Origins of Lo Conte's family
(DRAFT TO BE UPDATED)
After having surfed on the Internet for a year and shared information and opinions with my “new” American cousins, my interest in the origins and evolution of the Lo Conte surname has increased. I am not an expert on genealogy, nor do I have enough historical background to allow me to create more reliable hypotheses. For the time being however, I am thousands of kilometers from home and that does not permit me to make any inquiries using a more scientific methodology. Regardless, I discovered so much information on the Internet that could be useful to create some hypotheses and set up the basis for a logical rationale. Therefore, what follows has arisen only from searches on the web and the consequent brainstorming made by me with the support of David G. LoConto and other Arianesi descendants here in the United States. It does not mean however that when I return to my country that I will not dedicate part of my time to this research by following the classical methods properly applied in genealogy (municipal records, parish registers, etc.), gradually confirming or deleting all the hypotheses that are found in this document.
How will I discover the origin of the Lo Conte surname? First, I thought I would look at how the Lo Conte surname is distributed throughout Italy to have an idea of the amount of work that is before me. In other words, I will systematically search my ancestors through the registry documents of my town of origin: Ariano Irpino. With a surname less common, as I think mine is, diverse methods could be used, and may be more desirable.
Therefore, the procedure I intend to follow will begin with a review of the literature, and then I will analyze the actual situation, i.e. the distribution of the surname in the Italian, French and American territories. This will be explained later in this document. After that, I will do a brief historical analysis on the area where there is the largest concentration of Lo Conte in order to find any clues connecting with the past. Lastly, I will sum up these ideas and suggest areas for future research.
I am using the following sources:
The distribution in the territory
While doing the analysis of the distribution of the Lo Conte surname in Italia, I continually reflected on the possibilities that could exist and let that shape the direction I would venture. First, I searched the surname spelled exactly "Lo Conte." Afterwards I thought about the possible variations undergone over time and space. I concluded that in Italy, only the surname “Loconte,” likewise diffuse, could have the same origins. Another surname "Conte," terribly more common, almost like the famous "Rossi," cannot be a help because it is too common and its origins are geographically indecipherable. The countless variations of the surname, when our ancestors emigrated abroad (Loconto, Laconto, Laconte, etc), are not present in Italy. Therefore, we can start the analysis examining the distribution of the surnames Lo Conte and Loconte in the Italian White Pages. The first thing I noticed was that I was convinced about something absolutely wrong. I have always believed that the Lo Conte’s were prevalently from Campania and the Loconte’s were prevalently from Sicily. This is incorrect.
Comparing the two figures, one can notice that most of the Loconte’s live in Puglia, in particular they live in the province of Bari (315) of whom 50% are concentrated in the area of Andria (158) and the rest live inside the quadrilateral among Andria, Barletta, Bari and Bitetto. A few other Loconte’s live in the rest of Italy, in particular the regions normally chosen by the Pugliesi that emigrated in the XX century (Lazio, Lombardia, Piemonte and Emilia Romagna).
In contrast, the Lo Conte’s live primarily in Campania, in particular in the province of Avellino (281), with most living in Ariano Irpino (226). This information was already known. Large numbers also emigrated from Campania to Toscana, in particular the towns of Prato, Lazio, Piemonte, Emilia Romagna and Lombardia. There is also a modest presence in Sicily, in particular the province of Messina (22) and the city of Mussumeli (province of Caltanissetta) (13).
These data were confirmed after a visit to a website specializing in the study of the distribution of surnames in the Italian provinces.
I tried also to see the distribution in Italy of the Lo Conte surname without the article: Conte. The results are quite fragmented even if the name is prevalent in the south, specifically Naples and southern Puglia. There are big concentrations however, also in Veneto and Lombardia. Anyway, one of the areas with the biggest concentration of Lo Conte’s and Loconte’s, even if they are very close, do not match perfectly with the areas preferred by the Conte’s, and this fact would exclude interrelations between the different stocks.
