Monday, July 21, 2014

Christina Prinzo Famoso - A Wonderful Mother

Christina Prinzo as a young lady around 1906
Christina and her brother Charles 1905
Christina Prinzo Famoso and her son John 1911
Christina Prinzo Famoso

On her birth certificate, her name is listed as Crestina Maria Giuseppa Luisa Prinzo.  Christina was born in Harlem, Manhattan, New York on June 16, 1892.  She was my grandmother.  I never knew her but by all accounts she was a wonderful mother and grandmother.  Sadly, she only got to know one of her grandchildren.  She died on April 24, 1943.  Her life was short and heartbreaking.  She was a beautiful young girl who met her husband to be at a funeral before she was even 16 years old. Luigi and Christina were married on April 23, 1908 when she was not quite 16 years old.  Her parents were from “the other side” but she was a ‘Merican.  Grandma Christine only went to school up to the 4th grade.  That was probably quite a bit more schooling than either of her parents had. Francesco Prinzo and Maria Giuseppa Luisi were farmers back in Italy.  Her father Frank became a laborer to support his family in the United States.  When she met and married her husband Luigi she actually gave up her citizenship for him. For a very short period of time, that is what happened when an American woman would marry a foreign-born man. Christina must have thought he was so handsome and well-educated.  I’m sure she must have admired him, at least at first.  I don’t believe that her love could have lasted too long because he turned out to be a selfish husband.  She gave birth to ten children but only 9 survived to become adults.  That was pretty good for the times they lived in.  Her 4th child, Joseph, died of enteritis at the age of 7 months.  

I know that Christina could sew and cook.  I also know that she worked hard and was a very good mother. She did not have much extra time to tell her children stories or play games with them.  She simply had to make sure they would survive in the world. 

According to a story my mother heard at Christina's husband Luigi's funeral, Christina had to go to her sister-in-law Loretta and beg her to get money from Luigi for food.  This story was told by Luigi's sister Loretta.

My father told me that he helped his mother wash clothes on a washboard.  I can’t even imagine how difficult and time-consuming that must have been. Especially, when you were washing clothes for 9 children and two adults!

Dad also told me that his mother always said that she could put sauce on rocks and her 9 kids would eat them!  Her boys were always hungry.

Grandma Christina fought for my father to stay in school so he could get his high school diploma because his father Luigi wanted him to quit school to get a job.

She worked in a factory making snowsuits for a few years to make money so she could support her family. 

She saved pennies in a cup for insurance for each one of her boys.  When they grew up she was able to give each of them $500 which was a whole lot of money in those days.

Her sons liked to think they protected her from their father. I asked my dad if Luigi was a violent person and he said they didn’t know because he would not have taken on any of his sons who were all bigger than him.

Christina taught my father how to sew and use a sewing machine to turn a collar.  That was a good way to save money on clothing at the time.  When your shirt collar wore out, then you could turn it and get several more years of wear out of it without looking like a hobo.

In her later years, when her kids were all grown up she would sometimes sit outside on their front stoop (porch) to watch the neighborhood kids play.  My dad says that she knew all their names and would try to make sure they did not get hurt.  I guess that proves she was a mother at heart and was taking on the village approach to raising kids.

Her death was probably not sudden or unexpected.  She had gotten hit by a trolley car and sustained injuries from that accident.  The actual cause of her death was congestive heart failure.  She was only 51 years old but looked at least a decade older than that due to her hard life.  I know she would be happy to know that all her kids got married and most of them had children of their own. 

Christina Prinzo Famoso, Luigi Famoso, Sam Famoso and Catherine Prinzo
Wedding 1908

Christina and her mother Josephine Prinzo - 1940
Christine Prinzo Famoso - 1940

Christine Famoso Prinzo 1940

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Luigi Arturo Famoso - Lovers and Other Strangers...

Luigi Arturo “Louie” Famoso

I want to start this post with a Happy 132nd Birthday to my grandfather, Luigi Arturo Famoso (aka Louie).  He was Giovanni’s second oldest son.  Louie was a guy who seemed “larger than life”.  In fact, it sounds like he was quite a character.  Well, you’ll just have to read this and decide for yourself.  I never met my grandpa Louie.  He died a little over a year before I was born.  In fact, it is the 56th anniversary of his death.  He died the day before his 77th birthday.

