The Can of Worms: Part One

In a previous blog post I wrote about Francesca Sancetta’s journey back to Sicily when her mother passed away in Brooklyn.  Since I wrote that post, I’ve managed to dig up some more details about the family, especially the other children, and perhaps some maternal cousins as well.  And as you will see, the can of worms has officially been opened.

Rosa Tarantola, my g-g-grandmother, was born in 1867 to Vincenzo Tarantola and Francesca Calmana.  I believe she was most likely from the area around Salaparuta in Trapani Province on the western end of Sicily.  She immigrated to Brooklyn, NY, sometime around 1893, most likely bringing a child or two with her when she came.  There is some evidence that her husband, Guiseppe Sancetta, may already have been in Brooklyn, but since I have yet to find any immigration or US census records for the family, it’s a bit of a guess either way.

They settled in Brooklyn and had at least 4 more children before Rosa’s untimely death in 1905 from “consumption”, or more likely TB.  Amazingly, I have a copy of her hand-written death certificate, which states that she was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn.  And I also had a copy of a birth record for her daughter Jennie that comes from St. John’s the Evangelist in Brooklyn, so I had a couple of places to start searching.

After my extensive searches online were proving fruitless, I knew that I would need to employ some more old-fashioned techniques to kick start the research on this family.  So I got on the phone and called St. John’s.  I gave them the information I had on the family, including Rosa’s maiden name.  A few days later I received a rather excited  phone message from the woman at the church saying not only had she found four birth records for the children of Giuseppe and Rosa, but she had also found a bunch of Tarantola birth records as well from the same time frame.  Would I like her to send those as well?  Well OF COURSE I would!

I soon had a fat little envelope in my hands with a bunch of hand-copied records.  Included were the Sancetta birth records of:

  1. Francesca in 1892 (check)
  2. Vincenzo in 1894 (check)
  3. Rosalie in 1901 (who?)
  4. Carmelo in 1903 (who now?)

I sat there and sort of stared at these records for a bit.  Then I grabbed my records and started to take look.  The children’s names I know for Sancetta family are:

  1. Giovanni (John)
  2. Maria (Mary)
  3. Francesca (Frances)
  4. Vincenzo (James)
  5. Jennie
  6. Tom

So my suspicions were already that some of the children were not born in America, it seems to be confirmed by the lack of records for John and Mary, the two eldest children.  I had a suspicion already that John was not a US Citizen because I knew that he was made to serve in the Italian Army, while the other two brothers were not, perhaps due to their citizenship status?  A question for the future.  And Mary, who stayed in the US and was potentially married already when her mother died, is still a bit of a mystery but it would make sense that she also was not born here, and was able to stay because of her marriage.  So that’s another question for the future.

So, moving on: right away I suspected that Carmelo must be our Tom as the year of the birth on the certificate matched my record for Tom.  Perhaps Tom was his baptismal name or a name he chose for himself after he came back to America?  When I plugged in Carmelo instead of Tom on his Ancestry entry, up popped that little hint leaf and bam!  I had the 1930 and 1940 census records appear and I knew it had to be him.  Plus, I remembered I had a picture of a young man that was sent to my g-grandmother “with love from your brother” in Sicily.  The name signed on the picture was “Carmelo”.  Bingo.  Carmelo is who we knew as Tom.

But now I’ll get to the can of worms: Who was Rosalie?  Is she my g-grandmother?  Is it possible that the random stories I had heard over the years were all coming together now to point out the truth?  Were Rosalie and Jennie the same person?  My heart skipped a beat with excitement and…dread.

The reason I had a feeling of dread is that if Rosalie and Jennie are the same person, then the date of her birth, 1901, does not compute for me.  Jennie married her husband, Frank Natole, in 1909.  And their first child, Angeline, was born in 1910.  If Rosalie and Jennie are the same person, then the first child would have been born before she 10 years old!  While this is possible, it is (I sure hope) likely NOT the case.  I do know that Jennie was much younger than her husband, but this seems extreme.

