The surname Griscti is an italianised form of Grixti, a Semitic name believed to originate from the Eastern Mediterranean or late Byzantine Greek. One theory is that this name may have arrived in Malta in the 16th century with the Knights of St John (Knights Hospitallers) who brought with them a contingent of settlers from their original base in Rhodes (J. Pawelczyk).
The story of my Griscti ancestry goes back to my Great Great Grandmother Marie Anne Griscti, born about 1830 in Malta, who married Andrea Callus in 1848 in Constantinople, Turkey. An old family letter from one of her daughters, translated from French to English, stated that Marie Ann was descended from an ancient line of the Maltese nobility through a grandmother who was referred to as “Baroness Sciberras”. It went on to say that the family had moved from Malta to Smyrna (Izmir) in Turkey at the death of her mother in the early 1830s. Little else was known about the family origins apart from mentioning that Marie Anne also had an uncle who was an officer in the British army and a suggestion that her Grandmother Sciberras was also resident in Turkey.
After a lot of research into the parish records held in both Malta and Turkey, I can now confirm the true lineage of this family. I have used the Archdiocese of Malta Archives, Geneanum and Libro d’Oro di Melita to locate and verify the Maltese records. I am indebted to Marie Anne Marandet from the Levantine Heritage Foundation for her invaluable help in mapping the records in Turkey.
Establishing Marie Anne’s Parentage
Marie Anne’s parents were Joseph Griscti of Malta and Theresa Diacono. Her father’s name was obtained from her marriage certificate in 1848. However, working out who her mother was proved extremely difficult as I had no first name to provide a clue to even begin a search in Malta. Also I was unable to check for a death in Smyrna because there are no online, publicly available, catholic records for Smyrna and many church records were lost forever when the city was destroyed in 1922. Instead I focused on looking for a marriage record in Malta for a Joseph Griscti c. 1810s with a mother named Sciberras or its variants (Sceberras, Xiberras). Eventually I found a record for Giuseppe Gristi (sic) who married Theresa Diacono of Cospicua in 1814 at Porto Salvo in the parish of St Dominic’s, Valletta. His mother was Rosalia Xiberras.
Bingo! you would think! However, in Malta there is a fairly small range of surnames and consequently there can be many occasions when the same names crop up in marriage records. In order to prove that Marie Anne was the daughter of this couple, I still needed to find a baptism for her or her siblings that connected them, or find records in Turkey that showed that this Joseph was the same person who married Theresa in Malta. When I discovered that all the records for St Dominic’s between about 1805-1830 are unavailable online, my heart sank. It really looked like it would be impossible.
However in the meantime I had made contact with Marie Anne Marandet, a member of the Levantine Heritage Foundation, to request help with identifying the people mentioned on Marie Anne’s funeral card from the RC parish church records for Constantinople. She discovered that Emmanuel Griscti, Marie Anne’s brother, had been born at Smyrna about 1834 (place of birth being noted in the death register). This meant that their mother could not have died before the family migrated from Malta. Then she discovered a death registry entry for a Theresa Griscti nee Diacono in Constantinople for the year 1864. This at last proved unequivocally that Theresa was indeed the mother of Marie Anne and Emmanuel (and therefore my GGG GM). She lived to old age and actually outlived her husband Joseph.
Having established the parents, it was now fairly easy to track back the genealogy for the Griscti line using the ADAMI resources at Geneanum. The chart below shows all the descendants of Marie Anne’s oldest Griscti ancestor Gio Luca Gristi (sic) born about 1720 which is as far back as it is currently possible to go on this family twig. The descendants of Marie Anne’s Griscti aunts and uncles were mapped by Marie-Anne Marandet. The chart below is limited to 7 generations to protect the privacy of any living descendants.
- The surname spelling in Malta is Gristi. It only changes to Griscti in the mid 1900s. The son of Gaetano Gristi (half brother of Joseph) however changed his name to Grisetti but I have no idea why.