He was born in Marcianise Italy on July 11, 1882.  Marcianise is a small town (also known as a commune) in the Caserta Campania region of Italy.  I’ve never visited there but I hope to see it someday.  So, Louie was a small-town boy with big city ways.  Maybe that is why he wound up living in the “Big Apple” for most of his adult life. 

I have to mention that I only know Louie from the stories I’ve heard about him from his children and grandchildren.  We have a huge Italian family.  My father has told me many stories about Louie.  My mother knew Louie personally.  She also heard many stories about him from his relatives over the years.  It is hard to know what is true and what isn’t.  There were many sides to my grandpa Louie. He was a bit of a bon vivant. I heard that he enjoyed dressing well and mixing with the wealthy folks.  That alone wouldn’t be a bad thing except we have to take into consideration that he had a wife and nine children.  The wife and kids did not seem to be a great impediment to his lifestyle.  I have to say that he was probably only a product of his time. He lived at the turn of the 20th century when men were the “kings” and their home was their “castle”.  The men could basically do anything and get away with it.  My grandmother Christina (Louie’s wife) got a job in a factory doing sewing to help support her family.  Why did she have to do that?  Good question.  If you recall, I said that Louie was a bon vivant.  He sure was.  He had a gambling habit that took the form of card playing.  He loved to play poker.  He wasn’t a wealthy man but he spent whatever he made on poker.  That meant that his wife and kids had to support themselves.  They did get help from Christina’s sister Kate and her husband Sam (who was also Louie’s brother).  I have heard that Kate told her sister to please stop having kids because she (Kate) couldn't afford to support any more of Christina’s children.     

But I digress…  Let’s get back to Louie’s early life.  I don’t know much about it other than that he moved around Italy with his family.  Eventually, he and his brother Sam attended Barber College (somewhere in Italy).  He also took his older brother Dominic’s place in the Italian Army ski patrol.  The best story I have heard about Louie comes from my father.  He says that Louie didn't like being in the army very much (no surprise there) and he planned to ditch his post.  He arranged it very well.  Louie collected (bought?) clothing, skis and other equipment so he could change out of his army uniform then ski down the other side of the mountain (one of the Alps, I assume) into Switzerland.  Then he would make his way to the United States to rejoin his family.  This event took place in either 1901 or 1902.  Louie, according to family lore, traveled around Europe evading the Italian army and touring various European countries.  My sister and I wonder how many unknown cousins we may have out there stemming from Louie’s travels around Europe in the early 1900’s when he was a viral young man.  Louie eventually made his way onto a ship called S.S. Patricia out of the port of Hamburg, Germany on October 17, 1902.  The manifest says he had $35.00 on him (a decent amount in 1902) and that he was heading to Atlantic City, NJ to meet up with his father.

I have found Louie living in two places on the 1905 census.  I have him on the NYC Census with his family and I also have him on a census in Atlantic City, NJ.  I believe that he was living in AC but his father Giovanni did not understand the questions that the census taker was asking him.  He was probably saying that he had 7 children and named all of them for the census taker.  I can’t be sure but that makes the most sense to me.

The story goes that Louie Famoso and Christina Prinzo met at a funeral.  I choose to believe that they fell in love and got married around April 23, 1908 (that is the date on their marriage license).  That was only five months before Luigi’s mother Anna Pirolli died.  Luigi’s brother Sam and Christina’s sister Kate got married in 1910.  Christina Prinzo Famoso (Louie’s wife) gave birth to the first of many sons on October 19, 1910. 

I am not sure of the continuity of all this but Luigi and Sam worked together at a barbershop or maybe several different barber shops.  I know that Luigi definitely worked at the Harvard Club and the Downtown Athletic Club as a barber.  I also have heard that not only was Luigi a gambler but he was also quite a womanizer.  The story goes that he had at least one goomara (on the side girlfriend).  She lived “upstate” somewhere.  He would rent or borrow a truck and take his boys up to the farm she lived on.  My dad was apparently one of the kids he took up there at least once.  My dad had no idea where he was going or who they were visiting but he said they enjoyed the trip.  I’m sure Luigi enjoyed it too.  There is also another story where Luigi went out to buy some bread but he did not return home for a year!  I am fairly certain these stories are true because they came from Luigi’s sisters.  His wife Christina was already dead by the time those stories made their way to our branch of the family. My father also told me that Louie wanted him to quit high school and get a job at the Harvard Club.  When my dad went on the interview he found out that one of his friends also had an interview.  Dad's friend wound up getting the job because the Harvard Club did not want to hire Louie's son.  I am not really sure why but I think it had to do with the fact that Louie was always telling stories and getting mixed up with his wealthy clients business.  My father was lucky because he then was able to finish high school and get his diploma.

