Category Archives: genealogy

A Love Story and a Wedding

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Once my dad decided that the USA was a nice place to settle down, he sent word home that he was coming back to get married! Since my mom had lost her mother when she was 9 years old, my father’s mother took over that role for her. She took her shopping for everything – mainly the favors and the fabric for her wedding dress. The wedding was going to take place the day after Christmas and the dress had to be designed to fit the season. They decided that it was going to be made of pizzo di lana or wool lace. They chose the fabric and a tea length design to go with the fashions of the times. The seamstress made an incredible gown, that even today, is still in wonderful condition. This dress is definitely an heirloom and a treasure. My mother told me that before sewing the hem, the dress needed to be hung for several days so that the weight of it would settle and the hem could be made straight. One of my mom’s friends was a professional model in Milan, and her wedding gift to my mom was the veil! They went to a very exquisite boutique on the infamous Via Montenapoleone in Milan for the headpiece. Sadly, the veil did not made it through the years. The stays became rusted and ruined the fabric covering the corona.

A few weeks before the wedding, as was the custom, the bride and the groom would make the rounds of their guests and bring the confetti or favors. Because my dad was coming home only two days before the wedding, he wouldn’t be able to go with my mom to make these visits. My uncle ended up going with her instead. Even though she appreciated that he was escorting her, she wished that it had been her fiancé.

The day my father was expected to arrive home was a very foggy and gloomy December day. He would be arriving from Milan by train to their little town of Ispra. My mom wanted to surprise my dad by meeting him at the train station, but it was so foggy that she had a hard time seeing anything. Every person she passed, she stared at them hoping that it would be my father. None of them were, and she went back home forlorn and sad.

That afternoon, my father’s sister came running to her house announcing that my dad had finally arrived!  Why he didn’t go down to her home himself, I don’t know, but maybe that’s just the way things were done back them!

They spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together and all the final preparations for the wedding were made. My father had brought back some vacuum sealed cold cuts from America that were given to him by some friends that owned a salami factory in San Francisco. Vacuum sealing was a new concept at that time, and everyone was so impressed that these cold cuts had come all the way from America. (It’s funny how, at that time, anything that came from America was the best – and now we know that when it comes to cold cuts, Italian products are so much better!). Little finger sandwiches were made with these American delicacies for the wedding feast!

On the day of the wedding, my dad went to my mom’s house with the wedding bouquet. He and my mom walked to the church with their entire entourage of family and friends following behind them. The walk was not far, but the path was all cobblestoned. That didn’t seem to bother my mom as she wore her silk high heeled shoes. She said it was a good thing it wasn’t raining that day, or her shoes would have been ruined!

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During the wedding ceremony, my mom took off her engagement ring and presented it to the Madonna as she had promised when my dad had gone off to America. He had come back, they had gotten married, and now she was going to keep her promise. To this day, on the feast of the Madonna, when they parade the statue through the town, her ring is still there. My mom’s best friend looks for it every year and reports back to my mom!

The reception took place at the villa where my grandmother lived. They had finger foods, champagne, and a beautiful wedding cake (a gift from the town baker, a good friend of my dad’s). They posed for some gorgeous wedding photos and this album has become a beautiful (and rare) treasure to have.

After the reception, the newlyweds took off to begin their honeymoon. The first night was spent in Milan at the Hotel Principe di Savoia.When I went to Milan a few years ago, I was surprised to find out that my hotel was across the street from this very hotel that my parents had stayed at so many years ago. I had to go in to see it and it was still as beautiful and stately as I’m sure it was back in 1955. Before retiring for the night, they had made arrangements to go see a show – Walter Chiari at the Teatro Nuovo . They took the metro and stayed out enjoying their special night. The next morning, they were woken up by the maid because they were still sleeping at 11 am! They were probably so exhausted from all the preparations and excitement of the days before.

