Ancestry – Finding my roots

Ten years ago I traveled to a small village named Chiusaforte, in the northeasternmost part of Italy, close to the border with Austria and Slovenia. I spent the best summers of my childhood there, and my father lived there for a while in the 1940s. The reason? My grandfather was born there. And so my great-grandfather, as I discovered.

Luckily, my father’s cousin had some knowledge about our family, and shared with me this interest on our family history. Chiusaforte has been bombarded during the WWII. Furthermore, the whole area has been struck by a devastating earthquake in 1976, so basically all the documents in the municipality got lost in different occasions.

Where could I find more information about my family tree? The answer was: the local church!

Churches, especially in Italy, always had a great importance in running the town’s life, and acted as public record offices that recorded all the births, marriages and deaths that happened. Luckily, the local priest wanted to help us, and gave us the keys to the church’s cellar.

I can’t describe the feeling of touching centuries old books, browsing through thin and dusty pages written by someone back in 1600, like this one:

Book of births and baptisms in year 1643

Connecting the dots

In the cellar we found books up to the XVII century, not to bad for a little village with less than a thousand people! We started looking for our closer ancestors in the XIX century book of births, and easily found my great-great-grandfather.

In small villages it happens that different families share the same surname, so it was common practice to add a soprannome, which is a sort of additional family name. For my family (surname: Marcon), this additional name was Contin, as you can see in the following picture. In the second line, Giacomo Marcon is identified also as “Contin”, and so were his sons and daughter, line 4-14 – yes, he had ten children!

My great-great-grandfather’s page in the parish ledger, ca. XIX century

In only one afternoon, I was able to track my genealogy with proven documentation back to Valentino Marcon, born on Jun 19, 1739 by Giacomo Marcon and Giovanna Fuccaro.

The great emigration to America

Some entries had a date of birth but not the date of death. That made me think that these people probably died somewhere else. In particular I was intrigued by Ariosto Marcon, a first-grade cousin of my grandfather, who in the notes had “in America”, and no date of death.

Ariosto Marcon, born in Chiusaforte, and then emigrated to America

The best part of this story is that I was able to find his record on and then thanks to other resources (, track his family history down to our times.

This is a longer and really inspiring story that definitely deserves another post :)

Will these document be lost?

After my brief adventure in search of my family roots, one thought struck me: I was lucky enough to have the chance to dive into these books, but the condition I found them was terrible. Sure, these are books that lived through centuries, but how long will they still keep intact? This is a village in the mountains, often there are heavy rains, humidity and in general in the basement where they are stored there are bad environment conditions.

Here’s how centuries old books were stored in the church’s basement

What a big loss would it be if they would become dust, so many precious information about real people lost, and we had the chance to do something. Sure, it’s a huge work, but already today there’s a big effort in digitalising old books and documents, and I would love to see that happen in my country as well. This is the story of a small village, but the same applies to thousands of other villages, towns and cities all around Italy and the rest of the world.

In the hope that this post could inspire someone, I’ll add a small gallery of the pictures I took that day – the quality is not the best, but we’re talking about 10 years ago.

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