THE OLD COUNTY
The tiny Italian village of Boveglio sits nestled high in the hills of Tuscany just about 15 miles to the Northeast of the beautiful walled city of Lucca. In the nineteenth century most of the residents there made their living growing olives and chestnuts. The chestnuts would be ground into a fine flour which was then used to make the bread and pasta that sustained them. It was in this pastoral medieval town that Giacinto Giorgi and Daria Ferrari would raise a family.
According to the stories recounted in 1998 by Giacinto Giorgi’s exuberant grandson, Father Orazio Cesari, Giacinto had been something of a celebrity in the village. He had worked as a tailor, which was an important trade at that time. Reportedly he traveled to other towns to work, even going all the way to Rome by foot and meeting Pope Pius IX. (This seems a bit improbable since Boveglio is about 250 miles from Rome, but who are we to question the word of a priest?) Giacinto reportedly was a poet and he was known for providing hot air balloons for the festivals in all the neighboring towns. In addition, he sang in church and performed in local theater productions, sometimes to the dismay of his wife, Daria.
The couple had nine children born between 1856 and 1878; sons Giacomo born 1856 and Massimo born 1858, daughter Rosa born 1860, sons Giovanni born 1865, Quintiuo born 1867, Basilio born 1870 who only lived one week, and Basilio Attilio born 1872, followed by daughters Genovieffa born 1875 and Barbara Mustiola born 1878. Then in 1885 and 1886, a typhoid fever epidemic swept through the area. Within a year’s time, the Giorgis lost three of their eight surviving children to the disease; 25 year old daughter Rosa, eighteen year old son Quintiuo and thirteen year old son Basilio Attilio, leaving them with three sons and two daughters.
FIRST ONES TO LEAVE
Family lore indicates that Giacinto and Daria’s eldest son, Giacomo, who was dark, square-faced and sported a mustache, originally wanted to be a priest, but he ended up training as a tailor instead. Perhaps having to compete with his father did not sit well with Giacomo, or maybe there simply was not enough work to support two tailors in the small town. In any event, in 1882 at about 25 years of age, he, like thousands of other Italians during that time period, left home to sail to the United States.
The voyage to North America would not have been pleasant. Sanitary conditions in the third-class accommodations, commonly called “steerage” due to being located close to the ship’s steering mechanism, were rudimentary at best. As many as a thousand passengers all shared just two washrooms equipped with small basins used alternatively for cleaning eating utensils, washing clothes, and bathing. The smells were strong and the vermin plentiful.
After Giacomo arrived on the East coast, he traveled around much of the United States, taking on a variety of jobs while searching for his calling in life, even working for a time in a Michigan coal mine. But he didn’t like the cold weather and eventually found his way to Northern California. For a while he bought wine in San Francisco and took it back East to sell. He also worked on the railroads and was employed building the road from Santa Rosa to Guerneville. Once he even talked himself into a job plowing in Bennett Valley, although he had no idea how he was supposed to hold the plow.
Although he may not have known exactly how he was going to make his living, Giacomo did recognize that the terrain in Sonoma County, California was very similar to that in the commune of Lucca and that once he arrived there he felt he had found his home. In 1886 he filed “first papers” to begin the process of becoming an American citizen.
In 1888, Giacomo’s younger brother, Giovanni was 23 years old. The economy in Italy did not hold much promise for him and he too left Boveglio to set sail for the United States. Once he landed on the East Coast, Giovanni headed straight for California to join his brother.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS
On July 17, 1891 Giacomo Giorgi became an American citizen. He had been saving his money and soon he was able to purchase a 50-acre farm located on Limerick Lane in Healdsburg, California that included a two-story house. Things were beginning to fall into place for the thirty-five year old man and he soon realized that it was time for him to start thinking about getting himself a wife. He decided that he would need to return to Italy to find a proper woman to fill that role. When he eventually arrived back in Boveglio, his old friends all begin referring to him as “the American.”
Meanwhile, young Agnese Giancoli was living in Boveglio in what would now be referred to as a blended family. Agnese’s mother, Veronica Pacini had been widowed when Agnese was just a small child. In 1879, when Agnese was about 7 years old, 29 year old Veronica married 42 year old widower Giovanni Lucchesi in the nearby town of Villa Basilica. Giovanni had a daughter, Stella, from his first marriage who was only a few months older than Agnese. Veronica and Giovanni Lucchesi went on to have three more children; daughter Iacopa in 1880 who died as an infant, second daughter Iacopa in 1883, and son Gaspero in 1889.
Agnese, who was round-faced with blue eyes and reddish hair, realized that her prospects in Boveglio were limited. So in 1897, 25 year old Agnese agreed to marry the much older 41 year old “American” Giacomo Giorgi. Initially it was Giacomo’s intent to leave Agnese in Italy, but everybody told her that she should go with him. She persisted and before the year was out, when Giacomo returned to the United States, landing at Ellis Island on September 23, 1897 on the German ship “Fulva,” Agnese was with him. Since Giacomo was already a naturalized citizen, Agnese automatically became naturalized when they were married. So when she arrived in New York she was a United States citizen. The couple set up housekeeping in Santa Rosa, California where their first child, a girl who lived only 8 or 9 hours, was born. Their second child, Eva, was born there in 1901. Another child, a girl, was stillborn while the Giorgis still lived in Santa Rosa.
