Monday, December 3, 2007
Intermarriage intertwines West Marin's Swiss families
By David Rolland
If the intertwining of Swiss immigrant families seems confusing, imagine how it must have struck Vicki Martinelli of Point Reyes Station's Martinelli family.
As a student at Tomales High in the early 1970s, she became smitten with recent graduate Fred Genazzi. The pair began dating. After a few months, the relationship started growing serious.
Then Vicki's uncle Stan delivered some startling news; he told her he thought that she and her boyfriend were related.
"You've got to be kidding," Vicki said she recalled thinking. "When that's told to you, you get a numb feeling."
Although the relationship suddenly felt "weird," Vicki said, she and Fred kept dating for another year.
Martinelli joked that at the time she figured she'd have to date people in Petaluma to ensure that bloodlines wouldn't cross. Ultimately she never did learn exactly how she and Fred Genazzi are related.
(Actually, The Light has turned up the answer. Martinelli is the great-granddaughter of Olympio Martinelli, who was the half brother of Isa Campigli, Fred Genazzi's great-grandmother. In short, Vicki and Fred are third cousins with one great-great-grandparent in common.)
The problem, Martinelli said, was that her grandparents never passed on much of their family's history. "They never told any of us ... anything about what they did when [their ancestors] got off the boat ... I think it's really sad for my generation."
As Martinelli's story demonstrates, the genealogies of Swiss descendants are often an elusive tangle. Lineages and marriages span two continents, and unraveling family histories is a challenge even to those who work at it.
Another great-grandchild of Isa Campigli, Fred Gilardi of Point Reyes Station, built a family tree for an anthropology assignment while attending Chico State University in the 1970s.
His project left his professor and classmates awestruck. The branches of his tree included Swiss and Italian names such as Tomasi, Lafranchi, Yelmorini, Soldati, Mazza, Pomi, Giammona, Bolla, Bianchini, Sartoris, Giacomini, Grossi, Bettinelli, Scilacci, Garzoli, Muscio, Lucchesi, and Conti.
Now a teacher himself, Gilardi has assigned similar projects to elementary school students in Petaluma and West Marin, sometimes to his pupils' consternation.
"I inevitably got some poor kid who was related to the teacher and didn't want to admit it," Gilardi said with a laugh. So many immigrant families here are related that "you can't step on someone's toe without someone else yelling, 'Ouch!'" Discovering family trees
Like Gilardi, Swiss Professor Giorgio Cheda, Modesto resident Rae Codoni, and the late Lauren Cheda -- all of whom are distantly related -- spent years trying to figure out family trees.
Codoni, a cousin of Tocaloma rancher Don McIsaac, has flown to Corippo, Switzerland, several times to search church records dating back to the 16th century. He has written a book on the subject called The Corippians.
Giorgio Cheda, a professor at Locarno's Teacher's College, has studied Swiss emigration for 30 years and has interviewed West Marin residents for two books on Swiss immigration to California.
One clan's emigration
The clan that eventually included Chedas, Codonis, and Gilardis began with two teenagers from Maggia, who emigrated to West Marin in the mid-1860s: Peter Campigli and Louis Cheda.
The pair established a pattern that would be followed by generations of other young men from the Valle Maggia. First, they land jobs milking cows on dairy ranches owned or leased by earlier immigrants from their home town.
Then, after about a decade of saving money, they returned to Ticino to claim wives. Many of them returned to West Marin, gambling that the New World would be a better place to raise families.
Campigli married Isa Martinelli. Cheda married Isa' sister Nina. The two couples -- along with the Martinellis' half-brothers Santino and Olympio Martinelli -- returned to West Marin, and the family tree starting branching.
Campiglis & Genezzis
Today, it would be difficult to find Swiss or Italian descendents in West Marin who are not in some way related to the early Chedas, Martinellis, or Campiglis. Few of these family links became more entangled than those connecting today's Campigli and Genazzi families.
Two of Pietro and Isa Campigli's children, Erminia and Armando, married a brother and sister, Fred and Dora, from the immigrant Genazzi family.
Armando and Dora Campigli were the grandparents of Ed Campigli who lives in Point Reyes Station with wife Jackie. Jackie is a sister of Butch and Joe Giammona, who are of Sicilian descent, not Swiss. The brothers run an unlikely pair of businesses: City Sewer Service and Joe's Diner.
Before marrying Fred Genazzi, who had moved here from Maggia in 1896, Erminia Campigli had first been married to Silvio Codoni, the son of Joseph Codoni, who immigrated from Corippo of Ticino's Val Verzasca in 1868. (Silvio died a young man.)