I want to stop here and say one thing:  I am not going to sugar coat what I find to be true.  This entire situation warrants more investigation, but I realize that it can be painful to some if we find out that she was as young as the birth certificate says she may be.  I am personally hoping to find strong proof that she was older, but I know that times were different then and, however unsavory for our modern day morals to accept, this kind of thing did happen.

So, here is some of the evidence I have for both sides.  First, and scarily enough, there was a story that when my grandparents called “back East” to tell the Sancetta family of the death of Jennie in 1959, the family did not know her as Jennie, but rather as “Rose”.  It could be that someone has a story confused here, but that is what I have been told.  If, going by the Carmelo/Tom example, the family knew her as Rose perhaps it was because Rose was her middle, or confirmation, name.  Vincenza would be a legit family name and can be Anglicised to “Jennifer” or Jennie.  However, it can go the other way too and perhaps her real name was Rose Vinzenza (Jennie).

Second, Jennie herself never knew when her birthday was.  For some legal reason, she needed to get a birth record for herself from St. John’s, but she never was sent the correct record.  They kept sending her her brother Vincenzo’s certificate with the name changed to “Vincenza”, perhaps because she was telling them her name in Italian was Vincenza.  And I had the same exact trouble when I attempted to find a birth certificate for her as well.  Additionally, my grandmother tells me that my grandfather used to say Jennie’s children teased her for “getting married when she was 10”.  Which does not bode well for Rosalie being a different person.

Third, the wedding photo.  I was told that Frank and Jennie married in 1909 and I have a wedding photo that shows them as a young couple.  Jennie looks young here, there is no doubt.  But to me at least she looks to at least be a young teenager.  She was always a tiny woman, just 4’9″ tall when my grandmother knew her.  Her husband was much taller.  If she was as young as is possible, then they did an excellent job of making her look more like a young adult than a child.  Judge for yourself:

Frank Natole and Jennie Sancetta

Frank Natole and Jennie Sancetta


Now there are a couple of possibilities here that I’ve thought of, which of course I will need to research further.  One idea is this photo was taken later than I think, and perhaps they did not marry as early as I have been told.  This does not solve the problem of the first child being born in 1910 though.  Another idea is perhaps Jennie married Frank later and the first two children were from a previous relationship.  Or, perhaps they were married after some of the children had already been born?  Protocol of those days would probably frown heavily on that.  And to be honest I cannot see that being the case.  The trouble is this: I still do not have a marriage record for them, and I do not have clear proof of Jennie’s age at marriage.  And until I do I cannot possibly know what happened more than 100 years ago.

What’s next?  Well, besides the marriage record, I need to see if I can find any record of a confirmation for Jennie.  I actually didn’t mention something that is important: Jennie moved in with her sister Mary Sancetta Iacono when the rest of her family departed for Sicily.  I am unsure if the family moved to Minnesota right away or stayed in Brooklyn for a time.  I do know that the photo above was taken in Minneapolis, so it seems that they had moved here by at least 1909.  So if there was a chance that Jennie was confirmed it would most likely have been in Minnesota.  That’s a big “if” of course.  Also, I still have to find the birth certificates for all of Frank and Jennie’s children to confirm their birth dates and parents.  Feelings aside, what is important to me is that I knew all but one of Jennie’s children, and when asked they all said they loved their mother to no end and she was a loving and wonderful person.  And as I dig through that can of worms, that is what I will keep close to my heart.

Next time: What did I discover in the Tarantola records I received, what did I find at the cemetery and what new can of worms was opened?  To be continued…


Charlemagnia, Part Deux

Let’s pick up where we left off.  (If you haven’t already, please read “Charlemagnia, Part One“.)  As I stated, my Barnett line potentially leads to a marriage between John Bernard (1437-1485) and Margaret LeScrope (1440-1496).  It is through Margaret Le Scrope that a possible link exists to the Plantagenet Kings of England, and ultimately Charlemagne.

