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 Wagner, 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 Wagner 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 Wagner, 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

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Cousins, many times over

Cousins, many times over

There’s a classic illustration of exponential growth, that goes something like this: a king agrees to play a chess match for a prize: a single grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard, two grains on the second square, and so on, doubling the number for each of the 64 squares. The king loses the match, and soon realizes that the amount of rice he would have to pay is far higher than he imagined: 18,446,744,073,709,551,615, or more than eighteen quintillion grains of rice in total. That’s a lot of rice.

Every genealogist who has gotten very far in charting all of their own ancestors has discovered that doubled numbers get large, very quickly. We all have two parents, four grandparents, and so on: the number of ancestors grows exponentially with each generation.

My closest common ancestor with Salvatore “Toto” Riina is through his mother, Maria Concetta Rizzo. We’re both descended from Giovanni Todaro and Antonina Russo, who married in 1750. Maria Concetta is the fourth great granddaughter of their son, Filippo. Filippo’s sister, Emmanuela, married Leoluca Cascio in 1770, and they are my 5GG. Of my 128 fifth-great grandparents, thirty-two are through my paternal grandfather, and lived in Corleone.

Toto and I are also related through his father, Giovanni Riina. Michaele Giunta and Innocenza Papania, who married in 1729, are Toto’s 5GG and my 7GG. So in addition to being sixth cousins, once removed, on his mother’s side, we are also sixth cousins, twice removed, on his father’s side.

Giuseppe Sangiorgi and Filippa lo Munti, who married in 1683, are also Toto Riina’s direct ancestors and mine: they are his 6GG and my 7GG, which makes us fifth cousins, once removed. We’re also seventh cousins, twice removed, three different ways. Pietro Mannina and Gioachina Biscuso, who married in 1673, are his 6GG and my 8GG. So are Giuseppe Sciacchitano and Caterina Lanza, who married in 1703, and Giovanni Sciortino and Mattea Russo (of no known relation to Antonina), who married in 1689.

Giovanni Fruja and his wife, Giuseppa, who I estimate married sometime before 1650, are my 9GG and Toto Riina’s 7GG, making us 8th cousins, twice removed, through this pair of common ancestors. Another of our common ancestors is Tommaso Cimino (my 6GG, his 8GG), who married twice, first to Toto’s ancestor, and then to mine, making us half-seventh cousins, twice removed.

In population genetics, degree of consanguinity is measured as a percentage of one’s genetic inheritance held in common with another, called a coefficient of relationship (CoR). The more closely related you are to someone, the higher your CoR. Identical twins have a CoR of 100%. You and your mother have a coefficient of 50%, and so do you and any of your full siblings. Half siblings share a coefficient with aunt/uncle-nephew/niece relationships, of 25%.

In the same way the number of grains of rice grows exponentially larger, from one chessboard square to the next, the CoF gets exponentially smaller, the more distant the relationship. Fourth cousins share a coefficient of relationship of only 0.20%. Sixth cousins, once removed, have a CoR of 0.000061035156%

I have multiple ancestors in common with another Corleone Mafia boss, Michelangelo Gennaro. We’re second cousins, four times removed. My fifth-great grandparents, Leoluca Cascio and Emmanuela Todaro, are Michelangelo’s great grandparents.

Michelangelo and Toto are also multiply related. They’re third cousins, three times removed, both being descended from Giovanni Todaro and Antonina Russo. They are also fifth cousins, twice removed, through Domenico Saggio and Domenica Mondello, who married in 1651: they are Michelangelo Gennaro’s 4GG and Toto Riina’s 6GG. And all three of us are descended from my 9GG, Giovanni and Giuseppa Fruja, who are Gennaro’s 5GG and Riina’s 7GG.

Image credit: Giulio Campi, “The Chess Players”

Legacy of the Rapanzino gang

Legacy of the Rapanzino gang

While most of Rapanzino’s gang was exterminated by the police in the mid-1830s, their legacy continues, with a clear line of descent, all the way to the Five Families of New York and the Mafia in Corleone today.

The Rapanzino gang of cattle thieves, active in the early 1830s in Palermo province, were closely related to known mafia members in Corleone. Two of the members,  Bernardo and Antonino Palumbo, were brothers, and their second cousin, Leoluca Mondello, was also in their gang. Mondello and the leader, Rapanzino, were killed on the same day by the police. Two other members of the gang were Biagio Jannazzo and his older brother, Paolo. Although not closely related to the Palumbo brothers, by blood or marriage, the two families were evidently close: Biagio and Paolo’s parents were Antonino Palumbo’s godparents.