In an effort to be fair, I must also look at Luigi from the standpoint of his older grandchildren.  My oldest cousin Christina is the daughter of Luigi’s second oldest son.  She says that she was about 5 years old when Grandma Christina died.  At that time, Louie’s two daughters were still living at home with him.  Grandpa Luigi asked if any of his sons could move in the house with them to help him out.  Of course, most of the boys were in the military at the time since my Grandma died in 1943.  Uncle Frank and Aunt Flora took him up on that deal and moved into the house on East 26th Street in Brooklyn shortly after Grandma’s death.  Grandpa Louie enjoyed playing cards and would be gone for hours at a time and well into the night.  He liked to dress “to the nines.”  He was adamant about speaking English.  He did not want anyone to speak Italian around him which is unfortunate because if he did speak Italian, she might have learned how to speak it as well.  Christina says she enjoyed living in his house because there was always family around especially on Sundays when everyone would come over for a big typical Italian Sunday dinner.  Grandpa died when she was only 17 years old. 

Another one of my older cousins (Louie’s namesake) says he remembers Grandpa Louie this way: He was the best barber around.  He cut everybody in our family’s hair.  Grandpa was a good card player.  He loved his children and grandchildren.
My cousin Joanne (the daughter of Louie’s son Bill) remembers that Grandpa gave his grandchildren gifts every year for Christmas and possibly Easter.  She got a gold charm bracelet with a cross on it.  Even if it was costume jewelry she remembers it fondly.  He used to pronounce her name with his Italian accent as “Jowan” which is kind of cute if you ask me.  According to stories she heard from her father, Louie supposedly owned 3 barber shops at one time but lost them due to his gambling.  He met lots of famous and infamous people through his jobs at the Harvard Club and the Downtown Athletic Club.  She heard he knew lots of mob guys and was very friendly with a guy named “Augie Pisano.”   {After hearing this story, I did a little research and found out that “Little Augie Pisano” was an assumed name used by Anthony Carfano (1898 – September 25, 1959),  who was a New York gangster who became a caporegime, or group leader, in the Luciano crime family under mob bosses Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello}.  My mother doesn’t believe these stories for a few reasons.  She doesn’t think Louie would have been the type to associate with Mafia-types.  She says Louie wasn’t a guy who was willing to be injured in any way.  Mom also says that Louie wasn’t very generous so it is doubtful that he gave his grandchildren gifts for any holidays.  My dad says that Louie never owned any barber shops that he knew of.

My sister and brother both knew Grandpa Louie.  They don’t have any warm and fuzzy memories of him, though.  They say he was pretty cold towards them.  I guess when you have 9 grown children and dozens of grandchildren it could start to get old pretty quickly.  My brother also remembered that he and Louie were both left-handed so he got Louie’s guitar after he died but he gave it back because he couldn’t get the hang of playing it. 

So, you might say that Grandpa Louie was a bit of a “good time Charlie.”  Perhaps, but he was definitely an interesting guy! 

See line 17

Louie's son Frank, Christine and Flora

Brothers: Sam, Louie and Alphonse

Louie with his sons, Alfonse, Albert and Sammy

The whole family - almost
Flora, John Famoso, Neil Squitieri, Louie and his son
Frank Famoso
At Aunt Louise's Wedding:  Al Famoso, John Famoso, Louis (Luigi) Famoso, Aunt Louise, Bill Murray, Uncle Albert, Uncle Frank and Uncle Bill!
Alfonse, Sam, Albert, Charlie, Frank, Bill in back row
Frankie Prinzo, Charlie Prinzo and John Famoso
At Louie Famoso's funeral in July of 1958

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

GenealogyBank - Genealogy Website

GenealogyBank Is Putting Six Italian American Newspapers Online

See the full list on the GenealogyBank blog:

Later this year GenealogyBank will be digitizing and putting online six Italian American newspapers from three states: California, New York and Pennsylvania. These new additions, containing thousands of newspaper articles, will help you do genealogy research on your Italian American ancestors. Trace your Italian ancestry back to the 1800s with obituaries, birth notices, wedding announcements, and local news stories found in these old Italian-language newspapers.

