Showing posts with label Ellis Island. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ellis Island. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Who Was Your First Immigrant Ancestor?

Hard-working men, bound for America
Growing up, I knew my grandfathers had come to America from Italy as young men. When I started researching my family history, I found their immigration records on the Ellis Island website.

According to their ship manifests, each of my grandfathers were joining a relative who'd already made the voyage.

Have you found a ship manifest for any of your ancestors? Are you squeezing every bit of information out of that page or two?

If so, you know each passenger names someone they left at home, and someone who's waiting for them at their destination. The amount of detail depends on the year of immigration. If your ancestor came through Ellis Island, you'll find lots of information.
A ship manifest holds lots of details about your ancestor.
A ship manifest holds lots of details about your ancestor.

Where Were They From, Where Were They Going?

When my Grandpa Pietro Iamarino arrived in New York City on 29 November 1920, he was leaving his "Father Iamarino" in "Collo Samino, Ben." First of all, thank goodness I knew his father's name was Francesco or I'd be mighty disappointed. Second of all, "Collo Samino, Ben." is a typewritten misspelling of Colle Sannita, with "Ben." being short for the province of Benevento. Again, thank goodness I knew the town name already.

Grandpa arrived with $11 in his pocket to join his "Uncle Pilla Di Gennaro" at 22 West Street, Newton, Massachusetts. This lead was a dead end to me for quite a while. Over time, after I'd learned more about Grandpa's family, I realized something. The "Di Gennaro" part of that description meant that his uncle was the son of Gennaro Pilla—my grandfather's grandfather.

So Grandpa was joining his mother's brother, Antonio Pilla, in Massachusetts.

Follow the Leader

So what do you do next? You look for Antonio's ship manifest. Was he the first in the family to come to America, or was there someone before him?

Antonio Pilla, my second great uncle, left Italy for Philadelphia seven years earlier in 1913. The ship manifest says he left his father Gennaro in Colle Sannita, Italy. He was travelling with his brother-in-law. Both men were joining Antonio's brother Innocenzo Pilla in Lawsonham, Pennsylvania, to work in the mine or for the railroad.

Another link in the chain! Next I searched for my other second great uncle, Innocenzo Pilla. He sailed to Boston in 1909 with two of his brothers-in-law. One of them was my great grandfather, Francesco Iamarino.

The group was going to the Bronx, New York, to join my other second great uncle, Francesco's brother, Giuseppe Iamarino.

I can't seem to find Giuseppe's ship manifest, but he's in the 1905 New York State Census living in the Bronx. His seven-year-old son was born in Italy, so the family must have arrived between 1898 and 1905.

My uncle Giuseppe may have been the first in that branch to come to America. That led to his two brothers and one brother-in-law following him in 1909. And that lead to my uncle Antonio joining his brother Innocenzo in 1913. And that led to my grandfather Pietro joining his uncle Antonio in 1920.

A Migration Pattern

The memorial to fallen soldiers in my grandfather's hometown.
In May 2018 I visited the memorial
to fallen soldiers in my grandfather's
hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy.
And what's the best thing about this kind of chain migration for a genealogist? You get to discover more family members. Add dates and locations to their timelines. Find documents for relatives—even if they went back to the old country.

My great grandfather Francesco didn't stay in America. But I've found ship manifests for him in 1903, 1909, 1913, and 1929. He came to join his brother Giuseppe the first three times. He stayed and worked for the railroad for a while, then went home to his wife and daughters in Italy.

On his final trip in 1929 he visited his son Pietro, my grandfather, in Youngstown, Ohio. He may have worked for the railroad for a while. Or maybe he came to meet his son's wife and baby daughter.

It's All Part of Your Heritage

Follow the path of the relative or friend your ancestor joined when they immigrated. You may unwind a series of sea voyages and a bunch more relatives.

Thank goodness our ancestors had the strength to make such a difficult journey—sometimes over and over. You've got to admire what they did to survive. You've got to admire their courage.

Be proud of your ancestors. And keep honoring them by documenting their lives.


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Friday, February 23, 2018

Grandpa's Journeys Shed Light On My Own

Pietro Iamarino looking dapper in New Jersey
My grandpa, Pietro Iamarino, in New Brunswick, NJ.
My Grandpa lived in the same house from the time I was born until two years before he died. Whenever my family was in the Bronx, we stopped in to visit him. All those weekend visits to the orthodontist when I was a kid with braces, my dad and I would stop in to visit Grandpa. Years later when I was grown, I made the trip from New Jersey to visit Grandpa.

He was always there.

Yet Grandpa had been so many places. In 1920, at age 18, he left home in Italy to come to America. After Ellis Island, he went north to a Boston suburb. There he joined his mother's brother, Antonio Pilla.

my grandfather's declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen
Grandpa was quick to declare he was staying in America.
A short time later, Grandpa was in western Pennsylvania working as a laborer. There, in 1924, he filed his Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the United States of America. He was still in Pennsylvania three years later when he became a citizen.

