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La Gattuta / Lagattuta Genealogy

This site is dedicated to the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname.

Sponsored by Salvatore Joseph Lagattuta

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Music:  "E tu, Palermo" -- from Giuseppe Verdi's opera, I Vespri Siciliani

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The rare La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname

      I hold a special fondness for my La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname, not only because it is my own, but also because it is so rare.

       It may very well be that all La Gattuta / Lagattuta males may have (almost exactly) the same Y-chromosome, having been passed intact from father to son, ever since the first La Gattuta (or L'Attuta, or Gattuta) males were present, as definitely recorded in the mid-1600 riveli (censuses) of Mezzojuso, a small municipality in the Palermo province in the region of Sicily in the nation of Italy.

       From the area in and around Mezzojuso, this unique surname seems to have spread into some other places in Italy, in the United States, and elsewhere.

       Only a few thousand La Gattuta / Lagattuta individuals (most of whom are still living today) had this as their birth-given surname in the USA (where I have found about 150 USA households with public telephone listings for this surname).  A similar number also appears to occur in Italy (where this surname is also represented by about 150 Italian households with public telephone numbers, mostly concentrated in northwestern Sicily; for La Gattuta in only 21 Italian comunes and for Lagattuta in only 3 Italian comunes).  This surname seems to be extremely rare in other countries.

       Such figures, as those being referenced above, counting only those La Gattuta / Lagattuta households with public telephone numbers, excluding those with private phone or cellular or cable or Internet service, are merely suggestive and are really hinting at the true number of presently existing La Gattuta / Lagattuta households, and therefore of the actual number for all currently living individuals who were born with the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname.

       Before 1900, it seems that nearly all La Gattuta individuals lived in or close to Mezzojuso, though less numerously at nearby Palermo.  But due to the limited opportunities in such a small Sicilian town, many Mezzojusari migrated to other parts of industrializing Italy, Switzerland, France, England, South America (particularly Argentina), North America (the USA and then Canada), and later on even to Australia.  For whatever reasons, our La Gattuta ancestors migrated particularly to the United States during the 1880s-1920s.  The Lagattuta variant appears to have started around 1900, mostly in the USA but also less extensively in Italy.

       I estimate that, right now, perhaps only about 5,000 persons alive on this Earth were born with the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname:  about 2,500 males (who are still carrying this precious surname since birth), and about 2,500 females (whose maiden name was this surname since birth).

       It would appear very likely that nearly all males with this La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname would have kept it since birth.  Probably most females born with this La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname no longer retain it, because of having taken on their husbands' other married surnames; however, this number is likely to be off-set closely by those women who acquired the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname through marriage.  Interestingly, in Italy, most women still use their maiden name on official documents, along with their annexed different married surname.  It seems extremely rare, though, that anyone would have acquired the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname through adoption, or by legally changing their former last name to this surname; however, perhaps some very few persons born with this La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname might have legally shortened or changed it (to a "less cumbersome" surname), but again such cases would tend to be extremely rare.

       Of course, Mezzojuso can easily be considered the "La Gattuta capital" of the world, followed closely by Palermo, the principle city of Sicily, only about 18 miles northwest of Mezzojuso.  According to the 2001 Italian census, some 3,061 inhabitants resided in Mezzojuso: 1,480 males and 1,581 females; there were 1,105 family households, of which only 38 persons lived alone, so that the average Mezzojuso household contained 2.74 persons.  See these basic statistics at the Mezzojuso general page (and many other sections about the 390 Sicilian comunes) at the Comune.Sicilia.it website:

http://www.messenia.com/comuni/comune/Home.asp?com=372

       Currently, about  200 out of some 3,061 persons residing in Mezzojuso were born with the La Gattuta surname, which means that approximately 1 out of 15 persons in today's Mezzojuso had this surname at birth.

       One of these days, I hope to gather more pertinent information about all of the La Gattuta births, marriages and deaths as carefully documented in the Mezzojuso civil records, from 1820 to 1900.  It will be a genealogical research project that I would like to do, eventually, starting with the easily obtainable Mormon's family history microfilms (that I have already reserved from 1820-1860).  Nearly all persons living today with the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname can trace their ancestry back to Mezzojuso during the 1800s.

