Calling in the big guns

January 30, 2008

So, to judge by the results of several genealogy website searches, it looks like the trail of Mario Contasino could be rather elusive. Perhaps, then, it’s time to call in the services of some experts.

The first on my list is Manuele Gragnolati, University Lecturer in Italian at Oxford University. I’m hoping that his expertise in Italian (not to mention his experiences studying in New York) might help me uncover any variant spellings of Mario Contasino’s name. I sent Manuele the following email:

Dear Manuele,

Please forgive the intrusion of this unsolicited email, but I saw your details on the Oxford University website, and was hoping to avail of your Italian expertise.

I’m currently trying to trace the descendents of a Mario Contasino, who, in 1931, ran over Winston Churchill in New York. I’ve only done a very preliminary search so far, but it seems to me that the surname Contasino is quite unusual (a Google search for ‘contasino’ returns only 34 results). So I’m wondering whether his name was copied down incorrectly by early eyewitnesses of the incident, or if, as a recent immigrant to America, he might have changed his name at some point.

So I was wondering if you knew of anybody who might have any knowledge or expertise of Italian surnames – somebody who might be able to help me by suggesting any likely variations of Contasino that might provide alternative avenues of research.

I’d be enormously grateful if you could let me know if this is something you might be able to help with – and, once again, sorry for the unsolicited email.

Next on my list is Russell James, editor of Your Family Tree magazine. I’m hoping that he might be able to reveal any leads or openings that I might not have considered. This is the email that I sent him:

Hi Russell,

Hope you’re keeping well. I’m just getting in touch because I’m trying to track down a historical figure, and I was wondering if you had any expert advice.

The historical figure I’m trying to track down is Mario Contasino – the man who, in 1931, ran over Winston Churchill in New York. The reason that I’m trying to track him down is that Codemasters are bringing out a videogame called Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, which is based on an alternate history in which Churchill was killed in that automobile accident. And so they’d like to honour Mario’s descendents, and so I’m trying to find them, and reporting my progress on a blog.

So far I’ve tried a few of the online genealogical sites like, but can’t find any fruitful leads. In fact, Contasino seems a very unusual name – there are only 34 searches returned by Google, for example.

So I was wondering if you happened to have any tips or advice for tracking down somebody so elusive. I’d be really grateful if you could get back to me to let me know.

Finally, I sent another email to the Churchill Archives Centre, located at Churchill College, Cambridge, to see if they might have anybody on hand who knows a bit more about the matter:

I’m currently trying to track down Mario Contasino – the man named as the driver of the vehicle that struck Churchill while he was in New York. And I’m recording the fruits of my search in a blog. Which leads me to an enquiry: is there anybody at the Archives Centre who might know of any other documents in which Contasino is mentioned? Some accounts of the incident seem to suggest that the two men struck up a friendship after the event, so I was wondering if, for example, whether there existed any sort of correspondence between the two men.

Once again, I’d be enormously grateful if you could get back to me to let me know.

I’ll keep you posted on the results. In the meantime, don’t forget to email any advice or information about the whereabouts of Mario Contasino’s descendents to


One Response to “Calling in the big guns”

  1. […] 1, 2008 In my last blog entry I tried to enlist the help of several experts to track down the driver of the car that hit Winston […]

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