The study of genealogy
Gillian Ditchfield’s case is not an isolated one, as genealogist David Lanfranco explains.
Many of his clients are descended from emigrants who left the Maltese islands many years ago.
“They come to us to uncover their foundations,” he said.
“Some request their family trees out of a natural curiosity while others need to prove two consecutive Maltese births in order to acquire Maltese citizenship.
“We’ve had people requiring names of distant ancestors to ascertain the merits of a will.
“Others request information to help trace family relations with regard to the eligibility of being laid to rest in a burial place at the Addolorata Cemetery.
“All in all, genealogy services have become highly sought after.”
The Lanfranco archives are made up of more than 400 reference volumes, meticulously written in pen and ink. The archives were inherited by Mr Lanfranco’s mother, Mary, from her ancestor, Fr Giovanni Carlo Muscat.
In 1907, he began the painstaking process of manually copying the thousands of marriage acts found in the parishes of Malta and Gozo. They date back to 1547, when Pope Paul III ordered parishes to start keeping records of all the baptisms, marriages and deaths among villagers.
So how do genealogists set about constructing a family tree?
After obtaining any information supplied by the enquirer, Mr Lanfranco and his parents – also genealogists – scour the registers, which are comprised of a chronological list of marriages. They go back as far as they can by tracing marriages.
“It is disappointing when we reach a dead end. Then again, our research yields some sur-prising realties.
“For instance, in some very old documents, we sometimes find words like manomesso, indicating that the person had been a slave. In 1798, Napoleon ended the slave trade in Malta”, Mr Lanfranco’s father, Antoine, explained.
“Even dogs have pedigree certificates nowadays. Why not people?”