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  

Thu - June 30, 2005

A family of shoemakers 

I am constantly amazed at the things I discover as I go back through records that I have already found.

For instance, after I found the ship manifest for my great grandmother Maria Ciocci I was quite excited to turn the page and see a listing for her brother-in-law Luigi Colavita. This is the brother of my great grandfather Michelarcangelo Colavita, of course. Today, I noticed for the first time (!) that his listed occupation was "shoemaker".

This was exciting to me because my grandfather, Emilio Vizzaccaro, was a shoemaker. In fact, he and several of my uncles ran a shoe repair service in New Jersey for many years. How it escaped my attention that Emilio's wife, Maria Colavita, had an uncle in the same industry I'll never know.

Luigi emigrated to the U.S. in 1903, and got married (probably in Philadelphia) shortly thereafter. By the time of the 1910 census, he and his wife Antonetta had been married for six years. In that time , they had four children only two of whom were still living (a daughter and a son). According to the 1910 Boyd's Directory of Philadelphia "Louis Collavita" was operating as a shoemaker at 1119 Carpenter street, just eight doors down from my great-grandfather Michelarcangelo at 1130 Hall Street (see the map below, and note that what is shown on this 1875 map as Mc Illearny Street was, by 1910, called Hall St). The family was still living in Philadelphia in 1920, by which time there were four children and they were living on South Dorrance Street.

Interestingly, in 1923 a shoemaker named Nicolangelo Paresi landed in Phildadelphia looking for his cousing, Luigi Colavita. This Luigi, though, was living in Newark and I have no evidence that OUR Luigi ever moved to Newark. Add this to the list of leads to follow up.

I thought I'd also add in a picture or two I took of some of my grandfather's shoe repair and shoemaking implements. It's not art, but . . . .


Posted at 12:30 AM     Read More  

Thu - June 23, 2005

God's Mountain, McLaughlin's Valley 

Anyone who has a interest in Mustoe Hamilton Corbett or his mother, Rebecca, probably should also have a keen interest in the family of John McLaughlin.

Rebecca Corbett is named in the 1838 will of John McLaughlin Sr, to wit: "To Rebecca Corbit for her long and faithful services to me and my wife I give and bequeth the sum of Fifty dollars to be paid unto her by my son John out of his part of the proceeds of my land(ed) property also one saddle and bride, one sow and yearling, six head of sheep and one bed and furniture."

The younger John McLaughlin is the one who eventually married Sally Wiley after the death of her first husband Mustoe Hamilton.

The senior John McLaughlin had a son Hugh who named Mustoe Hamilton Corbett in as a nephew will.

The senior John McLaughlin had another son Samuel, whose son Hugh P. McLaughlin enlisted and served with Mustoe Hamilton Corbett in the Civil War.

In any event, Joan Kay has recently started a blog on the relevant McLaughlin clan, called McLaughlin's Valley and also wrote a historical novel about the McLaughlins called God's Mountain, McLaughlin's Valley . I just received my copy in the mail today, and it is very enjoyable so far. 

Posted at 10:19 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