Monday, February 13, 2012

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Marisa Tomei

This week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? focused almost entirely on the question of what actually happened to Marisa Tomei's great-grandfather Francesco Leopoldo Bianchi.  In the opening segment Tomei went to New York to meet with her parents, Gary and Addie, and brother, Adam, and discuss the story that her mother's grandfather had been murdered in 1910.  He supposedly had been shot in a bar, with the cause being fooling around with someone else's woman or that he owed money to somebody.  Tomei's mother also wondered what had happened to her grandmother after Bianchi was killed and how that affected her father, who was 2 years old at the time, and uncle, who was only 1.  Addie had a family tree on, which was prominently displayed.  The tree showed Bianchi and Adelaide Angiola Canovaro, Addie's grandmother.  Both sides of the family were from Tuscany, Italy.

After meeting with her parents, Tomei and Adam talked about how her mother had never discussed the murder but now was interested in learning more about it.  Adam said, "I suspect that you're gonna find out that there is something else" to the story about the murder.  So we had our sledgehammer cue that the story wasn't going to be quite what the family thought it was.  Foreshadowing is one thing, but I really wonder about the script writers on this show.

Tomei immediately went to Italy to begin her research, unlike the rest of us, who would have probably had to settle for hiring a researcher remotely.  Considering the information she later finds, though, it is possible she might not have been able to accomplish it without going in person.  Because we didn't see any of the research being done, we don't know if the researchers had any indices available or if they had to go page by page through the records.  She went first to Cecina, where the Bianchi family was from.  At the Cecina Municipal Cemetery and Archive she met with guide Fabio Di Segni (who actually has a film company).  In this segment Di Segni's dialog was accompanied by subtitles, which I didn't see the need for.  I thought his English was easily understandable.  Tomei and Di Segni went inside to meet with Loris Gagliardi, the caretaker for the cemetery.  Gagliardi spoke only in Italian; his dialog was translated in subtitles.  Tomei asked whether there were any documents relating to her great-grandfather's death in 1910.  Gagliardi said he would check and pulled out several folders.  He said there was nothing for 1910 and that he would look in 1911.  In that folder he found a record saying that Bianchi's body was transported to Cecina for burial on March 10, 1911 and that he had died of illness on March 7.  A translation was already prepared for Tomei to read (it appeared that her Italian skills are pretty basic).  It looked pretty silly to go through the motions of looking through the folders to see if there was a record and then conveniently have the translation ready.  After Tomei had read the translation, Gagliardi put everything back in the folders, so Tomei left without any copies.  I guess she's going to rely entirely on her memory for all the details she learned.

Tomei went to visit her great-grandfather's tombstone.  There were two photos on the tombstone, which they didn't pay any attention to.  I would be really excited to see photographs, and I wanted to see some longer close-ups.  Maybe the family already has plenty of photos of Leopoldo?  We learned that Adelaide is buried with Leopoldo; I think her stone said that she died in 1978.  Tomei talked about how Bianchi dying of illness didn't agree with the family story and then said disingenuously, "I think there are many more details to be had about Leopold's death."  Well, yeah, I guess, or we wouldn't have had an episode, would we?  Tomei decided to go to Elba, because Leopoldo and Adelaide had lived there and she thought maybe Leopoldo had died there.  She also wanted to look for records on Adelaide's side of the family.

The island of Elba is most famous for being the place where Napoleon spent his first exile.  I didn't know that it was so close to the Italian coast.  Tomei and Di Segni went to the parish church in Rio nell'Elba.  They talked about how important the church had been in people's lives, and Di Segni told Tomei that this church went back to the year 1200.  Inside the church they met with Leonardo Biancalani, the parish priest, who brought out several baptism registers for them to look through.  They made a big show of browsing through the registers as if they were looking for records relating to the Canovaro family, but when they reached a register with the birth of Alesandro Canovaro in 1641, Di Segni said that it was the last book with information about a Canovaro, making it obvious he had already looked at the records.  We were told that research in the parish records had found ten generations of Canovaros going back to Alesandro.  Then they just walked out of the church, again with no copies of the records.  What is with these people?

The next stop was the Elba Historical Municipal Archive in Portoferraio.  There they met with Dr. Gloria Peria, coordinator of the archive.  She spoke only in Italian (I was happy to learn that I remember enough Italian to understand almost everything she said), but surprisingly her comments were not translated in subitles; Di Segni acted as intepreter for Tomei.  Inconsistencies like that drive me crazy.  Peria had found the marriage record for Leopoldo Bianchi and Maria Adelaide Canovaro; they married June 25, 1904 in Elba.  She had also found a "family certificate" for Bianchi which stated that he was a merchant in the kiln business and that he and Adelaide moved back to Cecina on August 12, 1910.  Adelaide's family was also in the kiln business, so it appeared likely that's how she and Bianchi met.