Really?  This was posted on January 8, 2013.  It is now June 24, 2014 and there is no sign of these newspapers being put online. The last I heard was back in April I received an email saying that they were running a "bit" over time on this project.  Really?! We are now six months past the date advertised. The original post on GenealogyBank said that these newspapers would go online by the end of 2013. I'm getting extremely impatient.  I feel like I could find something about at least one of my ancestors in  Progresso or in one of the other Italian language papers from NYC at the turn-of-the-century. I am definitely running out of patience. Please hurry up and get these papers online. I will be happy to buy a one-year subscription to GenealogyBank to do that research~  Next time you take on a project like this, GenealogyBank, please don't tease us with promises you just can't keep.  

Thank you!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Open Letter to My Ancestors

My Dear Ancestors,

First of all, I want to thank you for making the very long and dangerous voyage from Italy to America. It  had to be extremely difficult to leave everything you knew to go to a completely foreign place. You had no knowledge of the language or customs here. I call that brave. Some of you came over by yourselves or with a friend who is unknown to me. Others came with family members. Either way, it had to be very scary. You left your friends and family to come here. I know you all thought you would have better lives in the United States. I hope that your lives did get better when you got here. I have no way of knowing if that happened for you because I don't know anything about some of your lives. I do know that all of your descendants are happy we live in the USA. We have lived good lives and hope to continue to do so for many years to come.

Now, with that said, I want to tell you that you haven't made things easy for us when it comes to finding information about you. There are many documents that I would love to find but can't because your names are spelled wrong or you aren't even listed on any documents. Some of  your documents have completely "disappeared". Did you really get naturalized in 1901, Frank Prinzo?  I'm beginning to wonder.  If you did, someone did an excellent job of hiding or misfiling your naturalization documents. I know it isn't all your fault. There wasn't a great desire to keep records back then. It seems like sometimes it was pure luck that a document was even filed or survived for over 100 years.

Another thing, I don't like the custom of not talking about your past or passing down stories about your lives. For most of you, I have had to make stuff up just to form an opinion about you.  I would prefer if you had talked a blue streak about yourselves, left lots of neatly written and properly stored papers and took lots of photos.  I know photography was expensive back then but you should have been thinking ahead.  We all want to know what you guys looked like. Oh, why didn't any of you keep a journal? I could have tried to translate it or even learned Italian to do just that.  I also never found that Bible you were all supposed to have. Actually, I never heard of an Italian genealogist finding a family Bible.  Okay, okay, you were all busy working, cooking, cleaning, and all that stuff.  I know everything took lots longer to do back then than it does now. But some of you could have been thinking ahead a little bit and left us some breadcrumbs to follow. I know many of us would have been appreciative. Please feel free to do whatever you can from wherever you are now to help us find out some things about you.

Thank you.

Your loving descendant...

Annie the Amateur Genealogist

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday's Obituary ~ Domenico Famosa

Sunday’s Obituary ~ Domenico Famosa

My great uncle Domenico was born in Marcianise in 1880. I have his birth record to prove it.  He was a musician who played the French horn in many Orchestras around the east coast.  His obituary says he came to the United States in the early 1900’s with an Italian Military Band.  I think that is a mistake.  I happen to (think I know) that he came to the United States in 1896 or thereabouts with his father Giovanni.  Now, his father may have come to the USA with an Italian Military Band which would make some sense.  Mimi may have played with an Italian Military Band but I have absolutely no proof of that.  I can prove he played with the Boston Opera Orchestra around 1912 because I have his name in a newspaper article.  It is very hard to read but it is there.  The funny thing about that article is that it is about how almost all the band members of this orchestra are “Boston men” and not foreigners.   I found Mimi and his wife in multiple directories in Boston.  The WWI draft registration I found for Mimi says he played for the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts and his boss was Mr. Marcus Loew himself! The original owner! How cool is that?  

I have never been able to confirm that he actually played with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.  I have tried contacting the Met but they have no record of him.  Apparently, there were not good records kept on the members of orchestras back at the turn of the century.  I did find proof of him playing with the National Symphony Orchestra.  His name actually appears in a book about the National Symphony.  The most interesting thing about Uncle Mimi’s musical career is that he was one of the very first "paid" orchestra members of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC. 

