Up until a couple of years ago, I had always been struck by the odd-sounding last name of my grandmother’s paternal grandfather, Miguel Ronquete. This unusual, very un-Spanish surname always seemed to me rather mysterious, particularly as most of the other surnames in my family tree sounded so ordinary. As a word, to the best of my knowledge, ronquete doesn’t mean anything, and even more importantly, most of the people in Spain with this surname seem to live roughly in the same area of Galicia, in the north-west of the country. This last fact implied that the surname is uncommon in the country, and could also imply that it did not actually originate from Spain, but elsewhere.
Many trips to the Diocesan Archive (Archivo Diocesano) in the Galician capital of Santiago de Compostela allowed me to slowly climb up the Ronquete family tree. Starting with my great-great-grandfather, it me took over four generations and many hours of reading to confirm that the family were already living in the peaceful fishing village of Noya (Noia in the regional language) by the end of the 18th century. Sadly, the baptism certificate for these two of my ancestor’s siblings (the records for the remaining two brothers have yet to be found) did not shed any light as to where their ancestors (and surname) might have originated. It wasn’t until I came across a fifth child’s baptism certificate that my suspicions were confirmed. The record dated back to 1793, a time of great change and convulsion in all of Europe. The document revealed that my my 6x great-grandparents Nicolás Ronquete and Manuela da Costa became the parents of a fifth child that very year; the couple decided to call their son Gabriel Pascual. Unfortunately, the child did not live very long, as a quick glance at the burials book revealed that he was interred in the local cemetery just four years later, on 30th December 1797. However, the little boy’s birth ultimately proved crucial in my family research because, unlike the baptism records for his elder siblings, Gabriel Pascual’s certificate actually mentioned who his two sets of grandparents were and where they came from. The document, almost illegible, confirmed that the baby’s father Nicolás was not from Spain at all, but actually came from the port city of Genoa, in modern-day Italy. The certificate also stated which parishes his grandparents came from, a huge struck of luck considering I was dealing with a document which is over 200 years old.
I was naturally drawn to investigate more about the life of Nicolás Ronquete and the circumstances which may have made him leave his native Genoa. Fiorstly, it seems the surname was in all probability originally Ronchetti, which is fairly well spread around the region of Genoa. As Nicolás’s children were born in the 1780’s (except for poor little Gabriel Pascual, who was born as I said in 1793), I can only assume that Nicolás Ronquete arrived in Noya in the 1770’s at the very latest. I presume that the spelling of his surname was altered by mistake at around that time, most of his contemporaries being illiterate. Knowing that his wife was a local, I also assume that Nicolás met Manuela in Noya and married her there on some unknown date.
Genoa, the city where Nicolás was born probably around the 1740’s or 1750’s, was the capital city of the Republic of Genoa, a long-gone state born during Medieval times which was forced to constantly fight off foreign foes who attacked the territory, placing its very existence, peoples and prosperity in jeopardy. The Republic of Venice, on the opposite side of the northern Italian peninsula, was one of Genoa’s long-standing nemesis and a commercial power to be reckoned. But the Genoese were also intrepid and successful seafarers; their ongoing trade-routes led them as far as the Black Sea coastline of modern-day Ukraine and even to the Flemish city of Bruges. However, their main aim was to control large portions of the Mediterranean sea, where they could secure trading routes with many different powers. The Genoese, I am told, even got to Galicia on different occasions, perhaps establishing a fixed trade-route to the north Atlantic which eventually led Nicolás Ronquete to settle in Noya.
By the 1760’s Genoa was in decline, threatened by many different powers on the continent and beyond the seas. For centuries it had been attacked by many enemies, but the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 would ultimately claim the Republic’s very existence. By 1797, the same year little Gabriel Pascual died in Spain, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Genoa, followed seven years later by the annexation of the former Republic to the First French Empire. It would be decades before Genoa became incorporated into what is now modern Italy.
By the outbreak of the French Revolution Nicolás had already made a life for himself in Noya. Initially things may have seemed a little more secure in Spain, but politically and socially the country was in turmoil. Regardless, Nicolás was mentioned in a document as a member of the local town council, which reveals that he was interested in local politics to some extent. He may well have had a reputation in Noya, which could explain how his four surviving children intermarried with many well-known local families. He was very probably a well-respected man within his own family; one of his grandsons was even given his name in his memory.
By 1808 Spain was on the brink of catastrophe. The Royal Family had been taken prisoner by Napoleon to the French city of Bayonne, and the Emperor placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. I can only presume that, after the invasion of Genoa in 1797, Nicolás could only feel resentment and disgust at the prospect of a French invasion in Spain. Witnessing terribly sad scenes and his own health failing, he was taken ill and transported to the Galician capital, Santiago, where was was fortunate enough to receive medical care in the old Hospital Real (now called Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, a luxurious hotel). It was there where he made his last will and testament at the end of 1808; by early January 1809, with Bonaparte’s forces meeting great opposition in Galicia, Nicolás was close to death. He passed away on 9th January 1809, and was buried the following day in the chapel of Saint Sebastian, according to his wishes.
Nicolás did not live to see the end of Napoleonic Europe. He was survived by his wife, who died in 1823, never having remarried. His eldest son, my 5x great-grandfather, died of unknown causes in 1820; another of Nicolás’s sons drownedin 1818, leaving four daughters and a pregnant widow. It is highly probable that two generations later, no one already recalled or knew of the Ronquete family’s Genoese roots, nor of Nicolás’s contribution to their own personal history. Happily two centuries after his death, I was fortunate enough to bring this little bit of history back to reality.