Now an American citizen, Grandpa didn't seem to have a steady job or profession. His next move, I think, was his family's suggestion. Grandpa moved to Ohio.

Within eight months of becoming a citizen in Pennsylvania, my grandfather, Pietro Iamarino:
  • had taken a job as a laborer in the Carnegie Steel Mill in Youngstown, Ohio
  • was a boarder in the home of Pasquale Iamarino (his father's second cousin)
  • married his landlord's daughter, and his third cousin, Lucy Iamarino.
But Grandpa wasn't finished with his travels. After the steel mill he worked for the railroad along with Pasquale Iamarino. He famously said his railroad job "stinks on the ice," so he packed up his wife and two kids. They moved to the Bronx, New York, and lived for a time with Grandpa's uncle Giuseppe. Grandpa became a jeweler—a much cleaner job than working in a mill or a railyard.

He continued his nice, clean jeweler's job in the Bronx for almost 15 years. But he wasn't finished. My grandmother became ill and wanted to move back to Ohio near her parents. So that's where they went. On her deathbed in 1954, my grandmother told my dad to go back to the Bronx and marry his childhood sweetheart—my mom.

By 1955, my parents had married and had a child. They invited Grandpa to live on the first floor of their townhouse in the Bronx. Yup. He was back in the Bronx.

In 1959 Grandpa remarried and bought the house where I would visit him for the rest of his life.

I wanted to map out Grandpa's travels from Italy to New York to Pennsylvania to Ohio to New York to Ohio to New York for one reason.

My Southern Italian grandfather did NOT take a ship from Naples to New York like all my other relatives. That would have been too direct for him.

Grandpa's 1920 ship manifest
Grandpa sailed from where?!?!?
When I began my genealogy research in 2003, the first document I found was Grandpa's ship manifest. I didn't understand why, but his manifest didn't say "sailing from Napoli". It said "sailing from Cherbourg". That's in France. Northern France.

Cherbourg is a 24-hour car ride from Grandpa's hometown of Colle Sannita, Italy. And you know 18-year-old Grandpa didn't take a car that distance in 1920. I imagine he traveled for weeks to get to northern France. And then he spent 12 days on the Atlantic Ocean.

I have no documentation of that part of Grandpa's journey. He never spoke about his early life.

Judging by the rest of his travels, I'd like to think he acted like a student backpacking his way through Europe. He traveled for a while, stopped to do some odd jobs for money, and continued his way north.

Oh, he did make one other journey. In 1958, before he remarried, he made a trip back home for the first time since 1920. His father Francesco had traveled back and forth from Italy to America five times! He had visited Grandpa in Ohio in 1929. But Francesco died in 1951.

Grandpa did get to see his mother one last time during that visit to Italy. Imagine that? He left home as an 18-year-old boy and didn't see his mamma again until he was a 56-year-old man.

Aha! Now it seems like fate that I've lived in New York, California, New York, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. I am, after all, an Iamarino.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Imagining the Journey of Our First Immigrant Ancestors

These windows at Ellis Island
have a view of the Statue of Liberty.
When I visited Ellis Island a year ago, I felt chills. It was emotional to think my ancestors had stood on the very same spot long before me.

The first ship manifests I downloaded years ago fascinated me. Sure, they give us important facts about our ancestors. But they can paint a little picture of the voyage.

Sometimes a group of travelers from one town made that ocean voyage together. The group may include entire families or a few brothers and cousins. Other times it seems as if all the young men in town made the decision to find their fortunes together. Often you'll see a woman making the journey with her young children to join her husband who went before them.

These five young men came to New York together from a small Italian town. 
I'm related to at least three of them.

Most of my ancestors spent three weeks in steerage sailing from Naples, Italy, to New York. The 2015 movie "Brooklyn" gives you an idea what that difficult trip may have been like. But "Brooklyn" takes place in the 1950s. I suspect her seasick journey was a lot nicer than my ancestors' voyages between 1890 and 1920.

One reason I'm American.
When I've flown to Europe or California, I arrived looking like death warmed over. But here's the worst possible scenario. My great grandmother, Maria Rosa Saviano, was five months pregnant with my grandmother when she boarded the S.S. Karamania in 1899.

Think about that. Three weeks in crowded, foul-smelling, uncomfortable conditions. At least some amount of rough seas. No room to move and very little fresh air. And you're five months pregnant!

That was one tough lady.

The museum at Ellis Island lets you walk where your ancestors walked. It shows you what the inspection process was like for them.

Were any of your ancestors detained at Ellis Island? Were they sick and quarantined? Women and children were sometimes held until a relative arrived to take them on their way.

For an excellent description of the entire immigrant journey—from hometown to port to voyage to Ellis Island and on to their final destination—read "The Immigrant Journey" on OhRanger.com.

What sacrifices did your immigrant ancestors make? Don't take their strength and courage for granted.


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