The Quest for Matisse

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back on the Hunt!

I was recently contacted (via email) by Carl Matisse, a descendant of Albert Matisse who was mentioned by my grandmother (see first post in this blog).

To see what else we can dig up I joined and have created two family trees. One tracing back from Daconta up to Matisse (hopefully) and one tracing up from Carl Matisse up to Matisse (hopefully).

Another mystery to solve is whether Eugene Matisse (Olimpia's father) was related to Albert and Carl as my grandmother suggest. One clue to that mystery is a 1913 NYC directory I found. See the image above:
You should notice that Eugenee (spelled wrong, plenty of other evidence supporting Eugene Matisse), Carl and Albert are all listed at E116th Street.

It would still be great to get Eugene's birth certificate. That would be the holy grail!

More soon...

- Mike

Friday, February 12, 2010

Effort Stalled

Unfortunately this effort has stalled as I have been busy doing other things. In my mind, two key next steps need to occur to make further progress on this:

1. Go to France and research the birth records myself.
2. Join a site like and see what paying for information will get me.

I plan to take on both of these activities within the next five years (maybe longer on the trip to france).


- Mike

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Quick Update

Current state of the search is that my Aunt and Uncle are working on locating their cousins to see if their Aunt Lucille has any family documents. Visited New York on Thanksgiving and spoke to my Uncle Frank about it. He said he would help in locating his cousins. At one time they owned a restaurant in Manhattan but they do not currently know their whereabouts.
So, that is our next step...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Response from Biographer Hilary Spurling!

Here is the response to my email to Hilary Spurling's agent! People are truly wonderful and I thank Hilary and her agent for taking time to respond.

------------------------- (email follows) ---------------------------------------
Dear Michael Daconta,

Thanks for this, which I passed to Hilary Spurling. She says: "I don't think his information is right because Matisse had only one brother & two nieces, neither of them called Olimpia - so whoever this Olimpia Matisse may have been, the painter can't have been her uncle. Would he like me to forward his letter to the Matisse archive?"

Good wishes,
Alice Wilson
> > -----Original Message-----
> From: []
> Sent: 08 October 2006 09:46
> To:
> Subject: Author Permission from Matisse Relative
> > Dear Sir,
> My name is Michael Daconta and my grandmother's mother was Olimpia
> Matisse. My grandmother told us that the painter Henri Matisse was a
> great, great, great Uncle. From Hilary's book, "The Unknown Matisse",
> I understand that this may not be the correct branch in the genealogy.
> I have documented all this in the blog: >
> I am hoping you will pass this email on to Hilary so that she will > allow me to use quotes (and one image) from her book in my blog and
> ask her for the references she used for her genealogy information so I
> may continue my search.
> Thank you for any assistance you can provide.
> Sincerely,
> - Michael Daconta
> ---------------------------
> Michael C. Daconta
---------------------------------- (end of email)---------------------------------------

Monday, October 09, 2006

Report from a volunteer for a 1920 census search

I found a genealogy web site where volunteers that have hard-copy census records help people with searches. Here is the response I received:

"I found this listing for NYC in 1920:
Eugene, 70, and Vincenza Matisse, 74, both born in Italy and both arriving in the US in 1885; they reside in the home of a Jennaro and Emily Barone on East 118th Street in Manhattan's 20th Assembly District, in 1920. Eugene is a printer in a shop.
Also in the home are the children and mother of Jennaro; the children are: Salvatore, Lucy, Eugene, Vincy, Mary, Olga and Josephine and the mother is Lucy, age 84, born in Italy. Emily and all the children were born in NY, while Jennaro was born in Italy. He was a woodcarver in a shop. Emily's parents were born in Italy.
Good luck!"

These people are awesome! Volunteering to help others on their search. I am very impressed and grateful that a complete stranger would help us. There are certainly good folks out there!!!
I find again the different spellings interesting.
I will work on getting the actualy census record myself to confirm this information. The plot thickens...

This also gives us a clue to find the immigration record for 1885! More clues!!!!!!
Who is Emily Barone???

Sunday, October 08, 2006

NY Death Records on Vincenza, Carl and Eugene? (Eugenio?)

This needs more digging into ... Is the reason I cannot find the death record on Eugene Matisse (though he is in the 1920 Census) because he is listed as Eugenio???
What is the deal with people playing around with their names ...
FYI ... I work on a biometrics project and it will be great to have a unique, biological identifier that is robust, stable and reliable. Obviously, names don't cut it!!!

Henri's at

There are some international records searchable on the internet. Need some help digging through these ... here are the Henri's I found.

