Was South Shields family descended from a pirate?

The Bianchi family.
The Bianchi family.

I have been sent details of a reunion, involving a South Shields family, which has a rather interesting background.

For the family’s ancestor, who came to the North East from Italy, may have settled here – to escape the Mafia or his pirate past.

The Bianchi family business, front right.

The Bianchi family business, front right.

Details of the reunion comes from Carol Cooke, a seventh generation Bianchi, from South Shields.

Carol says: “My maiden name is Bianchi, and I always thought that there are very few Bianchis in the North East.

“I was quite wrong. A chap called Gareth Wheeler, part of the family, has been doing masses of research and there is going to be a Bianchi family reunion in Newcastle in the summer.

“As a result, we want to contact members of the family who don’t know about the reunion.”

As part of her appeal, Carol has sent details of the Bianchi family history, which I’m sure you’ll agree, makes fascinating reading.

Carol says: “I have lived in the North East for most of my life and always thought that there were very few people who shared my name.

“I can remember a time when there were only two Bianchis in the phone book, our family and my grandad.

“As a result I was extremely interested when my oldest son, Tom Cooke, introduced me to a Facebook group made up entirely of Bianchis.”

“Many people are interested in finding out about our Bianchi family.

“Colleagues had not realised that they were related; people living in the same street didn’t know that they shared the same ancestors, and recently I met a second cousin who I had no idea existed.”

Carol explains that the first member of the family to come to the North East was Carlo Bianchi, who arrived from Como, in what is now Italy, in the early 1800s.

“Almost all the Bianchis in the region can trace their descent from this one individual.

“Every Bianchi seems to have a memory passed down to them about their Italian ancestry, with a family theory about who Carlo Bianchi was, and why he came to England.

“Some have even suggested he was escaping from the Mafia, and some that he was an Italian pirate. I hope that one of those proves to be true!”

She reveals that a diverse family grew from Carlo’s 17 children and 66 grandchildren, ranging from a Catholic background to a family practising Christianity, and latterly Muslim, Buddhist and Mormon faiths.

They included an umbrella maker, with many others serving in law enforcement, the military, public services, professional occupations and the performing arts.

“Many people in the Bianchi family have started tracing their ancestors, and all have come across the same Bianchi progenitor: Carlo Bianchi.

“Recently, and due in part to social media, particularly Facebook, family members have become known to each other, and started to map a picture of the family.

“The reunion will be the culmination of this process, and is open to all descendants of Carlo Bianchi and their partners.

“There will be presentations on the various branches of the extensive family tree, photographs and stories, including an unsolved murder, the early Bianchis, who lived in and around South Shields, Newcastle and Wallsend, and short speeches by guest speakers, one of whom will be Armando Angelucci, the ex-Honorary Consul of Italy, in Newcastle.”

If anyone thinks they are a descendant of Carlo Bianchi, or has stories in their family of a Bianchi family link, and would like to know more about the re-union, they can get in touch by email at bianchi.researcher@gmail.com, or can phone 01915371663 to find out more.

“We haven’t managed to trace all the descendants of our first Carlo Bianchi,” admits Carol, “but based on the information we have there are about 750 living descendants, and 75% of them are still here in the North East, so that would be around 500-550.

“These would include Bianchi descendants who have surnames other than Bianchi through marriage, of course.

“If we are looking purely at Bianchi surnames in the North East, there are currently around 20 in South Shields, 10 in Newcastle, and some 30 in Wallsend (not all these are descended from our Carlo, but the vast majority are), so that would probably be around 80-100 in the North East alone.”

The reunion will be held in Newcastle, on the Bank Holiday of Sunday, August 28, at the Great Northern Museum: Hancock.