The 800-pound gangster

The 800-pound gangster

News of the shootout at the Poydras street boardinghouse described one of the victims as weighing “fully 800 pounds.” 

One of the first men killed in the Macaroni Wars was Vincenzo Vutera, placed in the Luciano’s business to suppress the opposition during a raid led by Santo “Joseph” Calamia. Like Vutera, Calamia is described as a “big, fat man” who could nonetheless move quickly. Straining credulity, local reporting on his death claims Vutera’s weight was “fully 800 pounds” (Sicilians in battle to death, 1902).

Another standout quality Vutera possessed was being from Corleone, the hometown he shared with Calamia’s professed brother-in-law, Giuseppe Morello, and his actual brother-in-law, Antonino Saltaformaggio, whose body turned up in a canal near White Castle in 1903. Hundreds of people from Corleone emigrated to Louisiana for work, with most of them dispersing into the plantations along the Mississippi River. Several families from Corleone lived in Donaldsonville, at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Bayou Lafourche

1895 map of Louisiana showing the course of the Bayou Lafourche before it was dammed.
In this 1895 map, New Orleans is centered, just south of Lake Pontchartrain. The Mississippi River enters the frame from the northwest and intersects Donaldsonville and the Bayou Lafourche between the “S” and the “I” in “LOUISIANA.”

In 1902, after a particularly bad flood season, the bayou was dammed, and a series of locks were discussed but never built. With access from the river blocked, 130 miles of navigable stream through coastal wetlands became accessible only from the Gulf of Mexico. The temporary dam permanently harmed the economy and health of Bayou Lafourche, Donaldsonville, and the surrounding area. The Mississippi no longer supplied fresh water to the bayou, devastating the ecosystem. The city of Donaldsonville, once the capital of Louisiana, entered a period of decline from which it did not rally until automobile traffic replaced riverboats as the primary form of transportation. 

For the owners of a macaroni factory in Donaldsonville, the new dam was bad news. Easy access to half a dozen towns they might have provisioned along the bayou was suddenly cut off. Antonino Luciano had $4,000 tied up in the factory: about $129,000 in 2022 dollars. His partner was the duplicitous Paolo Di Christina, a mafioso in league with Francesco Genova. 

Genova had sworn to destroy Luciano, and Di Christina was part of his plan. Step 1: Place men loyal to the Mafia boss in the business to be overtaken. Step 2: Make the business a source of debt and woe for the rightful owner. Step 3: Sap the owner’s funds, credit, and good name, until he has no choice but to abandon the property to his antagonistic partners. The Mafia has attacked business owners this way for most of its existence. 

The showdown on Poydras Street in New Orleans was an escalation of a fight that began in the Donaldsonville macaroni factory. In the story that unfolded in the newspapers, and echoes in more contemporary tellings, Vincenzo Vutera is sometimes painted as an ally of the Luciano family, brought down from Donaldsonville to aid them in defense against Genova’s men, and at other times described as a plant, one of several men Genova either installed or turned to his purposes.

Illustration of the interior of the Poydras Street store/saloon/boardinghouse accompanying coverage of the shooting in The Times-Democrat (Bloody battle, 1902).

Vincenzo Vutera was born in Corleone in April 1872, and emigrated as a young man with his mother and his first cousin, also named Vincenzo Vutera, who was three years older. The older cousin returned to Corleone and married there in 1906, which is how I can be sure he was not the one shot to death in New Orleans in 1902.

Vutera married his first cousin, Giovannina “Jennie” Cusimano, in Donaldsonville in 1894. His wife’s godparents were her first cousin, once removed and her husband. They were also the parents of Los Angeles Mafia boss Jack Dragna. Dragna and Vutera (and Cusimano and Dragna) are second cousins.