Ninetta Bagarella
Ninetta Bagarella

On their mother’s side, the Palumbo brothers were cousins of Vincenzo Maida, a rural guard. A common practice in that time, was for guards like Maida to negotiate for the return of stolen property. For this reason, it was a requirement of the position, that guards have close relations with criminals. Salvatore Lupo describes a typical arrangement: a mafia boss would go to the victim of a theft to express his sympathy, and to say maybe he can make some inquiries and find out what happened to the stolen goods. But he’s behind the theft and makes his money from the owner who pays to restore his goods.

Denis Mack Smith writes that the most common crimes in Sicily around this time were smuggling food into towns to avoid taxation, the illicit control of water, extortion—often through threats of arson to crops—and “abigeato”: stealing farm animals. It’s likely that Rapanzino’s gang worked with Maida, and other rural guards, to whom the thieves would kick back a proportion of their gains.

It’s not clear to me, what forces led to the police action against this band. Possibly the geographic scope of their activity brought the thieves from Corleone into conflict with neighboring mafias, each district an ecosystem of peasants, thieves, guards, and landowners. Or members of the band may have angered their local boss in some way. At any rate, by 1833, they were being hunted down by police, on orders from Palermo.

Despite being a wanted man in June 1834, the young widower Nicolo’ “Puntillo” Ciavarello remarried in Corleone, to Maria Marino. The Palumbo brothers were guillotined in Palermo the following year… that is, unless they escaped to Tunis, as legend has it. Paolo Jannazzo’s fate is not known. He did not marry in Corleone, and there is no record of his death there, either. Possibly he met the same fate as the Palumbo brothers.

In 1838, “Puntillo” and his wife stood as godparents to Mariano Cascio, Maria’s first cousin. Puntillo’s old band mate, Biagio Jannazzo, married Rosa Cascio, the sister of Mariano, in 1843. Rosa and Mariano’s sister, Emmanuela, married Vincenzo Maida, the guard, in 1849. Another of their sisters, Lucia, was the mother of future boss, Michelangelo Gennaro.

In 1840, a sister of the Jannazzo brothers, Lucia, married Vincenzo Terranova. Their son, Bernardo, is a known member of the mafia in Corleone, and the stepfather of Giuseppe Morello, a founding member of the Genovese crime family in New York.

Rapanzino, killed at age 27, didn’t marry. His niece, Maria Carmela Milone, married Domenico Moscato. Domenico’s cousin, Maria Carmela Chiazzisi, married Spiridione Castro, a cart driver—one of the rural entrepreneurial professions associated with the mafia. Spiridione’s nephew, Luciano Castro, is called a mezzano, an “intermediary” or middleman, in the 1853 civil record of his son’s birth: another mafia-related profession.

One of Biagio Jannazzo’s daughters, Leoluchina, married Bernardo Moscato, first cousin of Domenico. Leoluchina and Bernardo’s daughter, Domenica, married Placido Crapisi, son of mafia member Luciano. Her brother, Luciano, married their first cousin on his mother’s side, Angela Gennaro, sister of Michelangelo.

Biagio’s youngest son, born in 1849 and named Paolo, after his uncle, married twice, the second time to his long time domestic partner, when Paolo was considered to be “in extremis,” close to death, in 1906. He lived another nine years.

Epifanio Palumbo, the uncle of the Palumbo brothers, is the third great grandfather of Ninetta Bagarella. Ninetta is the youngest daughter of Salvatore Bagarella, a soldier in the Liggio-Navarra war. Salvatore and two of Ninetta’s brothers were named as defendants in the 1969 trial in Bari. She is the wife of Toto Riina. The family has been in the news recently, after a local Church confraternity paid homage at Ninetta’s home in Corleone. The “inchino” (a word that translates to “bow” or “curtsy”) a gesture of respect made during religious processions, is forbidden toward known Mafia figures by decree of the archbishop in Monreale. When it has occurred elsewhere in Italy, as in Caltagirone in March, there have been charges of disruption of public order. The family and the mayor of Corleone both deny that the inchino happened there.

Sources

“San Michele di Ganzaria tra inchieste e processioni sospese.” Published in Il Giornale d’Italia on 31 March 2016. Accessed http://www.ilgiornaleditalia.org/news/cronaca/875849/San-Michele-di-Ganzaria-tra-inchieste.html 7 June 2016.

Salvatore Lupo. History of the Mafia. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Josephine McKenna. “Homage to Mafia boss angers Catholic Church.” Published 6 June 2016. Accessed https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/world/homage-mafia-boss-angers-catholic-church/ 6 June 2016.