The "four Henri's"

The above genealogy is Copyright 1998 by Hilary Spurling and used here under fair use provisions. Additionally, here is a quote from page 4 and one from page 5.
Page 4:
"His [artist] parents, who worked in Paris, were paying a New Year visit to their hometown. They called their first child Henri after his father, following a family tradition that went back four generations. The first Henri Matisse had been a linen-weaver in the nearby viallage of Montay in 1789... This ancestor, Henri Joseph Matisse, married a tanner's daughter from LeCateau ...
Henri Joseph's son, Jean Baptiste Henri, abandoned the humble weaver's trade to become a factory foreman in one of the mechanised wollen mills beginning to spring up in the town in the 1850's. His son in turn would leave home and abandon textiles all together.
This was Emile Hippolyte Henri Matisse, the painter's father, who found work in his twenties as a shop-boy in Paris."
Page 5:
"Hippolyte Henri's own parents had both died by the time he was twenty-five, leaving him with no immediate family except an elder sister married to a local weaver and a younger one working, like her sister-in-law, as a hat-maker in Paris."
So ... what do we make of this...

First, we see that although names were often hyphenated and extended, the tradition is that any one of these four Henri's could have been connected to Eugene. Unfortunately, it does not appear that it was Hippolyte Henri from that quote on page 5 (though that needs to be corroborated from another source).

Our next step in this journey is more books on Matisse and tracking down Eugene ...
The quest continues ... keep saying "correlate in space-time, correlate in space-time" and let's dig in ... ;^)

Correlating the "four brothers"...

Grandma said that there were four brothers, Henri, Carl, Eugene and Albert. We do not know if this is a true statement. Grandma told me that her information came from her oldest sister (Lucille - the oldest girl in the photo below). From the genealogy in the book, The Unknown Matisse, we do know that Henri Emile Benoit Matisse (painter) did not have a brother named Eugene. Uh Oh ... does that mean we are not related. Not necessarily... I will post on the "four henry's later"...
Here is a screeshot of what had on Olimpia (spelled with an 'i'). Interesting that they did not have any records on Olimpia when I requested an "exact match". What is that? A sexist artifact of history???? Need more digging there...
Interesting though that we do see an Albert Matisse ... also in New York and the timing is right (remember, correlate in space and time).

Next Steps

In emailing my cousin Nicole, we discussed what are the next steps. Here are my initial thoughts on the subject of how we now trace the link back to "finish the puzzle"...

I think the key lies in 3 specific things.

1. The "meeting" between Henri Matisse and Grandma. Any specifics of this meeting are very, very important. When did it occur? Where did it occur? Why? - you don't meet with people and ask them to study under you if you are not related. Also, since Matisse's life is well documented, we may be able to confirm whether he was in the united states at the time of the meeting.

2. Eugene Matisse. We have to learn more about his brothers and we need to get his birth certificate to find out who his father was. Also, any specifics of his life that we can track back to the other parts of the Matisse line. I think the key to that lies in Lucille's documents and photos. Aunt Cookie is working on tracking down some of the cousins who had inherited old photographs and documents (THANKS!!!!). Especially if Lucille kept any family bibles with a genealogy in it. (Note: Grandma told me that all her key information in this area came from Lucille so that is obviously a very important piece to this puzzle -- may be a "treasure trove" of information.) If all else fails, I'll book a trip to France.

3. Learning more about Matisse and his family. I have read some of the book I have but we can go to the library and get more books on him. More on that soon...

In the Intelligence field, correlation is a key aspect of the work and it involves connecting things in "proximity" ... typically things related in time, space, biology, etc. The family needs to become sleuths and that means finding and confirming connections.

Let the hunt continue ...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Zoomed view of Birth Certificate

Here is a "closeup" of the Birth Certificate.

Vincenza Virginia Barone Birth Certificate

Ok, here is the official record that links are family to the Matisse line. This is grandma's birth certificate.
Key information:
Name of Child: Vincenza Virginia Barone (how did she get "Vera")?
Sex: Female
Father's Occupation: ?
Color: White
Mother's Name: Olimpia Barone
Mother's Name before Marriage: Olimpia Matisse
Date of Birth: Sept. 1st 1909
Place of Birth, Street and No. : 431-33-35 E. 116 St.
Mother's Residence: 431-33-35 E. 116 St.
Father's Name: Gennaro Barone
Mother's Birthplace: Italy (??? Did Eugene go to Italy ???)
Mother's Age: 25
Father's Residence: As Above
Father's Birthplace: Italy
Number of Previous Children: Three
How many now living: Four
Father's Age: 32
Date of Report, Spet 11th, 1909

Francis Daconta Baptism Certificate - Name Change!!!!

Here is my grandfather's birth certificate which clearly shows that are name was originally "Docunto" and was legally changed to "Daconta".
Key information:
Date - April 10, 1910.
Saint Andrews Church, New York City.
Sponsors: Michael Docunto and Amelia Docunto.