A family tree including Vincenzo Vutera, his same name cousin, his wife, and Jack Dragna
A family tree showing the lines of direct descent shared by Vincenzo Vutera, his emigrating cousin, his wife, and the mafioso Jack Dragna. In this diagram, the godparent relationship Giovannina Cusimano has with her aunt and uncle is illustrated with solid green lines. Vincenzo Vutera, his mother, and his same-name cousin who emigrated together are connected by dotted black lines. All the people with a blue outline migrated to Louisiana. (Jack Dragna’s parents later emigrated to New York, where he grew up. Read more about the Dragna family’s early life in America in Informer.)

An expanded family tree including everyone from the first tree plus Vutera's widow's second husband, Vincenzo "Charles" Peranio.
After Vutera’s death, his widow remarried to another first cousin, Vincenzo Piranio. The fathers of Vincenzo Piranio and Jack Dragna, each marked with a pink upper left quadrant in this tree, were both born of unknown parents. They married first cousins Anna and Rosalia Vutera.

Vutera’s same-name cousin has a maternal uncle, Mariano Colletto, who was a captain in the Fratuzzi, the Mafia of Corleone. The older Vutera may have run into some kind of legal trouble in Louisiana: in November 1901, one of the cousins ran an ad claiming not to be the V. Vutera who was decided against in a local court case. The younger Vincenzo Vutera was, at the time of his death, a grocer with a store in Dorseyville, eleven miles from Donaldsonville, which he ran under the name “A. Cusimano” because his own credit was so poor. The real A. Cusimano was Vincent’s brother-in-law and first cousin, Antonino Cusimano, who named Vincent as his destination contact when he emigrated to White Castle—near Donaldsonville—in 1897.

In January 1902, a notice ran for a “Constable Sale.” At auction were the provisions and equipment from Vincenzo Vutera’s Dorseyville grocery, being sold to satisfy his obligation to “A. Luciano.” The same Antonino Luciano who Genova swore to destroy was one of Vincenzo Vutera’s creditors. 

The same Antonino Luciano who Genova swore to destroy was one of Vincenzo Vutera’s creditors.

Given this history, it’s little wonder that Genova found a willing accomplice in Vutera. “The Lucianos thought it rather strange when Vincenzo Vutera, the big, fat storekeeper, who was running a general merchandise place in Dorseyville under the name of Cusimano, to deceive his old creditors, came to their place a few evenings back and asked for a bed,” The Times-Picayune reported. The Lucianos, who had turned their business into a fortress, welcomed him into their boardinghouse.

Vutera’s debt with Luciano and the auction to pay it were not reported in the days following his death in the shootout. Instead, there was confusion about whose side of the deadly conflict Vutera had fought on. Had he been placed there by Calamia? Or, as Tony Luciano told the police and reporters, did Vutera die in a vain attempt to defend his brother Salvatore Luciano, the target of the attack?

New Orleans police believed Tony’s statement was a ruse. Based on statements from other witnesses and evidence on the scene, members of Calamia’s party killed Salvatore Luciano, and then Tony, his brother, killed Vincenzo Vutera. Tony may have also shot Joseph Gerrachi, who died weeks later in the hospital, and Joseph Calamia, who took two bullets in his left hand. Both Vutera and Gerrachi are described in the newspapers as managers of Luciano’s macaroni factory. A Luciano cousin who was injured in the shootout claimed Vutera was a traitor who had brought Gerrachi with him from Donaldsonville. 

That evening, with Tony Luciano in custody, police told him Vutera had fired Gerrachi from his position in the factory. This appeared to confirm for Luciano his realization that Vutera (and perhaps also Gerrachi) had betrayed him, because it elicited from Luciano the names of the men who had invaded along with Calamia. Gerrachi, who was described as a merchant from Donaldsonville, was one of them, as well as Bartolo Ferrara, and two men who evaded arrest, Vincent Scaffino and Joe Galderone. Di Christina was seen across the street, immediately after the attack. Genova, the most powerful mafioso involved, was not part of the raid, but it was for the restoration of his honor that Salvatore Luciano was killed. Salvatore, Tony’s “hot-headed” brother, shot at Genova and Di Christina a month earlier, and was warned to leave the country or forfeit his life. 