Possible common origins
On the basis of what we have already examined, in the follow-up to this document, I will disregard the possible connection with the surname Conte. In the old municipal and cadastral registers (1750 - 1900) the last name was often written "lo Conte," with the small article, and for this fact some municipal officers could have been misled. From the data already collected, we can draw a conclusion: ignoring the Lo Conte/Loconte spread in the rest of Italy, two towns have the greatest concentration: Ariano Irpino for the "Lo Conte" and Andria for the "Loconte." The presence in Sicily may be considered negligible, since it could be a colony moved at a later time or a strain locally born, as we shall see later. My family is from Ariano Irpino, and coincidently, it seems that Ariano is the original town of my surname, or at least it is the town where my surname evolved. There is yet another element that links the surname Lo Conte with Ariano Irpino. Lo Conte is the second most common surname in Ariano Irpino (estimate quantities):
It would have been interesting to know the distribution a century ago.
But we have the real distribution of the surnames, as it was in 1754, about 250 years ago. Here we can see that while other surnames almost disappeared in the last two centuries, the Lo Conte’s are quite more present, now.
Nevertheless, do the Lo Conte’s and the Loconte’s have common origins? Analyzing the history of southern Italy I found some possibilities where the vicissitudes of Ariano and Andria interlaced. Therefore, there could be a common origin. If there is not a link, our research would be easier. For my purposes here, I will take for granted the Lo Conte-Loconte families have common origins.
If we want to ignore the presence in Sicily (maybe due to one or more families who moved to the island sometime in the past), if the Lo Conte-Loconte have common origins, it could be in Ariano Irpino which only 75 years ago was considered a town of Puglia. Possibly, not long ago, at least at the end of the XVII century, a branch of the Lo Conte moved close to the Murge Hills. During this movement the name was changed fastening the article.
Furthermore, in the past, "Lo" was frequently used as an article even in the place of “Il,” so I would assume the original stock was born with the article "Lo" detached from "Conte," and sometime, somewhere, the two words were fused generating the Loconte’s.
Now, after accepting the idea of a common origin, what could be the meaning of the name? Who was the first Lo Conte? What were his origins?
Meaning of the surname
To understand the origins and meanings associated with the Lo Conte surname, it is necessary to take into consideration several factors. The first Italian surnames appeared in the IX century as distinguishing marks of a privileged social class. Afterwards, the phenomenon slowly diffused until it became common during the Renaissance. Surnames however, were not yet a heritage characteristic; rather they were a distinguishing characteristic of a single person. Only the nobles transmitted the use of the distinguishing family name to their male firstborns. Around the XVIII century, there became a need to identify a growing population. This imposed a law to an obligation of the surname. Statistical data regarding the origins of Italian surnames do not exist, however, it is estimated that:
In general, most of the Italian last names emerged between the XI and XIII centuries, but also have been evolving since that time. It is not unusual also to see names change often within the space of few generations.
It also is not unusual for surnames to refer to locations, jobs or names of ancestors. They are often nicknames given by ordinary people or municipal officers. Specialized websites affirm that surnames like Conte/Conti and/or similar names come from nicknames linked somehow to Counts. This is because the progenitor possibly worked for a Count, or his attitudes, physical characteristics, etc. were associated with a Count. These kinds of nicknames could have an origin linked to something real or tangible, yet also something ironic or mocking.
Therefore, for my purposes here, I assume the word “Conte” is related to the title of nobility “Count.” I think that hypothesis may be confirmed by the fact that in the past the documents reported the surname "lo Conte" with the small "L."
If the original town were just Ariano (nowadays called Irpino), we must consider that the town was an Earldom for almost 500 years (from the end of the X to the end of the XV century).
Starting from this hypothesis, the presence of the article before the word Conte presupposes that someone referred to the “CONTE” per antonomasia, so he could memorable in the history of Ariano:
I have already mentioned that the nobles had a family name to be transmitted to their descendants (Vaudemont, Sabran, Guevara) so, in my opinion, if our ancestor was somehow linked to one of them, he could not be a descendant, but only one somehow close to him, who worked for him (“quiro di lu conte” who works for the Count), or someone linked to the Count for other reasons, e.g. he could be an illegitimate son, or someone who proclaimed himself as an illegitimate son.