The thing is, I’m not sure.  I can research all I like online, but is that enough?  I suppose once you get to the children or grandchildren of royalty, you’re probably safe.  But it’s the 6 generations between John Bernard and Margaret de Clare that are “unproved” in my opinion.  And that is because I have not yet seen the documents that prove this connection to satisfy my standards.  Is it probable?  Yes.  But proven?  No.

But for the sake of conversation, let me continue the line that leads to Charlemagne:

10. John Barnett, b. 1437 and Margaret Le Scrope, b. 1440

11. Henry Le Scrope, b. 1418 and Elizabeth Le Scrope (her actual maiden name), b. 1417

12. Richard Le Scrope (father of Henry), b. 1394 and Margaret Neville (Um, yes, Neville again!)

13. Ralph Neville, b. 1364 and Margaret Stafford

14. Hugh de Stafford, b. 1344 and Philippa de Beauchamp, b. 1344

15. Ralph de Stafford, b. 1301 and Margaret de Audley

16. Hugh de Audley, b. abt 1291 and Margaret de Clare, b. 1293

17. Gilbert de Clare, b. 1243 and Joan Plantagenet (Joan of Acre), b. 1272

18. Edward I Plantagenet, b. 1239 and Eleanor of Castile, b. 1241

Let’s pause for a moment here.  If all proves out, Edward I of England and Eleanor of Castile are my 23rd Great-Grandparents.  If this is true, it’s like the mother lode of information about the times, the places, the people that lived over 700 years ago.  And because of the good documentation you get a sense of who these people actually were, which is rare when you’re doing genealogy.

OK. let’s continue:

19. Henry III Plantagenet, b. 1207 and Eleanor of Provence

20. John Plantagenet (Angevin Line), b. 1167 and Isabella de Angouleme, b. 1188

21. Henry II Plantagenet (Angevin Line), b. 1133 and Eleanor of Aquitaine, b. 1122

23. Geoffrey of Anjou (Henry’s father), b. 1113 and Matilda of England, b. 1102

Pause again.  Matilda of England was the granddaughter of William The Conqueror, and at one point was poised to be Queen of England in her own right (she ended up settling with an agreement to make her son, Henry, heir to the throne.)  I’m sure there will be a post about this another time.  Also, The romantic side of me would love to think that perhaps my g-g-grandmother, Viola Matilda Barnett, was named after Matilda of England.  Most likely this was just a coincidence.

24. Fulk, King of Jerusalem, b. 1090 and Ermengarde of Maine, b. 1196

25. Fulk IV, Count of Anjou, b. 1043 and Bertrade de Montfort

26. Geoffrey, Count of Gatinais and Ermentrude of Anjou, b. abt. 1018

27. Fulk III, Count of Anjou (father of Ermentrude), b. 972 and Hildegard of Sundau

28. Geoffrey I, Count of Anjou, b. 940 and Adele of Meaux, b. 934

29. Robert of Vermandois (father of Adele), b. abt. 907 and Adelaide de Chalon

30. Herbert II, Count of Vermandois and Adele

31. Herbert I, Count of Vermandois, b. 848 and Bertha de Morvois

32. Pepin, Count of Vermandois, b. 818 and an unknown mother of Herbert I

33. Bernard, King of Italy, b. 797 and Cunigunde

34. Pepin (Carloman), King of Italy, b. abt. 770 and an unknown mother of Bernard

And the ultimate find:

35. Charlemagne, b. 747 and Hildegarde of Vinzgouw, b. abt 758

Over 1200 years of history there, from Charlemagne’s birth to mine.  Charlemagne and Hildegarde would be my 39th Great-Grandparents, with 42 generations of time us.  But, is it real?