Vincenzo Vutera was playing cards in the annex, to the rear of the store, with Louis and Tony Luciano when Calamia and his men arrived. Salvatore Luciano, sitting near the annex, was killed by multiple stab wounds and a gunshot wound to the head. Vutera was killed by three gunshot wounds that entered the right side of his body, lacerating his lungs and liver, and a knife wound to the head. It’s likely that Vincenzo shot Salvatore, who had already received mortal injuries, and then Tony killed Vincenzo. In his pockets were a knife that had shattered on the impact of another bullet aimed at his chest, and some letters signed from “A. Cusimano.” Based on the letters, the coroner correctly assumed this was Vutera’s alias and included it in his death certificate. 

Death record for Vincent Vutera, alias A. Cusimano, of Dorceyville, Louisiana. Married merchant, age “42 Yrs?” died from multiple gunshot wounds on 12 June 1902 in New Orleans.

Luciano avoided indictment in the Poydras Street shootings. Calamia stood trial for Vutera’s murder but was acquitted for lack of evidence. Vincenzo Vutera was only thirty years old, though the coroner indicated he was much older. He left a wife and four children, the youngest just four months old. Jennie Cusimano remarried a few years later to Charlie Peranio, born Vincenzo Piranio in Corleone, with whom she had two more children. 

On this sheet of the 1910 census, taken in Dorseyville, Louisiana, the first family listed is Jennie’s. Vincenzo Peranio, a grocer, is the head of household. Jennie’s uncle and father-in-law from her first marriage, Leoluca Vutera, an elderly widower, lives with them.

Sources

Babin II, D. (2015, April 28). Bumped off on the bayou: the macaroni wars.

Bloody battle. (1902, June 12). The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA).

Constable sale. (1902, January 11). The Weekly Iberville South (Plaquemine, LA). P. 2.

Kendall, J. S. (1911, October 1). The Mafia in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 33.

Kingman, W. A. (n.d.) The Axeman of New Orleans. Retrieved 29 January 2019 from Serialkillercalendar.com

Krist, G. (2014). Empire of sin: A story of sex, jazz, murder, and the battle for modern New Orleans. Crown. 

Luciano lured to a mafia murder. (1903, August 10). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). P. 1.

More murder in the feud of Sicilians. (1902, June 13). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA). Pp. 1+.

Notice. (1901, November 20). The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA).

Sicilians in battle to death. (1902, June 12). The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA).

Read Part 3 in this series on The Macaroni Wars: Francesco Motisi, Alias Genova

Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 2

Are Corleone’s Mafiosi more likely to marry close relations? Part 2

To study mafia marriages, first, you need to find the mafiosi.

See Part 1 of this series.

To study the marriages of Mafia members requires several steps. First, there is the identification of members of a secret, criminal organization. A few, like members of Giuseppe Morello’s family, and the bosses of Corleone, have been written about many times, and a wealth of biographical information is available on them.

The identities of some members of the Mafia are unambiguous: they are named in trial records that give the defendants’ birthdates, hometowns, and parents’ names. Adding to the names of known members are Mafia historians Dino Paternostro, John Alcorn, and Richard Warner, and others, who have named dozens of mafiosi from Corleone, and the time periods during which they were active, both in Sicily and in the United States.

Following accepted genealogical standards, I have built cases for the identities of over a hundred individuals named in connection to the mafia in Corleone. You can find them on Wikitree, categorized as “Corleone Mafia.” Occasionally, my work overlaps with that of other “Arborists” on the site. I am not the only one who has done genealogical research on, and written biographies for, the many thousands of people from Corleone on Wikitree, but I have done a lot of it. Each profile has a history, so if you’re curious, and a Wikitree member (it’s free to join), you can find out exactly what I contributed and when on the “Changes” tab of any profile. You can also see what I’ve been doing most recently on Wikitree, on my activity feed. For the last several months, much of my activity has been the genealogical research for this consanguinity study.

Of the Mafia members who were either born or married in Corleone, thirty-five of their marriages, performed between 1815 and 1909, were selected for this study. I cut off the study at 1909 because after that year, full marriage records are not available online, making the selection of controls a degree more difficult. The earliest marriages come from the first documented, organized criminals from Corleone that I’ve yet found.