Real Segreteria di Stato presso il Luogotenente Generale in Sicilia Ripartimento Polizia Repertorio anno 1836. Accessed at http://archiviodistatodipalermo.it/files/inventari/file/1263903377anno1836.pdf 6 August 2015.

Salvatore Salomone-Marino. Leggende popolari siciliane in poesia raccolte. Published 1880. Accessed online 5 April 2015.

Denis Mack Smith, A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily After 1713. Dorset Press, 1988.

 

Feature image credit: Giovanni Fattori, Cowboys of the Maremma Driving the Herds, 1893.

A family business

A family business

Mafia leadership for the past hundred years in Corleone have all been related to one another, through blood and marriage.

Cattle theft in Sicily, before the twentieth century, was like car theft today, in that it was a crime that required a village. A thief who takes a car needs a network of criminals to help conceal the crime and profit from it. There are chop shops and resellers, those who strip it down for parts or sell it whole. And there are other people who will tow your car away to a lot, and guard it there until you come and pay a fee to get it back. In either scenario, criminals need places large enough to secure large items away from their owners, until such time as they can be liquidated or redeemed.

Paolino Streva, with the help of one of his subordinates, Giuseppe Morello, was stealing cattle, using his network of resources for this complicated crime. The job of the guard Giovanni Vella, was to find the stolen cattle and deal with the thieves. He might do this by negotiating a return of the cattle to their owner—this was a standard practice—or by killing the thief. Vella believed Streva and Morello were behind the large number of cattle thefts that year in Corleone. Given Streva’s social position, however, murdering him was out of the question.

The Mafia boss at that time, Salvatore Cutrera, and his nephew, Paolino Streva, were among an elite of landowners in Corleone in the late 1880s. Despite his age—Streva was only nineteen in 1889—he was one of his his uncle’s chief subordinates. When Giuseppe Morello rose in the Corleonesi mob, it was under Paolino and Cutrera. According to William J. Flynn, Morello killed the guard, Vella, and following that, killed again, to silence a witness to his crime. 

When Paolino was 23, he married his first cousin once removed, Anna Giovanna Streva. Anna was just fifteen, and an orphan, the ward of her uncle Angelo. Anna’s father, who was also called Don Paolo Streva, married the mother of his children on his deathbed. Four years later, the witnesses at Anna and Paolino’s marriage were a student, Filippo Bentivegna, who would become a doctor, and Giuseppe Battaglia, the new boss in Corleone.

record-image_3QS7-897B-VF42
Paolo Streva’s marriage record, signed by himself, his uncle, his father, and two witnesses, including Giuseppe Battaglia

Battaglia is distantly related to future bosses Angelo Gagliano and Michele Navarra through his wife, Maria Rosa di Miceli, a second cousin of Gagliano’s mother, Leoluchina lo Bosco. Battaglia was boss until 1920, when he was succeeded by Michelangelo Gennaro. Michelangelo Gennaro is related to known mafiosi through both of his parents. On his father’s side, he’s the nephew of Cutrera by marriage. On his mother’s, he’s the first cousin of Don Antonino Cascio.

Don Antonino comes from a line of landowners. He was a witness at the wedding of Dr. Michele Navarra’s parents. And he is called a “capofamiglia” in a 1962 Italian Senate hearing. His daughter, Tommasa, married Dr. Navarra in 1936.

Antonino’s wife, Rosalia di Miceli, is his first cousin, once removed. Rosalia’s sister, Giovanna, was married to Angelo Gagliano, a powerful, and violent, mafioso with business on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s also the uncle of Michele Navarra.

Gennaro served for four years as the head of the Corleonesi Mafia, and was followed by Angelo Gagliano, who was killed in 1930. Before his death, it’s possible there was another boss, Dr. Marcellino Benenti. After 1930, the boss in Corleone was Don Calogero lo Bue, gabellotto of the Donna Beatrice estate. Calogero was married to Giovanna Lampo, who was a second cousin of the di Miceli sisters, and the third cousin of Michele Navarra. He ruled until his natural death, from diabetes complications, in 1943. Thereafter the boss was the hospital director and son of a teacher, Dr. Michele Navarra. Through Navarra’s second cousin, once removed, Lucia Cannaliato, he is related, somewhat distantly, both to Michelangelo Gennaro, another second cousin, once removed, from Lucia, and to Toto Riina. Lucia’s husband, Giacomo Riina, was Toto’s great uncle. Navarra was assassinated in 1958 on the orders of his successor, Luciano Leggio.