The teaser before they cut to a commercial showed two newspaper articles, one with the word "omicido" in the title, which is "homicide" in Italian, so I knew when we returned we'd hear about the murder.  And indeed in the next segment Dr. Peria showed a newspaper article about Bianchi being killed in Castiglioncello by a man named Terzilio Lazzareschi, who was from Ponsacco.  It was not the article with "omicido", so the second one was still coming.  But we weren't going to see it in Elba.  Tomei said that she knew "for sure it was a treacherous murder" (what, from one newspaper article?) and decided to go to Castiglioncello, where the killing occurred.  Di Segni stayed in Elba to look for more information on the Canovaros, which confused me, because it had become obvious that Tomei did not speak enough Italian to have extended conversations without an interpreter.

When the next segment began the interpreter question became clear.  She met in a café with Steven Hughes, a professor of history and Italian duel expert (now that's a cool specialty!) from Loyola University in Maryland.  He showed Tomei the second newspaper article, "Omicido à Castiglioncello."  It told how Lazzareschi, a kiln operator and a well-off man, shot Bianchi outside Pilade Morelli's Café at 6:00 p.m. on March 7.  I had been wondering why they were meeting in a café, and that question was answered when Hughes told Tomei that it was supposed to be the café where the shooting occurred.  (They didn't bring this up in the episode, but I considered whether the café had been misremembered as a bar in the story that had come down through the family.)  Lazzareschi said he had been insulted and beaten, and so he shot Bianchi.

Hughes next showed Tomei a translation of the indictment against Lazzareschi from the Court of Appeal, dated July 17, 1911.  Lazzareschi claimed self-defense, but Bianchi was shot from behind; the gunshot went from the rear of his head through his eye.  Hughes then explained the connection between the two men, which was that Lazzareschi had bought a kiln business from Bianchi's father Dionisio Bianchi, with the deal brokered by Leopoldo Bianchi, apparently with the provision that Bianchi's brother Tito be hired (or possibly kept on) as an employee.  Lazzareschi had fired Tito claiming he had shown disloyalty, which would have been an issue of honor in the culture.  No information was given on the show about whether the claim was true.  After Tito was fired, the Bianchis came after Lazzareschi and beat him up, including injuries to his face.  There were laws in Italy about damaging someone's face, and it was considered a serious offense.  So Lazzareschi sought revenge.

From Castiglioncello Tomei traveled to Lucca, where Lazzareschi was indicted, to learn details of his trial.  She spoke with Francesco Tamburini, a professor of political history at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Pisa.  They met at the Archivio Di Stato.  Tomei was astounded and dismayed to learn that Lazzareschi had been acquitted of voluntary homicide.  Tamburini explained that Lazzareschi had been able to hire the best lawyers available, Gattai and Lami, and compared them to O. J. Simpson's "Dream Team."  The judgment against Lazzareschi was to serve 38 days (which may have been time served?) and to pay 87.84 lire and a portion of the court costs.

A surprising footnote to the trial was a request that Lazzareschi made to the jury after the verdict.  He stated that he had had 500 lire in his billfold when he had been arrested, which had been deposited with the Pisa postal administration.  Of that, 380 lire was used to pay for the court costs.  He wanted the rest of his money back.  So after all of that, the main thing on his mind was money.  Between that and shooting a man in the back of the head, not exactly an honorable man.  Tamburini explained that even though he had been acquitted, the code of honor that men followed at the time meant that he would not have been accepted by people anymore, because he did shoot a man from behind.  He disappeared from local records and probably left the area.

Tomei mused over how she had had romantic notions about the murder but hearing the details had made it all too real.  She then headed back to Elba to meet with Di Segni, who had news about the Canovaro family.  Before he talked about the Canovaros, Tomei told him about the revelations from the court records.  Di Segni compared the name Lazzareschi to the word lazzarone, which he said was a "bad man."  (I looked it up in an online Italian dictionary; some of the synonyms were scoundrel, rogue, and villain.)  Then Di Segni told Tomei that he had found an 83-year-old woman, Rosetta Vanucci, who remembered Adelaide.  She had not been feeling good that day so was not able to meet with Tomei, but she wrote a letter.  She explained that she is the daughter of Bruna Bianchi, the youngest sister of Leopoldo (so she's Tomei's first cousin once removed).  She wrote about how after Bianchi had been killed Adelaide had met a marine in Genoa and had married him, and that they had had a good life together.  Her second husband took good care of her sons.  Tomei's grandfather Armondo had worked with his stepfather on boats.  Leopoldo's brother Guido sponsored Armondo to come to the U.S.  Di Segni had taken a photo of Vanucci, and she had given him a photo of Adelaide to give to Tomei.  While I would have probably tried to extend my visit so that I could meet this new cousin before I left, it's likely that the requirements of the program didn't permit Tomei to do so.  I hope they connected directly later.

At this point Tomei returned to New York to tell her mother all that she had learned.  She explained that Leopoldo had not been up to anything bad but had been defending his brother, and that he had not endangered his family.  Addie was surprised at how relieved she felt to learn that it had not been his fault.  She said, "Oh, my poor grandmother," but for some reason no discussion about Rosetta Vanucci's letter made it into the final edit.  At the end Tomei said that she now felt much more of a connection to Leopoldo.