The median year of marriage is 1889. Three of the mafiosi (Nicolo’ Ciravolo, Marco Maggiore, and Giuseppe Morello) married twice, and in each case, both of their marriages are included, so they each appear twice in the test group, below.

Mafia members included in study, with profile IDs on Wikitree

Mafia Member Wikitree ID Year of Marriage
Giuseppe Battaglia Battaglia-103 1870
Antonino Cascio Cascio-157 1906
Carmelo Cascio Cascio-432 1902
Biagio Ciancimino Ciancimino-10 1852
Nicolo’ Ciravolo Ciravolo-20 1815
Nicolo’ Ciravolo Ciravolo-20 1834
Mariano Colletto Colletto-38 1898
Luciano Crapisi Crapisi-12 1880
Salvatore Cutrera Cutrera-34 1859
Bernardo di Miceli Di_Miceli-100 1862
Domenico di Miceli Di_Miceli-128 1881
Angelo Gagliano Gagliano-50 1902
Calogero Gagliano Gagliano-52 1906
Luciano Gagliano Gagliano-9 1880
Michaelangelo Gennaro Gennaro-85 1884
Biagio Jannazzo Jannazzo-1 1843
Luciano Labruzzo Labruzzo-55 1897
Antonino lo Jacono Lo_Jacono-16 1872
Calogero lo Jacono Lo_Jacono-18 1884
Marco Maggiore Maggiore-8 1893
Marco Maggiore Maggiore-8 1908
Calogero Majuri Majuri-23 1893
Pietro Majuri Majuri-6 1897
Giovanni Mancuso Mancuso-307 1887
Francesco Mancuso Mancuso-313 1883
Antonio Mariano Mancuso Mancuso-77 1889
Giuseppe Morello Morello-35 1889
Giuseppe Morello Morello-35 1903
Paolino Streva Streva-64 1894
Carlo Taverna Taverna-7 1904
Bernardo Terranova Terranova-29 1873
Ciro Terranova Terranova-31 1909
Pasquale Vasi Vasi-2 1895
Francesco Zito Zito-78 1900

Of the Mafia members included in this study, the oldest are Nicolo’ Ciravolo and Biagio Jannazzo, members of Rapanzino’s gang of cattle rustlers who were nearly all killed by police in 1835. (Real 1836)

Biagio Ciancimino; Luciano Crapisi; Salvatore Cutrera; brothers Antonino and Calogero lo Jacono; Marco Maggiore and his uncle Calogero Majuri (note the two spellings of the same surname); Francesco, Giovanni, and Mariano Mancuso (all three of no known relation); first cousins Bernardo and Domenico di Miceli; and Carlo Taverna; are all named among Fratuzzi membership around 1900, by the journalist Dino Paternostro. (2004)

Giuseppe Morello, his stepfather Bernardo Terranova, and his stepbrother Ciro Terranova, all founding members of the Morello gang in New York, a predecessor of the Genovese crime family, are well documented, most famously by William J. Flynn in “The Barrel Mystery.” (Flynn 1919) Other New York City gangsters from Corleone include the counterfeiter Pasquale Vasi, who is described by Richard Warner et al (2014), and in contemporary newspapers.

The criminal activities of Carmelo Cascio, Mariano Colletto, and brothers Calogero and Luciano Gagliano, contemporaries of Bernardino Verro, have been written about by John Alcorn and Dino Paternostro.

Fratuzzi bosses Giuseppe Battaglia, Angelo Gagliano, Michaelangelo Gennaro, and Luciano Labruzzo are known from multiple sources, including Flynn (1919) and Paternostro, and from Italian Senate inquest and trial records, which also name Antonino Cascio (a distant cousin of Carmelo) and Francesco Zito. Flynn also describes the young Mafia captain, Paolino Streva, who collaborates as a cattle thief with Morello in Corleone, under Battaglia’s leadership.

Next week, this series continues with more on my methods, including selection of a control group.