Mathmatically speaking, yes.  If you go back 10 generations, you have 1024 potential ancestors (ancestors are exponential, you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents and so on).  If you go back the 42 generations from me to Charlemagne, you’re looking at many trillions of ancestors.  Which is impossible when you consider the entire world population was a lot smaller at the time of Charlemagne’s birth in 747.  What the supposition states is every living European will have, among others, at least one line that leads back to Charlemagne.  (See

It’s complicated and I don’t fully understand it myself.  After reading about this for many years, I know that it has not only to do with the size of the past population. You also have to take in to consideration things like major epidemics (like the Black Death which some think may have killed off up to 60% of the population), natural disasters, war.  There is a genetic term, “bottleneck”, which refers to a substantial reduction of members of a species, in our case the human species.  When you have a bottleneck and a reduced number of people survive to continue the species, you can see how all descendants from these people would have the same ancestors in common.

Another way of looking is to stop thinking of our ancestry as a tree, with an unlimited number of branches that divide indefinitely.  What we should do is start thinking of our ancestry as a road system, as in the idea that “All roads lead to Rome”.  If you start from Berlin and make your way to Rome, as you move south you have more and more roads to choose from, but as you move closer to Rome itself, those roads start to converge until ultimately only a few roads lead into the city itself.  And then again as you move out of Rome towards another destination, the road choices begin to multiply again.

The trouble is, of course, records.  Written records are rare prior to about 1400 when it comes to common family lines.  This is why I find it so exciting to find that perhaps the Plantagenet family, William the Conquerer, and Charlemagne are my ancestors. It’s the sheer number of records that survived about these that will help me imagine my family living in the Medieval world that I love to research so much.

But my ultimate take away is this:  I still need to validate these connections by doing my own research.  I cannot succumb to the glamour of having a series of celebrities in my tree.  This may simply be checking on sources to validate they’re OK, or I may need to start contacting librarians in far away places to find the records I need to prove, once and for all, that these people were really my ancestors.  And even in this age of the internet, you still occasionally need to pack yourself up and go to some tiny basement library to find that one document that proves (or disproves!) a family link.

To wrap this all up, I’ll end with some questions for you.

1. If you’re of European descent, have you found Charlemagne in your tree yet?

2. If you’re not of European descent, is there someone in your tree or heritage (like Genghis Khan) that you know or suspect may be your ancestor?

3. How do you feel about the idea that we all are related?

4. How do you go about “proving” your family connections, especially when you find a potential link to famous person

More reading:

A decent explanation of the population problem:

Articles about bottlenecks in human population history:

A guide for good research in Genealogy:

Organization for Charlemagne descendants (to help you with leads if you suspect Charlemagne in your tree)

Charlemagnia, Part One

If you are of European descent, and have been at the genealogy game for some length of time, you may have heard the theory that all Europeans alive today, statistically speaking, are descended from Charlemagne.  In fact, just this season on “Who Do You Think You Are”, Cindy Crawford’s family tree was traced back to Charlemagne and Hildegarde of Swabia.  As a gal from the Midwest myself, I thought this episode was really interesting, especially since it aired I have discovered that I may also be a direct descendant of Charlemagne as well.

(See clips from Cindy’s episode at and

Before I begin the story, let me reiterate once again that I am never “looking” for royalty in my family tree.  I’m not going to accept a suspect link in order to “prove” my connection to the Kings and Queens of England, nor any other royal family or gentry.  To me the stories of the common folk are a lot more interesting for their bravery, adventure and perseverance.  But, it seems that perhaps my friends are correct when they teasingly call me a “Princess”.  It seems that in a way I could actually be one, genetically speaking. (This, by the way, completely cracks me up.)

And in my other pastime as a historical researcher, one of my favorite topics is leadership and power on a social level.  The question of how does a President, Royal, Dictator convince the masses that he or she should lead, and why does everyone else should follow this person, has always fascinated me.  Especially when the leader started life as a social underdog, such as a woman or a minority.  Because of this interest I have a good feel for the families that shaped English history, and have always been aware that my own tree didn’t have any of these family names…until recently.

OK, I’ll stop teasing now and get to the nitty-gritty of what I have discovered.