They boarded a train that would take them to their honeymoon destination: San Remo on the Italian Coast. I haven’t heard too many stories of this part of the trip only that they visited the famous casino there and dined in the vagone ristorante on the way to San Remo.

Once home from their honeymoon, my dad had to prepare for his trip back to San Francisco. In the meantime, my mom settled her dad with her sister while she moved into the villa with my dad’s mom and younger sister. She didn’t know when she would get the Visa to come to the USA and therefore felt it would be better if she got all her ducks in a row. Little did she know it would take almost three years before she would get that Visa to come to America.

During her time in Italy, while my dad was in the USA, she continued to work. When she got home, she would help my grandmother with her sewing jobs. She shared a room with my father’s youngest sister and they became close friends. They spent time with the custodian’s sisters who were from Sardegna. Young men would pass on the road, looking at these beautiful young girls, and they would refer to my mom as the frutto proibito or the forbidden fruit! My mom missed my dad and the wait was becoming harder and harder to bear.

My dad would come home when he could, and the last time he came home before my mom was allowed to immigrate was going to be the last time. If she wasn’t granted a Visa, he wasn’t going to return to San Francisco. But in a last ditch effort, he asked a priest whom he had known his whole life for assistance. This priest knew the cardinal of Milan, Cardinal Montini. He and my dad went to Milan where they met with the Cardinal’s secretary. They came back very hopeful and were assured that things would work out shortly. Within days, my mom was summoned to the American Consulate in Genova. She was given a physical, and asked some questions as to her intent to emigrate. She was sent home and within a week, she received the notice that the Visa she desired was approved with the help of Cardinal Montini. She was on her way at last. Little did she realize that this same Cardinal Montini would become Pope Paul VI! She still has the letter from the Cardinal granting her the wish she so desired!

She packed a giant trunk and filled it with her dowry. She had linens, tea sets, clothes, and a Madonna that used to be in her bedroom. The mirror on the back of the Madonna was the only thing that broke on the long voyage to San Francisco. Seven years of bad luck definitely did not follow her, though!

My Dad and America!

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The story of how my family came to the USA is a bit convoluted – but which immigration saga isn’t? The twists and turns of how things turned out are what makes these stories so fascinating. The crazy, and sometimes funny adventures that occurred during the actual immigration, are truly gems in my eyes. They are treasures that I want to remember forever and to pass on to my children. So here goes my story:

It all started out with my paternal grandfather and his brother. These two young boys from the early 1900’s had dreams of coming to America! My uncle came first (around 1905) and somehow found his way to San Francisco. The story goes that he made the voyage in a crate, but who knows how much of that is really true! Perhaps he was a stowaway? Again, who knows! All we know is that he settled in San Francisco and ended up owning a very prosperous restaurant. This SF uncle would eventually become our connection to the USA. My grandfather, on the other hand, came a bit later to enlist in World War I as an American! He probably saw that as his ticket to residency. Here’s a picture of my grandfather in his uniform.

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Even though my grandfather enlisted in World War I in 1917, he never saw battle. At the end of the war, he went back to Italy and got married to my grandmother. It’s not clear if they were already sweethearts or not but that’s why, perhaps, he went back. They married in 1920 and had their first child, my aunt, in 1922. In July of 1926, my dad came along. When my dad was 4 months old, my grandfather decided to bring his family to the USA. They sailed from Genova aboard the Conte Rosso – my grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt and my dad. Here they are posing for their portrait!

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They settled in Milford, NH. My grandfather ran a granite yard there. They stayed for 4 years, during which time my uncle was born (automatically making him an American citizen – this will become important later in the story!). My grandmother tried to endure life in America for her husband’s sake, but she really didn’t like it here. To please her, my grandfather decided to return to Italy with his family in tow. Here they are on their return to Italy (this time there are 3 children):

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They settled in Ispra where my dad stayed until he immigrated in 1955. According to records I discovered on Ancestry, my grandfather returned one more time to the USA in 1930. No one knows why and I guess we never will. I don’t know how long he stayed, but he was back before my aunt was born in 1933! My grandfather died at the young age of 51 from meningitis, leaving behind his family during the height of World War II. Because he died during the War, during a time when everyone was concentrating on the pure act of survival, many of his stories died along with him. Even my dad, who was 15 at the time of his father’s death, didn’t know much of his father’s life. I’ve found, that sadly, the old folks didn’t talk much about their lives and the younger generation didn’t feel it was important to ask. Nowadays, these stories would be so precious to have and to be able to pass down to future generations.

