From the Blue Sea I Took my Name

Blue Grotto, Wied ir-Zurrieq Photo by L. Joonas

Blue Grotto, Wied iz-Zurrieq
Photo by L. Joonas. License.

My direct line of Callus descent can be traced all the way back to Gregorij Callus and Maruzza Farrugia who married 18 September 1688 in the village of Zurrieq, in Southern Malta. This article is about the people descended from that first family in the 18th century and the places where they lived.

Location of Zurrieq, Malta Image by W. Shewring, 2007

Location of Zurrieq, Malta
Image by W. Shewring, 2007. License.


Zurrieq (pronounced Zoo-ree-ah) is about 7km South of Valletta on the South coast. It’s a village/small town of around 12,000 inhabitants. The administrative boundaries includes the tiny island of Filfla and the tourist hotspot ‘The Blue Grotto’. Zurrieq is derived from the Maltese Zoroq which means ‘cyan’ or blue and the town’s motto is “Sic a cyaneo aequore vocor”, which translates as “From the blue sea I took my name”. The town’s flag and Coat of Arms reflects this continuing theme of the blue sea and white and blue for the sky.

Zurrieq Coat of Arms Image by Inkwina

Zurrieq Coat of Arms
Image by Inkwina. License.

It is quite possible that my Callus antecedents in Zurrieq go back all the way to the Byzantine period. Zurrieq is one of the oldest continuous settlements in Malta. Archeological finds there have been dated to the Bronze Age (the ancient temple of Hagar Qim is just outside the town), but also Punic, Roman and Byzantine Greek. As I mentioned in my introductory page on Callus, it is thought that the surname is of Byzantine Greek origin, although surnames did not really come into standard use until the Norman period.

First Generation

Parish records in Malta start from the early 1500s. Until recently many have only been accessible from the originating parish church and sadly a lot were lost in the blitz of Malta in WWII. Our first family tree was compiled by Moira McGrother and went back as far as the marriage of Alberto Callus in 1720, which named Gregorij and Maruzza (AKA Maria) as his parents. However, a large number of records have now been digitised and published on the ADAMI Collection website. This has enabled me to go back just a little bit further and pinpoint the 1688 marriage. A number of other Calluses married at the same church around the same time. These included:

  • Gio Maria Callus married  Margarita Darmanin 11 Oct 1687
  • Giuseppe Callus married Paoline Camilleri 16 Apr 1690
  • Maria Callus married Angelo Psaila 16 Jan 1693

It is quite possible these are all siblings of Gregorij. All these records are taken from an index file so unfortunately we do not have the names of each spouse’s parents which would prove one way or another whether they are indeed related and might also enable us to track back to even earlier generations. The detailed entries may yet be available from the original full marriage register but will require a direct enquiry at the parish church of St Catherine of Alexandria in Zurrieq. (Hint – if anyone is planning a visit to Malta, perhaps they might like to follow this up)!


St Catherine's of Alexandria, Zurrieq, Malta

Parish Church St Catherine’s of Alexandria, Zurrieq, Malta

St Catherine’s was built around 1634-59. It has paintings by the italian artist Mattia Preti who is buried in the church. He also executed the ceiling painting of St John the Baptist in St John’s Co-cathedral in Valletta.

Second and Third Generations – The Windmill Community

It is difficult to imagine what the lives of our early forebears were like from just a few dates on a register, but luckily, the Adami collection has more records to help us flesh out the details. This includes baptisms, marriages and burial registers for a limited number of towns and villages and a number of census rolls taken in 1747, 1758, 1764 and 1776.

So what can we glean from these?

Well first of all, we already knew that our branch of Callus was descended from Gregorij’s son, Alberto, who married Magdalena/Maddalena DeBrincat in 1720 in Zurrieq and that they had a number of children (Nicolo, Vittoria, Giovanni, Maria and Andrea). The new records reveal that Alberto had 2 more children than was previously known (Teresa and Anna). He also had a brother, Giuseppe (Joseph). Giuseppe married Grazia Bonnici  in 1715 and had a daughter, Orsola. Their father Gregorij, was already dead by the time of this marriage.

Then comes the 1758 census of Zurrieq and suddenly we can see a large number of Callus families all living together cheek by jowl in a small community or district of Zurrieq recorded as Sarolla, now known as Ta Xarolla. The likelihood of course is that they are all related in some way. Some of the relationships can be worked out, others are more opaque, so for instance:

Family no. 113 – Alberto and Maddalena (Gen 2) were living with their children – Teresa, Anna and Andrea (Gen 3 ancestor).

No. 114 – Andrea Callus, a widower, with his children Rosa and Giuseppe – (relationship to our ancestors not known, perhaps a brother or cousin of Alberto)?

No. 116 – Giovanni and Clara Callus and their children – Gio Battista and Catarina (Giovanni was one of Alberto’s sons).

No. 119 – Arcangelo and Anna Callus and their children – Giuseppe and Lorenzo (relationship not known).

No. 128 – Grazia Callus (widow of Alberto’s brother Giuseppe) and her daughter Orsola.

No. 40 – Imperiuzza Signora Callus and Orsola Callus (relationship not known – what does the title Signora signify)?

No. ? – Giuseppe and Maria Callus (relationship not known).

No. 70 – Arcangelo and Evangelista Callus and their children – Giuseppe, Maria and Catarina (I think Arcangelo might be another son of Andrea Callus of no. 114).

These records suggest another point of detail that we did not know before. Andrea Callus, shown above in family no. 113, the “child” of Alberto, is thought to have been born about 1737 in Siggiewi, which is where his wife came from.  In 1757, Andrea married Rosa Cauchi, who died without issue. The census of 1758 shows him living with his parents with no sign of Rosa. I think this might therefore indicate that Andrea was widowed within a year of his marriage and returned to his family. Perhaps she died in childbirth as many women did. He was aged about 21 although I have no baptism record for him as yet.

I intend to publish an updated family tree chart for this Callus line in a future post.

Tax Xarolla Windmill, Zurrieq Photo by Wayne77, 2014

Tax Xarolla Windmill, Zurrieq
Photo by Wayne77, 2014. License.

Now the principle feature of Xarolla was that it had a windmill, one of several in this area. It was built by Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena in 1724. The windmill at Xarolla has been restored to full working order and is now open to the public as a cultural centre. Next door to the windmill are some early christian catacombs dating from the 3rd and 4th century.

In the 1764 and 1776 censuses, Giovanni Callus, Alberto’s son, is shown living with his now extended family, at Nigret, where more of these windmills were located. The first windmill, Tal-Qaret, was built as one of five by Grand Master Nicholas Cottoner at Nigret in 1674. Vilhena built another next door to it in 1724 which was named after its first miller, Luret Marmara. There were also windmills at Siggiewi and Zebbug, both villages where later family members moved to. It is not unreasonable to suppose therefore, that the Callus families of this period may have had occupations associated with the mills, e.g. wheat growers, millers, or merchants. (The digitised census records are incomplete and none of the other families identified above can be found in the later censuses).

Visit this link for an interesting article about the Windmills in Malta. Most were built and owned by the Knights of St John but in later years many seemed to be owned by members of the Zammit family. Note above therefore that Giovanni Callus was married to a Zammit (Clara). I wonder if this is significant?

More information about the village of Zurrieq can be found at Zurrieq local council website .

There are photos and more information about Zurrieq at







2 thoughts on “From the Blue Sea I Took my Name

  1. Pingback: Callus Family Trees – Malta 1656 – 1811 | From Lancs to the Levant

  2. Pingback: Genealogy Brick Walls – A Callus Family Tree Correction – From Lancs to the Levant

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