Twenty years ago and then again more recently, I started a modest effort at tracing my Rigoni lineage. To date I have been able to find ancestors with birthdates to about 1750. It is generally accepted that ALL Rigonis originated in the Asiago, Italy region.

Asiago is located in the Veneto region, the province of Vicenza, in the foothills of the Venetian Pre-Alps. That plateau area is known as the Altopiano d'Asiago and contains a number of small towns, Asiago being the largest with approximately 6,500 resident population. The area is a very desirable and highly active ski center during the winter season and is the home of the world famous Asiago cheeses. The altitude is approximately 1,000 meters above sea level. You can locate Asiago on a map at 40 km (25 miles) almost exactly due north of the city of Vicenza.

My search was aided immensely by a chance Internet email contact with a young man from Asiago. Through his very generous and kind help, I was able to locate a second cousin who was able to provide family history for an additional three generations preceding my grandfather. There is a historical records office in Asiago but at this time I do not have any information as to its availability or access for out-of-the-area researchers.

There are a great many Rigonis in the area. In fact, one of my knowledgable email contacts in Asiago claims that half the population has the Rigoni name. Each "family" has an identifying additional surname, so knowledge of that extra "nickname" would be valuable for any search you might attempt. You should also take in consideration name changes that may have occurred along the way, especially during immigration to the USA and other countries. Names found in USA records will not always have exact correspondence with Italian records. For example, my grandfather's first name is shown as Giovanni on most USA records (and as Johannes on a marriage record) but is "Giobatta" on Italian records. Many names were incorrectly recorded at Ellis Island, which is most likely what happened in this case. Also, many immigrants simply chose to purposely Americanize their names.

Our additional family surname is GUARDALTO, which translates in English literally to "look high". There is an area of 5 or 6 houses just a kilometer or two north of Asiago called the Guardinalti, presumably where my ancestors lived at one time. I also learned that our name is BACCHEL in the ancient Cimbri language of the area, which translates to "keeper".

Rigoni is the most common last name in Asiago. It is believed that Rigoni is derived from the German names "Rich" or "Rico", which in Veneto dialect would become "Rig" or "Rigo". These would be abbreviations of German names such as Olderico, Teodorico, Federico, Henrico, etc. Rico, Ricus and all the others were very common names in documents from circa 1300. Etimological dictionaries attribute the Italian words of "riga", "rigo" or "ricco" to Germanic origin.

The northern parts of Veneto and adjoining regions, mainly the mountainous areas and foothills, are known as the land of the "Cimbri", one of the very ancient Germanic tribes of Europe. The Cimbro language is still spoken by a relatively few in limited areas of the regions and a few Cimbro words are sometimes found in the local Italian dialects. One source reports that approximately 2,000 people are still fluent and that three very distinct dialects are prevalent --- Lusernese Cimbrian in the hills southeast of Trento, Tauch Cimbrian in the Giazza area northeast of Verona and Common Cimbrian in the Altopiano d'Asiago towns of Roana and Rotzo. It has been reported to me that my grandfather Giovannis' primary language was Cimbro.

There are at least two theories prevalent regarding the settlement of the region by the Cimbri. It is known that from at least 200 BC the Cimbri lived in the northern parts of Jutland/Denmark. The town of Aalborg and adjoining areas have evidence and artifacts supporting this fact. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder also refers to that area as the land of the Cimbri. The historian Tacitus also mentioned a people bearing the name Cimbri who sent ambassadors to the Roman emperor Augustus. Probably due to climatic changes and great floods, the tribes migrated south into Europe, together with neighboring tribes of Teutons, sometime around the year 130 BC. Indications are that their travels took them through Bohemia to what is now northern Yugoslavia, then turning westward through Austria, Bavaria into eastern France. These journeys correspond quite closely to the river valleys of the Elbe, Danube and Rhone. They reportedly defeated Roman armies in battles at Noreia near the present town of Ljubljana and then again at Orange in the Rhone valley. In 101 BC the Cimbri were annihilated by the Roman general Gaius Marius in the Po valley of northern Italy, perhaps near the present city of Vercelli. One theory holds that the few survivors took refuge in the mountains and plateaus of northern Italy. This raises some question, however, in that Roman writers report that the women killed themselves and all their children in the aftermath of the total defeat by the Romans.

Other ancient documentary evidence supports the theory that the area was settled by Cimbri descendants during large southern migrations from areas around Bavaria in the 11th/12th centuries. One indication is a document showing that in 1287 theprince bishop of Verona, Federico Vanga (the German Friedrich von Wangen) was petitioned by Bavarian neighbors to settle in the territory of the Lessinia hills. These people were called "tzimberer", from which the word "Cimbri" is speculated to have been derived. Another theory holds that the Cimbri may have entered the area through the Brenner Pass during their nomadic wanderings before the time of Christ. Perhaps each of these theories has some legitimate credibility.

Sometime during the 12th and 13th centuries, the various settlements in the Veneto mountains formed themselves into self-governing federations. These were the 13 comunes in the northern Verona hills and the 7 comunes in the Asiago plateau. Both groups formed loose alliances with the city of Venice mostly for trade purposes. The Sette (7) Comuni federation is known to have been fully organized between the years of 1270 and 1339 but the Document of Federation was destroyed in fires due to hostilities circa 1500. The federation lasted until the Napoleanic invasions circa 1807. The territory was under Austrian rule from 1815 to 1866 and became a part of Italy by international accord in 1866.

Several museums have been established to collect and preserve the Cimbri culture and language. Two are located at Roana and Giazza and there may be others of which I am not aware (of course, for example: 'Center of Documentation' of Luserna! - the webmaster). As one might suspect, the language is slowly becoming extinct as it is passed on to fewer and fewer generations in the 20th century, aided further by the efforts of the Mussolini regime to prohibit all spoken dialects. Strangely enough, the Cimbri are not considered as "minorities" by the Italian government but are considered as such by the European Union. The northern Italian conservative political party known as Lega Nord is campaigning to retain the old dialects and cultures. One member of Lega Nord recently sponsored a free course of Cimbro through the 'Istituto di Cultura Cimbra' at Roana and there is even a proposal to extend such classes to the school systems of the area.

The scarcity of written records causes some of the above to fall into the realm of "informed supposition". Some of the information can be found from sites on the Internet and in various books. Email contacts with two young men in Asiago have been very helpful with local area information and some of the Cimbi history. For those interested, the Alta Vista Internet search engine is particularly useful in that it provides machine translations of foreign languages. Such translations are not perfect but are quite useful in interpreting the general meaning of the Web pages.

 

Kenneth A. Rigoni
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1 April 1998            Deutsche Version             Versione Italiano