When my dad’s younger brother (the one born in America) turned 18, he was asked to come back to the USA to serve his military duty. I think he did his military duty  up in Alaska, but unfortunately, I’m not really sure of the details. I believe this was during the Korean War. After his military stint, he decided to try his luck in San Francisco (remember, they had an uncle there who owned a restaurant). My dad’s brother met his future wife and settled in SF, never returning to Italy.

Now back to Italy and my dad! My dad was a successful soccer player but he was getting older, and knowing that he couldn’t play soccer forever, he was searching for a change in his life. Italy was still depressed and trying to recover from the devastations of war. There wasn’t much in the way of jobs, and things were not looking too prosperous. He was already engaged to my mom and asked her, if he were to go to America, would she follow? Being young and in love, my mom told him that she would follow him wherever he went! He presented her with an engagement ring and told her he would go to America to scope things out. He promised he’d come back to marry her. And if things were good, he’d bring her back with him to the USA. My mom made a promise to the Virgin Mary that if he truly came back for her, she would give her ring to the Madonna! But she also gave him a one year ultimatum – she wouldn’t wait longer than one year! Back then, men came to America and never went back! My dad decided that he wanted to go to San Francisco, since he had a brother and an uncle already there. My dad left Genoa aboard the Andrea Doria in March of 1955.  My mom, my father’s aunt, and two of his best friends went to see him off. One of his friends was so upset to see him go, that he ran after the ship as far as he could go.

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Upon boarding the ship, my dad felt great! He said the ship was so much fun – he played cards and ate and drank to his heart’s content. As soon as it exited the Straits of Gibralter, though, things took a turn for the worse. My dad ended up getting so sea sick that he wasn’t able to get out of his bunk for the entire 2 weeks of voyage to New York. During this time, he wrote letters to my mom telling her that he wished he could die.

Upon setting foot on shore in New York, he immediately felt better – and hungry! I’m sure he ate something right away, but he also shared a fellow passengers’ yummy Italian treats! I’m not sure how long he spent in New York, but he needed to take a cross-country train to Oakland/San Francisco. He was under the impression that the train he boarded in New York would take him all the way – whoops! No one told him that he would have to change trains in Chicago. When the train stopped in Chicago, he had to scramble to find out where he needed to go for his connection. Not speaking English, he was definitely quite confused. Luckily for him, a member of the Armed Services came to his aid and directed him to where he needed to go. He made the connection and continued his journey to Oakland/San Francisco, where he was united with his brother.

Upon arriving, he lived in a small basement apartment in the same building as his brother. He wrote at least three letters a week to my mom telling her how much he missed her and loved her. They would occasionally make dates for a phone call, a complicated and, often times, frustrating experience. There were very few telephones in their little home town in Italy, and whenever my mom knew that my dad would try to call her because he had made a date with her in his letters, she had to find herself at that location. The place that she chose was the new “supermarket” in town. The owners of this market were probably just as excited as she was whenever she went over to receive the call from America! They quickly became close to this young woman who’s boyfriend was so far away. The calls themselves were difficult because most of the time the connection was so poor that all they could really say to each other was how much they loved and missed each other. When my mom sees the communication nowadays, and sees how I chat to my cousins in Italy via Skype, Face Time, etc. she just shakes her head and says how nice it would have been if she would have been able to have that during those years that her and my dad were apart.