YET ANOTHER BROTHER ARRIVES
Giacinto and Daria’s last surviving son in Italy was Massimo, born in 1858. It is not entirely clear what year he left home for the United States, but once he did so, all that would be left of the family in Boveglio would be his parents and two younger sisters who would never leave Italy. In 1998, Father Orazio Cesari told the story of his Uncle Massimo’s last night in Italy. Apparently, “on his last night before leaving for the United States, Massimo stayed out late with a lady friend. Massimo’s mother was unhappy that he had not stayed at home. The next morning Massimo’s mother told him that she was not happy about his staying out with his lady friend and slapped him.” Not the most auspicious send off.
Nevertheless his actions were true to form, for he was apparently quite fun-loving. After coming to California, Massimo moved in with his younger brother Giovanni for a while to help him after he had suffered an injury to his foot in a railroad accident. But it was not long before Giovanni would throw Massimo out of the house because he gave parties and was a spendthrift.
Eventually, Massimo did attempt to settle down when he married an Englishwoman named Ellen Haslip. The couple lived in Santa Rosa where they had three children. Son Jacinto was born in 1894 but succumbed to pneumonia when he was only four years old. A second son named Giacinto was born 1899 and third son Henricus Noel in 1901.
Massimo was known as a brilliant man, but although he tried many things, he usually lost interest and went on to something else. Case in point, Northern California did not suit him the way it did his brothers Giacomo and Giovanni. He and Ellen eventually left America for France where they added a daughter Genoveffa to their family. France must have been more to his liking, as Massimo lived there until his death.
GIORGIS ON LIMERICK LANE
Giacomo and Agnese Giorgi moved to the Limerick Lane house in June 1903 when daughter Eva was 18 months old. There the couple would add four more children to the family; Rosie in 1904, Louise in 1905, Joe in 1908, and Mary in 1910. Agnese would soon learn that life in America was not as easy as she had been led to believe. Her granddaughter, Elvira Belluomini Hahn remembered hearing that Agnese had been “a saint” who worked from morning to night. Her days would begin at 2 am when she would start baking bread for the family in the large outdoor brick oven and they would not end until nightfall.
Meanwhile, the bachelor brother Giovanni Giorgi purchased 5 acres adjacent to Giacomo’s ranch. The two brothers made wine on their farms and took it by horse and wagon to Grant Station, where they put it on the trains to San Francisco.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FAMILY
The Giorgis were not the only family in Boveglio looking across the Atlantic for a better life. Agnese’s half-sister Iacopa (known as Iacoppina) Lucchesi immigrated to the United States in about 1902 and made her way to Northern California. There she married another Italian immigrant, Peter Gianni, in 1904 and the couple took up housekeeping in San Mateo County.
The Giannis soon purchased a restaurant / bar / hotel in Half Moon Bay. Around that time, Agnese’s half-brother, Gaspero Lucchesi also quit Boveglio for America. He joined his sister Iacoppina in San Mateo County where he worked as a saloon keeper.
Apparently, Gaspero was the fun-loving member of that side of the family, as indicated in a letter his mother sent from Italy in 1913 to Agnese. In that letter Veronica Pacini asked her daughter to “Let me know what Gaspero is doing and if he is saving any money or if he is wasting it on amusements.” He did eventually marry and it is believed that he had an infant son at the time of his death in 1917 from tuberculosis at the age of 27 years.
Agnese remained close to her half-sister Iacoppina over the years. In 1913, she even sent her 9 year-old daughter, Rosie Giorgi to live with the Giannis in Half Moon Bay for a year to help out her Aunt Iacoppina with the housework.
After Prohibition went into effect in 1920, the couple converted the bar into a grocery store and continued to operate. Once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the grocery store was converted back into a bar. Agnese’s daughter Rosie Giorgi Belluomini continued to travel to the Bay Area to visit with her aunt up until the time Iacoppina died in 1942.
Apparently Peter Gianni had a problem with his temper and soon after his wife died, he ended up in San Quentin State Prison, convicted of murder in 1942, where he would die in 1955.
THE HEALDSBURG BRANCH
In 1921, after Giovanni Giorgi sold his ranch on Limerick Lane, he bought a small place on Grove Street in Healdsburg. It was about three years after that move, when he was 58 years old, that he met and married 66 year old widow Regina Sabbatini. The story goes that he went to prune trees for Regina and she grabbed him. When Giovanni was about 68 he fell ill. After his death three years later in 1936, Regina sold the Grove Street place and moved to a house on the corner of East and Mill where she lived until her death in 1949 at 90 years of age.
Agnese Giorgi predeceased her husband by a number of years when she passed away in 1928 at 56 years of age. Like her younger brother before her, she died from tuberculosis. The now widowed Giacomo Giorgi continued to live on the Limerick Lane farm with daughter Louise keeping house until his death four years later in 1932 when he was 75 years old.
It is clear that Giacomo did not regret his decision to leave Boveglio as he was best remembered for his saying, “Quando si lascia California, si lascia tutto!” When you leave California, you leave everything.
Correspondence had continued between the family in California and the family in Italy until war interfered. After World War II, Giacomo and Agnese’s daughter Louise Giorgi Dal Colletto did receive a letter from her aunts in Boveglio. But she did not receive a response to her reply. It seems likely that her letter may not have reached its destination considering what a turbulent time it was in Italy following the war. It would not be until 1998 when Giacomo and Agnese’s grandson Frank Belluomini travelled to Boveglio that the family would be reunited again.
3 thoughts on “Emigration from Boveglio, a Family Affair”
As always you are great at taking family history and making it alive. Keep it up.
Thank you so much for the kind words!!