From time to time every keen family historian will come up against a brick wall; how to get around it can be time consuming and frustrating. Sometimes it just means no more can be done until new records or leads become available and that may mean some time hence or even never. While it is essential to keep thinking laterally to try and find new connections, it is also tempting to sometimes make speculative leaps. The danger is in allowing these to be presented as certainties when they are anything but!
I fell into precisely this trap concerning the manuscript image of the marriage for Gregorio Callus and Maruzza Faruggia in 1688 in the parish of Zurrieq in Southern Malta (Archdiocese Malta Archives). Unfortunately the state of the manuscript, the illegible handwriting of the priest and the late medieval Latin abbreviations defeated me. I just could not decipher the names of the parents for Gregorio and Maruzza. Without these names, the ability to go back further generations was nigh on impossible. This was my brick wall!
My “work around” the problem was to scan the baptism records for the parish of Zurrieq to identify any Gregorio Calluses between about 1640 – 70. I found only the one so made the leap of deciding that this must therefore be my man. The same logic could not work for Maruzza Farrugia, his bride. Both her first name and surname were SO common in the district, it was impossible to say which baptism might be hers. However I could not make the parent’s names I then found match anything on the manuscript and in fact, using palaeography techniques I at last detected a reference to a Joseph of Casal Crendi, (a little village on the outskirts of Zurrieq), and also the name Callus, which suggested that my work around had actually led me down the wrong alley.
In addition, Maruzza’s father appeared to be abbreviated to Gio Domencio Farrugia but her mother’s name remained undecipherable. Gregorio’s father did indeed appear to be Josephi Callus quondam of Crendi (now Qrendi). The Latin term quondam means the late or deceased.
My next source of help was a call-out to a French Yahoo Group – La Généalogie à Malte run by Josyanne Massa, to ask if anyone had access to any registers for the parish of Qrendi. Josyanne looked up Gregorio’s marriage from her own records first (i.e. the image reproduced above, which is clearer than the one at AMA), and then located him and his family in the census for Qrendi dating 1681. This showed Gregorio age 17 living with his father, Joseph, 69 and mother, Marietta, 58 in Qrendi. She also found a Will for Gregorio’s mother, Marietta, dated 1691 naming her children as heirs which then enabled me to spot one of Gregorio’s married sisters living next door to him in the census (Francesca)! This is genealogy at its best, being able to triangulate different pieces of evidence. The further back in time you go, the less likely such evidence survives.
A certain number of assumptions have had to be made in producing the chart above and there remain some queries to be reconciled with the records. These are outlined below.
Caterinella was the first child to be married (in 1660 to Lorenzo Gristi). Girls were married very young and as her own parents married in 1642, I have therefore assumed she was the first child born c. 1643 which would have made her about 17 when she married. However it appears her father Giuseppe, had a previous marriage to Catherina Bugeja in 1640. The name Caterinella is a diminutive which might suggest she was the daughter of Catherine so although Caterinella’s marriage record states her parents were Giuseppe and Marietta, there remains a possibility that Marietta may have been her step-mother.
Bartolomea and Maltese Slavery Practices
There are some slight anomalies associated with another daughter, Bartolomea. In the 1691 Will of Marietta, she is described as the widow of Battista Grech. However by 1691 she had already remarried Pietro Paolo Vella (in 1689). It may be that the Will was written before she remarried and the record date is the date of probate, I’m not sure.
An interesting note about her first husband is that on their marriage record he is recorded as being a baptised slave. The marriage (dated 18 Jan 1671) also records his name as Gio Battista Verrela not Grech. We do not know what his original religion was, but the likelihood is that he was a muslim as the Maltese were known to enslave any muslims they took captive on the high seas or during raids on the North African (Barbary) coast. However Jews were also taken into slavery and of course if Christians were captured by the Turks or North Africans, they could expect the same treatment!
The vast majority of slaves on Malta were male and were recruited to man the galleys of the Knights of St John. In 1632 there were 1284 galley slaves and 649 privately owned. Some slaves were employed as artisans in the manufacture of sail cloth, others to work as agricultural labourers. A survey commissioned by the Knights in 1645 found only 100 female slaves and these were mainly used for domestic service (P. Cassar, 1968). The Knights were cautious to prevent insurrections so most slaves were locked up at night in one of a number of slave prisons. Private individuals were only allowed to keep one slave at home and these were not allowed out after sunset (G. Cini, 2002).