Another clue which leads to these possible origins is the presence of a few families in Ariano in the XVIII century that are gone now, who were called “Dello Conte”, meaning, ‘of the Count’.
Of course, these disquisitions overlook the possibility that the nickname “lo conte” comes from ironic and mocking origins.
If the name could not be related to the title of nobility, it would be linked to a job like accountant or tax collector (quiro di li conti), but that is less probable.
But recently I came in contact with Elio Lo Conte, an illustrious representative of the Sicilian colony of our last name who told me a charming anecdote. It seems that there was a certain Peppe, around 1700. A day he was sent from Savoca (near Santa Teresa, province of Messina, not far from Taormina) to Messina to decide an issue of lands involving several local families and thus he solved well. The villagers were so happy when he returned to give him a nickname "Peppe U Conti" and then derived the name Lo Conte (for the group that area). Of course it may be only a legend, but the episode is significant as it demonstrates how several names were generated in our peninsula.If we want to remain connected to the Campana origin, rather than Sicula, in our case I would tend to overlook this possibility because, in my opinion, in that way different names would have been generated, like Lo Cunto or Li Cunti, rather distant from Lo Conte.
An alternative explanation would suggest that the name has its origins from southern Italy. I have already demonstrated reasons for an allocation in Ariano. However, other theories, even if less plausible, should be considered:
1. Rather than Arianese, the original stock could have been from Puglia, if we consider the sum of the Lo Conte/Loconte, the Pugliesi (464) are more numerous than the Campani (315). That would be confirmed by the fact that among the oldest data I found on the Internet, I identified a certain Angelo Loconte (born in 1731) son of Salvatore, and a certain Costantino Loconte (born in 1752) son of Michele, were both from Bitritto (Province of Bari). However, provided the two names have a common origin, it seems unlikely, even if possible, that when changing the name, the article was detached (normally the contrary happens), unless it was not an article but was interpreted in this way afterwards;
2. or the original stock is from Sicily, born as Lo Conte, and moved almost totally to Ariano, but I do not have any information or clue that can give value to this possibility.
The Arianese hypothesis however is the most likely. This appears more accurate based on the latest information I gathered on the Internet. These are records of the Catasto Onciario of Ariano, ordered from Charles III of the Bourbons (1716-1788) made in 1754.
In those records I found many Lo Conte’s. Among them I found:
Based on this information, questions arise, such as, why just Ariano Irpino? When did the Lo Conte dynasty begin? And consequently, why were they called in this manner?
As already mentioned, the Lo Conte’s and the Loconte’s are not numerous in the Italian territory and they are particularly concentrated in two limited areas: Ariano Irpino (for the Lo Conte’s) and the area between Andria and Bari (for the Loconte’s). There is a family in history, that made a connection between Ariano and Andria and, strangely, it included some typical first names of our family: the De Guevara’s.
The De Guevara’s were Spanish and were sent to Ariano by the Aragon’s in 1440. They arrived in Ariano just in time for the transition of the kingdom from the Angevins to the Aragon’s. The progenitor Inigo died in 1462 and left the town to his son Pietro, his firstborn. His second son Antonio was the Count of Potenza. Pietro, Count of Ariano, married Isotta, daughter of the Duke of Andria. Therefore, around the end of the XV century, the last of the Counts of Ariano, Pietro, linked himself to the Duchy of Andria. After Pietro, who did not have male children, Ariano passed for a brief time under Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan. After that it ended in the hands of the Carafa family, who obtained from King Ferrante of Aragon, the title ‘Duke of Ariano’. This information would suggest that even without empirical evidence, the "Conte” whom our surname may refer, could be Pietro, the last Count of Ariano. However, I should mention that our progenitor did not have a blood connection with the mentioned noble. He had only daughters “officially,” so there could be the possibility that our origins come from a kind of “non official” relationship of Count Pietro. Our ancestor could have been one of his illegitimate children, or a would-be son.
