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Bronte's families, genealogies, and surnames evolution

by Nunzio Longhitano and Nino Liuzzo

Preamble, Registers-archivists, and filing clerks of the Main Church, Registers and social organization,
Surnames and families, errors and anomalies


Often, in a particular moment of our life. we ask ourselves:

- Why do I call somebody uncle or cousin, if I can't see any recent type of relationship to which I could refer?

- My grandmother used to say that we were related to…or

- That aunty was telling that the relationship derives from….

Anyway it is true that possibly in Bronte we could be all somehow related?

Having almost reached the pension's age and trying to find a way to be active and useful, I decided to give some answers to these questions.

My surname also reminds me that the Longhitano in Bronte are spread in various families with varied nicknames or «‘nghiùri» but in which the sense of relationship, even if not close, was strongly felt.

The various nicknames ('nghiuri), “Checchi”, “Cesari”, “Bizzuni”, “Saranelli”, “Chicchitti”, were recurring names in families conversations.

They used to talk about it with a relationship background, even if by now the old blood ties were lost, the ancestors forgotten, so determining the trunk's fragmentation of the genealogic tree, as it happened with the "chestnut of the hundred horses" of which is rather difficult to see again its unity.

My experience in the botanist field has so pressed me to reconstitute my family's genealogic tree, extending it to whoever had relationship bonds through marriages.
To carry out such plan, I have asked the current archpriest of Bronte's main church, father Vincent Saitta, permission to examine the parochial archives, creating new contents of the various volumes, using the data processing of Microsoft Excel.

The initiative was well accepted and these are some of the results that I put at everybody's disposal on the web site of the Bronte Insieme Association.

Registers-archivists, and filing clerks of the Main Church

Anything can be said about filing clerks except that they knew how to write.
The procedure of registering a christening I think is yet the same then before. Compilation of a loose sheet called "squarcio" from which were then copied on the register.

The register's pages were then numbered progressively, unless some clerk made a mistake  and started  to give crazy numbers.

Every page was divided in two parts: one column, about 2 inches wide, on which was written the name of the christened baby and the progressive number of baptism acts, when this was reported, on the other column, about 6 inches wide, was registered the baptism act with the celebrant priest, the delegating parish priest, with all his titles and prebends, the name of the parents, the name given to the baby, the name of the godfathers, the even­tual proxies, the midwife who had assisted the child birth.

Everything written in Latinorum ("dog-Latin naturally").

The original act or squarcio, was compiled by the celebrant, the transcription on the register was instead done by the archivist; the completion of the left column most likely was left to a clerk-typist, and it is here that the great part of mistakes in the writing of the register are found.

The name preceded the father's surname that often was exchanged with the mother's one and written with such orthographic mistakes to sometime change it completely.

Here is an example among many: the left column appears "570 - Placidus Longhitano"; on the right you can read "Die vigesimo quinto 25 martii 1848 – 286 - Ego sac. D. Josef Lombardo delic.a veri Economi huius S.M. Brontis Civ. sub tit.lo Triadis baptizavi infantem hodie natum ex jugibus Josef Gangi et Maria Longhitano. Cui nomen imposui Placidum fuere D. x D. Placidus lombardus, et D.a Rosa eius soror". (Reg. Battesimi n° 4 – 1839-1850).

The name of the christened baby, Placido Gangi, then becomes Placido Longhitano. Therefore who is looking only to the left column shall get a wrong indication.



Prof. Nunzio LonghitanoProfessor Nunzio Longhitano
was born in Bronte the 1st of March 1937 where attended first the little Seminary and then the Real Capizzi College.
He continued his studies in Cata­nia where, during November 1960, obtained a degree in Natu­ral Sciences disputing the graduation thesis «Geologic Observations on the "Flaking Clays" of the area including Bronte's north and the Sierra di Vito» with the professor Roberto Colacicchi.
He started his academic career as assistant to the in­stitute of and in the botany and at the same time was teaching in the Bronte's commercial techni­cal institute and in other institutes of the province, until 1973 when as an appointed pro­fessor and the­reafter as associate professor teaches Syste­matic Botany, Geobotany, Paly­no­logy on the cour­ses for Natural Sciences and Biology Science degrees in Catania's university.
Goes in mission several times abroad for research on tropical pastures in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Mo­roc­co, Algeria, Libya, Ghana, Burkina Fasu, Mo­zam­bique, Tan­zania and Guinea.
Nominated Associate professor in 1985, he devo­tes himself to Palynologic and Melissopalynologic studies qualifying from a botanic point of view typical Sicilian honeys. Particularly to those typical of the Iblei, Nebro­di and Etna mounts.
Nunzio Longhitano nel 1955At the moment he is taking care of the qualification of all the Sicily's honeys requesting the brand I.G.P. "Sicily's honeys" brought forward by the agricul­ture's council department of the Sicilian Region.
Getting close to retirement, as a hobby he chooses to devote himself to Genealogy and with the consent of father Vincenzo Saitta, cur­rent parish priest of the Main Church, decides to copy the Parochial Archives in digital form creating Regi­sters databases for Baptism, Marriage etc …, and whatever more ... health and life permitting.
Catania, June 2007

Prof. Nunzio Longhitano, our partner and brilliant collabo­rator, died in Catania on February 25, 2019.

