in Philadelphia. I have found no evidence that Giuseppe stayed in the U.S. permanently, but recently I found evidence that he came through the port at Philadelphia in 1914 and he listed my great-grandfather, Loreto, as the person he was coming to join. So, sometime between 1910 and 1914 he must have returned to Italy. I presume this was to visit his wife, listed as Maria Giuseppa, and any children he may have had. Additionally, I found a manifest from 1920 showing that Giuseppe returned to the United States yet again, this time declaring that he was coming to join his brother "Rasio", or Orazio, in Philadelphia.

Moreover, in 1901 a Giuseppe Nardone of the right age (i.e. born in 1877) came through Ellis on his way to Philadelphia from Cassino. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to establish that this is the OUR Giuseppe: Cassino was decent size town in 1901 (population 13,397) and Giuseppe Nardone is not an uncommon name. The manifest listed no contact in Italy and listed only "brother Nardone" as the contact in the U.S. However, I know that Giuseppe was here in 1906: he was listed as the U.S. contact for his brother Orazio on Orazio's ship manifest.

I also recently found Giuseppe's birth record in the Cassino microfilms, which leads me to believe that he was alive in Italy as late as 1949. Remember that all of Cassino's vital records from 1861 on were destroyed by the Allied bombing of Montecassino during World War II. After the war, town officials recreated the records by having everyone vouch for their own birth and marriage dates. For Giuseppe (born in 1877) to appear in these records, he almost certainly would have had to been alive in 1949. Given that I have found no records of Giuseppe in America after 1920, this seems a reasonable assumption.

I briefly mentioned Orazio earlier, but in some ways he plays a bigger role in my family's story. When he came to America in 1906, he brought his family with him: wife Maddelena, son Raffaele, daughter Teresia, son Tommaso, and daughter Adelelaide. As far as I know, Orazio stayed in the U.S. until his death: he and his family appear in the 1920 and 1930 census records (I haven't found him in 1910, though) and he is mentioned in 1947 letter to my grandfather Emilio from Emilio's brother Antonio.

Memories are a little sketchy, but my dad and some of his brothers remember driving down to Medford, NJ to visit with this family: an aunt Tressie (almost certainly Teresia, above) is remembered fondly, and I have a picture of someone I think is Ralph's wife, Mary, standing with my uncles Joe and Vince in their service uniforms. Someone ran a restaurant, but dad isn't sure whom.

So, on my genealogical "to do" list are 1) figure out whether Giuseppe Nardone eventually settled in Italy or America; and 2) find some living descendants of Orazio Nardone. He had a large family, so chance are that with some luck I will be successful. I think my best chances are running down Ralph Nardone's descendants and those of Nazareno Sabatucci, who I think might have married the belove "aunt Tressie". 

Posted at 04:33 PM     Read More  

Thu - March 17, 2005

Musica Italiana 

Years ago I was designing the lighting for a performance by Orchesis , the student dance company at the College of William and Mary. The choreographer had chosen music by the Italian group Ritmia from their album "forse il mare". Ritmia was made up of Riccardo Tesi, Alberto Balia, Enrico Frongia and Daniele Craighead: sort of an Italian folk super group. The music was inspiring and enchanting, and I was lucky enough to find a copy of the CD at a Williamsburg record store (lucky because the album has been mostly out of print since it's release). You can currently purchase it from cdRoots. who has apparently worked out an arrangement with the Italian publisher to sell a CD-R version of the album.

Lately there seems to have been a resurgence of interest in "Italian roots music". Others might call it folk music , but the best (like Ritmia) unites traditional music with jazz and pop influences in a way that is both fresh and respectful to it's origins. cdRoots is a great source for this kind of music, and if you are interested I highly recommend them and their companion review site (RootsWorld ). However, does offer a few interesting compilations: Italian Music Odyssey by Putumayo and The Rough Guide to the Music of Italy .

To get a taste of what I'm talking about you can read more about Italian music in general ww and listen to the online radio station I created, Musica Italiana at 

Posted at 11:14 PM     Read More