My father always told me that Uncle Mimi played with John Philip Sousa’s band because he had seen a photo of Mimi with Sousa many years go and they were both dressed in the band uniform.  This is another piece of family history that I can’t confirm.  I have even been in touch with the Sousa Museum to no avail.  Apparently, hundreds of people had their photos taken with Sousa.  Another strange thing is that he was supposedly a member of the U.S. Soldiers Home Band.  Well, I have read and have been told that the members of that band had to be soldiers. I know Mimi wasn’t a soldier.  The only thing I can come up with is that they let him play in the band because he was good and maybe because his brother died in WWI?  I can’t find any other connection.  I know that he did become a U.S. citizen around 1903 because I have his Naturalization papers or at least some of them. 

Clearly, Mimi had a long and illustrious musical career.  He toiled in the orchestra pit for many years.  I like to think that he enjoyed his work.  I imagine he was a wonderful French horn player but I will never be able to hear him play.  I don’t know of any recordings of him playing the French horn in existence. I'm just proud to be related to him.

On another note, my cousin reminded me of a story Uncle Mimi told her about why he wouldn't eat bananas - because when he came off the boat in Philadelphia (which is why I’m so confused about where he landed) he saw a fruit vendor. He went over to the vendor and the guy convinced him that this funny looking fruit was the latest craze. So, he bought a couple of ‘em.  He took them back to his hotel room.  When he decided to try them he thought they were too tough to eat! Apparently, the vendor forgot to tell him to peel them!

While I am on my soapbox about Mimi, I might as well add that I can’t find him or his father Giovanni on any ship’s manifest from Italy for his only and his father’s first trip to the USA. I have primarily focused on New York City (Ellis Island) and Philadelphia because those ports make the most sense but I wouldn't rule out Boston or Baltimore either.  I just don’t know if they used false names for some reason or if their names are just so screwed up on the manifest that I haven’t come up with the right “code” to find them yet.

I may be worthwhile to mention that I have spent countless hours wondering and researching where and when Mimi and his wife got married.  I currently believe that they got married around 1906 probably in Philadelphia.  I have no proof of that yet.  I hope to have something definitive soon.  I have also spent a bit of time and energy trying to find his wife’s death certificate.  The closest I have come is to have had a request form returned from Washington D.C. Department of Vital Records because I am not a direct descendant and she is not dead for 50 years yet.  Well, they sure do a great job protecting information down there in D.C.  A woman who is dead for only 47 years with no living direct descendants ~ we sure can’t let that information out.  I would like to have her death certificate only so that I could find out her parents’ names.   I am not planning on using that information for anything nefarious. 

You may wonder why Mimi used the name Famosa yet my family name is Famoso.  No one really knows for sure. Few of my relatives ever knew his wife Elizabeth personally but we did know she was a die-hard Irishwoman. The story goes that she wanted to distance herself from the Italians as much as she could; therefore, changing the “o” to an “a”. This was from a conversation with her son Charles but, of course, it is just a story that can’t be confirmed at this point.

Something that really annoys me is that he died the year I graduated from High School so I could have met him and talked with him but I did not develop an interest in family history or genealogy until recently. 

I find Mimi and his entire line of our family tree to be sad, in a way.   Mostly because he had two children who got married at some point in their lives neither of them had any kids.  They both died and their spouses are also gone.  I am feeling selfish when I say that at least if Mimi had heirs we could contact them for information.  So far, the closest I have gotten to talking to anyone who may be remotely related to Mimi is his daughter’s husband’s family.  There are still some of them left.  I have contact with one of them.  I can only assume that all of Mimi’s possessions have been thrown away or sold.  It upsets me to think that all of his records and keepsakes are probably moldering in a trash heap somewhere.  Of course, there could be some O'Donnoghues or Milazzos out there right now reading this blog post and recognizing the names.  If that happens, please leave me a note in the comments! 