My father went to work as a dishwasher in his uncle’s restaurant and slowly learned the workings of the restaurant business. My dad went from the pampered life of an athlete to being a dishwasher! He never complained and took the blisters and sores as a badge of honor. He realized that the USA presented a lot of opportunities, and so he decided that he liked it and would bring his future wife here. Vowing never to set foot on a ship again, he saved fervently for a flight back home. Air travel was super expensive in those days and he had to work and save for months in order to afford the trip. But after only 3 months of being here, he sent word that he was coming home to marry his sweetheart. Plans were made and a wedding was planned for the day after Christmas 1955.

Surprises with Google Maps

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Ispra’s town square from Google Maps

If you’ve never tried it, looking at the street view on Google maps is loads of fun. I’ve used it, of course, to check out my own home but also to look at potential hotels and other places to visit. The fun thing about it is that sometimes you can see cars, people, and animals that are familiar to you – they just happened to be around when the google car drove by mapping out the street.

 

A few days ago, I decided to “Google walk” down the streets of my parents’ home town in Ispra, on Lago Maggiore. I know the town pretty well so it was fun seeing all the old places that are so familiar to me. While I was “walking” in front of my aunt’s home, I noticed a car with two women standing outside. One of those women was my aunt and it brought such a smile to my face. You see, my aunt passed away a couple of years ago, and seeing her once more was such a blessing. She was always a really fun loving woman, full of life. The expression on her face as the funny-looking google car was driving down her street taking pictures was absolutely priceless! Her and her friend were looking at it like it was “una bestia rara” – a rare beast! (I love that expression – it’s so fitting!).

Try it sometime, you’ll love it! Especially when you discover little gems like I did! What a special treat!

Digging up the Past – and Discovering Treasures

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The purpose of my trip to Italy this year was to do some research into my mother’s side of the family – particularly her father’s family. I became interested in finding out about them because, unlike the other places in Italy where I have roots, the province of Padova has online records available through http://www.familysearch.org and I was able to do some research before the trip. The records available date from 1879 – 1910. This part of Italy is also where you find Cittadella – my “home town” and where all my civil records are located! My mom was born there and when I became an Italian citizen, I had the opportunity to choose either the town of my mom’s birth or my dad’s as my “home”. I chose Cittadella because it’s a beautiful medieval walled town which I’d be proud to call my Italian home!

Through my online research, I discovered that both my grandfather’s parents died in 1910 within months of each other. He was only 11 years old and was one of the oldest of 8 children. So my first thoughts were: who raised them? Were they kept together? What did his parents die of? My mother didn’t know any of this and I wasn’t sure how I was going to find out since those kinds of details aren’t readily available in civil records. Determined to figure it out, I did a search for my grandfather’s last name in the White Pages for the town where I knew they lived (in my case, Campo San Martino). I came up with 3 names and addresses, and so I wrote them a snail-mail letter! In this letter, I spelled out exactly who I was and asked if perhaps we were related. Lo and behold, I received a response from 2 of them. One response was from a man who had the same last name but was not part of my direct line of ancestors but nonetheless, he was excited to know another person with the same last name and offered to help me find my family. The other response was from the son of my mom’s first cousin! This was a direct hit! His response included pages from a manuscript which told the story of my grandfather’s family and what happened to them. It turned out that my great grandparents died during a cholera epidemic, leaving all their children behind. An adopted uncle raised the children along with his own children. In 1916, he was responsible for 21 people! This manuscript was beautifully written, but I only had parts of it and I wanted to find out who wrote it and how I could get a full copy! All of these things, plus the desire to meet these newfound cousins, sparked my desire to make this genealogical research trip to the Padova area. Here is my story of discovery and amazement – how all the pieces came together, even more so than I had ever expected!