Print version (pdf) (opens in new window – then click on print version)
Naming Convention Difficulties
One issue to note is that in the late 18th/early 19th century it seemed to become the custom in Malta to give children five or six christian names at baptism. The common name for the child was not specified in the record; sometimes it was the first name, sometimes the last, occasionally one of the names in between! This appears in the chart above at Generation 4 – Marie Anne’s parents, uncles and aunts. It does introduce a slight element of uncertainty as I have had to assume that the common name in later records corresponds to the child where that name appears in the baptismal name list. It is not unusual however, to find that one of the names has been given to several children at once, in which case supposition has to be on the basis of likely dates!
Another of the challenges in researching this family tree has been the lack of access to records for the parish of St Dominic’s /Porto Salvo in Valletta between 1805-1830. Nearly all the baptisms, marriages and deaths for this family were registered in this Parish. It is not known if these records have been destroyed (the area around Porto Salvo was heavily bombed in WW2) or are only available in the original registers at the church itself. The church is currently closed for restoration so it may be some time before this can be answered.
Some outstanding questions are:
Rosa Gristi (Joseph’s oldest sister) – did she survive to adulthood and if so, did she marry, have children and did she move to Smyrna?
Giorgio (Joseph’s older brother) – who did he marry and when? It appears he must have moved to Smyrna about the same time as Joseph. One son Salvatore, was probably born in Malta about 1826, the other Antonio, may have been born in Smyrna about 1830.
Francisco/Francesco (Joseph’s younger brother) – who did he marry and when? Did he move to Smyrna? There is an account by Giovanni Bonelli (MHA, 2010), that one Francesco Griscti was captain of the brig Speranza which was captured by Greek pirates in 1824. Capt Francesco Griscti was duped into boarding the pirate ship with 3 other crew members then tied up and murdered. However this is a different person as Francesco had a daughter Adelaide in 1839 who later married Joseph’s son Emmanuel in Constantinople (shame, as a colourful story)! It appears therefore that he may have moved to Turkey also but no records can be found to verify this at the moment.
In terms of Joseph and Theresa’s story there is another mystery. It seems they had 2 children shortly after their marriage (John and Rosa) and then a very long gap of around 14 years before having Marie Anne and Emmanuel. The conditions in Malta in the years following the plague of 1813 may have meant that further children just did not survive or it might suggest that the couple were separated as they tried to find a living in the years of economic depression.
I shall write more about Marie Anne’s life in a future post about the family’s migration to Turkey and settlement in Smyrna and then Constantinople. I shall also fill in further details on some members and later generations of the extended Griscti family.
The genealogy above shows that Marie Anne’s paternal grandmother, Rosalia Gristi nee Xiberras, did not move to Turkey with the family as originally thought, as she died sometime between 1795 and 1802. In fact there is no evidence that Marie Anne’s grandfather Salvatore ever left Malta either. On the contrary, he remarried in 1802 after Rosalia’s death and had a second family who remained in Malta.
Rosalia Xiberras was born around 1765 in Malta. Her parents and grandparents were married at Porto Salvo in Valletta, Malta. The chart below shows her ancestry back as far as the late 17th century.
Now at the beginning of this post I mentioned that the family had long held that they were descended from the Maltese nobility through their Xiberras ancestors. The name Xiberras does indeed have some branches in the nobility or at the least, the “Landed Gentry”. However the structure and rules around ennoblement are quite complicated. There are 7 different ranks of nobility in Malta and not all ranks are hereditary. So far I have nothing to indicate that our Xiberras were in fact from one of the noble lines.
This does not mean that the family legend is completely untrue of course. There is often a kernel of truth in oral family histories but the facts get embroidered or confused in the retelling over time and can take a while to unravel. So it has proved with the Griscti ancestry. Marie Ann’s father may or may not have had noble forebears, but her mother most definitely did!
Coming soon – new page on the lineage of Theresa Diacono descended from the ‘Baroni’ of Lo Iacono (aka Lo Jacono).