Sunday, June 12, 2011


Nope, this isn't a commentary on the very popular TV show starring Jennifer Garner as a spy.  Instead, it's a note about the struggle to connect three branches of my maternal grandfather's family here in the States. 

Family stories led me to believe that my grandfather (Pietro TOSO) traveled to California with two of his brothers in the 1890s.  I was unable to locate any information about their given names.  While Pietro settled in Colma (a southern suburb of San Francisco), the stories indicated that each of his brothers chose other areas of the State for their homes.  It was possible, although not certain, that one brother was in the Stockton area of San Joaquin County.  Searching old city directories led me to believe that the third brother might have settled in San Francisco itself (although that later proved to be incorrect).

I knew from running searches on the TOSO surname that variations could include del Toso, Tozi, Tozzi, and many others.  I started paying attention to postings that included names similar to my grandfather's, but had no success in locating the missing brothers.

My grandfather and his brothers apparently all farmed, producing fruits and vegetables for California markets.  They appeared to have stayed in touch even as they began to have families of their own.  But more children, grandchildren and busier lives led the three branches of the family to drift apart.  By the time my generation was in adulthood, no one had personal memories of grandfather's brothers or their families. 

After a few years of fruitless searching, I stumbled across a posting by a gal who was discussing a family that sounded very much like my grandfather's.  Eureka!  A few more keystrokes and I located her phone number.  Holding my breath, I called.  She answered, and we discovered in a very few minutes that it was very likely her husband's family included both of my grandfather's brothers.  How very cool is that?  Over the next few months, she was able to prove the connection of the three branches through correspondence between my grandfather's branch and her husband's. 

The interesting fact, though, was that the brothers had assumed the surname TOZI.  But why?  Preliminary research indicated only use of the TOSO surname.

Today, I came across an interesting bit of information that might explain the family's use of two surnames.

In POINTers (Pursuing Our Italian Names Together) magazine (Summer 2010 issue, page 32), there's a website noted:  To be honest, I don't remember having come across this website before.  My exploration on it netted me this snippet:

Alias Surnames
In some areas of Italy, a second surname may have been adopted in order to distinguish between different branches of the same family, especially when the families remained in the same town for generations. These alias surnames can often be found preceded by the word detto, vulgo, or dit.

So it's possible that both surnames were used in my grandfather's family.  Copies of family records obtained from Italy thus far mention only the TOSO surname.  It'll take more research to learn when and how the two surnames came into use, but the snippet from Italian Family Search's website was key in understanding why the same family might use both. 

If you're researching Italian ancestors, spend some time on POINT's website:  Although you'll find more information about southern Italy, there are a few members who are doing research for northern areas.  There is still a wealth of information to widen your knowledge base!