Silvio Codoni's sister was Nellie McIsaac, mother of Tocaloma rancher Don McIsaac.
Fred and Erminia Genazzi in 1917 bought the Riverside Ranch in Point Reyes Station which Pietro Campigli had been leasing from the Righetti family. Son Harold Genazzi, who lives there with his wife May inherited the ranch in 1945.
Harold and May are the parents of the second Fred Genazzi, who as a youth unwittingly dated his cousin Vicki Martinelli.
The Martinelli family
Vicki Martinelli belongs to the fourth generation of a family directly descended from immigrant Olympio Martinelli, the half brother of Isa Campigli and Nina Cheda.
Nowadays all this may seem only befuddling, but years ago these extended family ties could be worked to an advantage.
As a young immigrant, Olympio Martinelli worked for his brother-in-law Louis Cheda, bought the Olema Store with his cousin Attilio Martinelli (who went on to be a county supervisor from 1920 to 1940), and then rented and later bought his father-in-law Battista Tomasini's ranch, from which Tomasini Creek and Tomisini Canyon derived their names. Olympio Martinelli and Flora Tomasini are the parents of the late Elmer Martinelli, who in 1965 opened the dump in Point Reyes Station that is now the controversial West Marin Sanitary Landfill. Elmer Martinelli's widow Hazel and their children Leroy, Patricia, and Stanley, today own the landfill with a minority co-owner, Jim Wyse.
Apples, garbage & produce
Intriguingly, the landfill owners are related to Stephen Martinelli, who in 1868 at the age of 26 founded the Martinelli Apple Juice company in Watsonville. He had left the village of Maggia only nine years earlier. As it happens, Olympio's brother Santino "Sam" Martinelli for a time worked at the apple juice company.
Still another branch of the Martinelli family settled in Bolinas, where today they operate an organic farm in Paradise Valley. They are descendants of EB Martinelli, who was a two-term state senator beginning in 1908.
Senator Martinelli's father Lorenzo Martinelli had been a fry cook during part of the John Fremont expedition which blazed a trail through the West and reached San Rafael in 1846.
Martinellis in Bolinas
EB's son Jordan Martinelli Sr., a Marin County Superior Court judge, over time bought three small ranches in Bolinas, beginning in the late 1930s.
Since then the ranches -- together called Paradise Valley Ranch -- have been used for dairy, beef, and sheep ranching.
But recently the Bolinas Martinellis have converted their ranch to new forms of agriculture. In 1983, the family leased part of their land to Warren Weber for organic vegetable growing, and last year they leased another portion to Don Murch, who now "dry farms" potatoes.
A few months ago, Peter Martinelli, great-great-grandson of immigrant Lorenzo Martinelli, followed suit by by starting Paradise Valley Ranch Organic Garden.
The Cheda family
Unlike the different branches of the Martinelli family, who still are involved in agriculture to various degrees, members of the Cheda family abandoned dairy ranching early on -- a rare move among the immigrants.
The early ranching Chedas evolved into shopkeepers, garage owners, and a prominent mortician.
Rancher Louis Cheda, whose wife Nina was a sister of Isa Campigli, was the great-grandfather of Adolph "Sonny" Cheda, who with his son Gary runs Cheda Chevrolet and garage in Point Reyes Station.
Sonny's cousin Vernon Cheda formerly owned Cheda's Market (now Beckers' deli) on Point Reyes Station's main street. Vernon's brother Leroy is a mortician with Russell and Gooch Funeral Chapel in Mill Valley.
Vernon's aunt Erma Scilacci, now 92, married Wilford "Bill" Scilacci, who in 1922 bought the Point Reyes Emporium (later the Palace Market) at auction after feed merchants seized it from his father for unpaid bills. Bill Scilacci died three years ago at age 99.
Swiss in Pt. Reyes
Scilacci's widow this week told The Light the market was one reason so many Swiss immigrant families became intertwined. Downtown Point Reyes Station, and especially the market, served as a meeting place, she said.
"Everybody was very friendly," Mrs. Scilacci recalled. "You just felt like one big family."
As with many other Swiss descendants who came to play dominant roles in West Marin, Mrs. Scilacci has enjoyed an unusually long life. At 92, she suffers from merely "a little arthritis, but that's all. I shouldn't complain."
What's the secret of her countryman's longevity? After a pause, Mrs. Scilacci answered brightly. They're made, she said, from "good old stuff."