La Gattuta surname in Mezzojuso, Sicily (since 1651)

       In Santi Mario Gebbia's fascinating book (2000), "I Cognomi dei Mezzojusari" - "The Surnames of the Mezzojusans" (135 pages), the author makes reference to the La Gattuta surname, as follows:

LA GATTUTA (pages 76-77):

       Cognome di etimologia incerta, proprio dell'area mezzojusara.  Forse un derivato di "Gattuso".  Molto probabilmente una "Gattuso", divenuta "la Gattusa" per antonomasia, avrebbe dato origine ad un nuovo cognome definativamente assestatosi in "La Gattuta" (vedi "Gattuso").

[ Surname of uncertain etymology, properly/exactly from the Mezzojuso area.  Perhaps a derivative of "Gattuso".  Very probably a "Gattuso" female, becoming "la Gattusa" for (the sake of) antonomasia (to be called by another name), would have given origin to a new surname, definitively arranging itself neatly / carefully into "La Gattuta" (see the "Gattuso" entry). ]

       Qualcuno, tuttavia, ha avanzato l'ipotesi, non si sa quanto attendibile, che lo stesso possa essere un cognome di origine semitica.  Sta di fatto che durante la seconda guerra mondiale, quando la persecuzione razziale, sia pure in tono minore rispetto alla nazista, venne programmata anche in Italia, qualcuno dei La Gattuta di Mezzojuso, corse qualche brutto rischio come ebreo.  Ma e' bastato che egli esibisse un certificato di battesimo alle autorita' locali, perche' venisse considerato ariano a tutti gli effetti.  Del resto arianizzare gli ebrei non fu in Italia practica eccessivamente difficile.

[ Someone, moreover, has advanced the hypothesis, it is not known how reliable / trustworthy, that the same (La Gattuta) could be a surname of Semitic origin.  It stands as a fact that during the Second World War, when racial persecution, be it even in a minor tone in respect to Nazism, became programmed also in Italy, some of the La Gattuta (families) of Mezzojuso ran a somewhat brutal risk as Hebrew.  But it was enough that he might have to exhibit a baptismal certificate to the authorities, because he would have been considered Arian in all its effects.  For the rest, to arianize the Hebrews was not an excessively difficult practice in Italy. ]

       Il gatto ebreo di Trilussa pote' esserlo, quasi senza difficolta', allorche' il padrone porto' ad un prefetto, che poi era suo amico, le prove che quel micio, quali che fossero stati i suoi genitori, era nato in casa del curato.

[ The Hebrew cat of Trilussa could be himself, almost without difficulty, as soon as the patron brought to a prefect, who then was his friend, the proofs by which that tom-cat, whosoever were his parents, was born in the house of the curate. ]

       "Se veramente ci hai 'ste prove in mane, me ripose l'amico, - se fa presto.  La possizione e' chiara.  E detto questo, firmo' una carta e me fece ariano."

[ "If truly you have these proofs in hand, my friend will release me (will let me rest), - if you do it quickly.  The position is clear.  And having said this, he signed a paper and he made me Arian." ]

       Risale al 1651 la prima registrazione dei La Gattuta a Mezzojuso.  Quivi sono state riscontrate le sequenti varianti:  "L'Attuta, Gattuta, La Gatuta".

[ The first registration of La Gattuta (families) at Mezzojuso goes back to 1651.  From thence are verified / checked / tallied the following variants:  "L'Attuta, Gattuta, La Gatuta". ]

       In Ignazio Gattuso's book (1973), "La Popolazione della Terra di Mezzojuso nei Secoli XVI, XVII e XVIII" - "The Population of the Land of Mezzojuso in the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries", the family counts pertaining to  the LA GATTUTA surname (and its variants), as recorded in Mezzojuso's 10 riveli (censuses) from 1584 to 1747, are as follows:

LA GATTUTA (also L'Attuta, Gattuta, La Gatuta): no family in 1584 and 1593 and 1607 and 1615 and 1623 and 1636, 1 family in 1651, 4 families in 1682, 2 families in 1714, and 9 families in 1747.