Luciano Leggio’s grandfather, Girolamo, had a sister in law, Biagia Cascio, who was a second cousin of Michelangelo Gennaro and Antonino Cascio. Leggio ran the mafia in Corleone until he was imprisoned in 1974. From then until his 1993 capture, Toto Riina was the boss. Toto’s brother, Gaetano, assumed leadership, and was himself arrested in 2011, at the age of 79.

Sources

Mike Dash. “The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia.” Random House, 2009.

William J. Flynn. “The Barrel Mystery.” New York: The James A. McCann Co., 1919.

Henner Hess. “Mafia and Mafiosi: Origin, Power and Myth.” NYU Press, 1988.

Nick Squires. “Head of Mafia in ‘The Godfather’ town arrested.” Telegraph. Published 1 July 2011. Accessed http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/8610833/Head-of-Mafia-in-The-Godfather-town-arrested.html 19 May 2016.

Senato della Repubblica, V Legislatura, Doc. XXIII. “Commissione Parlamentare d’inchiesta sul fenomeno della mafia in Sicilia.” 20 December 1962. Accessed http://en.calameo.com/read/0012258332ab89457a3a8 29 February 2016.

Mamma Mafia and the Little Brothers

Mamma Mafia and the Little Brothers

“Mafia” is a feminine term that means beautiful and proud. Paradoxically, women are both essential to and excluded from the criminal organization.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the mafia in Corleone was led by members of a new agrarian bourgeoisie (“nuova borghesia agraria”) of estate managers for absentee landlords. Author and labor organizer Dino Paternostro names three dozen in leadership of the Fratuzzi (“little brothers” in local dialect) around 1900. Many of these men are closely related, often through maternal lines and marriages. Arguably, some of the most important relationships a Corleonese man had, in this time, were his in-laws and maternal uncles.

Under Giuseppe Battaglia, the boss around 1900, the Fratuzzi were headed by Michaelangelo Gennaro, who was the nephew of former boss Salvatore Cutrera. Sources vary in describing their relationship, with some calling him the grandson of Cutrera. Salvatore was, in fact, Michaelangelo’s uncle by marriage: to Maria Carmela Gennaro, Michaelangelo’s paternal aunt. They married in 1859, six years before Michaelangelo was born.

In the next generation, Gennaro was replaced by Luciano Labruzzo and Giuliano Riela, a man from San Giuseppe Jato. Riela married into a well connected family. Salvatrice Cascio, my first cousin three times removed, was related to power on both sides of her family. On her mother’s side, she was Michaelangelo Gennaro’s niece. 

Women have never been part of the formal organization except symbolically, but their real-life relationships are part of the essential glue that holds the mafia together. There’s a clear pattern of inheritance, not only from father to son, but through men’s maternal uncles. From one century to the next, even while the Sicilian mafia is evolving into an international crime syndicate, it remains traditional in this regard. This is one of the ways the mafia makes itself inextricable from daily life, by leveraging the power of family. One’s in-laws are also one’s sworn allies and business partners. They’re the people most likely to help you find a wife, further cementing loyalty. Even more common than cousin marriage, in my own family, are such double in-law marriages as those among Salvatrice Cascio’s siblings. Her sister, Angela, married Carlo Taverna, who is also named among mafia leadership in Corleone at this time. Their brother married Carlo’s sister. 

Dr. Michele Navarra, born in 1905, was the son of a teacher with no family history of mafia involvement. On his mother’s side, however, his uncle by marriage was Angelo Gagliano, who is also named in Paternostro’s article. Gagliano, an associate of Giuseppe Morello’s and a capo in the Corleone mafia, is described as a particularly violent criminal. He appears to have been a successful one: Angelo can be found traveling to New York in 1899, carrying $1,000, which is worth more than $28,000 today. In New York, he owned a car wash where Jack Dragna claimed to work. Before long, Angelo returned to Sicily and married the daughter of another known mafia leader, his godfather, Bernardo di Miceli.

Angelo was indicted for attempted murder in 1910, and acquitted of the murder of labor organizer, Socialist mayor—and Fratuzzi member—Bernardino Verro in 1915. In 1928, a time when the fascists were rounding up hundreds of suspected mafiosi, Gagliano was acquitted of Verro’s murder. Two years later he was killed, at age 68.

The mafia dynasties evident at the turn of the century, continue for at least another generation. In 1936, Navarra married his first cousin, Tommasa Cascio. Like Salvatrice and Angela, her second cousins, Tommasa was from the “new agrarian bourgeoisie” in Corleone.

Image: Detail from “Sicilian Vespers” by Francesco Hayez. Public Domain.

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.