Sources

  1. John Alcorn. “Revolutionary Mafiosi: Voice and Exit in the 1890s.” Accessed http://www.comune.corleone.pa.it/file%20da%20scaricare/Saggi%20palermo1_Saggi%20palermo1.pdf 5 May 2016.
  2. Archivio di Stato di Palermo, GP, aa. 1906-1925, b. 267, f. 3, Associazione per delinquere scopertosi in Corleone, 13 Agosto 1916.
  3. Dino Paternostro. «Fratuzzi», antenati di Liggio e Riina. La Sicilia: 8 August 2004.
  4. Dino Paternostro. La «punciuta» di Bernardino Verro. La Sicilia: 1 August 2004.
  5. William J. Flynn. The Barrel Mystery. The James A. McCann Co.: New York, 1919.
  6. Real Segreteria di Stato presso il Luogotenente Generale in Sicilia Ripartimento Polizia Repertorio anno 1836. Accessed http://archiviodistatodipalermo.it/files/inventari/file/1263903377anno1836.pdf 6 August 2015.
  7. Senato della Repubblica VII Legislatura. Documentazione allegata alla relazione conclusiva della commissione parlamentare d’inchiesta sul fenomeno della mafia in Sicilia. Accessed http://legislature.camera.it/_dati/leg08/lavori/stampati/pdf/023_001011.pdf 13 May 2016.
  8. Richard Warner, Angelo Santino, and Lennert Van ‘t Riet. “The Early New York Mafia: An Alternative Theory.” The Informer: May 2014. Accessed https://www.scribd.com/doc/222924210/2014-02-Informer-May-2014 11 January 2016.

Feature image: Giorgio Sommer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Measuring consanguinity and dispensation rates in Corleone

Measuring consanguinity and dispensation rates in Corleone

Finding proof of the high rate of cousin marriage in Corleone proves more difficult than expected.

In an earlier post, “Kissing Cousins,” I wrote about the high rates of marriage between close relations that have been detected throughout Sicily. Before 1918, dispensation was required for marriages in Sicily, out to the fourth degree of consanguinity, or between second cousins. Based on my first reading of the data, nearly half of all marriages in Palermo and Agrigento provinces required dispensation from the local archbishop. (I’ve since corrected this mistaken interpretation. 1/13/17 JC) But was it the same in Corleone?

Anecdotally, I’d noticed a lot of consanguineous marriages among families I was beginning to think of as “mafia families,” based on their surnames, professions, honorifics, and marriage patterns. Yet by “high,” I didn’t mean almost half of all marriages. I wondered what the real rate of consanguineous marriage was in Corleone, if it matched existing research for the province of Palermo, and whether Corleone’s rate, and that of the mafia families of Corleone, differed from the provincial average, or from one another.

FamilySearch has microfilm copies of the Church’s vital records from Corleone, available for free online. Originals or copies of those handwritten documents were sent to the provincial capitals or the archdiocese. The records available online are those which had been preserved at Monreale, the seat of the archbishop for Corleone.

It may be that the copies I’m reviewing, do not mention all of the dispensations that were granted. Of the 96 marriages performed in Corleone in 1860, not a single record mentions a dispensation. After not finding even one dispensation in 1860, I continued looking at the first 49 records of 1861, which brought me to the end of April, and still, I did not find any mentions of dispensations in the marriage records. Did the priests just forget them, that year?

I have come across dispensations both before and after 1860, but not in every year. I haven’t yet, to my knowledge, found a marriage between close relations that did not get the dispensation. I have found marriages that required dispensation between a couple who were more distantly related than second cousins. In at least one case, I was able to determine that, due to having multiple sets of common ancestors, their coefficient of relationship was higher than typical second cousins. Priests were instructed to look for these multiple lines of descent, before marrying a prospective bride and groom.

There are other reasons dispensations are given, too. One of them is when someone is widowed and remarries to the sibling or close relation of their late spouse. For example, when Lucia Ligotino married her first cousin’s widower, their marriage received a dispensation despite that fact that Lucia and her groom, Giovanni Provenzano, are of no known relation. I was ready for these numbers to inflate the rate of apparent consanguinity. Instead, the numbers of dispensations are far lower than I expected.

