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21 December 2007

The Genova Journal

Translation courtesy of Larry Cereghino of Oregon, USA and Alba Toboni of California, USA

Favale di Malvaro is not just one of the lost towns in the region of Liguria.  This tiny mountain hamlet on the shoulders of Chiavari has one large advantage:  a ’virtual’ population spread out over the planet, fifty times greater than the actual number of residents.

In the town today, fewer than 600 people live.  But, if all the descendants of Favale decided to return, all together, to the land of their ancestors, the inhabitants would number a shocking thirty thousand.

For thousands of people worldwide, Favale is the land of their fathers who emigrated abroad in search of fortune.

Bringing to light the family ties among all the ‘children’ of these mountains, and reconstructing a map of all the departed families, has become the ambitious objective and pastime of two American cousins born in Wisconsin who are also descendants of emigrants from Favale: Ginger Staral, 53 years old, of Kaysville, Utah and Jeanne Boschi, 56 years old, of Harrisburg, Missouri.

Together, Ginger and Jeanne have created an internet site (www.favaleconnection.com) that, at zero cost, allows anyone with an ancestor originally from Favale to find their origins and to trace relatives about whom they know nothing. “We are convinced that all the original inhabitants of Favale were related by marriage”, say the creators of the website.  “According to legend, the town was founded by only three families.  We don’t know if is true, but it is nice to think so.”

Today, the descendants of the emigrants know little about Italy.  In most cases, they don’t even know the language, having always lived where they were born: the United States, Argentina, Chile, Peru, even Australia.  But, their surnames---Cereghino, Boitano, Cordano, Pezzolo, DeBenedetti, to mention a few---inevitably tell of their origins. They who today still have these names are descendants of Ligurian emigrants, and of Favale in particular.

Emigration from the zone around Chiavari was massive and well-known.  Wasn’t Amedeo Peter Giannini, founder of Bank of America in the early 1900s, also the son of Favale emigrants?

The novelty now is that the world-wide descendants of these Ligurians are beginning to broadcast their desire to know the history of their ancestors.  And so, there is a new longing for the archives from the towns and parishes which, in this case after payment, hold promise of the reconstruction of one‘s lineage.   An example?  An American company that operates a website that specializes in genealogy is about to acquire many of the old documents of Chiavari----to digitize them and make them available online.

The same intent, but without the perspective of economic return, also drives the project <<Favale Connection>> that started 10 years ago when Ginger and Jeanne asked Joel Cole, a genealogist, to reconstruct their line of ancestors. “I went to Favale in 2004“, said Cole.  “First to the town hall, then to the church, to research documents, certification of birth, death, and marriage. I remained more than a week to thoroughly examine papers that are hundreds of years old.  Emigration from that time was very strong, that is why the Favalesi around the world now total at least thirty thousand.”

The project of Ginger and Jeanne was born from the old method of archival research.  But, thanks to the internet, the two cousins in a few years have traced almost 1,000 relatives they never knew existed. And, always available on the internet, are old faded photos of the former inhabitants of Favale that nobody knows anymore.  The hope is that someone, from somewhere in the world, will be able to associate a name to a picture from the past.

Ginger was in Favale in 1991. Jeanne has never visited, but in the future she would like to participate in the “Festival of the Emigrants”, the ceremony that, since 1955, Favale has dedicated to its ‘children’ around the world.  As the proud Ginger recounts, “Some, they want to be there just to walk on the same ground as their ancestors.”

Regarding the Italian origins of so many countrymen, the Argentine writer, Borges affirms, “I do not feel Argentine because in my veins runs the blood of Italy. “ The descendants of those emigrants from Italy in Argentina, and in other far away places, instead, also feel a little Italian today.  Rightly so, because in their veins still flows the blood of the inhabitants of Favale di Malvaro.                              ------Diego Ponze