"Let me see generation times, will we hear children singing rhymes? Sweet memories gone by..."

06 June 2012

Coming to America

Leaving for an unknown shore
With every breeze just like a sigh
The sea is deep with tears of those before
With feelings like the seabirds' cry
It gently took me by the hand
Across the ocean blue
And placed me in a foreign land
Far away from you
-- "Servant to the Slave" by Capercaillie


My ancestors can be grouped into three categories:  those who have been here since before the Revolution;  the Germans who arrived in the mid-1800s;  and the Italians who began to trickle in around the turn of the century.  Ninety-one years ago today, the last of my immigrant ancestors arrived.  On June 6, 1921, my great-grandmother Maria disembarked in Boston along with her daughters Josephine and Rose, after a twelve-day trip from Naples aboard the Canopic. 

 (from Norway Heritage)

Like many Italian women, Maria traveled using her maiden name, even though she was married with two children.  According to a note on the second page of the passenger manifest, she was suffering from "malnutrition that is likely to cause [her] to seek treatment."  Rose, my grandmother, had just passed her first birthday, even though the list shows her as four months old.


The family was following a common pattern.  Maria's husband, my great-grandfather, Raffaele had come to the U.S. seven months prior, sailing out of Marseilles on the Roussilon and arriving at Ellis Island on October 23, 1920.


From his immigration record, he was planning to settle in Trenton, where a cousin of his was living - though both Raffaele and Maria apparently believed Trenton to be in New York, not New Jersey.  Raffaele found work here and later brought over his wife and children.  A year after the family was reunited, baby Dominic arrived.


Between 1900 and 1930, more than 3.5 million Italians came to the U.S.  Many did not originally plan to stay.  Men wanted to find work, save up money, then return home.  By the time Raffaele made the journey, however, Italy was going through rough times, just coming out of World War I.  Unemployment and inflation were high, politics were unsettled, and Mussolini was coming into power.  It's easy to see how life in America seemed so appealing.

My mom always complains that I don't research her Italian family enough.  The problem isn't that I don't want to;  it's that the research is much more difficult.  All my usual resources - vital records, censuses, cemeteries - are U.S.-based, and thus only trace back so far.  My main source is some hand-written family notes from my grandmother and Aunt Jo.  So, until we brush up on our Italian and organize a family vacation to Bari, I can't research as far back as I have with my other ancestors.  Sorry!

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