In the history of Ariano, even if today the name is very common, I did not find eminent people called Lo Conte. It seems that this name is very recent or it has been kept in anonymity for a long time, banished in the Arianese country. So it was not part of the historical, political and cultured nobility of the town. This is confirmed by the books examined by eminent historians such as Tommaso Vitale, who identified a narrow circle of recognized nobility which constituted the power of the town in the period XVI-XVIII centuries. As a matter of fact, the illustrious surnames number almost thirty: Auriliis, Anzani, Berardi, Bruno, Castelli, Capone, Ciardi, Cutillo, Henrico, Formosa, Forte, Freda, Galtieri, Grasso, Intonti, De Leone, Luparella, De Miranda, Passaro, Pirellis, Palma, De Piano, Picella, De Stefano, Teutonico, Vitolo/Vitoli, and Vitale. Most of these did not have noble origins, but transformed to nobility, acquiring political and economic power through flourishing commercial activities.
The whole family is not so numerous (the Lo Conte’s in the white pages are less than 700 and the Loconte’s are still less, 600) and most of them are still concentrated geographically. Based on this consideration, I would think that:
If the autochthonous hypothesis is right, that the Lo Conte’s had their origins in Ariano, and the other one’s spread in the world come from the same stock, we can deduce that the progenitor dates back to the end of the XV or early XVI centuries. He was not noble, but somehow was linked to the last Counts of Ariano, the Spanish De Guevara.
Another theory takes into consideration the possibility of a foreign origin. We will see that there could be more a possibility of a French origin, rather then Spanish or British.
On the basis of some clues or theories put forward by David G. LoConto after a visit to Ariano in 2005, another track could be French.
We know that the surname “Leconte,” somehow similar to ours, is very diffuse in France. I examined its distribution in the French territory (with the variants “Le Conte” and also “Conte”) and I discovered that it is almost homogeneously diffuse in the whole territory. However, we have to mention some interesting concentrations in the southeast of France, with the biggest colony in Normandy.
As a matter of fact, the French translation of the words "il conte" is "le comte" but in the Middle-Ages, especially in the south of France, the closest version to the Italian one was used. If we want to put aside for a while the idea of the nobility origin of the word “conte” the literal French translation of “le conte” is “the tale” (in French it is male) or “the story.” I found some texts in an ancient dialect spoken in Gascony, close to the Pirenei Mountains between France and Spain. Some of these texts have the title starting from "Lo conte de..." understood as "The tale of..." This may however be just a coincidence.
If the French origin was true, when would our progenitor have arrived in Irpinia?
Some rumors collected by David talk about a possible origin connected to the soldiers of the Army of the Pope who came from the south of France about 500 years ago in the XV-XVI centuries. There could be the possibility that Lo Conte is the Italian version (or the Spanish version by the Aragon’s, present in the Kingdom of Naples in XV century, or by the Bourbons afterwards) of a certain Leconte, soldier of the papal army or of the French sent in favor of the Pope, who installed himself in Ariano. This hypothesis would justify the strong loyalty to the power of the Church we can find in the history of the Lo Conte’s and some of their somatic characteristics that are more Norman than Greek/Arabian. However, I have not yet found an episode in the history of Ariano which can be dated back to that age.
Actually, if we go a bit further back in time, about 100 years, it is possible to advance a hypothesis maybe more plausible. In fact, he could be a farm laborer, a soldier, or a French courtier, called or nicknamed Leconte. He would have arrived in Ariano being among the suite of the Provencal Angevin family of the De Sabran, which ruled the Earldom of Ariano from the XIII to the XV centuries. We should remember that among the members of that family Saint Elzeario de Sabran and his wife Delfina de Signe are still worshipped with devotion. Saint Elzeario was esteemed not only for his moral quality, but also for his strong loyalty to the Pope. In fact, in 1312 an army of soldiers were put under his command by the King of Naples, the Angevin Robert, in order to help the Pope besieged in Rome by the army of the Emperor Henry VII of Luxemburg. Another theory, maybe more fanciful but, for the time being, not less probable, brings us further back and is linked to the monastic Order of the Templar Knights. The Order of the Templar’s was created in 1118 in Jerusalem by 9 French monks/soldiers. They fought during the Crusades and were involved in esoteric and alchemic activities. Some Templar monks operated in the area of Andria (what a coincidence!), where they financed the building of “Castel del Monte.” The Order was dissolved in 1312 because it was indicted of heresy, probably for the strong military and economical power it was conquering. One of the monks, probably French, after the dissolution of the order and after having avoided the stake, could have been installed in Puglia (transforming Leconte in Loconte) and, afterwards, one of his relatives or descendants could have moved to Ariano becoming "lo Conte" and after "Lo Conte."If we wanted to go further back in time, to the age of the descent of the Normans in the XI century, effectively there is a correlation between the area most populated by Leconte’s in France, Normandy, and the areas most populated by Lo Conte’s and Loconte’s in Campania, Puglia, and Sicilia. A Norman castle dominates the Arianese panorama for at least a millennium.