Slaves could expect brutal punishments for transgressions but might get slightly better treatment if they converted to Christianity, which many of them did. ‘Battista’ of course means ‘baptised’ (Jean Baptiste and Gio Battista being popular christian names after John the Baptist). If they were freed (a process called manumission), then they were also allowed to marry. Many would then take the name of their former owner or their Godfather, adding the prefix ‘de’ or ‘di’ which their descendants then tended to drop (S. Vassalo, Malta Genealogy). The name Verrela may have been his slave owner’s surname. In the records, freed slaves are often referred to as manumesso (m) or manumessa (f) but this is not the case for Battista which begs the question of whether he was actually free at this point. Slaves required special permission to marry and it would have been quite unusual to have married a free person and potentially very stigmatising to be married to a slave. Another possibility is that Battista was the son of a slave, which might have given him some expectation of being released. The appearance of a different name seems to suggest this, the choice of Grech, meaning Greek, being a very common Maltese surname, akin to Smith or Jones in the UK. However just to complicate things even further, on Bartolomea’s second marriage, she is recorded as the widow of Carlo Battandi. This is rather curious. Was she remarried and widowed again between Battista’s death and her marriage to Pietro Vella? I cannot find another marriage record. What is known from the first marriage record is that Battista’s father was called Carlo, so it is possible this may also have been his own original first name and Battandi his original surname. All of this is, of course, speculation and must therefore be treated with caution.
Now some observations concerning Francesca. She was aged 25 on the 1681 census for Qrendi, while her husband was 32 and her children, Aloisa aged 3 and Joseph, a few months. Yet she married Antonio Tabone only in October 1681! It seems unlikely that she would have had two children by him out of wedlock, so once again, it is possible that there had been a previous marriage with Antonio’s first wife dying in childbirth (but no record found). In those circumstances, widowers were often quite keen to remarry quickly to provide a step-mother for their children. While this might seem quite a surprising and perhaps an unappealing prospect to young women today, to be unmarried at the grand old age of 25 in 1681 was to be considered ‘left on the shelf’. Marriage was essential for any woman without independent means because it provided financial security for her future and gave her status in the community. In such a tiny place as Qrendi, Francesca probably already knew her husband very well and was only too happy to be asked. However, Francesca left a will in 1692 naming her cousins on her mother’s side as her main heirs. This suggests that the children on the census may have predeceased her and she may have had no further children of her own.
The Parish of Qrendi or Crendi
Finally, a note about Qrendi. It was originally part of the parish of Zurrieq but was made a separate parish in 1618. It is a tiny village, very close to the ancient neolithic temples of Hager Qim, which date back to around 3000 BC, and the Blue Grotto, a famous beauty spot in Malta. It is also noted for having a number of defensive towers built to provide some protection against barbary pirate attacks which were not infrequent.
I would like to acknowledge my sincere gratitude to Josyanne Massa for all her help with this research.
Sources and Further information
For more information on the descendants of Gregorio, please visit my previous post: ‘From the Blue Sea I Took my Name’
Archdiocese Malta Archives: http://archives.maltadiocese.org/ChurchinMalta.aspx
Yahoo Groups – Malte Genealogie: https://fr.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Malte-Genealogie/conversations/topics
Cassar, P. (1968), A Medical Service for Slaves in Malta During the Rule of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Med. Hist. 1968 July; 12 (3): 270-277. http://europepmc.org/backend/ptpmcrender.fcgi?accid=PMC1033829&blobtype=pdf
Cini, G. (2002), Horrible Torture in the Streets of Valletta, Times of Malta 10-06-2002. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20020610/local/horrible-torture-on-streets-of-valletta.173721
Malta Genealogy – Released Slaves in Malta and their Spouses, (6 Sept 2016). http://maltagenealogy.com/index.php/slavery?tmpl=component&print=1&page
Last updated: Jan 2019