When thereafter was ordered to note down on the register the contracted marria­ge with the indication of wife or husband, father of wife or husband, date and locality, then thing can get very complicated.

Who is writing the note,  first he'll have to find the space where to write, and writing small text with the goose quill  of that time you can imagine what will happen. Often unreadable notes,  smudges and corrections, faded or too heavy sepia ink. It is easy also to run into duplicates with different dates. The aforesaid baptism act is repeated to N° 576 this time correctly and so as Placido Gangi. The register was periodically controlled and endorsed by the appointed archpriest, otherwise was complete chaos.

The acts numbering usually starts on the first day of every year and ends the 31st of December. On the register n° 4 the 2nd January 1816 the numbering does not starts from 1, but continues with 436, and goes on this way until the 12th f December 1836 when, once reached n° 1000, it is decided to start again from n°1.

From this moment starts the chaos in the acts numbering. The numbers go back and forth. In 1848 from the number 627 of the 13th of May it goes to n°228 of the same month, and then goes on to the end of 1848. From that date the same system is used up to the last page of the register.

Often, for a copyist to write Luca or De Luca was the same. For this reason drags on the hoary question if the Cardinal's surname was De Luca  and not  Luca while the De would have been added «to ennoble the family».

Actually the marriage certificate of the cardinal's parents, in the marriages register n°16 of 1777-1790 to page 37 act n°46, about Vincentius De Luca reads as follows: «Eodem die 10 7bris 1780, …Ego sac D. Antoninus Luca ex lic. Parrocchi Antonius filius M.i Vincenti, e Agata Luca inn. N. Giusti Brontis ann: 28 cig. Et Francisca filia Sebastiani et Maria Saitta inn….anni 19 gig. In comunis Brontis ac im majori Parrocchiali Ecc.a Matrice SS. Triadis Interrogavi ... M.o Thomas Luca et m.o Litterio Politi:…».

This shows that the name was written indifferently both ways. In consequence 99% of times the name was written as Luca.

Registers and social organization

The Main Church registers reflect and give a precise idea of Bronte's society, that remained almost unchanged until the end of the second world war.

In the Fifties, the external influx, the migrations between north and south in Italy or Europe caused the collapse  of patriarchal society and the start of a new social order.

From such registers becomes also evident that Bronte's population was divided in three sections: a middle class of landowners, wealthy and bunged in itself, an active artisan's class and an outcast class or "junnatari" which lived "from day to day" working for the others and trying so to make ends meet as much as they could.

-- The Landowners middle class was represented by the few families who retained economic and social power. On the registers are always indicated as "Don" or "Donna": Cimbali, Luca, subsequently became  De Luca, Spitaleri, became Spedalieri or Spetalieri, Radice, Meli, Artale, Grisley, Thovez, Fiorini, Fernandez, Aidala, Catania, Longhitano, Sanfilippo, Leanza, Margaglio, Turco or Lo Turco, Zappia, Torretta, Palermo, Cannata, Cesare, Biuso, Colavecchia ecc..

The marriages and christenings happen within similar families for wealth and respect within the Community.

-- Members of entrepreneur crafts made are indicated as "Mastro" or "Maestro", and  only when they have reached a certain social level shall be indicated as Don or Donna. To cite as proof the: Barbaria, Lupo, Aidala, Gorgone, Sofia, Camuto, Portaro, Di Bella, Samperi, Pannucci;

-- Small landowners, merchants and workmen didn't get any title.

-- The last social class was represented by the people without particular merits whose members were often indicated  ad "quilibet".

-- Women, finally, did not have any legal status. They existed only as "uxor", "soror", "mater", "filia", nephew of a man.

Often instead of a surname there is the aforesaid indication. If she is the godmother in a christening, is indicated with her surname only if "quilibet" and cannot adorn herself with the "uxor" title.

This is why my research work had to stop around year 1760, as, without the possibility of finding the wife surname. I find difficult to link the various families trying to create a genealogic tree.

Maybe in the near future, when this first part shall be completed, I shall try to go beyond this date.

Surnames and families, errors and anomalies

As a proof of what has been said so far and that anything can be said about filing clerks except that they knew how to write, hereon I shall show some examples of anomalies or  mistakes found in the registers about surnames.

The surname Aricò is written as: Aliquò, Ariquò, Tricò, so in the family Franzone-Aricò, every son has a different surname.

Bandieramonte Sebastiano born in Trecastagni and married in Bronte, is written Ballaramonte for his daughter Ballaramonte Domenica Giuseppa Rosolia born the 3/04/1823. (Reg. 2, p. 22, act 136).

The surname Basile, around 1820-1830, is written sometime Di Basile, some others Basile. In the following years simply Basile.

The surname Batticani, also because of the dialect, sometime is written "Batticane", in italian. Calcagno sometime is written "Carcagno" and other times "Calvagno" while Cariola appears as Caliora or Cariola Placido.

