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DNA and the Origins of the Seminario SurnameCat

Where did the surname Seminario originate?  A clue comes from the website FamilySearch.org, which reports that 2183 Seminarios born in Peru, 159 in Ecuador, and 99 in Spain are recorded in the family trees of that site.  A review of the FamilySearch trees also shows some Seminarios born in Sicily in the1800's and 1900's.

We know that almost all of the Seminarios in Peru are descended from Martín Seminario Gandino, who emigrated from Spain, arriving in Lima around 1673.  We also know that many of the Seminarios in Ecuador are descended from José Seminario Correa, born in Piura, Peru around 1740, the great-grandson of Martín, who went to live in Cuenca and married Rosa Petronila De La Piedra.

Martín Seminario Gandino was the grandson of Julio Cesáreo Seminario Gonzaga (JCS), the first known Seminario in the ancestral line of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Seminarios.  The few facts of his life are known from his will of February 17, 1647, made in Pamplona, Spain shortly before he died.  In the will, he states his name as Julio Cesáreo Seminario y Gonzaga, says he was born in Mantua, Italy and that in 1597 he ceded the rights to his inheritance in Mantua to Felipe Gonzaga.  We know from his will and other sources that he came to Spain, owned a house in Eugui, Navarra, worked in the Royal Armory there and also when the Armory moved to Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, Spain in 1630, and was a resident of Tolosa up until his hospitalization and death in Pamplona on July 12, 1647.  In his will, he asked to be buried underneath the main altar of the Church of Santa María in Tolosa.  In those days, people paid for the right to be buried in the church, and the position under the altar was a high-cost location, so JCS must have been a man of some wealth.

One popular theory of the surname's origin is that when the family members came from Italy to Spain, their surname was changed from something else to Seminario, perhaps because they lived near a seminary.  I find it hard to believe that JCS would be so casual about his surname as to make such a change.  In those times, people were proud of their descent from nobility and would keep a noble surname in the family, sometimes for generations after the connection. 

JCS's second surname, Gonzaga, was the surname of the dukes of Mantua, a very prominent noble family that had several princes and cardinals, even a Pope.  Using Gonzaga as his second surname did not mean that his mother was a Gonzaga.  The father's name-mother's name rule was not followed strictly in the 16th and 17th centuries.  But his use of the Gonzaga surname did indicate descent from the Gonzaga family, an indication supported by the fact he left his inherited property to a Gonzaga, and by his will's instructions for his descendants to remember always the name of his family's patron, Vespasiano Gonzaga, an Italian noble of great accomplishments from Mantua province who became a viceroy of Navarra and Valencia in Spain.

The other evidence that the surname wasn't changed to Seminario when the family moved to Spain, at least not by JCS, is in the book Nobleza de Andaluzia by Gonzalo Argote de Molina published in 1588, before JCS moved to Spain, which mentions the "House of Seminario from the most illustrious House of Colona".  The full excerpt from the book is quoted here.  Argote lists the Seminarios with other Italian noble families from the island of Corsica that came to Spain, but transcribes the names of the other Italian families as they are, without hispanizing them.  So it's possible that the Seminarios were known as Seminarios even in Corsica.

I have tried without success to find evidence of other Seminarios who lived in Spain prior to JCS.  Isabel Ramos Seminario, the distinguished genealogist of the Seminario family, mentions in an article that two other genealogical researchers found mention of a Federico Seminario who arrived in Andalucia in 1508, but her reference is not cited and I have been unable to find any contemporaneous evidence of Federico's existence. I made a tremendous effort to find the complete will of JCS and any contemporary evidence of the names of his wife, parents and ancestors that connected to the Gonzaga family, also without success despite a trip to Spain. 

One obstacle is that Andalucia has few digitized records before the 18the century.  Gipuzkoa has excellent online records back to the 16th century, enabling me to find the baptismal records of all of JCS's grandsons, some of the marriage and death records of his sons, and the marriage record of another Seminario, Juan Bautista, who came to Spain around the same time as JCS and also worked in the Royal Armory of Tolosa.  He may have been a relative.

In attempting to solve the puzzle of the origin of the Seminario surname, a quick review of Corsica's turbulent history is helpful. Corsica came under the rule of the Italian city-state of Genoa in 1284.  Genoa, supported by Mantua, sent Italian nobles to govern the island.  The period of Genoese rule lasted until 1553, when an attack from France disrupted Genoese rule and encouraged the Corsicans to fight for their independence.  The Genoese hung on until 1729 when the last of the Italian nobility was chased from the island.  So, it appears that the Seminarios were an Italian noble family called upon to participate in the rule of Corsica, and they remained there until Genoese rule was disrupted, at which point some of them moved to Spain, or back to Italy and then on to Spain.

One fascinating addition to this issue is a newspaper article "Surnames of Roman Origin" by Luis León Herrera in El Comercio, the daily newspaper of Lima, on April 25, 1999, quoted by Edwin Seminario Coloma in his masterful work, Piura and the Seminarios, History and Genealogy, volume II, page 24.  León Herrera states that many Spanish surnames are of Roman origin and have have been kept alive in the Castilian language.  As examples, he cites Cornejo derived from Cornelius, Sanchez from Sanctis, Ortega from Urticam, and Seminario from Seminis.  Seminis in Latin means "seed", the same root as "seminal".  León Herrera doesn't cite his references, and I've been unable to confirm this linguistic metamorphosis from other sources, but have found evidence the surnames Seminis and Seminaris exist in Europe.  So the Seminario family may have been around since the time of Rome.

What does DNA have to do with all this?  We owe the discovery of a fascinating clue to Leslie Seminario of Florida, USA.  Leslie, descended from the Seminarios of Piura, requested a DNA test from 23andMe.com, which provides haplogroup information along with their ancestry analysis.  23andMe.com reported that Leslie's paternal haplogroup, R-M 405, was shared by the ancestors of King Louis XVI of France.  I have confirmed from other sources that R-M 405 is the haplogroup of the House of Capet.  This doesn't prove that the Seminarios are descended from the House of Capet, only that they share common ancestors, but it does at least raise the possibility of descent from the Capets.  The House of Capet, via their descendants in the Houses of Valois, Plantagenet, Anjou, Bourbon and Orleans, were the ancestors of royal and noble families throughout Europe, including the nobility of Corsica.

The haplogroup is a kind of genetic marker that travels down through the generations along the paternal or maternal line.  R-M 405 is of the paternal type, which means that only those who are descended from Seminarios entirely along the paternal line would have it.  It would very interesting to find out if others whose last name is Seminario have the same haplogroup.  If you have your DNA done and find out your haplogroup is R-M 405, please send me an email.  We'll publish a tally of how many Seminarios carry the same haplogroup.  And if you participate in our survey, we'll acknowledge your participation on our Contributors page unless you would prefer to remain anonymous.                    


Bob Bordier, bob@noblezaseminario.com
Written:  April 8, 2020