Swiss-Italian Immigrants Found Marin “Just Like Home”


by Marilyn L. Geary

Clockwise from back left: Isadore, Arcangelo, Giacondo and Romeo Cerini, undated. Tomales Regional History Center Collection.

When Giocondo Cerini arrived in Tomales in 1910, he found so many family members, friends, and acquaintances that he said “it was just like home,” according to a 1994 interview in the Point Reyes Light. His aunt Carrie Piezzi, along with two of his brothers and many fellow Swiss-Italians, were there to welcome him.

Giocondo was born in 1894 in Giumaglio, a small village in the Vallemaggia region of the Ticino Canton in Switzerland. Giocondo’s brothers Isadore and Romeo had left Giumaglio in 1901, their sister Adele in 1904, sister Caterina (America) in 1906, and brother Arcangelo emigrated in 1914. Of the eight children born to Giovanni Cerini and Angelina Piezzi Cerini in Giumaglio, six left home to settle in the ranch lands of Marin and Sonoma counties.

On arrival in Marin, Giocondo worked on the dairy ranch of Maurizio Sartori, a pattern followed by many immigrants who worked for compatriots until they saved enough money to lease or purchase their own ranches. Along with two of his brothers, Arcangelo and Romeo, Giocondo saved enough money to purchase the historic John Keys ranch in Tomales. Brother Isadore operated a garage in town. Unfortunately the two sisters died not long after arrival, America from consumption at age 18 and Adele probably from complications of childbirth.

The Cerini family is just one of hundreds in the Vallemaggia that lost family members to Australia and America. During a period of some eighty years, from the 1850s through the turn of the century, over 27,000 emigrants left Ticino to find a better life. Despite obstacles, many of the immigrants succeeded through hard work and determination to own and operate successful dairy ranches in California.

For more on the history of local Swiss-Italian ranchers and their ancestral home, join Marilyn L. Geary for an illustrated presentation April 18th, 2013 from Noon to 1pm in the Marin County Civic Center, Room 330, San Rafael.

Originally published at



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