After these analyses, I think there are some more elements to declare that the surname could have appeared suddenly in Ariano or Puglia, with the Francophone article attached to the word Conte and afterwards it could have been naturalized detaching the article making it friendlier for the language used at that time. British hypothesisIn the data bases of the Mormons I found a certain Thomas Loconte (the most ancient person found on the Internet outside the Italian territory) who married in England on 26 March 1704. He must have been born before 1685 and was a contemporary of Bartolomeo Lo Conte found in the Catasto Onciario of 1754. However, this information could take us in the wrong direction. As a matter of fact, he could have been French, called Leconte, coming from close by Normandy, whose surname was reported incorrectly.Spanish hypothesisIn spite of my old personal convictions before this analysis, and the strong Spanish presence in Ariano and all of southern Italy which lasted more than 400 years, today I am more skeptical about a possible Iberian origin. First, the article “Lo” led me to believe that there was Iberian blood in our veins. On the contrary, in the Middle-Ages it was used more in the Italian language than in the Spanish one, which normally translates “il conte” to “el conde”.I do not have any empirical evidence neither confirming nor denying this sensation. At the moment I can only state without proof, that I think less probable of a Spanish origin of our family, except the possibility already treated about an “unofficial” relationship with the De Guevara family.First documented historical tracksApart from these last disquisitions about the possible foreign origins of the family, I found a confirmation about the origins not noble but farm workers of the Lo Conte. Some recent historical documents talk about some of our ancestors who were involved in the riots against Garibaldi’s troops in September 1860. On 4 September 1860, three days before Garibaldi got into Naples, the Lords of Ariano tottered and did not know what to do with the possibility of the constitution of the new liberal government. The temptation to remain with the Bourbons and the Church was still very strong. They wanted to keep the status quo. They did not want to lose their privileges, and heritage of centuries of history. A certain Bartolomeo Lo Conte, alias Meo Scarnecchia, from the homonymous contrada, farmer, sharecropper of the Marquis d'Afflitto, was instigated by his Lord to lead an army of farmers, countrymen, and illiterates against the liberal troops which wanted to change radically the Arianese political situation with an intervention from outside. So, while the Marquis was dealing with the liberal chiefs to grant himself a future in the local politics after the Bourbons, his loyal server Meo Scarnecchia, with determination and unconsciousness (he was described as a strong, robust and ferocious man), dictated by the ignorance and the desperation of poverty, he ruined the rebels who were escaping towards Grottaminarda, with an ambush at Manna. Bartolomeo was not alone. At his flank there were priests, i.e. Santosuosso, and many Arianesi who believed in what they were doing. The history took a different turn and Garibaldi unified Italy.There were three trials in Ariano. The first one dealt with the executors, the second with the senders, and the third with them who were captured afterwards. From the acts of the three trials, five Lo Conte are mentioned:
On the basis of the memories of the family, the Lo Conte’s involved in those acts were somehow our relatives. Having a look at names and dates, Lo Conte Antonio born in 1822 or Lo Conte Giuseppe, alias Ceppone, could be very close relatives, cousins or even siblings of the grandfather of my great grandfather Antonio Lo Conte (1876). I would exclude Bartolomeo and Michelangelo because these names never appear in my family. Especially the name Bartolomeo, which I found also in the Catasto Onciario more than 100 years before, has become rare in Ariano (maybe for the dishonor?).
Translation made with the kind contribution of David G. LoConto.
Ultimo aggiornamento Giovedì 26 Marzo 2009 11:10