The True Identity of Charles Slatter or Carlo Slatter Bregazzi

Written by Howard Slatter.

My father Francis Slatter (1906-1997) was never allowed by his family to know much about his grandfather, who he knew as Charles Slatter. He had picked up a few hints that Charles was Italian, and had changed his name, and also that the Slatters came from Oxford. When his older sister, my maiden aunt Winifred, died in 1989, my brother Andrew and I went down to Littlehampton to go through her things for our entitlement of her jewellery and items of family interest, before the house and contents went to one of her friends. Deep in the back bedroom, full of packages still wrapped from when she went down to the south coast from London about 15 years previously, I found a small briefcase with a few photographs (all unnamed, of course) and a scrap of paper in it. On the paper, in our grandfather's (Charles Edward Slatter) handwriting was a little family tree:

  Slatter father of Miss Slatter m. Huggins, Miss Slatter m. Count Carlo Bregazzi Major General, Rev John Slatter

On the back of this paper were a few notes (torn off at one edge):

ch Oxford (Infirmary)

This was my first sight of the name Bregazzi. I could find no marriage for my great-grandfather (under either Slatter or Bregazzi) in the GRO indexes, but on a hunch (again following something that my father had heard, that his grandparents spent some part of their married life together in Ireland) in 1992 I wrote to Dublin. About six weeks later I got a copy of the marriage certificate between Carlo Slatter Bregazzi and Louisa Carrington Breward (I knew this was my great-grandmother's name) at Monkstown, County Dublin on 1st August 1865. They both claimed to be resident in Kingstown, and Carlo's father appears as Carlo Slatter Bregazzi, profession General in the Army (though which army is not specified!). Carlo was a Stone Sculptor. Louisa was born in Leicester in 1847.

There are two births in the GRO indexes for a Bregazzi with mother’s maiden surname Breward, and on acquiring the actual certificates they were both found to be children of Carlo Slatter Bregazzi and Louisa, but who both died in infancy. The younger was named Harry Slatter Bregazzi, who lived his short life in 1868 in Manchester.

All nine subsequent children (starting with Florence born in 1869) bore the surname Slatter, with parents Charles and Louisa.

So it now looked certain that Charles Slatter started life as Carlo Slatter Bregazzi, with a father of the same name, and changed his name to Charles Slatter in 1868 or 1869.

However, more than thirty years later, having tracked the lives of many Bregazzis around the world (all of whose families appear to have originated in a little village just above Lake Como in northern Italy, called Stazzona), I have made no progress at all in pinning down either of the Carlo Slatter Bregazzis. Yo can see more about the Bregazzi family here

I have also investigated the families of all “Rev John Slatter”s, as the name appears in my grandpa’s little family tree. No hint of any Italian connection, though again I have put together a substantial family, this time based in Oxford. See here for further details.

My great-grandfather first appeared in the English censuses (as Charles Slatter) with Louisa in 1871, in Manchester, where he said he was aged 37, born in Italy, a British Subject. His occupation was a Sculptor, in keeping with his marriage certificate and Harry Slatter Bregazzi’s birth certificate. We know that he was a carver, at least in wood, and I have a couple of probable examples of his work, while Andrew has his wood-carving tools, handed on down the generations.

The 1881 census shows the family in Birmingham. This time Charles was aged 42, born Italy, a British Subject. He described himself as an “Annuitant”, though we know that by this time he had become a Minister in the Catholic Apostolic Church, which is how he appears in the 1891 and 1901 censuses and also in 1911, by which time he was a “Superannuated Minister of Religion (Catholic Apostolic Church)”, born England (“town not known”). His reported ages in those three censuses were 54, 64 and 74 respectively, and when he died in May 1922 he was aged 85, so all of these were consistent with his being born in 1836 or 1837. I have my grandpa’s “birthday book”, which gives his father’s birthday as 22 Dec 1836.

And that is where my knowledge of him rested for over ten years.

Then DNA testing came on the scene. Both Andrew and I have now had our DNA tested with, along with over 5 million other people worldwide. One of the key resources available is the ability to see who else on their database shares a significant amount of DNA with oneself, and a resulting estimate of the strength of the likely familial relationship. The larger the size of the match (technically, the number of centiMorgans), the closer the match. We were not surprised to find that Andrew and I were firmly identifed as whole siblings!

You can search all those matches to see who among them has a particular surname within their own (as known to ancestry) family tree. No matches at all for a Bregazzi, but a few for Slatter.

