08 April 2017

When I'm Sixty-Four I'll Still Have Only Two Children

I'm very keen on finding all family members rather than climbing my tree from parent to parent to parent.

I mean, if I knew the King of Italy were a dozen generations up the tree, I'd probably head straight for him, but I'm definitely from peasant stock.

Here's an example of how viewing every available vital record and documenting every single fact gave me an interesting insight into my great great grandfather, Nicoladomenico Leone, born in 1796 in Baselice, Italy.

While recording the facts from every Baselice vital record from 1809–1860, I found my great grandfather Giovannangelo Leone's birth record which told me his parents' names: Nicoladomenico Leone and Caterina Pisciotti.

But I was creeped out to see that the baby's mother was 36 and his father was 53. Then I learned it was a common practice at that time and place to remarry shortly after your spouse died and continue making the babies.

So many babies.

As I continued reviewing vital records I found an 1837 death record for my great great grandfather's first wife, Sinfarosa Ferella. She died at age 35 after giving birth six times (three of the babies died extremely young).

My 2nd great grandfather and his 2 wives had lots of kids, but some didn't survive long.
My 2nd great grandfather and his 2 wives had lots of kids, but some didn't survive long.

Nicoladomenico became a widower in late 1837 and surprisingly waited four-and-a-half years before remarrying.

But he appears to have married his eldest daughter's classmate. Angelamaria Leone and Caterina Pisciotti were both born in 1819.

Both Angelamaria and her only surviving sister, Gelsomina, were still living with their father when he married this 22-year-old girl that they surely knew.

It must've been weird at that dinner table, don't you think?

By combing through all of these records I found that Nicoladomenico Leone fathered 12 children, 5 of whom died in infancy.

The last one I know about (because the records end in 1860) was born when Nicoladomenico was 64 years old.

My great great grandfather went on to live 91 years, probably because he was not a contadino (farmer) his whole life. No, he left the fields and had what was most likely an easier life as a butler, a broker, a coachman, and at age 64, a tavern keeper.

His occupation was written on each of his children's birth records, giving me a full timeline of his career.

You have to admire the stamina of this man. I'm from peasant stock, yes, but apparently that's a strong and hearty stock.

05 April 2017

My 5th Great Grandfather: A Random Act of Kindness?

I spent about five years documenting the thousands of birth, marriage and death records for my grandfather's hometown of Basélice, Benevento, Italy dated 1809–1860.

Documenting every record allowed me to bring my grandfather's previously unknown-to-me family back many generations. I worked backwards through time, primarily, so that I could attach people to my bloodline more easily.

When I first looked at the earliest reel of microfilm, which begins in April 1809, I was dumbfounded by the very first birth record.

My 5th great grandfather, Nicola Pisciotti—age 60—found a baby girl at this door without clothing, as he left his house. The baby girl, whom they named Maria Giuseppa, was a few days old. She was 16 years younger than Nicola's youngest son—my 4th great grandfather, Giovanni Pisciotti.

Did Nicola and his 58-year-old wife Rosa Pecora really raise Maria Giuseppa at their advanced age?

Well…maybe not. I did not capture an image of this document when I first saw it on microfilm (I didn't have a smartphone yet), but now it is online on the Benevento archives site.

And now that I can take my time and translate it, I realize that Nicola found the baby, but he did not raise her.

That explains why I found no other records for a Maria Giuseppa Pisciotti.

The saddest aspect of these early 1800s records from this small, rural town (population about 2,000) where a young woman absolutely could not raise her out-of-wedlock baby, was that each year about five babies were born to women whose identities were known only to the midwife.

The babies were given last names that no one else in town had, and were usually raised at the convent.

But not our Maria Giuseppa. Perhaps her mother did not go to the midwife. Perhaps she had the baby on her own, with no help whatsoever, and left the infant at the home of Nicola and Rosa. I don't know what became of Maria Giuseppa because I don't know what last name they gave to her.

Here is the document and my translation:
The last word, nutrice, changed the story entirely.
The last word, nutrice, changed the story entirely.

Today, the second day of the month of April of the year 1809 at two p.m. appeared before me, Mayor Pasquale Carusi, Nicola Pisciotti, laborer, 60 years old, living in Baselice on Strada la Costa, and he presented a baby which he says he found on this doorstep, naked, without rags [clothing or blanket], while he was leaving his house. After seeing the baby I [the Mayor] have determined that it is a girl a few days old. I enter the name of the newborn in the registry as Maria Giuseppa. Under that name I order that said child be remitted to a nurse.

It wasn't until I translated that last, difficult, handwritten word for nurse that I realized Nicola and Rosa did not raise this baby.

01 April 2017

Why You Should Track Down the Extra Cousin

Years ago I found the 1898 ship manifest that includes my great great grandfather Antonio Saviano bringing his family to America for the first time.

He had been here three times prior to 1898—once with his eldest son Semplicio—but now he was ready for the entire family to settle down for good in New York City.

Antonio is my first ancestor to come to America, as far as I know.

In the grand scheme of things, the fact that my earliest connection with the United States is as recent as 1890 makes me feel like a newcomer.

On this 1898 ship manifest beginning on line three you see Antonio and his wife Colomba Consolazio (thank you, Italy, for always using a woman's maiden name) with two of his children: Raffaele and Filomena.

Semplicio was living in New York awaiting the family, and his final sibling, my great grandmother Maria Rosa, arrived separately with her husband and pregnant with my grandmother.
My family and others from the same town arriving in 1898.
My family and others from the same town arriving in 1898.

But notice Angela Saviano on line seven. She is not Antonio's daughter, and the manifest says she is going to join her cousin Semplicio Saviano.

Angela is a cousin I didn't know about. I decided to try to find out more about Angela, but the trail went cold very quickly.

Much later I was exchanging information with my mother's third cousin Rita who claimed to have Saviano roots.

It turns out that Angela Saviano was her grandmother, and she died shortly after coming to America.

The mystery cousin turned out to be a key link to a cousin we could not previously place in our family tree.

But it gets even better. On that same manifest on line two is a 65-year-old woman named Caterina Ucci who is from the same town as my Saviano family: Sant'Angelo a Cupolo, listed as S. Angelo on this manifest.

While Angela was single when she left home in 1898, she did marry and have a daughter by late 1899.

And here's the fun part: Angela married the son of Caterina Ucci.

That's why I always take a look at the surrounding names on a ship manifest—especially when they're from the same town as my ancestor.

With a little more research I found out why the trail on Angela Saviano had gone cold. She died in June 1901 of a heart valve problem. I saw her death certificate at the New York City Municipal Archives.

It seems so unfair for this 19-year-old girl to have made that two-week journey across the ocean in 1898, married by early 1899, had a baby in late 1899, and died in mid-1901.

What makes me happy is that her grandchildren were always referred to as our Saviano cousins despite having never known young Angela Saviano.