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Famous Family History Christopher Columbus Parents

About the family history of famous explorer Christopher Columbus; his roots including history of his mother and father.

ROOTS AND FRUITS: A FOREST OF FAMILY TREES

CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1451-1506),

Italian-Spanish explorer

His Roots: His name has Italian, Spanish, and English forms--Cristoforo Colombo, Cristobal colon, and Christopher Columbus--but they are simply linguistic variations of the same name.

Columbus was one of at least five children born to Domenico Colombo (c. 1418-1496). Paternal grandfather Giovanni Colombo had apprenticed his son Domenico to the loom at age 11. Domenico, a third-generation master of his craft in Genoa, Italy, was also a shopkeeper. His secure, respectable position in the lower middle class did not, however, guarantee his having a firm work ethic. Despite, or because of, having fingers in several pies, he was a poor provider and a worse credit risk, yet a pleasant, well-liked fellow withal. According to American historian Samuel Eliot Morison, "Domenico had his son's optimism, without his will. He was always making promises that he was unable to fulfill, buying goods for which he was unable to pay, starting sidelines like cheese and wine instead of sticking to his loom." He was the "kind of father who would shut up shop when trade was poor and take the boys fishing; and the sort of wine seller who was his own best customer." Forsaking the loom, two of his sons--Bartholomew and Christopher--went to sea. The brothers ultimately named the capital city of the New World after their father's partron saint. Thus Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic--where the bones of Christopher himself are enshrined--perpetuates the memory of a business "failure." If Domenico had, however, been prosperous, Christopher might have spent his entire life at a loom.

Almost nothing is known about Christopher's mother beyond the fact that Susanna Fontanarossa married Domenico Colombo about 1445 and preceded him in death. Columbus himself was extremely reticent about his family background, and some scholars have cited this as evidence of his possible Jewish descent, which he would have concealed during his dealings with his Spanish supporters. According to two such theories: (1) his mother was Jewish; and (2) his father descended from a Jewish family that left Spain about 1391, settled in Genoa, and became Christians. Christopher himself, there can be no doubt, was Roman Catholic.

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