       Clearly, according to these verifiable and reliable historical census documents, conducted by the Spanish rulers of Sicily from the 1500s to the 1700s, the La Gattuta surname and its variants were unmistakably recorded in four (out of 10) Mezzojuso riveli (held in the years 1651, 1682, 1714 and 1747).  Thus, for nearly a century (1651-1747), La Gattuta families definitely lived in Mezzojuso.

      Also in Gattuso's "La Popolazione ...", there have been various nick-names -- "soprannomi" (as called in Italian) or " 'nciurie" (as called in Sicilian) -- ascribed to the La Gattuta families in Mezzojuso, which Gattuso noted (with the year of first-known documentation for each particular nick-name) as follows:

LA GATTUTA: pittinicchio (1747), pastizzi (1811), baiocco (1811)

       I am not sure what might be the meaning(s) connected with each specific nick-name ("soprannome" or " 'nciuria"), but suffice it to say that such nick-names tended to be given to individuals and then sometimes transmitted to their children and even across many generations.

       For instance, presently in Mezzojuso, there are about 3,061 residents, of which approximately 200 persons (about 100 males and 100 females) were born with the La Gattuta surname; even today, these 200 La Gattuta individuals are still differentiated by the native Mezzojusari according to their particular ancestral branch (along these three ancestral La Gattuta family branches: pittinicchio, pastizzi, baiocco).  My own family's La Gattuta lineage traces along the pastizzi branch.

La Gattuta surname originates from Sephardic Spain (around 1500)

       As best as I can reconstruct at this time, according to numerous La Gattuta family legends, around the year 1500 my far ancestors, fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition, left from somewhere in Spain and traveled by ship to the northern Sicilian seaport of Termini Imerese (whose "giudecca", or Jewish quarter,  is documented historically as one of the 57 Jewish communities then in Sicily, which ranged from the largest in Palermo with about 5,000 persons to the smaller ones like Termini Imerese with about 200-300 persons).

       For about 150 years, again according to various La Gattuta family legends, my ancestors stayed in Termini Imerese -- until they arrived by 1651 at the Sicilian inland village of Mezzojuso (about 15 miles southwest of Termini Imerese) .  

       These mysterious distant ancestors of mine, who apparently lived for a century and a half in the northern Sicilian seaport town of Termini Imerese, initially arrived at the small Jewish community there.  But in the early 1500s, the Jews (and Moslems) were forced to leave Sicily or to convert to Catholicism (a Sicilian replay of what had just recently happened during the 1490s in Spain and Portugal).

       Why did my ancestors choose to stay in Termini Imerese?  Were they not able to flee Sicily too, as they had done in Spain?  Did they readily and voluntarily convert to Catholicism, or were they Christian only in name and appearance but actually remained secretly Jewish for some time?  Why did my far ancestors leave Termini Imerese and come to Mezzojuso, and why would they do that somewhat prior to 1651?  These are some of the historical questions that bear further investigation, particularly in regard to my early ancestors.  So far, I have not been able to ascertain much about these issues.

       However, it is clearly evident that ever since they arrived in Mezzojuso by 1651, the La Gattuta families were Catholic of the Roman-rite.  ( In Mezzojuso, about half the surnames are Arberesh, or Italo-Albanian, having arrived there since the 1460s; I also have many Arberesh surnames in my ancestral family tree.  Mezzojuso residents whose father is Arberesh are of the Byzantine-rite within the Catholic church; likewise, if the father is non-Arberesh, the family is generally of the Roman-rite within Catholicism. There are, however, a small number of non-Catholic evangelicals in contemporary Mezzojuso, as well as some who consider themselves agnostic or atheist -- surprisingly, even a few communists still exist there! )

       Even as recently as World War II, when German soldiers were stationed throughout Sicily and even in Mezzojuso, the La Gattuta families in Mezzojuso were afraid of being persecuted as Jews, because of their surname being of Spanish-Jewish origin, as was  well-known locally.