Through one line of my tree on my Mother’s side, I happened upon British relatives that may have been minor landholders by the last name of Barnett, a variant of the French “Bernard”.  The trail began with my g-g-grandmother who had the wildly romantic name of Viola Matilda Barnett.  Her story will be told in another post, but let me just say here that finding her records was a huge win for me, and led me through the Barnett line to Viola’s grandfather, John Barnett (1807 – 1870) and his wife who was variously known as Cena Merriman and Ceney Merryman (you all know what I’m talking about here as far as name spellings go!).

John and Ceney lived in Adams Co. Indiana during the mid-late 1800s.  Even though the census records out of Indiana pointed to John’s birthplace as Culpeper County, VA, I sat dead ended on this particular John for a few years, thwarted by the many John Barnetts living in VA during this period.  Finally I contacted the Culpeper historical society in Virginia and I was lucky enough to find that there was only one John Barnett born in the county during the right time frame.  AND, more importantly, I was able to find a marriage record for parents, James and Mary (Spinny) Barnett, and finally, the name of James’ parents, Ambrose and Judith (Neavill) Barnett.

The name Neavill stopped me in my tracks.  Since I knew that the “Neville” family was a fairly affluent and influential family in England, I wondered if I would finally happen upon my first link to royalty, either because someone was a valet to a King, landed gentry, or perhaps most influential of all, actually related to an English royal family.  After all, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III was Cecily Neville.  Plus, I found this link at the same time that Richard III’s body was discovered under a car park in England, so I doubled my effort to research this line.

Unfortunately so far the Neavill/Neville line has been a dead end with Judith’s father George.  What happened instead was I found that Ambrose Barnett is included in multiple family trees of various credibility that leads directly to the Plantagenet family.  As in the Plantagenet Kings of England.  As in, well…read on.

The line as I’ve been able to trace so far, is as follows:

1. Ambrose Barnett, b. 1741 in Virginia and Judith Neavill

2. John Barnett, b. 1704 in Middlesex, Virginia and Marran Gibbs, b. abt 1708 in Virginia

3. John Barnett, b. 1694 in England and Ann

4. William Barnett/Bernard, b. 1658 in England and Loretta Pannell

5. Richard Bernard, b. 1608 in England and Ann Corderoy (also a last name that appears in Tudor records later)

6. Richard Bernard, b. 1580 in England and Elizabeth Woolhouse

7. Francis Bernard, b. 1526 in England and Alice Haselwood

8. John Bernard, b. 1490 in Abington, Northamptonshire, England and Cecily Muscote, b. 1500 in England

9. John Bernard, b. 1469 in Abington, Northamptonshire, England and Margaret Duadelyn, b. 1470 in Duddington, Northamptonshire, England

10. John Bernard, b. 1437 in Abington, Northamptonshire, England and Margaret LeScrope, b. 1440 in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, England.

OK, let me pause here and explain a few things.  First I was able to find credible records for John Barnett (2) that link him to a John and Ann Barnett as his parents, through his birth record in VA.  It’s John (3) where the records get a little sketchy.  There is a database on Ancestry called “U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560 – 1900” that cites a marriage between John Barnett and Ann Barnett, but I don’t normally like using this as a source.  Originally this database was more trustworthy, but in recent times they have begun using family tree data to fill out the database.  And as we well know, family trees are filled with bad data.  And since Ancestry does not give me any info on where the record was obtained, it needs to be filed in the “To Be Researched” file.  This would be the first thing I need to confirm directly with records in VA, if they exist

Second, the link between John (3) and William (4) is taken from family tree data.  This obviously has to be researched further.  BUT, the reason I am taking this link as mostly truth is because I have run across some very well-cited documentation online that has this connection.  As a researcher, it is then up to me to check sources from this documentation and also attempt to come up with citations of my own to prove the connection.  So for now let’s just go with it as it serves the story I am (eventually) trying to tell.

Which, as you have probably already figured out, will be continued in my next post titled “Charlemagnia, Part Deux”, coming out yet today.  Stay tuned!

Until then, here are a few links to more information about the theoretical mathematical descent from Charlemagne for you: