“Six degrees of separation” is an esoteric math concept that began with a short story written in 1929. The idea is that in an ever shrinking world, the connections between any two people might be reduced to no more than six associations. A popular exercise is to find six degrees (or less) of separation between movies featuring Kevin Bacon and any other actor, given his extensive work in the entertainment industry. Does this concept hold true in genealogy? Maybe sometimes in today’s interconnected world, but what about a century ago, with people from small, somewhat isolated village communities?
I recently stumbled on an instance of a family connection between two people in my life that really surprised me.
One of the pair is my husband, who was born in the small Caribbean nation of St Kitts. His diverse ancestors were all born outside the United States, in places like the British Isles, Western Europe, the West Indies, and Africa. The other is a good friend and neighbor who was born in the United States, and whose ancestry appears to 100% Italian, judging from the family tree research I’ve done for her.
So what’s the connection? Looking at census, birth and death records for my Italian-American friend, I was shocked to find that a man who shared her mother’s maiden name, Ricca, was married in the early 20th century to a woman born in St Kitts. The entire Kittitian population is about the size of the average American town, and the number that emigrated to the US is a fraction of that, so the chances of an Italian American man (in New York City, as it happens) marrying a lady from St Kitts is quite small.
The second surprise in the records was the Kittitian woman’s maiden name – Laplace. I immediately recognized an overlap there with my husband’s family tree, although the link is by marriage, not by blood.
My husband’s great great-grandmother, Eliza de Meneses Cabral (abt. 1844-1882), was born in Madeira and came with her family to St Kitts in the 1850s, as indentured farm laborers. My husband’s great great-grandfather was her first husband, planter John Henry Cannonier, who died in 1868. Eliza married Frederick Godolphin Nichols, also a planter, in 1872. Their only child, Emma Louise Nichols, married Ernest Augustus Laplace in 1890. There were lots of Laplaces in the Kittitian records over the years, with occupations of the fathers usually listed as merchant, shopkeeper, clerk, or auctioneer. The family origins were in France and the Caribbean island of St. Bartholomew, with August Laplace and wife Marie Adelaide Ventre coming to St Kitts about 1861. Ernest Augustus was their son, born in 1865.
The Italian-American connection is through Ursula Elfrida Laplace, born in St Kitts in 1904. Her parents were Louis Emmanuel Augustus Laplace and Elfrida Adams. Louis Emmanuel Augustus was Ernest Augustus’s older brother, and he appears as the witness on Emma Louise and Ernest’s wedding record. That should mean that Emma Louise was Ursula’s aunt (the relationship through marriage).
Ursula immigrated to New York City as a child in 1909, with her father and two small sisters. There must have been some sort of family difficulty, because in the 1910 US census, Ursula and her sisters are living in the St. Ann’s Home for Destitute Children in Peekskill, NY, while their father Louis Emmanuel was working on Long Island, as an attendant at the Central Islip State Hospital. By the 1915 NY State census, the family is back together living in Manhattan. Ursula married John Joseph Ricca in New York City in 1923, and by 1930 they were living on Hopkinson Avenue in Brooklyn.
From what I can gather looking at documentation as well as user-submitted family trees on ancestry.com, John Joseph Ricca’s family was from Santa Margherita Belice, a small village in Sicily. This is the same town that my friend’s ancestors are from, and they also lived on Hopkinson Avenue in Brooklyn in the first half of the 20th century. As far as I can determine, the most recent shared ancestor between John Joseph Ricca and my friend’s family goes back to Ignazio Ricca and his wife Rosa DiGiovanna, who married and had their children in the late 1700s in Santa Margherita. This goes back on my friend’s tree six generations, which sounds quite distant, except when you consider that the family were all from the same village in Sicily and lived on the same street in Brooklyn, apparently as part of a large extended family.
So yes, I’m calling it six degrees of separation. And it’s definitely a small world!
- theguardian.com, Proof! Just six degrees of separation between us, 2008
- familysearch.org, St Kitts and Nevis Civil Registration 1859-1932, Salt Lake City Utah 1990
- childrenshomes.org.uk, Children’s homes and institutions in New York, USA, 2021