The Ameglio Surname Project

The Italian surname Ameglio should be my surname. And I say should be, because it isn’t. My father is the product of my English grandmother’s war-time love affair with an American soldier of Italian origin, Peter Ameglio. As she and my grandfather did not marry, her son was registered under her married name when he was born shortly after the end of the war (for the full story please visit my page dedicated to my grandfather).

But whatever official records may say, I am I suppose an Ameglio by nature, if not by name. This page is dedicated to the direct paternal line from which I descent, and to those men and women from Italy whose DNA runs in my veins.

The Surname Origins
Ameglio is a fairly uncommon surname which can be found in practically all the regions of Italy. It is most commonly found in the regions of Piedmont and its southern neighbour Liguria, both in north-western Italy. According to online analytic data, most other regions appear to have a significantly lower rate of Ameglios, with the surname being more common in the north than in the south and on the islands of Sardinia and Siciliy, where it is non-existent. This prevalence of Ameglios in Piedmont and Liguria would seem to point that the surname originates from, or became from prolific, in the above-mentioned areas. It is hard to say at this stage if all Ameglio families have a common ancestor – a Y-DNA genetic test would confirm this hypothesis.

The presence of the Ameglio surname throughout Italy today. Source: Cognomix.

My Direct Line
The most remote ancestor I have been able to trace on my direct male line was a man called Giuseppe Ameglio, who lived during the first half of the 19th century. Little is known about his life, although he was probably a humble agricultural labourer. His marriage to Isabella Merlino (d. bef. 1840) produced at least three children. His son’s marriage certificate dated in 1840 proves that Giuseppe was still alive at the time, living in the parish of Sant’Ippolito of Nizza Monferrato, but his daughter’s marriage certificate, dated just three years late, confirms he had passed away by then.

His son Gerolamo was a contadino (agricultural labourer) who married into an equally humble family from nearby Alice Bel Colle. The union produced at least four children (of whom at least two had descendants).

Gerolamo was in his mid-40’s when his youngest son Vincenzo was born. The latter seems to have settled into married life at a young age, but before long the marriage had crumbled, and he abandoned his wife and unborn child, probably settling in Genoa, where he likely died before 1926.

Vincenzo’s only son Giacomo Ameglio was born towards the end of the 19th century in Mombaruzzo, a small village near Nizza Monferrato, where his male-line ancestors had lived for at least one hundred years. However, Giacomo would have aspired to be much more than a simple labourer, and in 1910 he decided to emigrate to the United States, where he married a fellow Italian and begot my paternal grandfather. He travelled back to Italy on various occasions, but he eventually died in America aged 74.

Genetic Haplogroup
In 2017 I took a DNA test with Living DNA, which confirmed I belong to the Haplogroup I2, and within that group, to the subclade I-L596. The I2 Haplogroup is commonly found nowadays among Eastern European males, and is thought to have arisen some 22,000 years ago. The haplogroup is fairly unusual in Italy, where the Ameglios are thought to have originated, although there is a significant presence on the island of Sardinia. Sardinia and Piedmont, where my family comes from, were ruled as the same country (the Kingdom of Sardinia was in fact ruled from Turin) from 1720 until the unification of ITaly in the 1860’s.

This complex history and genetic information beg the question: how did the Ameglios I descend from carry a genetic signature which is more or less unique to Eastern Europe and to Sardinia, where currently (as seen in the first section of this article) there is no recorded presence of Ameglios? I can think of three possible explanations:

  1. As the genetic signature I-2 came into existence some 22,000 years ago, it most definitely precedes the creation of surnames, which came into existence some 1,000 years ago. In other words, not all population groups which have belonged to the I-2 Haplogroup throughout history necessarily bore the Ameglio surname. In other words, the family currently known as Ameglio may simply have adopted the surname “accidentally” (i.e. for whatever reason), and dropped their old Eastern European name in the process.
  2. The Ameglios may have been of Sardinian origin (which might explain their Haplogroup signature) and later settled in northern Italy. While their descendants reproduced, their other relatives back in Sardinia died out, and thus the surname on the island became extinct while their cousins perpetuated the name in a different location where it is most common today.
  3. A case of false paternity: if one of my female Ameglio ancestors had an affair with a man who belonged to the I-2 Haplogroup, their son may well have inherited his mother’s surname but of course would be (genetically speaking) a continuation of the I-2 Haplogroup line.

My link to Adam: the genetic path followed by Haplogroup I-2 on its way out of Africa. Source: Living DNA.