Our first stop on this journey was Busiago, within the city limits of Campo San Martino. This is the town where my mom’s mother’s family grew up and so I thought that this might be where my grandparents had gotten married. We tried to go to Mass but got the time wrong and so ended up at the church after Communion. We hung around after Mass to see if we could meet the priest and ask some questions about locating my grandparent’s marriage records. We didn’t get to speak to him but we learned that the church had been rebuilt in the 1950’s and therefore the original edifice was no longer there.

We wandered around Busiago a bit – there were prosecco grapes growing all around!  That was all the research we had time for that day, but we had plans to return.

The next day, Monday, we headed back out to the Campo San Martino area and made a visit to the archive office. I was able to locate my grandparent’s marriage certificate as well as my aunt’s birth certificate. Another mystery opened up to me – my grandparents didn’t legally register their marriage until 1927, even though my aunt was born in 1925! Their marriage certificate indicated that they were registering their marriage to legitimize the birth of their daughter. My aunt’s birth certificate showed only my grandfather’s name and no mention of her mother. Did they perhaps get married in church years before and didn’t legally register their marriage civilly? As I found out, only beginning in 1929, did the priest have the authority to legally marry a couple. Before that, a church wedding did not constitute a legal one. I am currently awaiting news from the priest from to see if he can locate the church records of my grandparents’ wedding to see when it really took place.

A trip to the cemeteries of Busiago and Marsango was next. Sadly, most of my ancestors’ graves have been dug up – evidently, the graves are dug up from the ground after 30 years. The only old ones remaining are those that have a crypt. Wandering around Marsango’s cemetery, though, I found two graves which were of interest. I took pictures to remind me of the details.

The next day, we visited the archive office of San Giorgio delle Pertiche which comprises the town of Arsego. Arsego is where my mom lived when she was born and before moving to Lago Maggiore. We didn’t find any real info at the archive office, but decided to visit the church in Arsego to see if maybe my mom’s baptismal records were there. When we met with the priest, he informed us that he had a gentleman who was responsible for the research for these types of records and for me to give him a call in the afternoon to set up an appointment. When we met him in the afternoon, he welcomed us into the rectory. I explained my research and when I gave him my mom’s name, he reacted with a surprised stare. When I confirmed the name, he sat back and said that that was a name that meant a lot to him since he was the grandson of the man who had been adopted by my great-great grandparents and who raised my grandfather after his parents had died! This was a huge surprise and totally unexpected. I told him about the pages of a manuscript that had been sent me and he informed me that he was the author of that manuscript!

He had been a professor of history and therefore very knowledgeable about the historical details of the time period in question. He promised me that he would make me a copy of the entire manuscript to have for my records. He and I were so excited about this coincidence that we had to celebrate! So he took us to the children’s afterschool snack shack at the church where we ordered prosecco! Ha! Ha! Only in Italy! We made plans to see each other the following afternoon, when he would give me the manuscript.

The next morning, Wednesday, I had made plans to visit with my mom’s cousin. When we arrived at their house, we were greeted by a whole group of people. They were so warm and welcoming and invited us into their home…and fed us some delicious pastries! They pulled out a lot of old family photos and were explaining to me who everyone was. They were all so excited to meet us and promised to show us around the Veneto the next time we go! Such a warm welcome from everyone!

That afternoon we went to pick up the manuscript. It was given it to me with so much enthusiasm! He was so excited to be able to share his story (and the story of my ancestors) with me! It’s a great memory which I will always treasure. I plan on translating it into English so that I can pass it down to my children! Once more, to celebrate, he took us to the local bar for another toast (Prosecco)! They sure like to celebrate in Italy every chance they get!

Our last day of family research took us to the church in Marsango. This may actually be the church where my grandparents were married, even though I’m still waiting for the results of that search.

Also, with all the excitement, we realized that we never located my mom’s baptismal certificate in Arsego. But then, after talking to the priest, he mentioned that she was probably baptized at the hospital in Cittadella immediately after her birth, and that those records are probably there. Getting these additional records and maybe some others that are missing from my research will be for a future project. For now, I am so excited about the discoveries that I made – this trip exceeded all my expectations!