September 17, 2009

Panero: What's in a name?

Sunday 23rd August, 2009

In Paris, many signs in stations are translated into English and Spanish, below the French. But in the Gare Lyon, Italian replaces Spanish. The lines run to the south-east, treni replace trenes, and we were on the 07:42 bound for Turin.

But the real story started long before this moment...

My great-grandfather, Francesco Panero, was born in Italy a long time ago. He came to Australia and married an Australian woman, my great-grandmother Elva, and had one son, Paul, my paternal grandfather. Until recently, this was about all the information we had. Francesco had long since passed away, and Elva had become estranged from the family, tucked away in a little flat not far from where I lived in Adelaide. She hadn’t shared any of our history with us, and passed away last year taking her secrets to the grave.

Naturally we were curious, but my father more than any of us. He started an investigation and eventually found the location of Francesco’s unmarked grave. A lot more paperwork later, he had some birth and marriage certificates, and was beginning to piece together a story. It seemed Francesco had used the name Paneros in Australia, never changing it legally, but it stuck around over the next 3 generations. My primary school put me in Greek classes, thinking I was Greek, until my parents had me changed to the Italian class, which I stuck with until Year 10. Unfortunately, I remember very little of both.

So we knew we were Italian - now we wanted the paperwork to prove it. For one year, back and forth with the Italian Consulate and the City of Fossano, Dad persevered with form after form. Francesco had also used four different first names, which didn’t help. We found out that he’d died from pneumonia, contracted after a car accident. He had arrived in Australia at age 17 with his father Guglielmo, who later returned to Fossano. Eventually, we had enough documentation to prove the lineage, and we were rewarded with Italian citizenship and passports (after paying the right fees, of course). I was able to enter France as an EU citizen, bypassing visas and long immigration lines at the airport. I also get into the Louvre for free – viva la France!

We are the only Paneros family in Australia. As far as I know, we are the only Paneros family in the world. There are none on Skype, and none on Facebook, so that about covers it! I have recently found out that los pañeros in Spanish means "the clothiers", people who make or sell clothing or cloth. But this is not a profession that runs in the family. In fact, Dad’s interest in woodwork may well be in the Panero DNA, as we were to discover.

So that’s the story, which leads us to this point, winding our way down to Turin for the next genealogical chapter.

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