At least, Uncle Mimi lived a long life.  He seemed to be happy with his work and his family.  But I find it interesting that his obit does not even mention his wife.  I guess that is probably because she died 10 years before him but still…  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Anna Vincenza Sebastiana Pirolli - A Tragically Short Life

This post is about my great grandmother Anna Vincenza Sebastiana Pirolli.  She was born in the City of Caserta in the Province of Caserta in Italy on December 24, 1857 according to her birth record.  I have her birth, marriage and death records.  That is essentially all I have for her.  I know, I know...  another mystery... big surprise.  No, not really.  This poor lady worked really hard all her short life to bring up children and what do we know about her, virtually nothing.  No stories have been passed down about Anna.  The only thing that has been passed down is her name.  I have plenty of cousins named Anna and Ann.  I also knew her last name was Pirolli but, of course, that could have been a misspelling.  No matter.  Here is where I start to get fanciful in my interpretations of Anna and her life.  I can't say much about her birth except that her parents were Francesco (according to her birth record) Pirolli(o) age 33 and Elisabetta Zambella (sp) age 26.  As far as I can tell, from Anna's birth record, her father Francesco was a day laborer or giornature.  The most interesting and amazing thing about Anna that I have found out is that she could read and write.  I think that was a major thing back in the mid-1800's for a woman to read and write.  Especially in Italy.  I have read that there was no emphasis or interest in having a woman educated at that time.  Her only job was as a wife and mother.  Even on Anna's marriage record, it states that she is a dona di casa or housewife.  I keep thinking that she was probably a "spinster" at the time she was married because she was already around 22 years old.  Her marriage record does not say that she or Giovanni were ever married before.  Perhaps her parents knew Giovanni or I should say her mother knew Giovanni because Francesco had already died by the time Anna and Giovanni were married.  Unfortunately, I have never found Anna and Giovanni's Allegatti.  That would have given me a ton more information but it is lost somewhere. The marriage record also says that their Marriage Banns were posted in Caserta on February 23 of 1879 and on 2nd of March 1879.  I haven't found those either. This seems to be another dead end unless I find the Banns and even if I do find them there is certainly no guarantee they will tell me anything.

Next we have Anna giving birth to 12 children.  Yes, I said 12 children.  Sadly, only 7 of them survived to adulthood.  I only found out that Anna and Giovanni had 12 children recently when I found their youngest daughter Loretta's birth record.  Loretta was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey so it was very helpful that the document was written in English!  But wait, I'm jumping ahead here.  Anna came to the United States to meet up with her husband in 1901.  I found her traveling on the Citta di Torino with 4 of her children.  The manifest shows that she had Sossio (Sam), Biagio (Brasso), Alphonso and Columba Rosa with her on that journey.  I have a mental image of them and it looks like some of the photos I've seen of foreign ladies and their kids disembarking ships back in the early 1900's with sad looking faces wrapped in dark blanket-like clothing. They all look dirty and hungry.  I'm hoping that wasn't true for them but it probably was.

I catch up with them next in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The entire family seems to be together again at least for a short time.  My father always said that his father and uncles loved to go to Atlantic City.  We did not know that they had ever lived there until recently.  Now all that makes sense.  The biggest event for Anna that took place in Atlantic City was the birth of her youngest child Loretta.  Anna was already about 45 years old when she gave birth to Loretta.  Another amazing thing for that time was having a baby at that advanced age and surviving the birth.  Baby Loretta also survived.

Jumping ahead to 1905 we have Giovanni, Anna and kids living in Harlem, New York City.  I also have my grandfather Luigi on a census from New Jersey that shows him still living in Atlantic City at age 22.  Go figure?  I can't say which is correct but I know many of the censuses that I have seen are wrong.

The last event I have recorded for Anna is her death at age 50 in New York City on September 13, 1908.  It seems like she was under a doctors care when she died after reading the death certificate closely.  The death certificate says she died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  I think we should take that diagnosis with a grain of salt considering it was given in 1908.  I am going to go out on a limb and say that the doctor probably put down death caused by cerebral hemorrhage when he didn't know why the patient died.  I'm just guessing here but it seems to me that he wouldn't know unless he did an autopsy (doubtful).  Poor Anna was buried in a pauper's grave at Calvary Cemetery.  The reason she was buried in a pauper's grave is open to interpretation.  I wonder if Giovanni was away at the time of her death or if he just didn't want to spend the money to buy a plot for her.  I just don't know.  What I do know is that when she died, she left two small children with Giovanni.  He had a 4 year old and a 9 year old to care for.  I can't even imagine what that was like.  I have decided that there is only one good thing that came out of her having died so young and with young children.  At least, she did not have to see her son Brasso die in the war.  I'm sure she would have been crushed to hear of his death.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Giovanni Famoso - International Man of Mystery