In 1864, fourteen out of 104 records that year, or 13.46 percent, included a dispensation. However, only four of those records, 3.85 percent, mentioned second degree consanguinity. (There were no marriages that recorded a dispensation for first degree consanguinity this year.) This is far lower than the staggering 48.66 percent of marriages in Palermo province between first cousins or closer relations (second degree) that Cavalli-Sforza appear to have found between 1860 and 1864.

There are several possible explanations for the low rate of dispensations in Corleone marriages. One possibility is that consanguineous marriages were conducted at the same rate in Corleone as elsewhere in the province, but that not all were being detected. The decision to request a dispensation may not be written down where I’m looking for them, in the copies of marriage records sent to the archdiocese. The decision to approve a consanguineous marriage may have been made locally, without dispensation. Finally, it’s possible that consanguineous unions are, in fact, far less common in Corleone than average.

Corleone is distinct from its neighbors in a few ways. It welcomed strangers who would enrich the town, and at the same time was well defended against foreign threats. The town has a reputation dating back to the Sicilian Vespers of 1282, for vigorous military defense and patriotism. In its streets and buildings, the town reflects its origins under Ottoman rule, in its winding alleys, gardens, and plazas. Being in the interior of the island, Corleone was protected from pirate raids, which ravaged coastal towns for centuries. Other than the city of Palermo, Corleone is perhaps the most important location in the province for trade. In the 1800s, Corleone was home to a hundred churches, a college, and a hospital. Being a free town (it was not owned by a king or lawyer, after 1648) it was attractive to skilled artisans, who made up some ten percent of the heads of household in the town. It’s hard to parse the possible reasons why Corleone would not demonstrate the same level of consanguinity, but in one regard, its relative isolation, the town may have been at an advantage over most of its rural neighbors.

This week, I plan to sample other years in the latter half of the 19th century, looking for dispensations. If I continue to find very low rates, I may have to find another way of studying consanguineous marriages in Corleone. I might use documenti matrimoniali, the documentation the priests drew up to discover common ancestors between prospective brides and grooms. I may also create a control group of families to study as closely as I have the mafia families, establish all of their ancestral lines for 3-4 generations, and determine, based on this research, whether consanguinity exists and to what degree. When I’ve solved the problem of detecting an average consanguinity rate for families in Corleone, then I can find out whether the rate for known mafia families is distinctive.

Further reading:

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Antonio Moroni, and Gianna Zei. Consanguinity, Inbreeding, and Genetic Drift in Italy. 2004: Princeton University Press.

Image credit: An arranged marriage between Louis XIV of France and Maria Theresa of Spain. Public domain. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage#/media/File:Lodewijk_XIV-Marriage.jpg

Kissing cousins

Kissing cousins

In the provinces of Palermo and Agrigento, in Sicily, around 1900, close to five percent of all marriages required dispensation due to consanguinity. As distantly related as the fourth degree, which is to say, second cousins, needed approval from the archbishop to marry. I’ve found more than a hundred dispensations for marriages in Corleone, but only a handful have been between first cousins.  One of those was my twice great uncle Francesco’s second marriage.

Uncle Francesco’s first wife was his second cousin, Maria Antonia Gennaro, a woman who was distinguished as being one of the few female merchants in Corleone. She was also the sister of Michaelangelo Gennaro, who was already active in mafia leadership by 1900, according to Dino Paternostro. Michaelangelo and Maria Antonia are Cascios on their mother’s side. Two more of their sisters also married cousins, all of them Cascios by blood. Maria Antonia died in 1890.

My twice-great grandfather, Francesco’s brother, Giuseppe Cascio, was too sick to report the birth of the sixth of his seven children, in 1894. Five years later, he was dead at the age of forty-six. His widow, Angela Grizzaffi, immigrated to New York not long afterward, with four of the children. The two youngest came two years later, accompanied by Angela’s brother. The second child, Biagia, stayed in Corleone and married her first cousin, a man with the same name as her father, Giuseppe Cascio.