Certificate of Marriage

Here is Francis and Vincenza's Marriage Certificate.
Key information:
June 27, 1936.
Witnessed by Leonard Daconta and Mary Barone.
St. Andrew's Church, New York City.

Vincenza and Francis Wedding

Here is a photo of Francis and Vincenza's Wedding!

Olimpia Matisse Portrait

Thanks to my Aunt Cookie, Camille Rotondi, and my Father, Joseph Daconta, for getting me these photos and documents. These are fantastic and wonderful that we can share them with the whole family!!!
This is a photo of Olimpia Matisse (which I previously spelled incorrectly with a 'y') and her family. The adorable little girl (youngest) in the bottom row is my grandmother Vincenza (which I previously only knew as Vera).
The man on the far right is Genarro Barone. We believe the eldest parents in the picture to be Genarro's due to the similarity in facial characteristics.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Great Grandma Photo!

Here is a photo of my wife and our first son, CJ, with my grandmother, Vera Daconta, and grandfather, Frank Daconta. Vera Daconta's mother was Olympia Matisse.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Eugene Matisse at

Found Eugene Matisse in a census record which confirms his wife was Vincenza and it even gives an estimated birthday for him. Interesting to note that Eugene was born close to when Henri Matisse was... the quest continues ... very seriously considering membership in

Matisse Family in Paris

Well, there certainly were Matisse's in Paris, France. While I did not find Eugene Matisse in the searchable database of - I did find this record which at least confirms that there were Matisse members living in Paris, France. No huge break through here but every little bit of confirmation helps ... (NOTE: this database only covers 1892-1924. has an earlier one so we need to find out WHEN Eugene and Vincenza came across from Paris to New York???) ... The quest continues ...

People Finders on Vera Daconta

Here is what the website had on Vera Daconta. One interesting thing that I did not know was her middle initial is "V". I probably will not need to purchase any information from this site as my Dad or Aunt have such key documents. I thought it was interesting to see what we could pull up on the internet. Of course, also has information and again, I will only pay for that information if I hit a road block that I cannot surmount in other ways. I am not in a rush ... my only goal is to make consistent progress and to have this be a shared adventure that our whole extended family participates in and enjoys!

Initial Notes from a Conversation in 1998

We must begin at the beginning. We were told from our parents that we were related to Henri Matisse the famous French painter. The source of this information was my grandmother, Vera Daconta (God rest her soul). Her mother was Olympia Matisse (hope that spelling is correct and will confirm shortly via her birth certificate).

After purchasing the book, The Unknown Matisse in 1998, I noticed that I could not find the names my Grandmother had told me about. So, I called her and my grandfather. These are the notes I scribbled down from that conversation in exactly the way she told me...


  • Henri, Carl, Eugene Matisse, Albert Matisse
  • Eugene Matisse married Vincenza ______ (seamstress)
  • Olympia Matisse was the daughter of Eugene and Vincenza.
  • Olympia Matisse married Genarro Barrone
  • Vera Barrone (my Grandmother) was the daughter of Olympia and Genarro.
  • Eugene Matisse was from Paris. Eugene was the oldest.
  • Albert and Carl were inventors. Invented Search lights.
  • Eugene painted the flower on her dress.
  • Olympia was born on the ship coming over.
  • "They were here from the 1800's"
  • Grandma was born in 1909.
  • Came over in New York.
  • Grandma had 5 sisters and 3 brothers.
  • Lucille is her older sister (Note: she told me most of this information is from Lucille).
All of this needs to be painstakingly researched, corroborated and where possible proven via objective documents.


To begin this quest, I am using two initial references.

  1. How to Do Everything with your Genealogy, by George G. Morgan. Published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne.
  2. The Unknown Matisse, by Hilary Spurling. Published by Alfred A. Knopf.

My initial plan is to work this problem from both directions - top down and bottom up. The bottom up approach is to go from our ancestry up and out. The top down approach is to go from Henri Emile Benoit Matisse down and out.

In addition to quoting from these sources, I will at times, comment on the quality of the sources and their usefulness in the search.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Quest

I see this blog as having three focus areas:
  1. Genealogy. Tracing our family history back from our grandmother, Vera Daconta, to Henri Matisse (the famous French painter). This blog will trace our learning experience, trials and tribulations, successes and failures in this endeavor.
  2. Matisse. Learning about Matisse, why he is considered great and how we should take the lessons of his life and apply it to our own.
  3. Family. This is and should be a family project. Family heritage and honour is important so I am hoping to get as much as our family as possible, including the kids, involved in this project.

So, with those three objectives ... let us begin the quest!!