Finding My Roots in Trani



My father’s father passed away a few years before I was born, so I never knew him, nor have I ever met any member of the extended Fabiano family–all the Italian relatives I knew growing up were on my grandmother’s side. I’ve spoken with my aunt several times to gather as much information as I could about the Fabianos, but alas, she has only ever met a small handful of them, and that was many decades ago. As I learned, Francesco Fabiano, my paternal grandfather, was the 10th of 12 children (if you don’t count his supposed twin brother who doesn’t show up in any records and I believe died when he was hours old) who were born in the last 20 years of the 19th century in Trani, a trading port on the Puglian coast. The Fabianos had been shipping merchants, trading goods with Venice and former Yugoslavia across the Adriatic, and were apparently quite successful in their business. However, according to my aunt, one of my grandfather’s uncles apparently made a few bad deals, or some poor gambling decisions, and my great-grandparents had to sell all their property (including, apparently, a nice chunk of land on beautiful peninsula on the edge of town) and relocate the entire family up north near Milan when my grandfather was just a little boy. I’m guessing they had pissed off the wrong people and staying in Trani was simply not a safe option for the family.

Capo Colonna
Capo Colonna, Where my Great Grandmother Used to Own Land

This family history, as told by my aunt and corroborated with some photocopied pages from my great grandmother’s diary, piqued my interest and I developed the desire to just “go see”. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I knew that I probably wouldn’t find close relatives living there, but I just had to go see this place where the Fabianos had been for centuries. In fact, this curiosity was one of the main reasons we decided to visit Puglia, so we made sure to plan a quick 24-hour stop in Trani. While I’m pretty sure none of our Fabianos ever moved back to Trani in the decades/century after relocating north, there are still a ton of Fabianos there, with many businesses and Palazzos bearing my last name.

Palazzo Fabiano (1892)
Palazzo Fabiano – Can We Get a New Sign Please!?
Palazzo Fabiano
Palazzo Fabiano

We had only been walking through Trani for a few minutes when we saw “Fabiano” on a buzzer outside an apartment building. Having done some research, we took a look at the Palazzo Fabiano (no longer a residence but turned into commercial space) and we checked into our B&B, which was located in a larger palazzo that was still today owned by some Fabianos (which was the main reason I booked us a room there!). Hey, when your grandfather was one of twelve, and his father one of ten, you can see how much of the town could still bear my last name.

Trani Street

In the months leading up to our visit, I did some research online, fueled by the few photocopied pages from my great grandmother’s journal that my aunt had dug up and sent me. These pages outlined important birth and death dates of her father, husband, and children, along with the date during which she was indicted into a Christian confraternita (a brotherhood), which I found to be an interesting tidbit and perhaps evidence that she was well-respected and important in her community. I inquired about their records, but they don’t keep anything that old.

Cattedrale di San Nicola
Cattedrale di San Nicola

I was still curious and wanted to see what else I could dig up, so I called the Comune (city hall), and asked if they kept birth and marriage records. In under a minute I was directed to a gentleman who asked what I wanted to know, quickly scribbled down the names and birth dates that I could tell him, and told me to stop by his office around noon in two days, when we would be there. I hung up the phone and thought to myself, when the hell did Italy get this efficient?!

Magic Hour at the Port
Evening Passeggiata in the Port

The Comune was unlocked when we arrived and its hallways spoke volumes of the state of local government in Italy (someone please give that place a coat of paint!). We wandered a bit before finding his large but bare and outdated office, and when we walked in, he was sitting behind his desk, lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth, ash on the desk and floor. He had hand-written notes on his desk, and when I squinted I saw the names of many of my deceased relatives. He seemed disgruntled, but I could tell that behind that government employee facade was a man who was truly interested in geneaological research. He scolded me for only having given him two days to research my ancestors, reminding me that some people wait months for this information. He did not particularly want to share his discoveries, and belabored the point that he had to painstakingly go through handwritten birth, marriage and death records kept in yellowing notebooks in handwritten script from another era. He also went off about how he doesn’t share his research with the city, and that what he does he keeps to himself, motioning to the USB drive that he keeps all his files on. However, after some back and forth, he revealed the fruits of his research, which were the names of my great grandfather’s parents, their parents, and so on, all the way back to my great great great great great great grandfather, born in 1690! I could tell he had found more than what he was willing to share, but I felt lucky enough to have gotten this much information without really lifting a finger. Armed with printed pages containing a piece of my family history, I left feeling what I can only describe as a sense of accomplishment, as if having uncovered a small clue in some giant mystery that didn’t really need solving, but was fun to discover anyway.

Fishing Boats
Fishing Boats

That evening we had a delicious seafood feast, then took our passeggiata around the lively port, still full of functioning fishing boats, men selling their day’s catch, families pushing strollers, and young men and women socializing and having drinks to kick off the weekend. I took it all in with a huge smile on my face, picturing my ancestors having their evening passeggiata around this same exact port, standing perhaps only meters from where their shipping boats had been anchored and where I was standing at that moment.

Rachele Carbone in Trani
Rachele Carbone (my Great Grandmother) at the Port in Trani (Cattedrale Sa
Cattedrale San Nicola at Night
Cattedrale San Nicola at Night

Our stay in Trani was short and sweet–only one night–and in the morning we stopped by the town’s cemetery, where we practically walked into a Fabiano crypt upon entry, and then wandered, seeing countless Fabiano and Carbone (my great-grandmother’s name) crypts. I left Trani feeling satisfied that we had discovered a little more about where my family came from and who my ancestors were. I felt just a little more whole than I was before.

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