My prediction count now is either two for two or one and a half for two.  I said that we might go back to Italy for Tomei's episode, but I said Lowe was my pick for a scandal.  I'm not sure if the murder qualifies as the scandal.  We'll have to see what other stories unfold.

I was struck by a couple of things with the commercials that ran during this episode.  Not surprisingly, an ad annoyed me.  Okay, I know, they're all annoying, but this one really hit me wrong.  It's a woman who gets all excited about deciding to look on Ancestry for information about her family, and she says something to the effect that "there aren't that many records."  A major part of's marketing is that they have the largest collection of genealogy records available online; why in the world would they have an ad saying that there aren't records?  Especially since the woman didn't find her great-grandfather in a record, but in someone else's online family tree?  Are we now to believe that the records on Ancestry aren't important, and that we should all be focusing on the trees that other people post?  Gee, does that mean Ancestry won't be acquiring the 1940 census when it's released on April 2?

The other thing I noticed is that there seemed to be an inordinate number of commercials for other NBC programs.  At one point I saw three in a row.  I don't think commercials for in-house programs generate revenue; if anything they would shift money from one part of the books to another, just shuffling things around.  Given the reports that viewership is down from last year for the first two episodes, it makes me wonder if NBC is having problems getting advertisers besides to pony up.  Just my humble opinion.


  1. Janice, re the ad: Perhaps they were trying to counter the criticism (particularly when using the "new search"function) that when you put a name in you get so many hits (most of them not relevant) that the site is difficult to use. But I agree with you that it's misleading and doesn't help Ancestry at all. I noticed they still use the "you don't have to know what you're looking for..." bit also. I can't stand that one.

  2. Ava, whatever their reasoning was, I don't see the logic of marketing the records and then essentially advertising that the records aren't important. As for "You don't have to know what you're looking for", my opinion hasn't changed a bit ( You have to know what you're looking for, or you might not know it when you find it.

  3. Quick question about the new census coming out - will it be indexed do you know? Or will we have to go "page by page" as Tomei's researchers may have had to do? What sources have you searched that have been well indexed and what sources have had little or no indexing - and how did you deal with it?

  4. Funny you should ask about the 1940 census; I just heard Steve Morse's presentation about it yesterday! When the 1940 census is released on April 2, 2012, there will no index whatsoever. Unlike the 1880-1930 censuses, which were indexed (by Soundex) under WPA (1910 and 1930 only partially), no finding aid exists for 1940. People will either need to go through entire cities and counties page by page (fine for places such as Warren County, New York, but try it on New York City!) or determine the enumeration district (ED) and thereby reduce the amount of paging. Steve Morse has several tools to help you figure out the ED on his Web site, One recommendation Steve made yesterday is not to wait until April 2 to look up your ED's; he doesn't have a server farm or redundancy, and he fully expects his site to crash that day as everyone who waited until the release day suddenly realizes he doesn't want to slog through an entire city's worth of ED's.

    There's no way to know from what was aired in the Tomei episode (or most of the WDYTYA episodes) whether researchers had indices to work from. A couple of times we've seen an index, but usually we get to see the celebrity paging leisurely through a centuries-old volume instead of going directly to the desired page.

    Many records are well indexed, and many more have no index. And an index isn't just making all the words searchable. Historical newspapers that have been digitized are searchable by words, but that isn't the same as an index. The search function simply finds the desired word wherever it appears on the page, without any context. A well constructed index takes into account how the user is likely to search for information, places it in context, and has terms that are meaningful to the user. A good index cannot be created by automatically tagging words in a word processing or desktop publishing document; it requires a human being. (Oh, geez, can you tell I'm a professional indexer?)

    Surprisingly enough, some of the best indices currently available for genealogists are for Ancestry's censuses. They have extracted useful information and have intelligent fields in their database; their search form is definitely the best around. If it weren't for the constant and consistent lack of quality control, I would like the company a lot more.

    Something I use a lot that often doesn't have an index is old newspapers that are not digitized. How I deal with it depends on how much I want to find the information. For one man I am researching, I went page by page through two and a half years of a newspaper, looking for every instance of his name. Obviously, I really wanted that information. :)

  5. Hi

    May be you can guide me. I am australian from an Italian background. I have been fasinated with what really happened to y late granfather. My mother was told as a child that he died in Venezuela around 1948-1950. Yet on my quest to discover more. I have been unable to locate any record of him travelling to Venezuela. Also no death certificate was issued by the consulate for is death. I am puzzled. Ancestory has been useless. Can you advise.
    Doris B

    1. Doris,

      I have no experience with research in Venezuela, so I cannot advise you. Three members of the Association of Professional Genealogists list Venezuela as a research area, however, so I suggest you contact one of them and ask how to go about finding the answers to your questions.

      Maria Gabriela Batres,

      Laura Hidalgo,

      Karen Stanbary,

      I hope you find the information you are seeking.


  6. Now she's related to Julianne Moore.


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