       Curiously, as described in some Sephardic genealogy articles, the Spanish-Jewish naming conventions (similar to southern Italian culture) for the La Gattuta children across the generations seem to have been strictly observed.  My own first name, Salvatore, alternates for at least 8 generations, and it quite probably stems from Salvatore La Gattuta (rather than Domenico La Gattuta), whose two families survived the plague that devastated Mezzojuso in 1713, causing the death of about 60% of its population within a few weeks (only 1149 persons survived, as recorded in that 1714 Mezzojuso rivelo).  Salvatore and Domenico are "super-Catholic" first names (still trying to "cover up" their Spanish-Jewish roots?), but the last name was kept nearly intact -- adding "La" to the basic structure of "Gattuta" (the essential surname of Sephardic origin).

       Not only that, but my own grandfather (who was also named Salvatore La Gattuta) always burned candles at twilight, for over ten years, after his wife died; a small candle lit in front of her picture.  This was not ever a common custom in Mezzojuso, I was told; but my grandfather said to me that this was a long-held La Gattuta family tradition -- lighting candles at twilight, particularly in remembrance of lost loved ones (similar to a Sephardic custom).

       Additionally, many of the local La Gattuta families in Mezzojuso told me of the Spanish-Jewish origin of the surname, as I have explained above.  It is common knowledge there, but I suspect that many La Gattuta / Lagattuta families dispersed now throughout the world from the area around Mezzojuso have little recollection about the distant Sephardic ancestry of their surname, especially here in the United States.  I only heard about this when I happened to visit my relatives in Mezzojuso in the latter 1990s, when I was becoming interested in genealogy and especially in my own ancestry.

       If you might know of the far ancestry of the Gattuta surname as being of Sephardic origin, please let me know, or how I might find out -- particularly in regard to its meaning.  Maybe it stems from the Arabic surname Battuta (like the famous Moroccan-Spanish medieval traveler Ibn Battuta); or maybe even from the Hebrew term "gatit" meaning 'a musical instrument'.

       Similarly, if you might possibly be aware of any L'Attuta or Gattuta  or La Gatuta families in Termini Imerese (during the 1500s and 1600s, or thereafter), please tell me.

Researching your La Gattuta / Lagattuta ancestry

       As noted above, I am estimating that there are approximately 5,000 persons currently living in the world today, who were born with the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname.

       You may like to research the prevalence and geographical distribution in Italy of the relatively rare La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname (according to Italian public telephone listings) by consulting the Italian-based GENS search engine:

 http://gens.labo.net/it/cognomi/

       Thus, you as a La Gattuta / Lagattuta genealogical  researcher and family historian might discover the present locations of your surname, as well as clues to your ancestral roots.

       This GENS site also features a search engine for the prevalence and geographical distribution (by state) of USA surnames, as well.

       Once you know the current localities in regard to your surname (and its possible origins), you may want to contact near or distant relatives, through the Italian white-pages, via the search engine Virgilio, at its White Pages, known as "Pagine Bianche":

http://pb.virgilio.it/virgilio/index.html?pmk=HPHeada

       By typing in the surname (cognome) and the location by region (regione) or province (provincia) or municipality (comune), at this site, you will be provided with the names, addresses and telephone numbers of Italian households for the surname(s) that you are seeking.

       And please, let me know how you are doing.  I would really be delighted to correspond with any serious La Gattuta / Lagattuta genealogical researchers and family historians.

Grazie, Salvuccio (my Sicilian nick-name)

Salvatore Joseph Lagattuta

slagattu@gte.net

Web-site:  "Mezzojuso Heritage Pages"

http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Village/7555

Distribution of the La Gattuta surname in Italy (households by province)

Distribution of the La Gattuta surname in Italy (households by comune)

Distribution of the Lagattuta surname in Italy (households by province)

Distribution of the Lagattuta surname in Italy (households by comune)

Distribution of the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname in the USA (households by state)

  To learn more about the wonderful history and arts and traditions of Mezzojuso, the precious ancestral home-town of nearly all persons with the La Gattuta / Lagattuta surname, please consider purchasing this videotape (available in Italian and in English), beautifully produced by my friend, Giovanni Montanti.

http://www.sicilyvideo.it/index.html

Click on the videotape's image.