Now that you have met Brasso, it is time to meet his father Giovanni Famoso. If Brasso is a mystery to me, well then Giovanni is a complete enigma. He was my great grandfather and a musician. That is almost all I know about him. I have no photos of him. I have no idea what instrument he played and I don't know where he may have worked while living in Italy or the United States. Wait, I do also know that Giovanni was an orphan who was abandoned at the Santissima Annunziata Maggiore in Naples. The Annuziata was famous for their ruota or wheel where unwed mothers would leave their babies. I found Giovanni's original birth record.  It is written in Italian, of course. I think it says he was 8 pounds and 12 ounces at birth. Certainly, that would have been a good weight for a healthy baby.  His birth date was in July of 1853. The document say that he was sent to live with a couple named Carmela Vaccaro and Luigi Cimino in Cardito, Italy. It also says that Luigi was a painter.  It is interesting to note that the Annunziata had a very high rate of child deaths. Giovanni was very lucky because he was sent to live with a couple right away. It doesn't seem like he spent any time at all living at the Annuziata.  The address of this couple is even on the document but I can't make out the street name. All I can read is that it was at No. 613. Even more interesting to me is that Giovanni became a musician. I imagine that Carmela and Luigi must have taken good care of Giovanni and sent him to a music school. I found an orphanage in Naples that also taught orphan children a trade but my inquiry into that orphanage came to a dead end. I would love to know where Giovanni studied music. I would also love to know who Giovanni's birth parents were.  It is interesting to note that on Giovanni's death certificate, his parents are listed as Luigi Famoso and Concetta Armando. Who were these people? I want to believe that they are his birth parents but I have no way of knowing if that is true. These names could be made up or they could be real people.

The next thing I know about Giovanni is that somehow he grew up.  Against all odds for abandoned babies at that time. He made his way to a town called Marcianise.  Somehow, he met and married Anna Vincenza Sebastiana Pirolli in March of 1879.  How did they meet? Why did they get married? Did they fall in love or was it an arranged marriage?  Anna's story is for another day. I have so many questions about their union. Their marriage record tells me that Giovanni was a "bandista" which meant that he was a musician in a band. I would absolutely love to know what instrument he played but I probably will never know the answer to that question.  The marriage document also tells me that both Giovanni and Anna could read and write.  Their signatures appear at the bottom of the document. Pretty cool, I think.

I also know that Giovanni and Anna lived in Marcianise at least until 1882.  She gave birth to two sons in Marcianise that I know of.  Their oldest child Domenico and my grandfather Luigi Arturo were both born in Marcianise.  I have documented that with their birth records.  Giovanni and Anna's next oldest son Sossio was born in another town. According to Sam's WWI registration card, he was born in Frattamaggiore on March 24, 1886.  I can't prove it but it is probably true.  In all likelihood, the couple had another child in 1884 that died very young or at birth. I will go ahead and make the assumption that they also had a baby between 1888 and 1890 but the next baby that I have a record of is Biagio who was born on October 1, 1891 in Bari, Italy.  I really don't know why they moved around so much or if Biagio was born while they were visiting or at a temporary assignment in Bari.  It is definitely out of character for them to be living anywhere outside of Campania.  Biagio grew up to be Brasso our WWI hero.  The next baby they had was Alphonso who was born on February 9, 1896 in a town called San Savario in Bari according to his WWI registration card.  I can't find any town by that name in Bari but there are towns called Sanmichele di Bari, Sannicandro di Bari and Santeramo in Calle.  I have not found Alphonso's birth record yet.  Their next child, Colomba Rosa was born in Sansevero in April of 1898 according to her birth record.  Rose was their last child born in Italy (that we know of who lived ~ more on this later).