The surname Chiofalo was written "Chiofaro" around year 1780. Daquino started to be written with an apostrophe (D'Aquino) in 1852 with D'Aquino Vincenzo, son of D'Aquino Pasquale and Milazzotto in the Volume 20 (86) of the marriages registers, and at the same time on the baptisms registers.

With the appointment as Archpriest of Don Salvatore Politi (1859), learned priest and Latinist, compiler of the diary  of Bronte's Facts found in the registers and copied elsewhere, and with the coming of Italy's Unify, starts a tendency to Italianize surnames and get close to today's writing through a series of distortions and surnames multiplications derivate from a unique original.

Even the surname Di Bella, around the years 1820-1830, appeard on the registers as "Bella" or "La Bella".  In subsequent years was written as the current Di Bella.

The sons of Di Marco Giuseppe married to Maccarrone Vincenza are registered once as Di Marco and then as Di Marzo, while the sons of Di Marzo Giuseppe married to Camano Ignazia did not undergo any change. From this moment (1828-31) all the Di Marco disappear and become Di Marzo.

The surname Fazzio, is written with one or two "z" and often becomes Di Fazio. The surname of Gardano Giuseppe, from Randazzo is written Ganduni, Cardani.

The Grisley family's members: They arrive to Bronte from London in the first years of the 18th century, the father, Samuel Grisley, the mother, Marta Grisley and the son Vincent Samuel that was chastened "sub conditione"  the first of October 1820, doubting he could have been an Anglican. This surname was copied in various ways from then on (Grijlech, Gryslech, Grisleus).

The surname Lo Turco was regularly cut to Turco by the copyists, an habit which was transmitted to the Bronte's citizens who try to shorten and adapt the surnames to their dialect.
We find an evident example of this in the page 30 (119) of the volume n°4 where it is registered the christening's act Turco Illuminata  daughter of Don Ignazio Lo Turco and Donna Anna Lo Turco. For their son Mariano, born the 2nd of April 1841, the "Lo" disappears, and so does also for his father Don Ignazio Turco, mother Donna Anna Turco and his sister Nunzia born the 13th of February 1836. From there on the Lo Turbo family becomes "Turco" in every baptism certificate because for the copyist  writing Turco or Lo Turco was the same.

The surname Luca follows the same pattern, is written indifferently Luca, Di Luca, De Luca. The De Luca family had to ask a competent court to unify the surname within the "Clan".

The surname Monciovì or Mongiovì derives the transformation of the surname Monciout of mister Leonardo who, coming from Palermo, marries miss Saporito Serafina. Their son born the 14th of March 1819 is Monciovì Giacomo Antonino Giuseppe. So registered on the Vol. 1 (29) – p. 347 Act 134.

 Una pagina del Registro dei "Battezzati" (1580)The surname Pace, is often written "Di Pace", "Pace", "Paci", depending on the writing abilities of the copyist.

Pettinato, one of the most graphically stable surnames, in the case of the Capuchin Don Luigi Pettinato, around 1784, is often written "Pettinati".

Another problem of surname's Italianization can be seen with the surname "Prazzamà", so copied in the register 4 of the 4/10/1840 for Placida Prazzamà of Prazzamà Felice; in the same register her sister Giuseppa, the 2nd of August 1846 is indicated as Giuseppa Bracciamà of Bracciamà Felice.

The surname Proto ensues from the contraction of Protos. That is why we find a Protos Giuseppe born the first of March 1829 son of Protos Tommaso and Modica Anna Maria.

The surname Radice, around 1780 was written also "Radicia" as it appears in the case of the priest don Antonino Radice (1784) and many other surnames got the same treatment by the fantasy or the incompetence of the various copyists.

Nunzio Longhitano

21st of June 2007

The registers

The “Born”, “Christened” and marriages regi­sters start from the end of the 15th century.

«Who is writing,  first he'll have to find the space where to write, and writing small text with the goose quill  of that time you can ima­gine what will happen. Often un­readable notes,  smudges and corrections, faded or too heavy sepia ink».

Professor Nunzio Longhitano, with lots of pa­tience, de­dication, method and competence, «creates new index for the various volumes using the data processing of Microsoft Excel», so to make them accessible and available to whoever wishes to make historic or genea­logic searches.

On behalf of all Bronte's people we wish to thank him.

The first writing

The first Anagraphic registers of our Main Church (the Matrice) start at 1582 when, Mon­signor Don Luis de Torres, Monreale's archbishop to whom Bronte was dependent, during his pastoral visit of the 27th - 29th of September ordered his Vicar «...  to keep in the sacristy four books and write in the first book all the christened and confirmed, on the second the com­municated, on the third the marriages and in the fourth the dead and copy of such books hag to be sent to Monreale».

For many centuries these books ("riveli") shall represent the only personal data of Bronte's people: sole also because of the fire set to the Council Ar­chives by the rebels during the tragic facts of 1860, that destroyed all the Council's books.


We have put online the ancient Baptism and Marriage Registers of the Matrix (from 1734 to 1923). It is now easier to conduct registry and genealogical research aimed at reconstructing the history of one's family or people, but also towards the social history of Bronte.

Translated by Sam Di Bella


Bronte's history

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