When he is not training circus animals, chances are Flavio Togni will be tracking his ancestry, which contains four generations of circus performers. His family history information will soon be part of the database compiled by the Church Family History Library.
Togni (pronounced "TONE-yee") is a member of Italy's Togni family, renowned as "Europe's first family of the circus." Currently under a two-year contract, he is a headliner in the United States with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. His picture is a prominent part of circus publicity materials, and his performance, involving a white rhinoceros and black panther among other animals, is a featured attraction.While the circus was in Salt Lake City, he and his father, Ennis Togni, visited the Family History Library on Sept. 27.
Spending about an hour at the library, the Tognis were assisted by reference consultant Yvette Longstaff. Much of the time, they conversed in French, her native language. Togni, 29, is fluent in several languages, including English.
Sister Longstaff demonstrated the library's "FamilySearch" computer system, which includes the Ancestral File, a lineage-linked database of deceased persons. She also showed them some books in the library's collection.
During their brief visit, the father and son were not successful in extending their family history research further. But Togni assured Thomas E. Daniels, public relations manager of the Family History Department, that he would do further research in Italy and then send his information to the Family History Library.
Daniels said the information will be entered into the Church's computer database, where it will be preserved perpetually and will be available to other researchers tracing their family lines.
In a Church News interview, the circus star said his great-grandfather is the first person he can identify in his lineage to have joined the circus. The great-grandfather was a school teacher in Italy who fell in love with a performer in a traveling circus that came through town. He quit his job and followed the circus, marrying his sweetheart. From that marriage, Flavio's grandfather was born, the youngest of eight children.
When the children were old enough, the family formed their own circus, which eventually became Italy's largest. Flavio's father is now manager of the circus.
Flavio travels with his wife, Adela dos Santos, whose own background includes five generations of circus performers. She and her sister were circus acrobats from California who were performing in Italy when she met Flavio. She now helps him in his act, working with one of the horses and doing a handstand on an elephant.
The Togni entourage fills two 90-foot, custom-fitted railroad cars and includes 18 family members and 150 animals, according to Bill Powell, regional vice president with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.