The story that we have heard from my father and he confirmed with Domenico (Giovanni's oldest son) was that Giovanni decided that Domenico (aka Mimi) would go to the United States to study and play music.  The story goes that Giovanni took Mimi's passport and papers and gave them to his next oldest son Luigi and told the boys that they were to change identities so that Mimi could go to the United States with Giovanni and Luigi would go into the military in Mimi's place.  My grandfather Luigi became Mimi and went into the Italian ski patrol.  The rest of Luigi's story is for another day.  So, Giovanni and Mimi traveled together to the USA.  They either landed in New York City or Philadelphia depending on whether you believe a story told to my cousin by Mimi or Mimi's naturalization papers that I found filed in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1903.  Mimi's naturalization states that he came to the USA through the port of New York on December 15, 1897 (could be 1887 ~ it is hard to read).    I have never found Giovanni or Mimi on any manifest in 1897 coming through either New York or Philadelphia.  I have to wonder if they used false names so that they could get into the United States without problems.  I don't know how easy that would have been but I imagine that they needed passports.  I have also never found any Italian passports for either of them or any of my other relatives for that matter.

The next time we see Giovanni is on a manifest for the ship The Aller in June 1899.  On that manifest, he says he is going to see his son Domenico in Philadephia and he has been in the United States once before. There is an "X" next to his name which I am told means that he was detained.  I can't find any record of why he was detained but he did eventually make it to the United States as we all know.  I don't know if he ever reached Philadelphia to visit his son or where he lived when he first arrived in the USA.  The first evidence of him that I have found is on the 1903 birth record of his youngest daughter Liberata Tosca (Loretta) Famoso. But first, I have to mention that he left his oldest son in the United States by himself while he goes back to Italy and returns to the United States perhaps 2 or 3 years later!  I can't find any record of what Mimi or Luigi or whoever is doing in the Philadelphia area during that time.  Is there a name change involved, probably.  When Giovanni returned to the USA, he left his wife and remaining children behind.  They did not come to the United States until late in 1901.  I can just imagine poor Anna traveling alone on a ship with her four young children.  It appears that they all met up again in 1903 and were living at 13 North Mississippi Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I found that address on Loretta's birth record as well as on Domenico's naturalization papers. Sadly, that building is long gone and the property is part of a parking lot for a large hotel and casino now.  I have a goal of somehow finding out where Giovanni was in 1900-1902. Was he traveling with a band?

By 1905, I find Giovanni and family living in Harlem, New York at 314 East 101st Street.  It looks like the family is all together John, Anna, Mimi, Louis, Sossio, Biagio, Alphonse, Rose and Lebi (Loretta) but I have also found my grandfather Luigi living in Atlantic City, NJ for this same census.  It is always possible that Giovanni did not understand the questions he was being asked or that a neighbor provided the information for this census.

Sadly, his wife Anna dies in 1908 and is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, NY in the pauper (or cemetery owned) section at the very young age of 50 leaving a 4 year old daughter and a 9 year old daughter.  What does Giovanni do?  He promptly moves his family into the same building where his second oldest son Luigi and his wife and family are living.  They are all now living a 322 East 109th Street. Yes, we now have Giovanni the widower along with his young children living in the same apartment building as his two married sons (Luigi and Sam) along with his sons' in-laws!  This is probably a good time to mention that Luigi and Sam married two sisters thereby keeping it all in the family. I guess that wasn't very unusual at that time and in that place for Italian families to all live together in one apartment building. Giovanni probably got free or very inexpensive child care that way. To me, it sounds something like the plot of a 1980's situation comedy.

I have found Giovanni and his family on the 1910 census in New York City, the 1915 census, and the 1920 census. There are definitely mistakes on these census reports but I'm sure they are due to the language barrier. I have also recently found a Petition of Intent filed by Giovanni in 1918 when he was 65 years of age. On that Petition he states that he is 5 feet tall and 190 lbs. and that he is a music professor.  I am starting to think that Giovanni may have married another woman named Anna since  his Petition of Intent states his wife's name as Anna and "she lives with me."  Really?  His wife had been dead for over 10 years at this point. Maybe I should look for a marriage between Giovanni and another woman named Anna.  It is also worth mentioning that there seems to be some sort of rift between Giovanni and his older sons.  If not, then why didn't my grandfather ever talk about his parents?  No one in the family knows anything about Giovanni probably because they had a falling-out over something.  It saddens me that we don't know more about Giovanni's life but I will keep digging.

Giovanni died at the age of 70 on August 27, 1923 although his death record says he is 50!  He was living at 417 East 106th Street at the time of his death.  His final resting place is also at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, NY but he has a plot that he eventually shares with his daughter Rose Puzzuto, her husband Pasquale and his granddaughter Mary Ann.