News / Ask the Expert – Italian ancestors

Ask the Expert – Italian ancestors

23 August, 2010

Stephen Rigden, findmypast's resident expert

Our expert Stephen Rigden, pictured, answers your questions.

From Victoria Hopkins in Norwich:

‘I’m trying to discover what happened to my stepmum’s grandfather Vasco Agolini (born c.1882) and his wife Elena Agolini (nee Gawlowska, born c.1885). The only papertrace I can find of them in the UK is the births of their two children, one in Cardiff (Yolanda b.1913) and one in Southport (Elenora b.1914).

The ship’s manifest of the Demerera sailing from Liverpool in 1915 has Vasco’s name on it…but it is crossed through! Does that mean he didn’t board the ship? I thought maybe he was interned but I understand these records were lost in WW2 incendiary raids. I really don’t know where to turn next. ‘

Steve says:

‘Thanks for your question.

It is hard to know what to propose next, as I cannot tell from your email what else you know about Vasco and his wife Elena after WW1. There are so many options: Vasco may have remained in the UK but changed his name, or he may have emigrated, or he could have returned to his native Italy.

From your email, it seems likely that Vasco and Elena were very recent arrivals in England – particularly if you cannot find them on the 1911 census. It may also be the case that they were itinerant, which would add to the difficulty of tracking down documentary evidence of them.

The passenger list you refer to shows Vasco Agolini, aged 33, an Italian artist booked to travel 2nd class with a group of artists (presumably theatrical or music hall performers rather than fine art painters) on the SS Demerara from Liverpool to Buenos Aires in May 1915. He is on a page of the list for alien passengers, so had not naturalised at that time – he is still a subject of the Kingdom of Italy. The group were going on tour rather than intending to emigrate, as the last column of the list shows their ‘country of intended future permanent residence’ as England.

Other pages of the same passenger list show more artists, both alien and British, travelling to Buenos Aires, several of whom are struck out in pencil as is Vasco. I agree that this suggests that he did not sail – perhaps because he missed the boat accidentally, perhaps because of a deliberate change of heart given the conditions of wartime and the fact of his wife and young children.

An Italian such as Vasco would technically have been an enemy alien during WW1, irrespective of his personal politics, and, therefore, subject to internment. It is generally thought that very few records survive, although there are various series at The National Archives (which is always the first place to look for nationally significant records). See TNA’s helpful Research Guide on Internees for more details. Another online resource worth checking for the availability of records is Access To Archives, hosted by TNA – this enables you to check nationwide across the holdings of participating archives.

It might also be worth checking speculatively the local record offices and reference libraries in the Southport and general Merseyside region in case they hold anything on local enemy internees. The well-known internment camps on the Isle of Man would have been nearby but unfortunately there is very little individual name level information surviving – click here (PDF) for more information.

There are references to records held by the International Red Cross but I have no information as to whether these are searchable in practice. Finally, you should consider contacting the Anglo-Italian Family History Society in case they have any suggestions for you.’

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  • Alan Golton

    Italy was not an enemy during World War 1. On the contrary, it was neutral until 23 May 1915, when it entered the war on the Allied side, declaring war against Austria-Hungary at first, and later Germany. See references through Google, eg Wikipedia..

  • Paul Tucker

    My ancestor Mabel Alice Woolf, born June qtr 1889 in Bideford, travelled to Cape Town at some time (I can’t see her on the 1911c for England), where she married an Italian Michelangelo Barraterro. In April 1919 Mrs MA Barraterro (29) and her only child Veronica (2) travel on the Balmoral Castle to Plymouth. Her husband promised to follw, but was never heard of again.
    I have had absolutely no success in finding any Barraterros anywhere. Any ideas please?

  • alfredo tynan

    hello I want to find out about my past because my grandfather was born in an English ship here in Peruvian waters in 1880 (year of the war of the Pacific) is called the Tynan santiago like to know if I can help find your data and records where are.
    Thank you.
    Alfredo R. Tynan
    Mail –

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  • Vicky Hopkins

    In reply to Alan Galton’s comment, I didn’t know if some italians might have been interned before the 1915 treaty, when they were still part of the Triple Alliance. I thought maybe prior to the treaty Britain may have treated Italian nationals with a bit of caution and hence my question asking if Vasco might have been interned. Thanks for your information though.

  • Lesleigh

    any help would be really appreciated. My great great grandfather was
    Lorenzo Gesto 1842 on his wedding certificate. he changed it to Laurence Gester on all the records. His father was horacio. They both came from Italy but it states on the records foreign subject. I know he was a street entertainer in London but do not know where to begin to track him down. I cannot find a gesto as an italian surname but have found a gestri. Some of the family feel he was from Naples or Sicily or Rome.He married Jane Fitch 1859 Suffolk on 1876 Greenwich London. I cannot even find a death record. I do not know when he arrived in the UK
    Thank you in advance

    • lorraine

      hello Lesleigh,glad to have found some else looking for lorenzo, he was my nans grandfather, my nan is Emily Adalaide, he used to look after her when she was a baby, please get in touch with me, hopefully we can speak about him and his children ,see how we may be related. Lorraine

  • selmi

    I would like to know my family name where does it come from the last time i chek with the boork comp..i have found most of them came from italie
    the selmi.
    thank you

  • Jack Bates

    Hello: I am looking for information on the Bressanutti family from Udine,Italy, prior to and into the 1900’s…here’s hoping. They emigrated to the US and Canada….regards jack

  • Jennifer Jones

    Im trying to find a relation of mine that must have come from Italy he was born in Italy 1841 his name is Antonia Briniolia
    If you can help in anyway where or how to find any living relative or where to go for me to find out anymore of his family in Italy.
    Thank you