In a traditional society like Corleone’s at the turn of the twentieth century, parents chose two kinds of relationships for their children: their godparents and their spouses. Both of these selections, when taken as a set, tell us who the parents trusted.

Commonly, godparents are aunts and uncles of their godchildren. Other times, godparents come from families that are more noble than the parents’, indicating a patronage relationship. A third kind of godparent relationship is among families who frequently intermarry. The bonds within a family, between the leadership and their followers, and among families, are cemented by marriages, and reinforced with the spiritual ties of godparents and their godchildren.

The choice to marry in (endogamy), is a trade off between the value of forging new marital alliances, against that of strengthening existing bonds. It’s said that up to a staggering 80% of all of our ancestors, were pairs of first cousins. Today, about ten percent of all marriages are between first cousins. The rate is higher in parts of Muslim North Africa, and in China. The marriage patterns that are most endogamous are endemic to the most tribal societies. Ladislav Holý writes in “Kinship, Honour, and Solidarity: Cousin Marriage in the Middle East” that marrying cousins reinforces the integration of “the minimal unit” and asserts the family’s distinction, purity, and traditional observance. Steve Sailer makes a connection, often repeated, on the practice of cousin marriage in Islam: “Muslim countries are usually known for warm, devoted extended family relationships, but also for weak patriotism.” The same can be said of Sicily around the turn of the twentieth century. After a century of revolution, the island found itself once again ruled, and neglected, by the mainland. Genuine authority and loyalty were local, rooted in the family and the Church.

There are natural limits to how much inbreeding a society can tolerate, so while cousin marriage can be quite high—it’s currently around 50% in Iran—it’s not an exclusive practice. A blogger who writes on human biodiversity points out that there are two ways cousin marriage leads to inbreeding. Because of how the Y chromosome is passed down, the sons of marriages between men and the daughters of their fathers’ brothers (what anthropologists call “fbd marriage”) have less genetic diversity. Also, fbd marriage leads to more double-first cousin marriages than other possible cousin pairings.

In a patriarchal society like Corleone’s, a man who marries a woman from his own patrilineage, such as his father’s brother’s daughter, is undivided in his loyalty. This kind of marriage is so sought after that it remains a strong tradition in Islamic countries, for men to have the right of first refusal in the marriages of their paternal cousins. Marriages between men and their mother’s brothers daughters (“mbd marriage”) is called “alliance building,” creating ties between different patrilineages. Of the handful of first cousin marriages I’ve found in Corleone, the most popular are msd marriages, between the children of sisters. Worldwide, this is the most uncommon.

In double in-law marriages, the children of both marriages are also double cousins: they have two common sets of grandparents, instead of one. My twice-great grandmother, Angela Grizzaffi, was the third of her siblings to marry into the same immediate family. Those strong bonds, as well as the one forged by her daughter, Biagia’s marriage to her first cousin, another Cascio, reinforced her safety net and may have been instrumental in her family’s successful immigration, after the death of her husband. While her own siblings provided clear support—by taking her in, and escorting her youngest children when they made the voyage—that Angela’s sister and brother were married to siblings of her late husband, would have provided more incentive for them to help. Like cousin marriage, double in-law marriages create additional ties to the family, increasing loyalty and the obligation for mutual aid.

After my great-uncle Francesco’s first wife died, he married one of his wife’s nieces, who was also his first cousin, thus maintaining and reinforcing his ties to the family of his brother-in-law, Michaelangelo Gennaro. In the first decade of the twentieth century, two of Francesco’s daughters married men in mafia leadership, Carlo Taverna and Giuliano Riela, and one of his sons married the sister of Taverna.

Dr. Michele Navarra, who would lead the Fratuzzi from shortly after WWII until his assassination in 1958, married the daughter of his mother’s sister, Tommasa Cascio, in 1936. She was descended from a line of landowners, and the second cousin, once removed, of my great-uncle.