image copyright Ryan, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licence

We have had a couple of bookings from guests interested in tracing their Italian ancestry.  So far these have been Americans whose grandparents were originally from Italy. In both cases, I was struck by the fact that the grandparents had anglicised their names and stopped speaking Italian, presumably under pressure to fit in to their adopted country.

photograph by Ryan at
View from the head of the Rhondda (Pen Pych)

Today we took a booking from Tanya in Wales, who had a similar tale to tell: “My grandmother was Italian and she came to the UK in the 1920’s and married my grandfather in Wales. During the Second World War, she was forced to give up her Italian Nationality or face imprisonment. She did this with great sadness for the sake of her children and never returned to Italy again.  Her parents had a ‘Brachi’ shop in the Rhondda Valleys. Italians were persecuted in Wales by the people and police  and because of this my grandmother stopped speaking in Italian and didn’t teach her children the language.  Her surname was ‘Caravaggi’ and she was from Cassino. We’ve tried tracing her records and relatives but because so many records were lost during the war, we haven’t had any luck as yet”.

I was curious about Brachi shops and found this description in the Aberdare Online forum post:

“Yes I think you might be right B G when you said about the first Italian to set up shop in the valleys of Wales being named Brachi but I think the Italian spelling is Bracci. All of those shops afterwards came to be known as Brachi shops and what great service they gave, they were always open till about 10 p.m. always served a nice cup of tea or coffee and delicious icecream and of course heaps of varieties of sweets and chocolate. In the Fifty’s they came out with a new product called Waffles and had the Waffle machine on the counter which was quite a novelty to see them being made. They were nice too, if you could afford one at 3d each about 1 and 1/2 p of today’s money. What went wrong ??? ha! ha! Iv’e never seen a cup of tea or coffee last so long as they did on a Sunday night when you went there to meet up with friends. One cup could last you an hour or more. The Brachi shops prospered in the valleys and the valleys were richer for having them there”.