Following the large audience for the third-season premiere of the US-version of Who Do You Think You Are? - starring Martin Sheen - the second episode focused on Marisa Tomei.
Tomei's story concerned her murdered great-grandfather, and the false belief held by her family about the event's circumstances.
Her odyssey takes her from Brooklyn to Tuscany, Elba, Castiglioncello and Lucca to find the truth about the event, and her mother's BIANCHI and CANOVARO families. Her father, Gary, had already done extensive research on the TOMEI family tree.
The story takes her from Brooklyn – where she grew up in a large Italian family – to Italy to find the truth about her great-grandfather’s death.
A family legend relates that her great-grandfather, Leopoldo Bianchi, was murdered in 1910, possibly shot at a bar for an affair with a married woman or perhaps owing money to a man.
She arrives in Cecina in Tuscany to investigate the story. In the Municipal Cemetery Archives, she finds the 1911 (not 1910) death record, which lists "illness" as the cause of death. The clue now is the Island of Elba – made famous by Napoleon’s exile – origin of the Bianchis and Canovaros. There she visits the ancient church's archive and finds the Canovaros listed in registries back to the 1600s.
At the Elba Historical Municipal Archives, she sees Leopoldo and Maria’s marriage certificate and learns they moved six years later to Cecina. There’s a local newspaper article reporting Leopoldo’s death, shot by Terzilio Lazzereschi on March 7, 1911.
In Castiglioncello, she discovers another article with more details. The well-off Terzilio, a kiln operator, met Leopoldo outside a café and shot him in the head, in revenge for having been beaten the previous night by Leopoldo and his brother Tito. More documents reveal the two men were business partners in a successful kiln business, but an altercation ensued when Terzilio fired Tito for reasons listed only as "disloyalty."
However, the expert consulted says it was a manner of honor. Being charged with disloyalty in a culture operating on honor could have consequences. People might think the family couldn’t be trusted and business might be impacted. This was a serious charge, which Leopoldo and his brother must have felt needed to be addressed. The results are known, but not what the exact charges – if true – were against Tito, resulting in his dismissal.
Court transcripts in Lucca reveal that Terzilio was acquitted by reason of self-defense, because he hired the town's defense “dream team.”
She even discovers a relative, now 83, who knew her great-grandmother and writes a letter detailing the widow's second marriage after her husband's murder, and how Tomei's grandfather arrived in America.
Back in Brooklyn, she shares the details with her mother, who had always believed her grandfather to be a philanderer or villain, andwas relieved to know it wasn’t true.
If you missed last night’s episode, you can see it online here until September 2012.
Note that the video may only be available to those in the US. That link includes the full episode, highlights and even scenes that were deleted due to time limitations.
Did you enjoy this episode? If your family comes from Italy, did you learn useful information about research there?
The next episode of WDYTYA features Blair Underwood on Friday, February 24. His search into his roots takes him to the American South and to Cameroon to reconnect with his African ancestors. There's a DNA component to this episode. See the link for more on the upcoming episode.