Among those Slatter matches (with both Andrew and me) are three people (Christopher, Elizabeth and Alice) who are all closely related to each other. Their family trees show them as coming from a Slatter family in Oxford in the early 19th century. But no connections (as far as I can tell) with the family I researched earlier. There is also a match for a fourth person (Roger), who believes he is a descendant of that same family, but cannot (nor can I) find the necessary baptism or other record to clinch it.

A particular feature of this “new” Slatter family is that one of the men, John Slatter, married a woman called Mary Ann Huggins. Huggins appears in that little hand-drawn tree, but as a man, marrying a “Miss Slatter”. Previously I had completely failed to find any other documented Slatter-Huggins marriage.

One on-line tool that can help suggest possible connections between DNA matches is called “What Are the Odds?” (WATO), developed by a man called Jonny Perl; I attended a very good talk he gave at the 2019 RootsTech conference in London. Using WATO you can construct different hypotheses about how you might fit into an existing family, and it will find the relative probabilities of each hypothesis fitting the sizes of your matches with them.

When I ran WATO with various ways in which I might fit into this Oxford Slatter family it came up with one hypothesis that had a (three times) higher probability than any others. That was that my great-grandfather was a son of John Slatter and/or his wife Mary Ann Huggins. See the screenshots below, where Hypothesis 2 shows my most likely place in this big hypothetical tree.

  Slatter father of Miss Slatter m. Huggins, Miss Slatter m. Count Carlo Bregazzi Major General, Rev John Slatter

  Slatter father of Miss Slatter m. Huggins, Miss Slatter m. Count Carlo Bregazzi Major General, Rev John Slatter

So I investigated that family more closely. John and Mary Ann had three sons: John 1846-48, William Henry 1844-1883 (the ancestor of the modern family that I match), and the oldest Charles Slatter, born 1843 in Faringdon, at that time in Berkshire.

Charles Slatter! But quite the wrong age. He appears with his mother in Oxford in the 1851 census, and then in the 1861 census in Oxford High Street, an apprentice Wood Carver. After that I can find no sign of him anywhere – at least as Charles Slatter born 1843 in Faringdon or anywhere near.

So perhaps this was my man.

Evidence in favour: DNA; Oxford; Huggins; Wood Carver; disappears after 1861; name Charles.

Evidence against: Age; contradicts other information (name, place of birth, father’s name and occupation).

If this was my great grandfather, then why the temporary change of name and subsequent lying about his age and place of birth?

I had at one time thought that he changed his original name (Carlo Slatter Bregazzi) to an anglicised version (Charles Slatter) in order to fit better, somehow, into English society – perhaps associated with his imminent ordination in the Catholic Apostolic Church. But if in fact this was a return to his true name, then maybe it was a decision to be honest (to some degree!) about himself, for similar reasons.

And maybe the initial adoption of a (fictitious) Italian surname and older age in the early 1860s made him more acceptable as a carver or sculptor?

But why choose the relatively obscure surname Bregazzi? A hint of a clue perhaps comes from a man called Frank Bregazzi Jaggar (FBJ), born in Oxford in 1862.

In 2009 I was contacted by Keith, who is a descendant of FBJ. Keith was curious about FBJ’s middle name, and had found my article online about the Slatter-Bregazzi connection as known to me then. At one point he speculated, among many other things, that FBJ might be an illegitimate son of Carlo, but DNA evidence has now ruled that out. One of Keith’s elderly cousins later told him “the young Catherine (FBJ’s mother), married with three kids, but still only 21, met a handsome Italian called Bregazzi in Oxford and had a crush on him and clearly got to know him”.

If there is any truth in that story, then it means that someone called Bregazzi was probably in Oxford, even if only briefly, in 1861-62. There were no Bregazzis in Oxford in the 1861 census (or any other census as far as I can tell), but there were plenty around elsewhere in England. They were nearly all carvers and gilders, picture frame makers, barometer makers etc., so my Charles/Carlo might have met one in his line of work. If so, it might then have influenced his choice of adopted Italian surname.

This is all, of course, just further speculation, and until very recently it had to remain so.

However, in September 2021 I received a copy of Charles Slatter’s birth certificate from the GRO. The birth had been registered in the second quarter of 1843, so I expected that to be the year of his birth. But this is what I saw:

  Slatter father of Miss Slatter m. Huggins, Miss Slatter m. Count Carlo Bregazzi Major General, Rev John Slatter

Much as I had expected, except his birth date, 22nd Dec 1842. My grandpa’s birthday book gives his father’s birthday as 22nd Dec 1836.

He may have lied consistently about his age, but never changed his birthday. I am now completely convinced that these two Charles Slatters were one and the same man, and that a 32-year quest is finally over.

Howard Slatter

September 2021

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